Publisher: Valentine & Sons
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English Heritage: plan of castle
Bramber Castle is a Norman motte-and-bailey castle formerly the caput of the large feudal barony of Bramber long held by the Braose family. It is situated in the village of Bramber, West Sussex, near the town of Steyning, overlooking the River Adur. Surveys indicate the Normans were the first to build a fortification in the area, around 1070. It served as the administrative hub of the newly created Rape of Bramber, and controlled the River Adur estuary. The castle was held by William de Braose, 1st Lord of Bramber, whose family originated from Falaise. Except for a short period when it was confiscated by King John (1199–1216), the castle remained in the de Braose family, until the male line died out in 1326, and it passed to the Mowbrays. Bramber was one of the poorest parts of Sussex , and while it remained a centre of administration, the Mowbrays did not live there; by the 1550s, it was recorded as ‘the late castle’, used for grazing. During the First English Civil War, Bramber was held by a Parliamentary garrison, under James Temple. In December 1643, a skirmish took place nearby, when a Royalist force unsuccessfully tried to secure the bridge over the River Adur. However, it is unclear whether the castle itself was occupied
The original construction of the castle was centred on a high knoll, on which was built a motte 9 metres (30 feet) high using material quarried from an encircling ditch. The motte is visible as a tree-covered mound in the centre of the site. It was surrounded by a wide bailey, or enclosure, entered on the south side through a stone gatehouse (close to the present entrance to the site). The motte, which probably held a wooden structure, was soon abandoned in favour of a three-storey stone keep and the ditch around the motte was filled in. Only one wall of the keep still stands to a height of 14 metres. The floor levels within the keep are indicated by joist slots in the masonry.
Excavation in 1966 and 1967 revealed that the area north of the gatehouse was built up with clay and chalk and that a series of buildings was erected in this area. A kitchen lay to the west. The area was used as a rubbish dump in the 14th century, when the buildings east of the motte may have become the main accommodation. The lower courses of these structures can still be seen. An outer ditch was dug around the knoll and an outer bank created to strengthen the defences, probably at the same time as the keep was built. The wall around the top of the knoll was renewed in stone, and parts of this impressive construction still stand to a height of 3 metres (10 feet).
Although now far inland, Bramber Castle was originally situated on the coast where the River Adur meets the sea. Built by the de Braose family it was confiscated by King John whose harsh treatment of Lady de Braose and her two sons led to the rebellion that culminated in Magna Carta. . . . By the sixteenth century Bramber Castle was ruinous and had suffered badly from subsidence. With stone being removed for road and house building this mighty Norman fortification all but disappeared. The site was briefly re-fortified during World War II with two pillboxes being installed.
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Ruins of Bramber Castle, 17th century, (from Wikimedia Commons)
There is but little left of the Norman structure which, by the disposition of the frajiments remaining of its outer wall on the W. side, seems to have been adapted to the circumvallation of an ancient earthwork, whose mound, or burh, remains on the castle platform. These walls, formed of large and small stones and pebbles from the sea-beach, laid in very thick masses of mortar, have been built round the edge of the embankment, or rather escarpment, outside which the ground falls in the large and very deep ditch surrounding this wall, now thickly wooded ; outside this ditch was another strong and high earthen rampart at a much lower level, from which the ground level is reached. There is no gatehouse, but the entrance is at the S. end of the work, which is an oval of about 560 feet by 280, and near it remains a large portion of a lofty tower, which has been the dwelling-house and keep in one ; it is 40 feet square and about 70 feet high, was once filled by three timber floors, and from it some notion can be formed of this fortress of Braose. It was probably never inhabited by an owner after the death of the last William de Braose, though enough remained of it in the seventeenth century to allow of a Royalist garrison holding the place, which, in consequence, was demolished after the Civil War. The masonry has been very fine, dating about 1095, and in the upper storey is an exceedingly noble window.
“The castles of England, their story and structure, vol 1”, James Dixon Mackenzie, 1896 p. 68