Farnham Castle

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

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameFarnham Castle
Alternative NamesFeornham; Ffarnum; Fernham
Historic CountrySurrey
Modern AuthoritySurrey
1974 AuthoritySurrey
Civil ParishFarnham

The keep, bailey, curtain wall and outer ditch of a castle dating from the 12th century. Excavations within the keep in 1958-9 revealed much of the castle's development. It was constructed in 1138 on the orders of Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester. A stone tower, perhaps as much as 35m high and with a central well shaft, was built first. Its base was then buried with chalk to form a 10m high mound around the tower. To the south of this original keep was a triangular arrangement of buildings including kitchens, a chapel and a hall, all enclosed within a ditch. These buildings, though since modified are listed Grade I and are excluded from the scheduling. After 1155, when Henry II had the original keep pulled down, the castle was rebuilt in the form of a shell keep some 50m in diameter with rooms in the 4 towers. The bailey was enlarged to its present limits, the huge 40m wide ditch was dug and the curtain wall with its square mural towers and gatehouse was erected. During the 13th-15th centuries, domestic buildings continued to be built within the new keep and some 15th century brickwork can be seen over the entrance. The keep was abandoned after the Civil War and was finally used as a garden in the Victorian period. It illustrates a late stage in the development of the motte and bailey castle, with its stone tower built from ground level and then partially buried. It is also unusual in that the slightly later stone tower or shell keep is built from ground level rather than at the top of an existing motte, adding to the known diversity of this type of feature. Although part of the keep area has been damaged by archaeological excavation, the resulting level of documentation, both archaeological and historical, is high

(Scheduling Report)

The Castle has been the property of the Bishops of Winchester since Saxon times continuously to 1927, remaining for some time since that date the residence of the Bishop of Guildford, and partly for diocesan use; now used by the Overseas Service College. The plan consists of a circular mound to the north with an irregular group of buildings built in a triangle round a court to the south of the mound. The original stockade defence of the mound (rebuilt in stone in the C18), was probably by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester 1129 to 117I. This work probably included the shell keep of 23 sides, more on less a circle, formerly with 5 towers which remains in part today with some later C15 brickwork over the entrance. In addition some of the outer walls and entrance gate, the latter altered later, also of the C12 remain much as shown in a print of 1737 (Buck). The group of buildings to the south of the keep are of various dates and have been rebuilt or altered over a period of roughly 800 years. The south front consists of Fox's Tower, a square brick structure of 3 storeys, beautifully built with a diaper pattern of vitreous brick all over. The design is unsymmetrical with a flat arched entry in right hand corner and 2 windows to upper floors (now C18 sashes) deep machicolated and battlemented parapet between projecting and splayed angles of greater height. A group of 3 chimneys springs from the left hand angle. 2 square painted sundials are placed on different faces of the angles one on each side. This tower dates from 1470 to l475; formerly thought to date from the time of Bishop Fox in the early C16, hence the name given to the Tower. To the left of the Tower is a low range with a kitchen on the south side and a chapel, recently restored to its use on the north side, probably CM. To the right hand of the Tower is a long block of 2 storeys, battlemented, of coursed rough stone with old tile roof. The 1st floor has 9 sash windows, C18. The main floor has 3 similar windows and 4 large mullioned and transomed stone windows of C15 date. The lower ground floor, storage, has 3 circular lights. The Great Hall, and principal stair are contained in this block. The Hall was reconstructed under Bishop Morley, as well as the stair and the Bishop's Chapel on the east side of the court. The interior design may possibly be connected with John Webb, and is late C17. The Chapel fittings and panelling are richly carved. The various features and details of design have been illustrated in numerous books. Good photographs and a comprehensive description of the building were published in Country Life of December 23rd and 30th 1939. The Castle dominates the town from its site on the hilltop to the North, and with the wide approach of Castle Street. The architecture is not dramatic, and has a strong affinity with the gentle restraint of the small brick C18 buildings below it. (Listed Building Report)

Farnham Castle has traditionally been dated to the period of the Anarchy on the basis of the documentary evidence and limited excavation within the area of the castle keep in 1960. This view is challenged on the grounds of historiographical problems within the documentary evidence, the archaeological examination of other de Blois castles which suggest construction before his episcopate, and chronological incompatibility with the soil mechanics of the motte.

A new phasing is suggested:

Phase 1 pre-1100 Manor house and farm.

Phase 2 early 12th century Country house built by Bishop Giffard.

Phase 3 circa 1130-40 Fortification of country house and construction of ringwork.

Phase 4 1155 Demolition of tower keep.

Phase 5 post- 1160 Construction of shell-keep. (PastScape ref. Riall, 2003)

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 ReferenceSU837473
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink

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


  • Higham, Robert, 2015, Shell-keeps re-visited: the bailey on the motte? (Castle Studies Group - online publication) online copy
  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 97, 104, 108, 130-1, 148, 289, 376, 389-90
  • Emery, Anthony, 2006, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 3 Southern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 337-9, 430-34
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles of Surrey (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 10-14
  • Keevill, Graham D., 2000, Medieval Palaces, An Archaeology (Stroud; Tempus) p. 27, 29, 36, 52, 86, 120, 125-6, 142, 162, 165
  • Cooper, Nicholas, 1999, Houses of the Gentry, 1480-1680 (Yale University Press) p. 65
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 239-41 (plan)
  • Higham, R. and Barker, P., 1992, Timber Castles (Batsford) p. 177-8, 187, 190, 197, 349
  • James, T.B., 1990, The Palaces of Medieval England (London; Seaby) p. 36, 46, 88, 141, 160, 175
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 115-7
  • Furtado, Peter et al (eds), 1988, Ordnance Survey guide to castles in Britain (London) p. 54
  • Brooks, P.D., 1985, Farnham Castle: the forgotten years (Farnham: Farnham and District Museum Society)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 465
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 230-1
  • Wood, Margaret, 1974, Norman domestic architecture (Royal Archaeological Institute monograph series) p. 51-2
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 187-9
  • Pevsner, N. and Nairn, Ian, 1971 (Revised Cherry, Bridget), Buildings of England: Surrey (London, Penguin) p. 232-5
  • Toy, Sidney, 1953, The Castles of Great Britain (Heinemann) p. 65-6
  • Robo, E., 1935, Medieval Farnham p. 121-53
  • Malden, H.E. (ed), 1912, VCH Surrey Vol. 4 p. 395-6
  • Evans, Herbert A., 1912, Castles of England and Wales (London) p. 291-8
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Redstone, Lillian J., 1910, 'Farnham Castle' in Rait, R.S. (ed), English Episcopal Palaces (Province of Canterbury) (London; Constable & Co) p. 123-154 online copy
  • Malden, H.E. (ed), 1905, VCH Surrey Vol. 2 p. 599-602
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 93-4 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 273-6 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 309-10 online copy
  • Manning and Bray, 1804-14, The History and Antiquities of Surrey (London) Vol. 3 p. 134-7
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 2 p. 279
  • Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 5 p. 90-1



  • Neil Guy, 2015-16, 'The Portcullis - design and development' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 29 p. 132-201
  • Turner, D.J. 2012, 'Bishop Wayneflete's brick tower at Farnham Castle' Surrey Archaeological Society Bulletin no. 435 p. 6-8
  • 2010-11, 'Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt reopens Farnham Castle Keep' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 24 p. 180-1 (news report)
  • Graham, D., 2010 Oct, 'Farnham Castle keep' Surrey Archaeological Society Bulletin no. 423 p. 2-5 online copy
  • 2009-10, 'Farnham Castle - £700, 000 to restore castle site' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 23 p. 129 (news report)
  • Mesqui, Jean, Renn, Derek and Smals Laurens, 2008, ''The Portcullis in Medieval Great Towers: An Impression' Château Gaillard Vol. 23 p. 289-95
  • Riall, N., 2003, The new castles of Henry de Blois as bishop of Winchester: the case against Farnham, Surrey' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 47 p. 115-29 download copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 317
  • Youngs, S.M., Clark, J. and Barry, T., 1986, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1985' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 30 p. 164-5 download copy
  • Field, Nicholayson, 1980, Surrey Archaeological Society Bulletin Vol. 169 p. 5-6
  • Reynolds, N., 1975, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 19 p. 203 download copy
  • King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
  • Thompson, M.W., 1967, 'Excavations in Farnham Castle Keep, Surrey, Engalnd, 1958-60' Château Gaillard Vol. 2 p. 100-105
  • Thompson, M.W., 1961, 'Motte Sunstructures' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 5 p. 305-6 online copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1960, 'Recent excavations in the keep of Farnham Castle, Surrey' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 4 p. 81-94 download copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1960, 'The Date of "Fox's Tower", Farnham Castle, Surrey' Surrey Archaeological Collections Vol. 57 p. 85-92 online copy
  • Wilson, D.M. and Hurst, J.G., 1959, 'Medieval Britain in 1958' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 3 p. 308 download copy
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Oswald, 1939, Country Life Vol. 86 p. 652-6, 682-6
  • Wood, M., 1935, 'Norman Domestic Architecture' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 92 p. 167-242 esp. 205-6 online copy
  • Tipping, H.A., 1911, Country Life Vol. 29 p. 636-45
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 212 online copy

Guide Books

  • Wareham, J., 2000, Three palaces of the bishops of Winchester: Wolvesey (Old Bishop's Palace), Hampshire; Bishop's Waltham Palace, Hampshire; Farnham Castle keep, Surrey (London: English Heritage)
  • Thompson, M.W., 1987, Farnham Castle Keep, Surrey (London: English Heritage)
  • Centre for International Briefing, 1965 (and later editions), Farnham Castle: History and Guide
  • Thompson, M.W., 1961, Farnham Castle Keep, Surrey (HMSO)
  • Wade, 1947, Farnham Castle (Farnham)

Primary Sources

  • Luard, H.R (ed), 1865, 'Annales de Wintonia' in Annales Monastici (Rolls Series 36) Vol. 2 p. 51 online copy
  • Luard, H.R. (ed), 1874, Matthæi Parisiensis: Monachi Santi Albani, Chronica Majora (Rolls Series 57) Vol. 2 p. 210 online copy
  • Howlett, R. (ed), 1889, 'The Chronicle of Robert of Torigni' in Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I (Rolls series 82) Vol. 4 p. 186 online copy
  • Stubbs, Wm. (ed), 1876, Radulphi de Diceto decani Lundoniensis Opera Historica. The Historical work of Master Ralph de Diceto, Dean of London (London, Rolls Series 68) Vol. 1 p. 301
  • Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 420 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 444


  • Surrey County Council, 2006, Extensive Urban Survey - Surrey (English Heritage) Download copy
  • Payne, Naomi, 2003, The medieval residences of the bishops of Bath and Wells, and Salisbury (PhD Thesis University of Bristol) Appendix B: List of Medieval Bishop's Palaces in England and Wales (available via EThOS)