England's Medieval Festival - Visitors Info - History - Our Castle - Castle History
England's Medieval Festival Herstmonceux Castle
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Medieval Festival

Medieval Festival

Medieval Festival

Medieval Festival

An Englishman's Castle

    Herstmonceux castle is one of the oldest brick buildings in England, and was the height of fashion in 1441 when Sir Roger Fiennes,a knight and Treasurer of the household of King Henry VI, was granted permission to replace his existing Manor House with a castle. The majority of castles were built for protection rather than luxury and could be dark, cold and rather uncomfortable places to live. Herstmonceux Castle however was very much designed with splendour in mind. Sir Roger had amassed a considerable fortune and he decided to use it to construct a castle befitting his family's new found importance. The impressive building was the largest private home in England at the time.

    The castle continued its function as a grand country house until 1708, when it was sold to a lawyer named George Naylor. His heir, Francis Hare, unfortunately squandered his inheritance and by 1777 the building was in such poor state that it was carefully pulled down and its interior bricks and contents sold. What was left of the castle stood as a ruin for many years, and was even used by smugglers in the nineteenth century to hide rum and tea. The legend of the Headless Drummer, a ten feet tall ghost that appeared on the battlements was likely put about to deter the locals from investigating the goings-on at the castle!

    The ruins became a tourist attraction in the Victorian eraand a fashionable place to have Afternoon Tea. Rebuilding work began with the purchase of the estate bylocal M.P. Claude Lowtherin 1910. In 1932 Sir Paul Latham boughtthe castle and successfully completed the restorations that Lowther had started.

    An RAF camp, part of RAF Wartling, was established on the estate during WWII. The Admiralty then bought the estate for the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1946. When the RGO decided to relocate in 1988 because of light pollution from Eastbourne, the castle was subsequently purchased by Dr Alfred Bader, an alum of Queen's University in Canada. He generously gifted the castle to Queen's University in 1993 and today the castle is home to the Bader International Study Centre - welcoming undergraduates from all over the world to Sussex every school year.

    Herstmonceux Castle's gardens and grounds are open to the public from April to October. Our long list of visitors includes the likes of Virginia Wolf, Sir Winston Churchill, Stephen Hawking and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We invite you to explore the beautiful walled gardens, take a stroll around our magnificent exhibition of Zimbabwean sculptures and stay for light refreshments at Chestnuts Cafe.

    The castle has been proud to host England's Medieval Festival for the past 24 years.