I lift the portcullis on this castle

Do you want to know about the true origins of Castle Rising - stick with this site.

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Just to get going, this Inquest vividly demonstrates the ethnic mix of [Rising]in the twelfth-century. Apart from Norman families, there are also Saxons and Vikings. I have more on Mr. Deulbeny the Jew (forthcoming

Inquest of Sheriffs (1170) – William D’Aubigny II Earl of Arundel’s Manor.

‘When the earl returned from France, the men of the earl’s demesne again paid 10 marks, namely 5 marks to Richard the chamberlain (of Buckenham), and 5 marks to the Jew of Rising. Once again Richard, son of Atrac, and his fellows gave 3½ marks, namely 2 marks to Richard the chamberlain, and 20 shillings to Deulebeny the Jew.
Again, the men of the earl’s demesne paid 8½ marks, and Richard and his fellows gave 3 marks for one socage to redeem the earl’s lands from the Jews; and this they did of their own free will. Deulebeny, the Jew of Rising, received these moneys.
These are the sums of money which the burgesses of [Castle] Rising have paid to their lord, the earl, since the king crossed overseas'.

William Mercer 22s. 5d.
Swene Mercer 22s. 5d.
Manduerus 17s. 10d
Hardekinus 5marks, 6s. 6d.
Richard Mercer 9s.
William Skinner 18d.
Hervey 2s.
Airicus (Ælfric) 28d.
Geoffrey Mercer 2s.
John Large 3s.
Richard, son Ivetta 9s.3d.
William Swan 9s. 4d.
Hubert Testor 2s.11d.
Anchetinus Cook 18s.8d.
Gommanus 11d.
Hacetus 3s.6d.
Eudo and his fellows 3½ marks
Wulnoth 16d.
Richard Fisher 8s.1d.
William, son of Leif 5s.
Richard Lorimer 40d.
William Hardegrey 12d.
Roger Miller 13d.
Hangot 10d.
Osbert Gendry 4d.
Acerus 8d.
Robert Bucel 26s.
Edwin 7d.
Alan Bishop 17d.
Asslac 8d.
Osbert 8d.
Ivetta 19d.
Adam, son of Elviva 4s.8d.
Wulfet 6d.
Siolf 5d.
Roger Florast 4s.6d.
Ralph 28d.
John 5d.
Seman 16d.

They paid all of these sums to the earl of Arundel of their own free will to redeem his land from the Jews. They paid them to Nicholas the steward.

Douglas, D. C. & Greenaway, G. W. (eds), 1968. English Historical Documents 1042 – 1189. Eyre & Spottiswood. London. pp441-444

This a tribute to Beric Morley who excavated the site from 1970-76.

Thanks to John Kenyon, I now have a good archive of pictures from that period


G.T. Clark., 1884. Wyman. London.


