The History Of Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle in its heyday.
As basically the only half decent historical monument in the Southend area, I've had a soft-spot for Hadleigh castle ever since I first visited it when I was about fourteen. From the site's elevated position you can see why this site has become a haven for budding photography enthusiasts, myself included. The remnants of Hadleigh Castle stands high overlooking the Thames estuary, with Southend visible to the east and Canvey Island and views of Kent sitting below it to the south.

Construction of the castle began between 1215 and 1230 under the supervision of Hubert De Burgh under permission of King John and Henry III. The remnants that are left today might not look much to behold, but it was meant to be one of London's most important defences against invasion (as in to prevent an invasion via the Thames estuary.) The original design was fairly standard for the time, a similar construction can still be seen in a more complete state in Wales at White Castle.

An illustration of the ruin circa 1700s. Note
the southern wall still in existence.
By 1239, De Burgh was imprisoned by Henry the III and the estate was turned over for use as a Royal estate which it had remained until it's eventual ruin. Over the centuries the estate was mostly used as a hunting lodge and as a token bartering chip during royal disputes. During the 15th century King Henry VIII used the estate as dower, essentially a compensation payment given to three of the divorcees so they might have some place to live. Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleeves and Catherine Parr would have lived or at least slept at this site at one stage or another over their lifetimes.

Hadleigh castle was clearly not seen as an asset, or something worth keeping however. Trying to obtain the funds to maintain the walls and towers was difficult at best, and at many times the inhabitants complained of it's derelict nature. Finally, in what would seal Hadleigh Castle's fate, the comically named 'Lord Richard Rich', purchased the estate from Edward the VI for the measly sum of £700. This wasn't an awful lot in those days, probably around £250-300,000 in today's money. I would assume that this was simply one of many 'thank you' gifts presented to Lord Rich, the then Lord Chancellor, who was one of the main figures behind the breaking up (and profiting) of estates under the ownership of the monasteries. (See the dissolution of the monasteries.) Rich unfortunately began selling the stonework off for building supplies, probably to construct other fortifications in England that were required during a time period where relationships between England on the one hand and France and Spain on the other were shaky at best. What had been left was subject to the power of time. With the moving clay soil underneath, the castle slipped down the eroding coast with the entire southern wall collapsing quite recently between 1898 and 1923.

Not much remains today, and sadly I would think that given another hundred years or so nothing will remain without a deliberate action taken to save it. Although back in it's heyday it was hardly something romantic; the peasant class likely abhorred them as a symbol of elitist oppression, but today they do have a certain charm about them. Today Hadleigh Castle is likely most renowned around the country as having being the subject of a great romantic painting painted by John Constable in around 1828. The entire estate was purchased by the Salvation Army, but the castle itself was later transferred to the ownership of the UK Government in 1948. Today the site is managed by English Heritage, but any potential visitors will be happy to know that access to the site is completely free.

*These images are 360, and you may scroll your mouse over them to look around. If you're on a mobile device, you may need to turn your phone landscape to view the entire image.

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