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Saturday, 11th October 2008

An Englishmans home is his Castle' goes the saying.



The fact it is likely to be a Scottish or Irish castle nowadays is of little consequence. Often the papers will advertise a crumbling pile for sale. The price, £1. However there is always the catch to the deal that is too good to be true.

Renovation is that catch. The state cannot/ will not, pay for the renovation of some of these places so the private money does.

Fair enough, trouble is I do not have either the money or the time to buy myself a castle. A shame really but the heating bill for the particular pile I live in now is enough for me. You have heard plenty of me grinding my teeth.

I have recently gone back to my roots, Warwickshire, where generation after generation of the Roberts clan lived and died, there are still loads of us there. Scary areas where everyone looks at bit too familiar for comfort, a bit like one of those old balck and white horror movies.

...I suspect my fascination with castles began when I heard the methods employed during sieges.

Anyway, Warwick Castle, a 14th Century edifice and probably the best preserved Castle in Europe, is just a must under the circumstances and the inspiration for this particular article.

Every castle seems to have a unique 'something'. I suppose it is a function of not being to many of them but each one seems to have a claim to fame as something or other.

Warwick Castle
The oldest part of Warwick Castle was erected in Edward the Confessor's reign. William the Norman made considerable additions to it and gave its custody to one of his supporters, Henry de Newburgh, whom he made Earl of Warwick. Later it passed to the Beauchamp family, when Anne married Richard Neville, who claimed the title of Earl of Warwick through his wife, and was known as 'The King Maker'. The castle continued to pass from one family to another until garrisoned for Parliament through Lord Brook, when it was besieged in 1642 by the King's forces. In 1759 Lord Brook was created Earl of Warwick.

There is no need to get too Freudian about this but I think every little boy has a fascination with Castles, right along there with dinosaurs. Something about the size of the things and the age of them. Violence is inherent in both interests.

I have chosen to focus on Copes, Castles for this article, there are other card series on castles, but these came to hand and are the most likely set you will come across on any travels.

I actually consider this to be an under-rated. Again this is partially due to the fact that Copes took the route of using actual photographs of the subject from a variety of angles. The name of each castle appears in a little banner at the base of the card. Also card 4, Donnington, is photographed in the vertical manner (all other cards are horizontal.)

This inevitably causes the people that frame cigarette cards additional heartache which keeps the price at saner levels than some of the more 'framer-friendly' sets. card four is something of a rogue in another sense as well. For those people interested in error cards, there are a number of number '4s' out there where the number has been reversed.

Although most of the photographs are top quality jobs two are worthy of note for all the wrong reasons, Tintagel looks like it was photographed from about five miles away with the camera man looking in the wrong direction.

The reverse of the card does suggest it was practically inaccessible, although it does not seem that impossible to get near today. Chepstow suffers from being rather too well hidden in the scenery.

Castle stairs apparently spiral to the right almost universally. The reason for this is most people are right handed and hold their sword in this hand. An attacker running up the stairs is therefore hampered by the central supporting column of the staircase. The defenders however did not suffer such problems. As I am left handed I think I would have kept mighty quiet if I found myself in an army about to attack a castle.  

A feature of the card of course is the reverse text and as we have come to expect this is a potted history of the building.

Caerphilly (and whoever thought cheese would make a good castle was right) has everything a castle could want. Now a majestic ruin with a violent past it makes little boy's eyes sparkle. Just imagine the sort of power there was in that explosion and the effect it would have had on those people at the time.

Colchester is my local castle as such and as the Capital of England during the Roman occupation the whole area has a rich history. The town also gets a fair crack of the whip when it comes to the English civil war. The 'castle' as it now stands it basically the Keep. The card notes the height of the thing. Earlier in its history it was higher than it is today.

Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle, built in the reign of Henry III, possesses a most remarkable leaning tower. The unfortunate Edward II, and his favourites the Spencers were besieged here. The defence was long and the besiegers poured water from the moat on red hot metal thrown from the castle, causing violent explosions which tore the tower from its foundations, leaving it in its present position. The solidity of the walls is amazing, having stood the ravages of time in a remarkable manner, the only rents now visible having been caused by the explosions.

I suspect my fascination with castles began when I heard the methods employed during sieges. Barbaric stuff indeed. Two of my favourites were the idea of hurling rancid meat into the castle for the starving defenders to eat.

Starvation being one of the favourite ways of defeating a castle. Another was the idea of the besiegers digging under the castle foundations and shoring the castle up with wood.

Obviously molested greatly by the defenders. An English bear would be tarred and staked to the wood and then ignited. In its madness it would not only knock/burn the wood but keep the defenders out of mischief as the wall of the castle collapsed.

Copes, Castle #5

I am not suggesting you try that one at home but it would clear the shopping lanes. I suggest tarring and burning sheep would be a better idea nowadays, although I got into a bit of trouble with this idea at the British port of Brightlingsea.

I was doing some small errand for the BBC when they were covering the story of the people portesting about live exports of sheep. I mentioned the idea of igniting sheep to clear the protestors and allow the lorries through. Not the best time to mention the idea.

Siege tactics make fascinating reading and the tactics used 500 hundred years ago can still be in evidence today. One of the only weapons the United Nations ever employs are economic sanctions, which is effectively siege tactics.

Although you tend to associate castles with the middle ages, it is good to see they are still fulfilling their intended function during the English Civil War.

Colchester was laid siege to during the English Civil War. When finally the occupants gave in to the enemy forces there was not a dog, cat or rat left in the town. The defenders had eaten the lot, and worse.

Colchester Castle
This Castle is noted for two assaults upon it in the 13th century. Captured in 1215 by the Earl of Winchester it was retaken by King John after a few days siege. A year later it fell to Louis, son of Philip II, of France. The Dauphon, mainly through invitation of the English nobles successfully obtained possession of Colchester, but held it for a brief time only. The Barons gained their freedom without foreign help and the Dauphin was driven from the Castle. A peculiar feature of the Castle is the Keep, which is the largest and also the lowest now existing in England.
Some castle facts you did not know you did not know:

Chepstow castle is reputed the earliest stone castle in Britain built c1067

Chepstow appears on #22 and 100 men held of Cromwell's army until starvation defeated them.

The world's largest inhabited castle is Windsor Castle

#6 adds the fact that you can see 12 counties from the top of the Round Tower.

The tallest sandcastle in the world was 21ft 6inch higher, constructed by bucket and spade.

Copes doesn't mention this one