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Visiting Bodiam Castle, Robertsbridge, East Sussex, England: built 1385; 20th century restoration by a grand aristocrat

Updated on May 9, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England
Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England | Source
Lord Curzon
Lord Curzon | Source
Map location of East Sussex, England
Map location of East Sussex, England | Source

Lord Curzon! Oh!

Sir Edward Dalyngrigge was a 14th century knight, who made his name as a warrior assisting his mentor Sir Robert Knolles, whom he would accompany on expeditions of plunder and destruction in France. (This in fact provides somewhat of a leitmotif for Medieval English policy: raid and plunder, then retreat to the Island). Bodiam Castle, which Sir Edward Dalyngrigge built near the Rother River, in Sussex in 1385, was given strong defences, since the Rother River was then navigable to the location of the Castle, near present day Robertsbridge, England, by sea-going ships. As part of the castle's defences, a moat was dug, and the walls of the castle, which unlike many such Medieval defensive structures lacks a central keep, formed a quadrangular shape. These external walls have mainly survived, including several wall towers which are three storeys high; internally, the castle is basically a ruin.

However, some historians also suggest that, even from the Castle's inception, the moat may have served principally for display purposes.

During the English Civil War in the 17th century, the Castle was badly damaged. Thereafter, it underwent gradual decay, although attempts were made by an owner in the 19th century to restore it.

Then Lord Curzon bought it.

George Nathaniel, Lord Curzon of Kedleston (1859-1925)(1) was a very grand individual. Stories are legion about his pomposity. He was particularly fond of tiger hunting, and as Viceroy of India he had regular opportunities to pursue his favourite sport. As one of the perks of his Viceregal office, an elephant was set aside for his formal transportation purposes in India. As President of the Royal Geographical Society, Lord Curzon exhibited such pomposity that polar explorer Raoul Amundsen resigned his membership in protest at his perceived arrogance.

Be all this as it may, for Lord Curzon, Bodiam Castle represented an ideal, moated Medieval castle. He lovingly restored the Castle with the assistance of architect William Weir (1865-1950) (2). The moat was drained and considerable excavation work was carried out. A museum display building was erected near the Castle structure. Reparations were carried out on the Castle's stonework. There was also the matter that Lord Curzon lacked a male heir; on Lord Curzon's death, the property passed to the National Trust.

The moated castle today, open to visitors, is thus a fine, idealized specimen of Medieval architecture. It may be said also that, as elsewhere, including in France, in relation to the work of architects such as Eugène Viollet-le-Duc a debate exists whether Bodiam Castle's current state reflects a restoration or, in fact, a re-creation.

Note on spelling: At various times, the name of the castle has also been written 'Bodiham' and 'Bodium'. But the spelling 'Bodiam' now predomintates.

May 9, 2012

Notes

(1) From 1911, Lord Curzon was The Earl Curzon of Kedleston; from 1921, The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston; for the sake of simplicity, however, he is sometimes referred to as Lord Curzon. He served as Foreign Secretary under three Prime Ministers, and, later, as Leader of the House of Lords. In 1923, after the resignation of mortally ill Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law, Lord Curzon thought he deserved to become Prime Minister in his place; others did not, however. (Most of his titles became extinct upon his death; a son-in-law turned out to be a disappointment: Sir Oswald Mosley, the 1930s fascist leader, who, it may be said, curiously exercised a hypnotic effect on various members of the Curzon household. The mind thus boggles to think of Bodiam Castle as the possible scene of the lurid displays of fascist extravaganza, of which Sir Oswald was fond, if he, instead of the National Trust, had inherited the property.) Lord Curzon somewhat personified the waning British Empire: rich in historical awareness and full of grandeur, while the world moved on after the convulsions of World War One, even as his Lordship, and the system he represented, seemed at times oblivious to developments beyond the grandeur with which they appeared to be absorbed.

(2) Other activities with which Architect Weir was associated were the restoration of Tattershall Castle and long-term involvement with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, founded by William Morris and others.

Also worth visiting

Battle (distance: approx. 8 kilometres), site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and of Battle Abbey.

Eastbourne (distance: 35 kilometres) is famous for the cliffs at Beachy Head, and has some fine architecture also.

...

How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. (Distance from London Heathrow to Robertsbridge : approx. 123 kilometres.) Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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