FARNHAM CASTLE, GU9 7HB
Postcode: GU9 7HB
Lat/Long: 51.218522N 0.803053W
Notes: The castle is found to the north of Farnham and is well sign-posted. A car park for visitors is provided directly adjacent to the Keep.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
An unusual fortification consisting of a twelfth century motte which was later revetted by a curtain wall. The foundations of the original stone tower (now demolished to the height of the mound) are also visible. The adjacent Bishop’s Palace remains a functional administrative site but is periodically open to the public. The landscaped grounds around the motte are normally freely accessible.
No Access. Regrettably the castle’s remains are on private land with no public access. Perhaps one day this important historic site will be open to the public.
Gatehouse. The Gatehouse was heightened in the Tudor period.
Farnham Castle was originally a motte-and-bailey fortification built by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester and was later substantially upgraded when a shell keep was constructed around the motte. It was captured by Prince Louis during the First Barons War and was a Parliamentary outpost during the English Civil War.
HISTORY OF FARNHAM CASTLE
Farnham Castle was raised by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester around 1138 possibly occupying the site of an earlier motte-and-bailey fortification. The Manor of Farnham had been in the possession of the church since AD 688 when it was gifted to them by King Caedwalla of Wessex. It later became the property of the Diocese of Winchester which, by the twelfth century, was one of the most important in England holding huge swathes of land across southern England. Farnham itself was important for it was located on the road between Winchester and London - a route regularly travelled by the Bishop - and provided a convenient point to break the journey. Control of the region was also a factor; at this time England was on the brink of a civil war (the Anarchy) over the issue of who should succeed to the English throne. The incumbent monarch was Stephen, nephew of Henry I, who had taken the throne in 1135 when that King died without a male heir. However Matilda, Henry I's daughter, challenged his claim and by 1139 the country was embroiled in a protracted war that became known as the Anarchy. Henry de Blois was Stephen's brother and, along with most of the senior magnates of the realm, initially supported him. In this turbulent time he constructed numerous castles and/or palatial strongholds to secure his power base including Ashley, Barley Pound, Bishop's Waltham, Merdon, Taunton and Wolvesey Castles. All these structures were designed to reflect the power and importance of the Bishop - a powerful administrative position that, although nominally chosen by the Abbey of St. Swithin’s, was actually appointed by the King.
The castle was initially raised as a motte built around a rectangular stone tower. A bailey stood adjacent protected by a ditch and timber palisade. This fortification did not last long however and was decommissioned after the war. The peace had been secured by the Treaty of Winchester (1153), which had been brokered by Henry de Blois, by securing an agreement that Stephen would remain King for life but would be succeeded by Matilda's son, Henry of Anjoy (Henry II). When he came to the throne in 1154 Henry de Blois, perhaps fearful of the new King's displeasure, fled abroad. This act led to his castles - including Farnham - being seized and demolished by Henry II.
Henry de Blois returned to England in 1158 and possibly started rebuilding work at Farnham. Upgrades continued after his death in 1171 with the Great Hall, Norman Chapel and Shell Keep being built in the decades that followed. The latter was particularly unusual as it consisted of a substantial wall built around the motte rather than on its summit. Five protruding towers were added whilst the original central stone tower, partially demolished earlier, was reduced in height to be flush with the ground level of the motte.
In 1216, during the First Barons War, Farnham Castle was captured by the forces of Prince Louis. He had been invited to England by leading Barons to overthrow King John who had recently repudiated Magna Carta. Farnham was held by the French forces for 10 months but the death of King John in October 1216 saw many Barons restore their loyalty to the new King Henry III. Accordingly the Regent - William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke - was able to retake Farnham. Louis' was eventually brought off and returned to France.
The castle underwent numerous upgrades in the fourteenth century including a rebuilding of the Great Hall. The grand brick built Gatehouse was commissioned by William Waynflete in 1470 and this was further modified by Richard Fox in the early sixteenth century.
During the Civil War Farnham Castle's proximity to the Winchester-London road made it a strategic site. In 1642 it was briefly held by a Royalist force but was captured by a Parliamentary force under Colonel William Waller. It subsequently remained in Parliament's hands throughout the rest of war securing London against any Royalist advance from the West. However, after the war Farnham was slighted by an Act of Parliament to prevent further military use. Although the Bishops of Winchester returned to the site after the Restoration in 1660, the Keep itself was never rebuilt. By the mid-nineteenth century the political influence of the church waned and with it the need for vast palatial residences such as Farnham. The site briefly resumed a military role during World War II when it was used a camouflage development centre. After the war it once again became a residence for the Bishop of Winchester but in 1956 was vacated.