Archive for the ‘Medieval History’ Category

Bodiam Castle

Posted: August 22, 2017 in History, Medieval History, Sussex, UK


Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 as a protection against French invasion during the 100 years war. It is unusual in design as it has no central keep. Despite its initial purpose, Bodiam managed to survive without being involved in any military action. It was surrendered by the Lewkner family in 1483 when threatened with siege by forces supporting the House of York. It was returned to them following the accession of Henry VII. During the civil war, it was sold by Lord Thanet, a Royalist, to pay the fines levied by Parliment and they took the decision to dismantle some of the defences. The castle was restored by its owners during the 19th and 20th century and in 1925 it was given to the National Trust and opened to the public.


Shrewsbury Castle


It has been suggested that an Anglo-Saxon fortification stood on this site prior to the arrival of the Normans. Roger de Montgomery built a timber castle here around 1070 which was eventually replaced by a stone building. It was besieged and fell to King Stephen 1138 and was occupied by Llewellyn ap Iorweth, Prince of Wales for a period in 1215. The castle was rebuilt and strengthened around 1300 by Edward I and the buildings that remain date from this period. It seems to have gone out of use as a fortress and eventually in the reign of Elizabeth I, custody was given to the town. It was captured during the Civil War by Parliamentary forces (1645) but was returned to Crown ownership again in 1660. In 1663 the castle was given to Sir Francis Newport and it remained in private hands until 1924, when the Shropshire Horticultural Society purchased the site and presented it to the town. The Hall building was used as the Council chamber until 1981. In 1985 it reopened as a museum dedicated to the history of Shropshire’s military regiments. In 1992, the museum was damaged by a terrorist bomb, which resulted in it being closed for three years.

Walls of Shrewsbury Castle

Hall building, Shrewsbury Castle


Rowley’s House


William Rowley, a Draper by trade, came from the area around Bridgenorth. His family, however, had been recorded as merchants in Shrewsbury as early as 1252. It is not clear at what point William moved to Shrewsbury, but he certainly had interests in the town and was named the Burgess in 1594. His business ventures were successful as records show that he employed his brother as his London agent.

The date of the original timber framed house that is known today as Rowley’s house is unclear. One argument is that it was actually built by his business partner, Richard Cherwill, whilst others date it to the period after Rowley owned this site.  The first record of Rowley owning the land in the town comes in 1605 when he inherited a plot of land from his now deceased partner. By 1612 he had purchased further land from the Cherwill family and in 1614 he purchased land from the Bugle Inn. In 1616, Rowley set about extending the timber framed house with a brick mansion which became known as Rowley’s Mansion. This was the first such house in Shrewsbury.

Rowley’s brick extension 1616-8

In addition to drapery, Rowley also owned a large brewhouse (Richard Cherwill had also been in the brewing industry and so this may have been something he took over from his partner following Cherwill’s death). He became a major brewer and in 1635 Sir William Bereton described it as ‘a vast great brewhouse’. Rowley became a leading person in the town serving as town bailiff from 1628-9 and as Alderman from 1638.

When he died in 1645, the house passed to his brother, Roger and in 1670 to John Hill, husband of Roger’s daughter Priscilla. Following his death in 1680 the house passed to his son, also John, who was a notable person in Shrewsbury serving on the town council and as mayor from 1688-9. Nearby John Hill Street was named after him. When John jr died in 1731 the house passed to Dr Thomas Adams, rector of nearby St Chad’s, who was married to Hill’s daughter. He lived in the house until he left Shrewsbury in 1755 and it is recorded that Dr Samuel Johnson visited on at least one occasion. Little is known about the history of the house after this period, though there are notes that from the early 19th century it had begun to decay. In 1930 many of the mediaeval buildings in this area of the town were demolished, but Rowley’s house was purchased by the corporation, refurbished and opened as the Roman Museum in 1938. In the early 1980s, it underwent another refurbishment in order to become a more general museum about the history of the town. In 2013, the decision was taken to move the museum to a new site in the old music Hall building on the Market Square. Rowley’s House Museum closed in September 2013 and is now used as University Centre Shrewsbury, part of the University of Chester.

Some more views of Shrewsbury Cathedral

Chancel and Choir 1886-7

Chancel and Choir 1886-7


St Winifred Window (1992). Note the welsh symbols and the sword which was how she was martyred

Believed to be a 14th part of the Shrine of St Winifred, whose bones had been brought to Shrewsbury in 12th century from Wales

The font which actually the inverted base of a Roman column!

Outside wall of old Abbey Church


Shrewsbury Abbey

Shrewsbury Abbey was founded in 1083 by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury and a senior knight at the court of William the Conqueror. There was probably an existing wooden church here, it is mentioned in the Doomsday Survey and may have dated back to Anglo-Saxon times. This church was replaced by a large stone building complete with the necessary outbuildings of a Benedictine Monastery.

The tomb of Roger De Montgomery, founder of the Abbey d 1094

Over the years it was an important site of parliament and the monastery came to be one of the major Benedictine houses in the UK. This all came to an end in 1540 when it was closed by order of Henry VIII. The western end of the Nave was given to the parish of Holy Cross and the remainder of the church, along with many monastic buildings were demolished. The church continued as a parish church and was redesigned in 1886-7.