CASTLE RISING, probably so called from its position on
ground that is high or rising compared with the low levels of
the district, stands about two miles from the estuary of the Wash upon its eastern or Norfolk shore. Half a mile north of the village
a large tract of low land is traversed by the Babingley river, and it
is evident that before this part of the country was drained and re-
claimed by tillage, the approaches to the village upon at least three
sides, the north, west and east, must have been almost impracticable.
These considerations probably governed those who chose Rising
as a residence. The soil is light and sandy, like that of the Dunes
of Holland, but contains just enough of vegetable mould to support
a growth of turf. The trees are chiefly ash and willow of very
large size, and upon the slopes of the castle are some noble and
very ancient thorns. The richness of the vegetation in and about
the village is in favourable contrast with the dreary and barren heath
land by which it is surrounded.
The earthworks are on a large scale, and probably the remains of
a great English residence, the centre of a large estate; circumstances
which no doubt led to the adaptation of this position for the Norman
fortress whence the village has derived the prefix to its more ancient
The central and principal division of the fortress is composed of
an irregular oval area about 67 yards east and west by 80 yards
north and south, contained within a broad and lofty bank, which,
in its turn, is surrounded by a very formidable ditch. Outside this
ditch, covering the east face is a subsidiary work, also within a bank
and ditch. It is in form nearly a parallelogram, but its sides are
somewhat irregularly convex, and its angles rounded. Its north end
is about 60 yards and its south 70 yards broad, and its length of
front 90 yards; but the ends are inclined, so that where it abuts
upon the main ditch it is about 80 yards.
This is balanced by a corresponding earthwork on the west point
of the central work. This earthwork is about 100 yards north and
south by 30 yards broad, and is also contained within a bank and
ditch. The ditches of these earthworks do not actually run into
the main ditch. A narrow causeway of earth is left between them.
The whole exterior girth of the ditch is reported to be 10,803 yards.
The central earthwork is about 30 feet high from the inclosed area,
and outside is about 60 feet above the bottom of the ditch. It is
about 15 feet wide at the top, and, being composed of light soil, has
a considerable slope. The banks of the outworks are not so high,
being about 20 feet inside and 40 feet outside. Those to the east
are, however, higher, and at the points nearly as high as those of
the centre. The westward work is altogether of a lighter character,
though still of great strength. The works cover about 13 acres.
They are wholly artificial.
The main entrance was from the north, along the edge of the
counterscarp of the main ditch, and it thus entered the eastern out-
work. Near its centre the road crossed the ditch by a bridge, and
entered the central ward by a notch in its eastern bank. The
western outwork seems to have been entered from the central
ward by steps up and down the bank, connected probably with a light bridge over the ditch. It may be that it was only used for
It has been thought that these earthworks are of somewhat dif-
ferent dates, and that the central is the oldest. The circle, or
irregular oval, with a bank and ditch, with or without a mound, is a
not uncommon form of earthwork in England, and is probably the
work of the English in the seventh and eighth centuries. That is to
say, where the work is on a low site, and the form not governed, as
in British works, by the outline of the ground. These English
enclosures rarely stand alone. Usually there were one or more ap-
pendages outside and abutting upon the main ditch, as at Laughton
and Kilpeck, probably additions, but not much later than the mainwork. They were usually also at no great distance from the parish church. From the tendency of the outworks at Castle Rising to
the rectangular form, they have been supposed, by good authority,
to be Roman, and the Romans had no doubt a settlement at
Brancaster, about fifteen miles to the north. But Roman works
seldom are composed of earthworks of this magnitude, the Roman
custom, where great security was needed, having been to build
a wall. Also, if the outworks only be Roman, the central work
must be British, which is scarcely consistent with what is known
of the defences of that people. Most probably the central is
an English work, and the outworks either of the same date, or
early additions by the same people. But, be the principal origin what it may, it is clear that here, as at Norwich, Clare, Heding-
ham, and Castle Acre, the Norman invader, having grasped the
estate of the English lord, proceeded, as in Normandy, to combine
the new fashion of castle-building with the old defences.
The keep, the chapel, and the gatehouse, the only parts in early
masonry of which anything now remains, were probably among the
works earliest executed. The Keep is a very noble example of the
rectangular Norman type. Not that its area, still less its height,
would place it in the first rank, but to considerable dimensions it
adds a degree of ornament rarely bestowed upon military buildings,
and though a ruin, its parts are unusually well preserved, and excel-
lent both in materials and workmanship. Like Hedingham, it
stands within, but not in the centre of, the inner ward. It almost
touches the slope of the western bank, and is about thirty yards from
the gatehouse and the eastern bank. Between the north and south

Notes on Emma Brewer’s report.

The female Victorian reporter Emma Brewer had clearly researched Castle Rising before her visit and her account gives a valuable insight into life in the castle in the late nineteeth-century.
When describing those parts of the castle remaining, the journalist refers to part of a ‘brick building dating to Henry VI’s reign’; this is difficult to interpret but it was most likely part of Queen Isabella’s suite of chambers dating to the mid- 1300’s.

On arriving at the castle, Emma and her party met the Police Constable James Claxton, his wife Sarah and children Charles, James, Lucy and Mabel.
They climbed ‘some broken steps’ and entered the gatehouse (vestibule). The steps were in a poor state of repair until 1967 when the whole forebuilding stair was emptied and the steps replaced and re-dressed by the master mason.

On leaving the vestibule or reception , the group reached the next floor via more ‘rickety’ and worn steps of the spiral stair stair, this led to the east mural passage, then to the White Room and a chamber over the chapel. The White Room was used as a bedroom and the tiles described are not Roman but are medieval and date to the late fourteenth-century (Bawsey kiln).

Intriguenly, the door to the White Room was still intact and ornate, it would interesting to know whatever happened to it.

The tour continued back down the spiral stair and into the north mural passage which was crudely hacked through a series of window arches by squatters in the the sixteenth-century and was not formed for ladies to view entertainment.
Along the mural passage, the group must have entered the area generally known as the kitchen. Signs of a staircase is a puzzling statement, Emma Brewer probably misinterpreted the kitchen flue as a stair well . The collection of broken carvings is recorded by other nineteenth-century sources,

Moving next to the Chapel, the record of a Saxon font standing near the east window is unique and a complete mystery. In this document we are also treated to an impression of the chapel before the vault collapsed, wall plaster clearly survived and whitewashed frescoes still visible.

Having dealt with the castle keep the visitors continued to explore the earthworks. Emma mistakenly assumed the banks were originally formed by Ancient Britons with Norman improvements. The fact is the oval template for the main ring-work probably dates from the Middle-Saxon period and was clearly non-defensive in nature.

NMF December 2009

‘…the true story which the ancient town of Rising guards so jealously – from prehistoric times, through the early Christian era, and down the long avenue of medieval history to the prosaic eventide of its long life. Several problems are left unsolved. Of some a mere shadowy suggestion flickers across the stage,’
Bradfer –Lawrence. 1932

To say Rising is a ‘very’ old place would be an understatement as it seems people have chosen to live in this small patch of Norfolk since remote prehistoric times.
Apart from features in the landscape, proof of occupation comes down to us as casual finds, metal-detecting sweeps, organized field-walking and archaeological excavation.
Various early finds were brought to the attention of the Howard estate agent H.L. Bradfer-Lawrence who made passing reference in his 1930’s book about the castle and village of Rising. However, the best evidence certainly comes from the formal castle excavations conducted by Beric Morley between 1970 and 1976.

Some finds which indicate early settlement include flint arrowheads used in hunting and small stones which when heated were added to crude clay pots filled with a watery recipe and once formed part of early cookery.
Further proof of prehistoric settlement can be found to the east of the A149 which bypasses the modern vilage. However, these features are not houses, field boundaries or defences but are probably funeral monuments. First, a large mound in Keeper’s Wood which, judging from its size and type, may prove to contain human burials dating to the late Neolithic period (3000-2480 BC). Second, Two smaller mounds or barrows located nearby probably date to the Bronze Age (2480-800 BC) and may protect the remains of early tribal leaders and their families.
Iron Age occupation (800-0 BC) is spectacularly represented locally by the Snettisham torc or gold necklace. However, Rising has neither obvious landscape features nor quantities of finds to prove occupation during that major historic transition period.

Contrary to the previous age, Romano-British occupation appears to have had a greater impact on Rising, for instance the local field stone known as Silver Carr was heavily exploited and we now know was shipped around the Norfolk coast as far as Reedham. Salt production was probably active in the Babingley valley during this period and the earliest sea defences may have been erected.
Roman pottery has been found both on the castle site and the surrounding fields. Coins of the period found in Rising date from as early as 69-79 AD to as late as 550-5 AD which strongly suggests that some Roman occupation continued after the official withdrawal in 410 AD.
Archaeological evidence retrieved from the castle site include brick and tile recycled to build an early church, fragments of ‘box flue’ which previously heated a wall of a bathhouse and a rare fragment of Roman glass.

Saxon pottery was not only recovered during the castle dig but also from nearby fields. Most fragments date to the tenth and eleventh centuries and prove to be locally produced wares.
Various metal finds have been recovered by metal detection and date roughly to the Middle and Late Saxon period (600-1066 AD).
The obvious importance of Rising from the earliest historic period seems to its ancient association with the Bishops of East Anglia, beginning with St Felix of Dunwich. It is possible that the powerful influence of the subsequent Bishops encouraged a major combined effort of local leaders to tame the Babingley estuary by building sea defences and culverts.
The earliest phase of the castle earthworks appear not to be defensive and probably date to the arrival of St Felix (around 632 AD) who may have established the site as a monastery in the Celtic tradition i.e. in an oval or a circle. This enclosure would have housed a colony of ‘mendicant’ or poor monks who produced nothing other than spiritual well being for the local villagers; this may account for the total lack of finds for this period.
The archaeological layers within the castle yard suggest that occupation by a religious order came to an abrupt halt, possibly due to Viking attack during the ninth-century. What appears to have happened next is that the locals moved into the enclosure and started building structures and left evidence of occupation.

The stone church to the north of the castle yard has been the subject of debate since Victorian times. Two nineteenth-century authors held opposing views regarding the date of the building, Henry Harrod F.S.A. insisted that was a Norman structure, whereas a local historian William Taylor firmly believed it to be Saxon.
Excavation of the church floor in 1976 revealed evidence of three earlier structures which may represent early timber chapels. This work also exposed part of the south wall which included a section of masonry known as ‘long and short work’ which is generally regarded as a typical Saxon feature.
Recent studies of this building by Norman Fahy the castle custodian favours Taylor’s view in that the main part of the church is largely pre-Norman but has an additional semi-circular chancel to the east which is distinctly mid-twelfth-century. This later addition known as an apse does appear to have Saxon slit windows re-used from the earlier building.
If this new interpretation is correct, it raises a major question; if the Saxon arrangement consisted of a nave (public area) and chancel (high end where the altar stood) the chancel must also have been a tower judging from the wall thickness.
This may not seem too controversial until we learn a simple fact; i.e. towers would be attached to any part of a church except the east end!
Further to this, there is only one other Saxon church with an apparent east tower and that can be seen at Dunwich which was the original land-fall site of St Felix in the seventh-century.
A closer examination of the nature of church towers takes us in a fascinating direction. Clearly, today they house a bell or bells but quite a different story emerges.

