Herstmonceux Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are major building remains

NameHerstmonceux Castle
Alternative NamesHurstmonceaux; Hurstmonceux
Historic CountrySussex
Modern AuthorityEast Sussex
1974 AuthorityEast Sussex
Civil ParishHerstmonceux

An early example of the use of brick on a large scale, Herstmonceux Castle was built by Sir Roger Fienes in 1441, after obtaining licence to crenellate, probably on the site of an older manor house. The castle consists of a large quadrangular structure about 208 x 219 feet, with octagonal towers on each corner. Internally all that remains of the original fabric are the ground floor of the great gatehouse and the inner or courtyard wall of the South Range. Everything else was swept away when it was purposely gutted in 1777 for building material. The castle was completely encircled by a large moat, of which the E arm, incorporating a small artificial lake, the broad S arm, traversed by a brick, arched causeway leading to the gatehouse, and the S half of the W arm remain waterfilled. The N arm, except for the NW corner, is extant but dry. (East Sussex HER)

Castle/country house. c1441 (when licence to crenellate was granted) for Sir Roger Fiennes; further embellished mid C16 for Baroness and Lord Dacre; altered mid-late C17 for Lord Dacre; part demolished 1776-7 for Robert Hare; restored and rebuilt early C20, mostly 1911-12, for Lieutenant Colonel Claude Lowther and 1930s for Sir Paul Latham. Red brick in English bond with some-blue header diaper work; stone dressings; plain tile roofs. Square on plan with inner courtyard, this originally divided into 4 courts and containing Great Hall, but these and the internal walls of the castle demolished C18; south range and south ends of east and west ranges restored by Lowther, the remainder restored by Latham. 2 storeys with attic and basement in parts; 5 x4 wide bays with tapering polygonal towers at corners and between bays, taller at angles and centre

Built and restored in C15 style: exterior has 1-light or 2-light windows, some transomed; courtyard has more wider windows and some with cusped or round-headed lights; 4-centred-arched or segmental-arched moulded or chamfered doorways with C20 studded board doors; tall plinth with moulded offset; moulded string below embattled parapet with roll moulded coping; rainwater pipes with decorative initialled heads; stacks with ribbed and corniced clustered flues; steeply-pitched roofs with roll-moulded coping, some with hipped ends. South (entrance) elevation: 3-storey central gate tower has tall recess containing wide, panelled door, window of 2 cusped, transomed lights above, and grooves for former drawbridge arms; on 2nd floor two transomed windows of 2 round-headed lights flank coat of arms of Sir Roger Fiennes; flanking towers have gun ports at base, looped arrow slits, machicolated parapets with arrow slits to merlons, and towers rising above as drums. Projecting from gate tower is long bridge (mostly C20) of 8 arches, that to centre wider and shallower, with cutwaters, stone parapet, and central corbelled embrasure with flanking tower butresses. North side: central gate towers formerly had rooms on lower floors, of which truncated walls and 1st-floor fireplace fragment remain; machicolated parapet; at left end of range C17 window openings with later 18-pane sashes. West side: attached causeway containing basement room and with 3 1/2-arched bridge on south side, walling returning as moat retaining walls; main range has a basement doorway with side-lights in chamfered embrasure. East side: the 2nd tower has C16 1st-floor bow window; tall windows to central tower (which containsl chapel); right half of range has older windows blocked and larger C17 replacement openings with later 18-pane sashes. Courtyard: 7-bay arcade to north side and central corbelled stack with clock; 3-bay 1930s Great Hall (now library) on west side with decorative tracery to windows and offset butress; gable of former chapel on east side, has perpendicular tracery to window, a 2-storey bay window and 2 crow-stepped gabled attic windows to its left; several doorways and a 2-storey bay window to south side; hipped-roofed dormers; brick-lined well in south-west corner.

