Restored Walden Castle opens to visitors for first time in decades

Walden Castle is open to visitors for the first time in decades following repair work to save and stabilise this historic Grade I listed attraction.

Restoration work over the course of the last eight years has been made possible by grant funding of £412,583 from Historic England and funding of £447,450 from Uttlesford District Council.

Urgent repair work was needed to stop unpredictable falls of masonry and the loss of important medieval fabric from the castle. The flint-rubble walls of the castle keep have now been stabilised and a soft capping has been introduced to prevent further deterioration. New gates have been installed around the historic structure and a new floor finish laid within the ruins of the keep.

Visitors are now able to safely explore this important landmark of Saffron Walden's medieval heritage. At night, a new lighting system dramatically highlights the castle's prominent position on the historic town skyline.

Trudi Hughes, Heritage at Risk Surveyor at Historic England - who has overseen the progress of the repair and restoration project for Historic England - said: "It has been a real privilege to be involved in this project which has resulted in the repair and repurposing of Walden Castle to conserve important early medieval fabric and to allow safe access to the interior of the keep. It is a much-cherished part of the Walden skyline. Part of the work has included updating the archaeological record which enhances our understanding of what it is, what happened, why and when."

Cllr Alex Armstrong, Uttlesford District Council's Portfolio Holder for Sports, Leisure, Educations and the Arts, said: "The council is pleased to have collaborated with Historic England and other partners on this project to protect and preserve Walden Castle for future generations. The castle is an important part of the town's history and the consolidation works to secure the physical structure of the castle, as well as the works to improve the look and feel of the grounds, fulfils a longer-term vision to turn the site into a more prominent tourist attraction and asset for the community. We look forward to being able to open up the space for the public to enjoy once more and would encourage residents and visitors to come and appreciate and make use of it. The castle will also be available for people to hire out as an events space."

Ed Morton of The Morton Partnership who provided structural engineering advice for the repair of Walden Castle, said: "As a Conservation Structural Engineer working on scheduled ancient monument ruins such as Walden Castle is always a great privilege and a challenge! Understanding how the structure works and where we need to intervene to 'help it along' is based on knowledge of how such structures are constructed, what alterations and changes have been implemented, and conservation engineering judgment."

Adrian Ward, of Bakers of Danbury, who undertook the conservation work, said: "We are delighted, after many years of hard work by our dedicated and experienced craftsmen, to have finally completed the extensive conservation works to the ancient walls at Walden Castle. Our craftsmen have enjoyed learning for the first time on this project, the traditional skills necessary to install the soft grass capping to these significant walls to help protect them from the weather."

A prominent landmark of Saffron Walden's medieval heritage

Walden Castle is Grade I listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It comprises the substantial ruined walls of a Norman keep. The castle ruins are a prominent visual and historical feature standing on high ground at the heart of the market town of Saffron Walden.

The ruins visible on the site today would have formed part of the basement and first storey of the once 3-storey castle keep. Inside are traces of a circular staircase, a well shaft and a fireplace. It was a tower keep, built on the ground where the solid chalk bedrock could take the weight of the masonry. The round tower to the north of the keep is an 18th century addition.

The castle's fortunes highlight fluctuations in political and monarchical power during medieval times.

The keep is thought to have been built in the late 11th or early 12th century but the builder is unknown. The earliest known reference to it is in 1141, when it was in the ownership of Geoffrey de Mandeville II. In 1143, de Mandeville was forced to surrender the newly built castle to King Stephen but regained its ownership in 1156, only for the castle to be partly destroyed by order of Henry II around 1158.

The castle was later owned by Maud, wife of Henry de Bohun, Earl of Essex and Hereford. On her death in 1236, the castle passed to her son Humphrey, who became 7th Earl of Essex.

In 1346, Humphrey was given a licence to rebuild and add battlements to the castle. The family had opposed Edward III and so in 1362 the castle was confiscated and endowed to the Duchy of Lancaster, later passing into the ownership of Henry IV and remaining a royal manor until the reign of Henry VIII. The manor was given to Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley in 1538 and then passed by marriage to the Howard family.

Much of the stone was removed before or during the 18th century. The turret on the top of the keep was added in 1796 by Lord Howard de Walden. In 1797, the castle passed to Richard Aldworth Neville and remained in his family until 1979 when the castle was acquired by Uttlesford District Council.

18 June 2021