The discovery of the church in the extreme northern section of the castle yard came as the result of wider programme of debris clearance from during the first half of the nineteenth-century. The work instigated during the ownership of Mary Howard not only revealed remnants of buried buildings largely to the south of the keep but also to the north-west and east of the inner ring-work which William Taylor even recorded as a site plan (pic).
Clearance of debris from the church at this time also produced a stone plinth from the area normally designated for a font. Subsequent measurements and comparisons to base of the one which now stands within the church of St Lawrence ultimately drew the conclusion that the decorative bowl was designed for, and once stood inside the earlier church.
The eminent historian R.A. Brown wrote in his official guide to the castle that;
‘Investigation has revealed no trace of any preceding church on the same site.’ And went further, ‘When the castle was founded in the early twelfth-century the existing and Anglo-Saxon settlement on the site, included the parish church which then became enclosed within the banks inconveniently close to it’.

These paragraphs are difficult to reconcile, first Brown says there is no evidence for earlier churches and in the same breath acknowledged Saxon settlement and a church which pre-dated the earthworks.

Beric Morley’s 1970’s excavation work agrees with Brown regarding a substantial pre-conquest settlement but produced evidence of three buried structures at the west end of the nave which he speculated to be foundations of three early churches.
The construction date of the surviving church (around 1100 A.D.) church was determined by Morley from a single fragment of identifiable early medieval pottery recovered from the upper-most in-fill of a bell casting pit situated in the centre of the nave.

However, if we give this evidence closer inspection we may come to a different conclusion; i.e. the bell pit dates the casting of a bell at a later period to the construction of the church.
Close examination of the construction of this building reveals two distinctive stages. First the nave or the main rectangular public area and the eastern sanctuary/tower which appear to be formed from sizable pieces of local gray sandstone, fragments of ‘pudding-stone,’ but more interestingly, re-cycled Roman brick and tile!

The tower foundations are substantial (approximately .75m thick) which suggests a tall structure planned from the start; also, the east wall of the tower is edged with stacked Roman tile and probably defines the eastern end of the original church.
So if the apse is later, let’s have a closer look.
The foundations were generally wider than the walls of the main building except the apse which appeared to be much narrower, the fill of the foundations is composed largely of re-used Roman material; even those of the apse were the same but this time I feel the Norman builders sifted fragments of brick and tile from their demolition of the original Saxon east wall.
Beric Morley discussed the re-lining of the apse on the north and east faces of the curved wall but omitted to mention obvious wholesale re-building of the south side which includes a large block of castle stone and Tudor brick. He also emphatically stated that the church ‘was plainly of one build’ despite recovering typical Saxon masonry; also, Saxon stone slit windows appear to have been transferred to the Norman apse. One further concern regarding the church plan is the tower. There is no other ecclesiastical site in England to my knowledge which displays an eastern bell-tower apart from than that of the ancient church of St. James, Dunwich, Suffolk which historically was the starting point for Saint Felix in the seventh-century and later became a ‘leprosium’ or a house for lepers – as it would seem did one in Rising.

Beric Morley concedes that due to the presence of the bank he was only able to excavate a small area but stated, ‘Clearly all the features exposed pre-date the bank, which means they also pre-date the castle’. He also assigns one gully with the construction of the church and suggests it may have served as a boundary or possibly for drainage.
To quote directly, ‘the original bank was first seen in the section north of the early Norman church. It definitely post-dated the church and overlay the activities connected with the latter’.
The trench to the west of the keep revealed conclusively that the bank did not sit directly on the old ground surface but on about .45m of dark brown, almost black sand,
In the discussion of the construction of the keep it was established that the keep was built directly on the dark brown soil surface, the difference between this level and the plinth being deliberately made-up ground. It seems likely that this layer was a remnant of this make-up, and if so is evidence that the keep pre-dates the bank.
For example, a number of marking-out blocks were found lying on the old ground surface below the make-up layer. This suggests that the blocks were already being selected for marking out the bank before levelling was started.
Again, another trench exposed evidence of a pre-keep gully below the later earthworks which reinforces the notion of earlier settlement
Morley once more records ‘West of the keep the area is very much disturbed by pits for rubbish or cess as might be expected below the kitchen waste chute and four garderobes. However, under the bank there was a layer of dark sand which might well have been levelling material. It was overlain by blocks of carstone marking out the internal edge of the bank, and thus cannot be interpreted as simply the lowest layer of bank itself’.
Analysis of pre-Norman activity refers to an array of features of ‘uncertain function’. Readers of that work are reminded of the restricted nature of the investigations which often prevented the archaeologist from exploring levels lying below the remains essentially dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth-centuries. Despite this, Morley concluded that the site represented ‘an important part’ of the village settlement prior to the construction of the castle. He also refers to a ubiquitous layer of ‘dark brown buried soil or chocolate brown sand’ which was encountered within most trenches. Although not entirely sure of the nature of the deposit he does suggest evidence of cultivation as it resembled the improved field soil surrounding the castle today.
The dark sand may mostly represent a Roman cultivation layer but more excitingly could be evidence of Viking attack and burning.

The borough status of Castle Rising recorded as early as the thirteenth-century has always confounded historians; why would such a small place acquire such a grand title?
According to the eminent Victorian researcher F.W. Maitland, four attributes defined a Saxon burh which is clearly were the word borough originates.

First, burh is Germanic for fastness or stronghold; a place of refuge or a military centre.
Second, such places often held ‘moots’ or meetings which formed part of a national system of governance.
Third, a burh was where markets were held and surprisingly, the term burh and port are inter-changeable during the late Saxon period.
Fourth, is the association with the striking of royal coinage; King Æthelstan (925-940) decreed ‘No one is to coin money outside of a port, and there is to be a moneyer in every burh.’

With this set of descriptions I feel we can start to compare Rising to an early borough. To begin with, it seems likely that the village and defendable enclosure were not in terra Regis (King’s land), but in those of those of the bishops of East Anglia and therefore regarded as an ecclesiastical burh; much like that of Newark, Nottinghamshire which was held by the bishop of Lincoln.

The castle ring-work seen today appears to have evolved from a non-military enclosure which may date to the early seventh-century and probably formed an oval monastic enclosure.
In recent years, various authors have examined the nature and origins of church towers. Clearly, today they house a bell or bells, but that was not always the case. The word belfry comes from the Middle English berefrey which originally meant a portable, timber defendable tower. Intriguingly, the Saxon word beorgan ultimately gave rise to that of burh.
With this in mind, it is exciting to speculate that the old church is not only far older than generally thought but was also equipped with a substantial stone tower which could have served as a retreat in times of trouble.

This brings us to ask who would require such a retreat and where would they live? We know from the Domesday Book that Stigand, formerly bishop of East Anglia held huge amounts of the eastern counties including Rising; it is possible that one of Stigand’s predecessors built the stone church and may also have erected a grand timber hall central to the current yard. Evidence of this hall was revealed during Beric’s work and indicates a structure measuring approx 23x13 meters, the footprint for which is comparable to those discovered by Wade-Martins at North Elmham, also in Norfolk and the cathedral city of the bishops of East Anglia until the conquest.

There are three wells within the main enclosure at the castle, one in the Great Hall basement, one in the yard to the north and another which provided water for Queen Isabella’s apartments and now survives below the turf to the south of the keep.
There was a recent need to photograph the well in the basement which revealed the stone shaft descending only a short distance until it changed character, stone gave way to something very different. It seems Saxon wells sunk into sand and gravel were achieved using a tube formed from wicker to hold back the loose ground then re-enforced with lime mortar on the outer face to form a water-proof lining. Eventually, the wicker work disappeared with the passage of time and all that is left is an impression within the mortar. It is possible the Saxon well may have supplied water to the services of the bishop’s hall. Interestingly, the other two wells appear to totally lined with stone much like the spiral stairs of the castle.

Copyright Norman Fahy 2010

This is ‘Breaking News’
I recently re-drew part the Castle Rising estate map dated 1588 and began to question my initial judgement of the document. I assumed the artwork was an approximation of the castle and surrounding area, I now believe it to be a very accurate depiction.
The map clearly shows three towers surrounding the castle yard but also suggests a lost gatehouse attached to the north-west tower which could be described as a postern gate. This map also shows no access to the Norman gatehouse.
There is no documentary evidence for this communication with the village in the sixteenth-century but I believe there may be archaeological remains of supporting piers in the bottom of the defences in that quadrant of the site.

There is no documentary evidence for this communication with the village in the sixteenth-century but I believe there may be archaeological remains of supporting piers in the bottom of the defences in that quadrant of the site.