Bampton Castle

Bampton Castle image








1. Historical context

In 1249 the great royal manor of Bampton was given by Henry III to his favourite William de Valence.1 On 4 June 1284 William wrote to Edward I from Bampton, the one occasion on which he can be shown to have visited his manor.2 William died in 1296 (when a survey of the demesne at Bampton mentions "a certain court, of which the easements together with the herbage, the curtilage and the produce of a garden within the precincts of the court are worth yearly 10s."),3 and was succeeded by his son, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke. Aymer issued a charter from Bampton on 12 November 1307,4 and during the fateful events of 1312 he went there on 10 June to visit his wife, leaving Piers Gaveston under guard at Deddington. 5 Aymer obtained a royal licence to crenellate his house at Bampton in 1315,6 - a date which agrees perfectly with the architectural evidence of the surviving remains - but is not known to have visited it between then and his death in 1324. While this lack of information probably cannot be taken as negative evidence, it remains rather mysterious that Aymer should have built at Bampton a castle on a massive scale, far bigger in area than, for example, his much better-known castle at Goodrich. If the reconstruction proposed below is valid, the area enclosed by the curtain wall was comparable in size to the greatest of Edward Is castles. Bampton Castle may always have been something of a white elephant. It seems to be virtually unmentioned until 1664, when Anthony Wood sketched its ruins (Fig. 5A), and nearly everything had been demolished by 1789 when the earliest known map was made (Fig. 6A). All that now remains is the fragmentary W. gatehouse, part of a farm called Ham Court. Luckily, Wood's sketch, combined with other pictorial and topographical evidence, makes it possible to reconstruct the original design with some confidence.

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The standing fabric

(Figs. 1-4) The surviving fragment of the castle consists of the W. gate-passage, lacking its upper storey, flanked on the S. by a 10-metre length of curtain wall and on the N. by a lodging-range. All the remains evidently belong to one building phase, with mouldings (waves, quarter-circles and chamfers), window tracery and other architectural details all entirely consistent with a date around 1315. In the late 17th or 18th century, perhaps when most of the castle was demolished, the gatehouse was turned into a dwelling. The gate-passage was floored in, its two major arches blocked, and windows, doors and other fittings inserted. The remains appear in this state in J.C. Buckler's sketches of 1821, and in a woodcut published by Turner and Parker in 1853 (Figs. 3-4).8 Since then the fabric has changed little, except that a Victorian wing has been built in the angle between the S. side of the gate-passage and the curtain wall. Both in this account and in Figs. 1-2, post-medieval features are ignored except where relevant to the original building. The W. front of the gatehouse projects outwards 3.2 m. from the line of the curtain wall, and has pairs of angle buttresses on the external corners; there are scars for two matching inwards-facing buttresses on the E. front. The gate-passage, entered through major arches at either end, measures 9.0 by 4.5 m. internally and consists of two square rib-vaulted bays; each bay of vaulting has a much-damaged foliage boss. In the side walls at the W. end of the passage are a pair of small embrasures for arrow-slits, enabling shots to be directed N. and S. of the gate. In corresponding positions at the E. end are a pair of two-centred doorways; the northern gives access to the ground floor of the lodging-range, and the southern to a spiral stair in a polygonal turret, lit by tiny cusped- headed lancets, which rises to the level of the lost chamber over the gate- passage. The stair-turret has been raised and given a crenellated parapet since 1821 (Fig. 3). The chamber over the gate evidently had fireplaces, for two tall chimneys, their tops decorated with friezes of ballflower and blind panelling with geometrical designs (Fig. 4B), are shown in the early 19th-century illustrations; no trace of these now remains. The surviving section of curtain wall is 2.1 m. thick. In its inner face are two massive embrasures with two-centred arched heads (now concealed behind cupboards but visible in 1821, Fig. 3) containing cross-shaped arrow-slits. A wall-walk evidently ran above the heads of the embrasures, behind the crenellated parapet. There are now three merlons, the one nearest the gate blank and the other two pierced by cross-shaped arrow-slits; the southernmost of these replaces a blank merlon which was fragmentary in 1821 (Fig. 3) and missing by 1845 (Fig. 4A). Projecting northwards from the N.E. corner of the gate-passage is a two- storey range, 3.1 m. wide internally. The upper chamber has in its W. wall a fireplace with moulded jambs and a corbelled stone hood, and in its E. wall a two-light transomed 4 window with curvilinear tracery. There are no medieval feature: on the ground floor, and the N. end has been truncated of rebuilt. Under the northern two- thirds of the range as now existing is a cellar, probably a post- medieval insertion. The W. face of this range is in-set by nearly 3 m. from the outer plane of the curtain wall, which presumably continued northwards from the gate; a 0.8-m. wide passage would have been left between the curtain wall and the lodging-range, just wide enough to give access to the embrasures.

