Hertford Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle, and also as a Certain Palace (Royal)

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameHertford Castle
Alternative NamesHartford
Historic CountryHertfordshire
Modern AuthorityHertfordshire
1974 AuthorityHertfordshire
Civil ParishHertford

Hertford Castle is one of the best preserved motte and bailey castles in southern Britain. It has a long and well-documented history which illustrates its growth and development as a royal castle. The partial excavations have confirmed the historical documentation and the well-preserved condition of the structural remains. Further evidence of the internal layout of the castle will exist beneath the present gatehouse and gardens in the castle precinct as well as within the motte mound.

Hertford Castle is a motte and bailey castle situated in the centre of Hertford on the banks of the River Lea. The monument includes a flat-topped motte which stands at the north corner of the castle and measures 30m in diameter and c.6.5m in height. The bailey, which covers nearly one hectare, is defended on the east and south by a curtain wall (Grade II star Listed) which is largely intact. At the southern angle of the wall are the remains of a small octagonal turret with a pointed doorway, now blocked, which can be dated to the 14th century. On the west side of the bailey is a late 15th century gatehouse which is a Grade II star Listed building. Beyond the curtain wall on the south side are the remains of a broad outer ditch measuring c.9m in width, now partly filled and covered by buildings and gardens. This outer ditch once encircled the whole castle. Beyond the ditch is a partially buried, brick built ice house which measures approximately 10m east-west by 6m north-south. It has a north facing entrance and is grass covered. Hertford Castle was built in the 11th century in the southern burh of Hertford, founded by Edward the Elder in AD 912. The castle was bounded by a double ditch on three sides, the north-western part of the defences being formed by the River Lea, with an outer bailey on the south-western side. In 1170 the earliest documentary record of the castle shows that extensive building works were carried out by Henry II; in 1174 the castle was fully garrisoned

Also at this time the curtain wall, berm and at least one of the ditches were dug. Both Hertford and Berkhamsted Castles were held by the barons for a year in the baronial revolt of King John's reign. At the end of 1216 Hertford Castle was besieged by Louis of France and surrendered after a month. In 1360 John of Gaunt was granted the castle and bought large quantities of timber to fortify it. The castle reverted to the crown with the accession of Henry IV and remained in royal hands until 1630 when it was granted to the Earl of Salisbury. Edward IV carried out major renovations during the 1460's including the building of the gatehouse. Many of the buildings were pulled down in the reign of James I and by 1905 the ditches had all been infilled and levelled, with the exception of some on the southern side. The site was partially excavated in 1977 when the inner and outer ditches to the east of the castle were located. Further excavations were carried out from September 1988 to August 1990 by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust on the south-western side of the castle, outside the postern gate. These excavations confirmed the alignment of the inner and outer ditches. The remains of the curtain wall, both below and above ground are included within the scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

Castle gatehouse, subsequently residence, Local Authority offices since 1912. c1460-65, altered and extended late C18, C19 and C20, interior restored 1967-71, architects Donald Insall and Partners. Original floors framed by Thomas Norman, carpenter, 1464; original mason William Hull. MATERIALS: red brick (locally manufactured by Cornelius Gyles at 21 pence a thousand for initial build), English bond, with Flemish and English bonds used in later extensions and alterations. Stone dressings of Mertsham (Surrey) stone and Kentish stone; Ashwell clunch used for interior chimneypieces. Welsh slated roofs with lead roll ridges, hips, and lead valley gutters and flats recessed behind castellated brick parapets with Portland stone copings. Moulded stone string course; corbelled arcaded Lombardic frieze below parapet around original gatehouse block. PLAN: gatehouse has massive walls with 1/2 octagonal turrets each side of central gateway, infilled 1789-92. 2 upper floors each have 1 major and 1 minor chamber, with studded partition walls and beamed roofs still in situ. 2 bay south wing and single bay north wing added in 1937. Octagonal stair turret with castellated roof rises above main parapet level in south-east corner. EXTERIOR: 2 and 3 storeys and basement. West elevation has gatehouse left of centre, brickwork although restored retains traces of lattice-pattern diaperwork in black overburnt headers. Late C18 windows on all floors of Gothick style, stone mullioned with moulded lancet heads, stone surrounds and dripmoulds, with divided glazing. These are all 2-light, with exception of 3-light window centrally set on second floor, many installed in original embrasures which were widened as necessary. Recessed on first floor above infilled arch is a weathered carved stone panel with the Royal Arms of Edward IV; this was carved by the London mason Reginald Langley, and coloured by John Payntour of Ware. On the ground floor, against the original archway, the chamfered stone jambs of which can be seen at either side, is a panelled door recessed within stone porch. This has a panelled wood lining, moulded stone Tudor arch, panelled pilasters and raised spandrel panels with castellated parapet above string course.

