Notes: Castle is in Saffron Walden. Some signage and ample car parks dotted around the town. Closest is in the Common just a few minutes from the castle ruins (at 52.024013N 0.24321E).
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The limited remains of a stone keep surrounded by limited earthworks. No internal access to the remains but the exterior can be viewed during daylight hours.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Castle is managed by local council.
1. The name Walden is said to originate from the old English term ‘Weala-denu’ meaning 'the valley of Britons' suggesting it continued to be occupied by non-Anglo-Saxons even after the influx of invaders during the Dark Ages.
2. In the aftermath of the Civil War, when soldiers of the Parliamentary forces were starting to question the established order Oliver Cromwell visited Saffron Walden to hold debates with the troublemakers; this discussion foreshadowed the Putney Debates.
Fortified since Roman times and the site of a motte-and-bailey castle following the Norman Invasion, it was during the Anarchy where Walden Castle was to play a part in national politics as the Earl of Essex used it as a powerbase to challenge King Stephen.
HISTORY OF WALDEN CASTLE
A fort probably existed at Saffron Walden during the Roman era in support of nearby Great Chesterford (Cestreforda). After the withdrawal of the Romans in the fifth century AD it is likely the area continued to be inhabited and, by the time of the Norman Invasion of 1066, was a prosperous manor owned by Ansgar; a powerful magnate in the pre-invasion court. On his death his lands, including Walden, were granted to the de Mandeville family; it was likely the first castle, a motte and bailey, was built at this time.
The castle was re-built in stone by Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex between 1125 and 1141 during the Anarchy – the civil war that followed the death of Henry I and fought between Henry’s daughter, Queen Matilda, and her cousin King Stephen. During this period a Great Tower was added although the area enclosed by the bailey itself was reduced. Initially Geoffrey had supported Stephen but as the fortunes of the two sides changed he undoubtedly changed allegiance as required which explains his arrest by King Stephen in 1143; to secure his freedom he agreed to handover Walden Castle but, upon release, rebelled. He was killed by an arrow wound inflicted during a skirmish in September 1144.
The Anarchy ended in 1154 with the accession of Henry II who, in 1157, ordered Walden Castle to be slighted to prevent its re-use against his Government. Whether this was carried out or not is uncertain but in 1167 the castle was re-fortified. Periodic updates where then made upto and including the fourteenth century but by the sixteenth century the castle was in a ruinous condition. It played no further part in national politics although Saffron Walden itself was used as a base for General Fairfax's New Model Army in 1647. The ruins of the castle also supported a semaphore station in the late eighteenth century.