View from West Door

West Door

Norman arches

Norman arches

The old monastery site was further destroyed when the current London – Shrewsbury road was built past its doors in 1836.

Part of the Infirmary and cloister of the old Abbey, now separated from the church by a road


In more recent years the Abbey has become famous as the home of the fictitious Brother Cadfael, a sleuthing monk of Shrewsbury. Many visitors now come to visit the Abbey because of this connection. One thing I had not realised was that some of the book characters were real people – for example, Prior Robert Pennant, Cadfael’s nemesis in the books was actually a prior of Shrewsbury and was actually responsible for acquiring the bones of St Winifred (as in the book – A morbid taste for bones).

A modern stained glass window celebrating the Benedictine heritage of Shrewsbury Abbey


Some pictures from a recent visit to Rochester in Kent


La Providence – The French hospital. Founded in London in 1708 by a rich Huguenot to care for poor Huguenot refugees fleeing from persecution in France it moved to Rochester in 1959. Today is still alms-house for people of Huguenot descent.

Restoration House, so called because Charles II stayed here on the night before his restoration to the Throne of England and Scotland

The Vines – originally the site of the vineyard of the priory of Rochester Cathedral

The Coopers Arms – dates from 1199

Medieval buildings in the High St

Bridge House – originally offices of trust that built and controlled the Medway Bridge

A reminder of Rochester’s maritime heritage

Rochester Castle


A view of Shrewsbury

Posted: June 28, 2017 in History, Medieval History, UK

Shrewsbury is located within a loop of the River Severn, which encloses it on 3 sides, close to the border between England and Wales. Two bridges lead from the town, appropriately named English Bridge and Welsh Bridge. It has a strong and long history and today there are over 650 listed buildings within the town.

It was originally the capital of the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Powys but was captured by Offa of Mercia in 778AD. In 1069, it was besieged by a Welsh army but was relieved by a Norman force led by William the Conqueror. William gave the town and the lands to Roger de Montgomery, whom he created Earl of Shrewsbury. Roger was responsible for the foundation of two of the town’s most prominent buildings, the castle in 1074 and the Benedictine Abbey in 1083. It was besieged again in 1138 when it was held for Empress Matilda against King Stephen during the anarchy.




In the Middle Ages Shrewsbury became commercially a very rich town, mainly due to the wool trade. The only interruption being during the Civil War when in 1645  as Royalist stronghold it was besieged and captured by the Parliamentary forces.


Much remains of Medieval Shrewsbury, as is born out by the high number of listed buildings.

On a recent visit to Rochester, Keith and I visited the Museum which is housed in the Old Guildhall (1687) and the previous offices of the Medway Conservancy (1909) next door.

The Medway Conservancy building with the Guildhall beyond

Detail on the Medway Conservancy building

Guildhall building

It contains a number of exhibits on the history of Rochester from its Norman foundations around the Castle and the Cathedral situated at the crossing of the River Medway to its civil war exploits and the Battle of the Medway in 1667 when the Dutch entered the River and captured or destroyed a large part of the British Fleet in 1667.

Attack on Rochester Castle

A civil war tableau

Battle of Medway 1667

An unusual Green Post Box

The upper floor of the Guildhall is the Guildhall chamber which has been used both as a court and as a council chamber during its history.

Guildhall Chamber

The Nave from the west door

The church of St Saviour’s in Dartmouth dates back to the 14th century and contains many beautiful artefacts from its ancient history.

The font

The pulpit

Screen. 15th century, restored in the 16th century

Detail from the screen, 15th-century images of saints

Lady Chapel

Gallery, made from wood taken from Spanish ships captured from the Armada (1588).

Coat of Charles II, added to gallery in commemoration of the restoration of the monarchy (1660)

Thought to be an original medieval church door. It displays the lions of the royal house of Plantagenet which reigned from 1154 -1485. It is dated 1631, but this is generally thought to be a date of restoration.




I recently visited an exhibition on the ‘Archaeology of Crossrail’. Crossrail is the building of a new railway line in London which goes from the east to the west through central London. It will be known as the Elizabeth line when it is completed and opens in 2018-9. During the construction of the line, a number of archaeological sites have been excavated by the full-time archaeology team attached to the project. This exhibition shows some of the finds.

Mammoth Tusk

Mesolithic Flints

Roman writing Stylii

Bone ice-skate. records as early as 12th-century record people strapping pieces of bone to shoes and skating on frozen marshland. Found at Moorfield Marsh.

Tombstone from New Churchyard (1570-1740). 1665 was the year of the great plague in London. Testing remains from this cemetery has revealed the first identification of the 1665 plague pathogen enabling scientists to formally link it to the Bubonic plague of the 14th century, known as the Black Death.

Food manufacturers Crosse and Blackwell were founded in 1830 and moved to a site near Charing Cross Road in 1838. Archaeologists found over 13000 pieces of ceramics on this site.



Bison bone – dating reveals it to be 68000 years old.



The earth removed from the tunnels has been used to create a new RSPB nature reserve in Essex at Wallasea Marsh.


The exhibition runs until September 2017 at the Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay.