I took myself off for a little trip to Bodiam Castle, Battle and Hastings the other day. It was a coach tour organised by Abbey Tours. Bodiam Castle is now a National Trust property, given to them in 1926 by Lord Curzon. As an aside, I’d use Abbey Tours again, I was very impressed.
Bodiam was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dallingridge. Sir Edward was not the oldest son in the family and so did not inherit his father’s fortune. However, he married wisely (and, as a consequence, became very wealthy).
Sir Edward had been one of Edward III’s knights (known as a King’s Knight) and was given permission to build the castle to defend against French invasion, and, presumably, keep the peasants at bay, since it was built around the time of the Peasants’ Revolt. He had a bit of a chequered career – he was a member of parliament, and also found himself in prison for a while. Seems he was a bit of a trend setter…
Bodiam is unusual, if not unique, in that there is no castle keep (the castle within the castle), it’s a rectangular shape, with towers at each of the corners. It’s a rather lovely building, in my opinion, or maybe I just like castles. At the time of building, there would have been a barbican over the moat around the castle, now full of huge fish: I’m no expert but I’m guessing at some type of carp. Or giant goldfish.
Archaeologists believe that the castle was built quickly, and all in one go, unlike many other castles, probably owing to the constant threat of invasion from France. Whatever the case, poor old Edward didn’t enjoy the fruits of his labour for long, he died in 1395.
The castle was once part of a working estate with farmland, a wharf and a water-mill. Sir Edward had the site landscaped – it seems that Sir Edward had some of the more fancy bits installed to show his wealth rather than as actual defensive parts of the castle, although the moat was probably defensive as well as decorative.
The inside of the castle was probably dismantled during the English Civil War and later fell into disrepair. It changed ownership several times until Lord Curzon bought the castle in 1916. He decided that “so rare a treasure should neither be lost to our country nor desecrated by irreverent hands.” Curzon was knocked back the first time he tried to buy the castle, but eventually succeeded.
From Bodiam Castle we went onto Battle.
The Battle of Hastings, which wasn’t actually fought at Hastings, but here at Battle, took place on 14 October 1066.
To set the scene, King Edward the Confessor died in January 1066. He was childless, which always caused a problem with the monarchy: sons were always the preferred heirs, but a daughter would do. King Edward was a very religious man although I don’t get the feeling that was why he was childless. Not that the reason matters.
With no heir, there were a number of claimants to the throne. King Harold was crowned shortly after Edward’s death, but his own brother Tostig (where is the family loyalty???), Harold Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy all battled for the throne.
Tostig and Hardrada were both defeated, in the north of England, but the battles took their toll. Harold’s armies had losses and were tired. William landed in Pevensey on 28 September 1066, forcing Harold to march back south, and to gather an army as he went.
Historians don’t know for sure but they think that Harold had about 7000 troops to William’s 10000.
That might have been ok, except that Harold’s force was almost entirely infantry (foot soldiers) with very few archers, whereas William’s army was roughly evenly split between infantry and a force of cavalry and archers. Even those of us without any military training can see the way that was going to pan out.
It was a long, tiring battle that started at 09.00 and ended around dusk. It was a hard battle, during which Harold was killed – famously shot through the eye by an arrow. There were minor skirmishes after this battle and a fair amount of civil unrest, but William was still crowned on 25 December 1066.
The Heavens opened when we arrived at Battle so I decided not to visit the battlefield on this trip. I had lunch, a drink and did a spot of shopping. There are some lovely little boutique shops, Battle Bygones being one that I really loved. As did many of these little shops, it had a wide range of goods on offer, including a beautiful leather purse with cats on it – obviously, I had to buy that, for use when my beloved Radley dies (it was far less expensive, even though it is beautiful leather).
Lunch was in one of the pubs – I was a bit disappointed to discover that they did do a Sunday roast (which was what I really fancied) rather than the so-called salad that I chose – smoked salted and prawn in a Marie Rose sauce. The smoked salmon and prawns were fine but it was just on a bed of lettuce, with a few other mixed leaves, a bit of finely sliced cucumber. What I call, since my most recent trip to America, an American salad.
Fed and watered, I rejoined the coach and we travelled onto Hastings, which, as I was told by our guide, has the longest beach-based fishing in the UK.
Hastings is famous for being one of the cinque ports. There was a castle, which was washed away in the floods of 1287, which were pretty devastating for the south-east coast of England. Hastings has no natural harbour, and this was the beginning of the end for it as a port. On more than one occasion, attempts were made to build a harbour but it wasn’t possible to get the foundations strong enough.
For the Poldark fans among us, it will come as no surprise to learn that Hastings was once a smuggling hub. Apparently, smuggling was more lucrative than fishing. Well I never. Personally, I’d have thought it all a bit exposed, but then I’ve never been a smuggler. Later, it became popular as a seaside resort, although, like most of them, it’s had mixed fortunes ever since.
Hastings is quite a quaint little town. In some ways it reminded me of Brighton with the cliff backdrop. I suppose that’s not surprising since they are so close to each other; both along the south coast, in Sussex. Similar rock formations, similar landscapes.
I walked along to the East Hill Furnicular Railway and took that up to the nature reserve at the top. It wasn’t so much cold as blustery, and there was a lot to see in the few hours I had there, so I took a few snaps and took the railway back down.
Then I popped into the Fisherman’s Museum. Built in the site of an old church, it’s small but has a lot of detail. It was a bit too crowded for me; I like time to browse a museum properly; so I left and took the miniature railway back to the main drag.
After a little walk along the front, I walked down George Street, a quirky little street off the main road. There are some lovely little boutique shops here that divorce it from the typical seaside town. Lots of antique shops and even a group playing live music close to one of the big pubs. Talking of which, I was impressed with how little the drinks cost down here. It almost made me wish I lived here. Almost.
© Susan Shirley 2017