HISTORICAL NOTE: Hertford Castle reputedly originated as a Saxon fort built by order of King Alfred against the Danes encamped at Ware. The castle was built (or reconstructed) by William I shortly after 1066 as a motte and bailey - the motte mount, 22 ft high, remains in the north angle of the castle precinct overlooking the river. In 1304 the castle and honour of Hertford were granted by Edward I to his wife, Queen Margaret, and the castle became a royal palace, and a prison where David II and James I of Scotland and King John of France were held. In 1360 the castle was granted to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and remained property of the Duchy until 1627. From 1805-18, the castle was used by the East India Company College, from 1822-32 the Dispensary which preceded the General Infirmary (County Hospital) was held there, and it was also used as a judges' lodging. In 1911 Hertford Corporation approached Lord Salisbury to purchase the castle, and a lease of 75 years at a peppercorn rent of 2s 6d per annum was granted. The grounds were laid out as public gardens, and the entrance gates leading from The Wash were donated by Osmond Henry McMullen in 1912. Hertford Castle was used as the Borough Council offices until 1974, and since that date has been occupied by the Hertford Town Council (Listed Building Report)

Hertford Castle. The Saxon Chronicle relates that in the year 913, Edward the Elder threw up two burhs at Hertford, one on the north bank of the river see also TL 31 SW 42 and one on the south bank. The latter has been preserved by its incorporation into the later castle.

Edward's Burh may have been preceded by an earlier earthwork, for Hertford is reputed to stand on the site of a chief town of the Trinobantes. (PastScape ref. G.T. Clark 1884)

Gatehouse Comments

The castle is probably built within the southern burh of Edward the Elder built in 913, itself possibly reusing Iron Age earthworks.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2* 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 ReferenceTL325125
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink

No photos available. If you can provide pictures please contact Castlefacts

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

Calculate Print


  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 293, 295-7, 378-9, 451
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of The Thames Valley and The Chilterns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 44-5
  • Emery, Anthony, 2000, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 2 East Anglia, Central England and Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 256
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 105-6
  • Thurley, Simon, 1993, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England (Yale University Press) p. 18, 79
  • Higham, R. and Barker, P., 1992, Timber Castles (Batsford) p. 356
  • Drage, C., 1987, 'Urban castles' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 117-32 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 220
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 243-4
  • Pevsner, Nikolas and Cherry, Bridget, 1977, Buildings of England: Hertfordshire (Harmondsworth) p. 187
  • Colvin, H.M., Ransome, D.R. and Summerson, John, 1975, The history of the King's Works Vol. 3: 1485-1660 (part 1) (London) p. 254-7
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 205
  • Renn, D.F., 1971, Medieval Castles in Hertfordshire (Chichester: Phillimore) p. 15 (plan), 16-18
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 677-681
  • Andrews, H.C., 1947, Chronicles of Hertford Castle (Hertford: Stephen Austin and Sons Ltd)
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1912, VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 3 p. 503-6 online transcription
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • RCHME, 1910, An inventory of the historical monuments in Hertfordshire (London: HMSO) p. 113 online transcription
  • Montgomerie, 1908, Page, Wm (ed), VCH Hertfordshire Vol. 2 p. 116-17
  • Benham, 1905, in Standing, Memorials of Old Hertfordshire (London) p. 12-18 online copy
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 131-3 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 119-23 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 2 (London) p. 125-6, 150 online copy
  • Turnor, L., 1830, History of the ancient town and borough of Hertford (Hertford) p. 16-52, 308-12 online copy
  • Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 2 p. 241-4 online copy
  • Clapham and Godfrey, n.d., Some Famous Buildings and their Story (Westminster) p. 141-5 (mostly on domestic buildings)



  • Zeepvat, R.J. and Cooper-Reade, 1994-6, 'Excavations within the Outer Bailey of Hertford Castle' Hertfordshire Archaeology Vol. 12 p. 15-40
  • Petchey, M.R., 1977, 'Excavations in Hertford 1973-4' Hertfordshire Archaeology Vol. 5 p. 157-75
  • Webster, Leslie E and Cherry, J., 1975, 'Medieval Britain in 1974' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 19 p. 239 online copy
  • (Petchey), 1974, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 18 p. 178 online copy
  • Moodey, G., 1973, 'The Restoration of Hertford Castle Gatehouse' Hertfordshire Archaeology Vol. 3 p. 100-9
  • Webster, Leslie E and Cherry, J., 1972, 'Medieval Britain in 1971' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 16 p. 181 online copy
  • 1971, East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society Newsletter No. 30
  • 1971, East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society Newsletter No. 29
  • 1968, East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society Newsletter No. 24
  • 1967, East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society Newsletter No. 22
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
  • Braun, Hugh, 1938, 'Hertfordshire Castle' St Albans and Hertfordshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Transactions Vol. 5 p. 194-8
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 205 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1882 The Builder Vol. 43 p. 819-20 (reprinted in MMA)

Primary Sources


  • Fradley, Michael, 2011, The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150 (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) available via EThOS
  • Isobel Thompson, 2005, Extensive Urban Survey - Hertfordshire (English Heritage) Download copy