Interior: some original features survive, including fireplaces, privies, doorways, dungeon and brick-lined dovecote in south-east tower; other old features were brought in from elsewhere, including doors, fireplaces, panelling. In south range: porter's room has old fireplace and relocated linenfold door (found in cellar); reused traceried wood panelling in rebuilt dining room fireplace; stair hall has fine early C17 wooden stair (brought from Theobalds, Herts.) with strapwork roundels between square vase balusters, elaborate relief decoration, and lion finials holding shields; at head of stair; elaborate doorcase of same periodl ribbed ceiling with pendant finials. Drummers Room has reused panelling, part dated 1697, with fluted pilasters and frieze and elaborately arcaded and fluted-pilastered overmantel. Green Room, on 2nd floor, has restored fireplace with crests and beasts on hood; moulded beams and bosses; and reused traceried panel below courtyard window. North range: very fine late C17 stair (brought from Wheatley Hall, Doncaster; possibly from the workshop of Grinling Gibbons ) with baskets-of-flowers and pendant finials to newels, balustrades of open, leafy, scrollwork with flower roundels, and at head of stair 2 elaborately- carved doorcases in similar style with shields in broken pediments. Former ball room has arched ceiling with decorative plasterwork; C17-style panelling; reused elaborately-decorated C17 wooden fireplace overmantel (from Madingley Hall, Cambs.) with 2 orders of caryatids and embossed panels. East range: former chapel has reused C15 wooden screen (from France) set in west wall; former Drawing room has elaborate stone fireplace, 1930s in C16 style, and in ante room a reused richly- decorated fireplace with griffins and portrait roundels.

The C15 castle was well restored in the early C20 and the many fine features which were brought in at that time add to its importance. (Listed Building Report)

Fortified mansion constructed in 1440/41 on the site of an earlier house. It is brick-built and quadrangular in plan with projecting octagonal towers at each corner and an impressive gatehouse in the south facade. Originally, the internal buildings were arranged around four courtyards with the great hall in the centre. The majority of these buildings were dismantled in 1777 to provide building materials for the nearby Herstmonceux Place, leaving only the external walls and the gatehouse standing. The structure was repaired in 1913 and restored and rebuilt from 1933, the major alteration being the creation of a single courtyard within the 15th century walls. The Royal Observatory was transferred to Herstmonceux from Greenwich in 1948 and occupied the site for 40 years. It now houses an international study centre. (PastScape)

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTQ646104
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  • Farrant, J. H., 2010, 'The drawings of Herstmonceux Castle, by James Lambert, senior and junior, 1776-7' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 148 p. 177-81
  • Woodburn, Bill and Guy, Neil, 2005-6, 'Herstmonceux' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol 19 p. 60-62
  • Emery, A., 2005, 'How meaningful were the defences of Herstmonceux Castle?' Castle Studies Group Bulletin Vol. 18 p. 169-184
  • Goodall, J.A., 2004 Aug, 'A medieval masterpiece: Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex' The Burlington Magazine Vol. 146 p. 516-25
  • 2000-2001, 'Herstmonceux - Sussex' Castle Studies Group Newsletter No. 14 p. 19 online copy
  • Kenyon, J.R., 1981 'Early Artillery Fortifications in England and Wales: a Preliminary Survey and Re-appraisal' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 138 p. 227
  • Coulson, C., 1979, 'Structural Symbolism in Medieval Castle Architecture' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 132 p. 79-80 (reprinted in Liddiard, Robert (ed), 2016, Late Medieval Castles (Boydell Press) p. 199-220)
  • Kenyon, J.R., 1977, 'Early Gunports' Fort Vol. 4 p. 8
  • 1961, The Archaeological Journal Vol. 116 p. 238
  • Simpson, W.D., 1942, 'Herstmonceux Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 99 p. 110-126 online copy
  • Hussey, C., 1935, 'The Restoration of Herstmonceux III, Sussex' Country Life Vol. 78 p. 566-70, 606-12, 630-6
  • Tipping, H.A.,1929 May 18, 'Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex' Country Life p. 702-709
  • Conway, 1918, Country Life Vol. 43 p. 214-21, 242-8, 270-6
  • Floyer, J.K., 1913, 'English Brick Buildings of the Fifteenth Century' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 70 p. 121-32 online copy
  • Chester, 1900, The Antiquary Vol. 36 p. 362-6 (history of devolution)
  • Phillips, CT, 1890, ' Plans of Hurstmonceux Castle' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 37 p. 199 online copy
  • Blaauw, William Henry, 1861, ' Royal Licenses to Fortify Towns and Houses in Sussex' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 13 p. 115 online copy
  • Venables, Rev E, 1851, 'The Castle of Herstmonceux and its Lords' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 4 p. 125-202 online copy

Guide Books

  • Calvert, D. and Martin, R., 1994, A history of Herstmonceux Castle (Kingston, Ontario: Queen's University)
  • Calvert, D., 1980, The History of Herstmonceux Castle
  • Crake, n.d., Castle of Herstmonceux (Lewes)
  • Harington, n.d., Handbook of Herstmonceux Castle (Battle) (an abridgment of Venables 1851)

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1927, Calendar of Charter Rolls 5 Henry VI - 8 Henry VIII, AD 1427-1516, with an appendix, 1215-1288 Vol. 6. (HMSO) p. 13-14 online copy