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Anthony Wood's drawings
Vital evidence for the original form and extent of the castle is provided by a sketch of the west front made by Anthony Wood in 1664, when it remained largely complete (Fig. 5A).9 Wood's accompanying note reads: At the West end of Bampton church, scarce a stones cast distant, are the ruines of a castle, that hath been moated round (reported there to have been built by K. John) and built quadrangular. It had a round Tower at each corner, which was ascended to by stone-steps: And for spedier conveyances up to the said wall. there were besides these 4 Towers, a large and high Gatehouse (Tower like) on the West and East sides (some say on every side) of which this here represented was the west tower. The sketch shows a broad front divided into four bays, each with a row of five cross-shaped arrow-slits. At the corners were round towers with three tiers of arrow-slits; the intermediate bay-divisions were corbelled-out turrets, described in the key as 'two demi-round towers, jetting out from the wall, supported by pillars partly built within the wall, and partly standing without'. The chamber in the gate-tower had 'an old Gothick window' over the entrance, apparently comprising two tiers of lights with a central piercing above; this is most naturally 5 interpreted as a larger version of the traceried window in the lodging-range. The gate-tower, the corner towers and the intermediate turrets were all crenallated, and the merlons on the curtain wall were alternately pierced with arrow-slits. The symmetrical character of the design makes it possible to interpret Wood's sketch in the light of the surviving remains, and produce a roughly true-to- scale reconstruction (Fig. 5B). The west elevation of the castle is revealed as a palatial facade some 110 m. (360 feet) long. Wood's uncertainty about the north and south gates may suggest that the rest of the castle was already ruinous in 1664, but his statement that it was 'built quadrangular' is most naturally interpreted as meaning that the four sides were of equal length, enclosing a square courtyard.

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The overall plan of the castle:
earthworks ma• evidence and buildings within the enclosure
The earliest evidence for the other buildings at Ham Court is a rather sketchy map of 1789 (Fig. 6A).10 This can be supplemented by the more accurate 1827 inclosure map, which also shows the water-courses, now much altered, around the castle site. Traces of earthworks are still visible W. of the gatehouse and around a sub- rectangular enclosure on the N. side of the farm complex; these were more distinct in 1912, when a sketch-plan was made by E.A. Downman.11 Fig. 6B shows all this evidence, transcribed onto a true-to¬scale base- map. This corroborates the interpretation suggested above, for the castle, thus reconstructed, sits neatly within a square area defined by ditches to E. and S., by a residual scarp to W. and by the subsidary ditched enclosure to N. The obvious interpretation of the ditches and scarp is that they are 6 traces of a very broad moat, some 30 m. wide, which surrounded the castle; Wood's drawing seems in fact to show standing water on the W. side. A reconstruction of the probable original layout of the curtain wall and moats is attempted in Fig. 7. The groups of farm buildings standing in 1789 also conformed well to the reconstructed perimeter, for they consisted of three ranges running roughly parallel to the N. and S. curtain walls. Among these buildings must have been a large late medieval cruck barn, 21 ft. 6 ins. wide internally, which was drawn by J.C. Buckler (Fig. 8).12 Excluding a still- extant 18th-century barn in the southernmost range, the only possible candidate is a large W.-E. building on the northern side of the complex just inside the inferred line of the N. curtain wall.. The barn was probably no earlier than the 15th century, and suggests that at that date the castle was still accommodating a manorial establishment on some scale. The northern enclosure, called 'Turf Close' on the 1789 map, may have contained gardens and orchards attached to the castle, or could even represent the curtilage of the earlier royal manor-house. At its NW. corner, now buried under rubble, is the holy well known as Lady Well. J.A. Giles wrote in 1848:13 is distant about 200 yards from the northern wall of the castle.... The field, which lies between it and the Castle, seems to have been formerly used as a tilting-area in which the garrison assembled for tournaments and other exhibitions. It is quadrangular, and surrounded by a moat, which is of lesser dimensions than that which protects the Castle itself. In the hollow ground formed by the crumbled sides of this moat, and near its western angle, the ancient well is situated... The stone-work, with which the sides of the Fountain are protected from the weight of earth and trees, whose roots penetrate through the crevices, is still in tolerable preservation, though four or five hundred years have probably passed away, since it was erected. The building was surveyed in October 1987 by kind permission of the tenant, Mr. H. Barlow-Vaughan, and with the help o Elenore Cawson, Gareth Davies, Julia Lehman and Sarah Renshaw o the Oxford University Archaeological Society. Fig. 5 i reproduced by permission of the Curators of the Bodleian Library Figs. 3, 4 6 and 8 by permission of the Trustees of the British Library.

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1._ Cal.Charter R. i, 339
2. P.R.O., Ancient Correspondence,
3. P.R.O., Inquisitions Post Mortem,
4. Exeter Dean and Chapter, MS 3672
5. J.S. Phillips, Aymer de Valence,
Earl of Pembroke (1972) 35.
6. Cal.Pat.R. 1313-17, 278.
7. See itinerary in Phillips op.cit.
note 5.
8. B.L. MS Add. 36372 ff.118-19; T.H.
Turner and J.H. Parker
Domestic Architecture: Fourteenth
Century (1853), 261.
9. Bodl. MS Wood E 1 f.12, a pencil
field-sketch evidentll
inked in by Wood soon afterwards;
reproduced The Life an(
Times of Anthony Wood, ed. A. Clark, ii
(O.H.S. xxi, 1892),
10. B.L., Map Room, C7.e.16.3.
11. B.L., MS Add. 38776, f.54. See
also description in V.C.H. Oxon. ii,
12. B.L. MS Add. 36437.
13. J.A. Giles, History of the
Parish and Town of Bamptor
(1848), 66-7.

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Click on any of the following
images for a larger version


Pictures and
diagrams of Bampton Castle

barn roof

Elevation and floor plan 1987

e site in 1789

Proposed reconstruction in

of the remains of the Castle in

Sketch by j c Buckler 1821

elevation 1987

face, Turner Woodcut 1853

front view, a Woods sketch 1664

These sites cover the ox18 area of Oxfordshire England, including  the following villages, OX18, Alvescot, Bampton, Black Bourton, Burford, Broadwell, Carterton, Clanfield, Kelmscott, Kencot, Langford, Lechlade, RAF Broadwell, Shilton, Parish Pump, Oxfordshire Events,


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