The Castle

(with thanks to Carl Young for the content)

Where is the Castle?

Many visitors to Castle Combe ask for the whereabouts of the Castle. Today it no longer exists, but its original site is about half a mile to the north west of the Manor House, situated on a natural promontory overlooking the Bybrook valley.

However, the earthworks are still visible, although most of the site is overgrown. Some remaining stonework can be located in the undergrowth, although not accessible to the public, being part of the privately owned golf course.

This drawing appears in Scrope's history of Castle Combe, published in 1852. It can be seen that a tower is visible on top of Castle-Hill. Scrope describes this as "a rude tower....recently built on the site, to indicate the position of the old castle"

Origins and Position

The site occupies a commanding position on top of a hill over looking the valley, the steep slopes providing natural defence against attackers. It is on the brow of a steep hill and juts out into the valley. The hill is steeply sloping on three sides, and connected on the fourth side with level ground. The summit, which occupies about eight acres, is surrounded by a deep ditch and mound. the interior is divided into unequal compartments by trenches.

Note the close proximity of Lugbury Long Barrow (at the top North West), the Roman Road (adjacent to Lugbury) and today's village site at the South East.

Castle Hill was probably first occupied in neolithic times. This view is supported by the existence of Lugbury long barrow nearby, adjacent to the Roman Fosse Way.

Artists impression of possible Iron Age promontory Hillfort circa 100BC to AD50 that pre-dated the Norman motte and bailey

It is believed that the entrenched camp, which was abandoned by the Celts after the Roman invasion, was re-occupied by the Saxons as a hill fort, by 600 AD. It is also at this time that the place acquired the name of Cumbe, which was a Saxon word for valley.

William of Worcester, writing in the period 1450-1460 states that "there was a castle in the middle of the park here, seated upon a hill, which was destroyed by the pagan people coming from the kingdom of the Danes, as invaders and enemies to King Alfred, in the year of Christ eight hundred and seventy eight". The "castellum" referred to by William of Worcester was probably the Saxon entrenched camp.

The Normans

Reginald de Dunstanville, became the first Baron, and is credited with building in 1140 AD the "Castell of Cumbe", on the same site chosen by the ancient Britons for their entrenched camp. Accordingly it became the feudal seat of the barony.

As the battles of the Norman period ceased and there was no longer a requirement for a fortified stronghold, a more convenient and comfortable Manor Hall was built on the valley floor, and the castle fell into disrepair. Sir Robert Tiptoft is credited with building the Manor House in the fourteenth century.

The keep tower seems to have remained conspicuous up to the end of the seventeenth century. Camden's Britannia speaks of it as visible from Corsham some five miles distant. Also in the same century Aubrey refers to the Castle tower as "standing, strongly seated on a steep hill".

Artists impression of possible Norman Castle

Motte and Bailey

Motte, which comes from the French word for 'mound', is just that: a large earthen mound with sufficient space on top for a tower. The bailey was the courtyard at the base of the motte - sometimes, but not always, on a lower mound of its own.

When built, the tower (like all the structures of the motte-and-bailey castle) would have been of wood. The tower on the motte, the most secure point, was generally the residence of the lord and his family, and it would also have been used as a lookout point. Accommodation for the lord's followers, together with stables, storehouses and a great hall for communal meals, would have been in the bailey.

It should also be remembered that the castle was - like the country house of later centuries - the centre for an agricultural estate, and although the work on it was done by the peasantry, the lord farmed the demesne land; barns and storehouses formed an essential part of any castle.

Effigy of De Dunstanville

The Castle Today

Today the site is under the ownership of the Castle Combe golf club. Reminders of the past still exist. For example the flat area behind the old castle is still known as the tilting ground, and the earth embankments can still be identified. Some masonry can be seen, although much overgrown and probably the remains of the tower built in the nineteenth century which was demolished in 1950.

Masonry obscured by undergrowth on the site of the Castle