Pleshey Castle

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

There are earthwork remains

NamePleshey Castle
Alternative NamesThe Mount; Plaisy; Plessy; Pleasing; Tumblestoun; Castel de Placeto; Pleisiz
Historic CountryEssex
Modern AuthorityEssex
1974 AuthorityEssex
Civil ParishPleshey

Pleshey Castle. A good example of the Motte and Bailey type of earthwork with a well preserved town enclosure or Burgus attached. The castle is ascribed to the De Mandevilles in the 12th century. It consists of a steep oval-shaped mount surrounded by a wide moat, a strong inner bailey on the South, slight traces of another bailey to the North, and well-defined remains of the Town enclosure also to the North. Excavations have confirmed that the castle ditch was backfilled in 1157-8 on the orders of Henry II. In 1180 licence was granted to fortify the castle, it being the administrative centre of the de Mandeville estates. Pleshey remained part of the Mandeville estates until 1227-8 when it passed to the Bohun family by marriage. The castle remained the adminstrative centre of the estates until at least the early 16th century. A survey of the estate in 1558-9 found most of the buildings to be ruinous. These included a hall, domestic structures, timber gatehouse, a stone chapel, and brick bridge. (PastScape)

The first extensive excavations were in 1907, by Col W N Tuffnell (the present owner's grandfather). Large buildings on motte and in upper bailey were uncovered. Hundreds of decorated, glazed floor tiles were removed to his house at Langleys where they were eventually buried. A rectangular building was found on top of the motte. No record of ths was published until the Morant Club uncovered the foundations again in 1921-1922. The building was 67 x 56ft externally, with a thin curtain-wall, supported on at least 3 sides by 11 projections, of flint rubble-work. Some were solid, some hollow. 3 types of construction were noted but no superimposition of foundations. They are likely to be of different dates but there is no evidence of this yet. This building on the motte was interpreted as a shell-keep within thin curtain walls. Rhatz thought it more likely to be the 15th century Great Hall, in the light of newly discovered 15th century documents

Christy suggested the following dates for the 3 types of construction: 12th century, 13th century, 15th or 16th century. Monitoring of the reinstatement of Pleshey Castle was undertaken in June 1993. No archaeological remains were revealed during the works. The reinstatement has been completed to the satisfaction of ECC Archaeology section. The castle at Pleshey was built by the mid twelfth century and consisted of a steep oval-shaped motte, surrounded by a moat, with a wide bailey on the northern side. In 1157-8 there was a general order to destroy all the de Manderville castles following Geoffrey de Manderville II's arraignment for treason. In 1167 permission was given to William de Manderville to refortify Pleshey and the construction works appear to have included the construction of a second southern bailey and probably the town enclosure. A survey was made of the castle in 1558-9 which recorded that the buildings were in a state of ruin and desertion. It however also lists some of the structures present, including the brick bridge, a hall, various houses, the Constable’s house, the kitchen and the outer gatehouse; all of these were timber-built and a chapel built of flint-rubble. The survey advocates that the bridge is left intact as access to the motte which had been turned into a rabbit warren. (Unlocking Essex's Past)

Gatehouse Comments

A licence to refortify the castle, was issued between 1166 and 1180. Not, in a meaningful sense, a licence to crenellate although has been called this by some. Translating the medieval latin licentia as 'permission' can be erroneous and is misleading. Often the term meant 'freedom to' that is it was a statement of good will from a higher lord rather than consent. The placename Pleshey is a corruption of le pleisse, a French term for enclosure, and this may suggest Pleshey was a new post-Conquest foundation not a Norman replacement/rebuild of a Saxon manorial site.

- Philip Davis

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 ReferenceTL665143
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Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved

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  • Wickenden, Nick, 2015 Sept, 'Pleshey Castle, Essex' Castle Studies Group Bulletin Vol. 20 p. 16 (news of post-excavation work)
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  • Youngs, S.M. and Clark, J., 1981, 'Medieval Britain in 1980' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 25 p. 200 online copy
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  • Viscount Dillon and Hope, W.H.St.John, 1897, 'Inventory of the Goods and Chattels belonging to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, and seized in his Castle at Pleshy, co. Essex, 21 Richard II (1397) ; with their Values, as shown in the Escheator's Accounts' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 54 p. 275-308 online copy
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Guide Books

  • Chelmsford Museums Service, 1991, Pleshey Castle (Chelmsford Borough Council) (leaflet)

Primary Sources

  • Joseph Hunter, (ed.), 1844, The Great Rolls of the Pipe for the Second, Third, and Fourth Years of the Reign of King Henry the Second, A.D. 1155, 1156, 1157, 1158 (London) p. 132 online copy
  • PRO Duchy of Lancaster Miscellanea 10/12 The National Archive reference
  • 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. 425 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. 195-6
  • DL43/3/18 (Survey of 3 Edward III) The National Archives reference
  • DL44/1 (Survey of 1 Elizabeth) The National Archives reference