CAISTER CASTLE

Caister Castle

Caister Castle

This is more accurately called a fortified manor house than a castle, but the distinction is technical. The high defensive tower (almost 100 feet tall) and the moat make it look like a castle, and only the windows give a hint that it was not intended to be used in full-scale warfare. It was besieged by the Duke of Norfolk in 1468 and was badly damaged in the process. It had an extensive curtain wall and the castle is completely surrounded by a moat. The living accommodation within the walls has mostly disappeared although some domestic buildings are still visible. The tower may be climbed by visitors.

The use of brick rather than flint or imported freestone gives us a hint of the period in which it was built. Like the moated Oxburgh Hall in West Norfolk, which was also built of brick, this was a product of the Wars of the Roses when fortified manor houses came into their own. It was built over more than a decade from 1432 by Sir John Fastolf who used it as his main residence in Norfolk. He was over 50 when he began the building, having spent much of his early career in France where Joan of Arc was leading the opposition to the English. During the latter part of the Hundred Years’ War he managed to make a fortune from captured castles and property. He was able to transfer much of this wealth to his estates in East Anglia before the remainder was lost to the French who recaptured the land.

The Tower

The Tower

After he died childless in 1459 Caister Castle passed to the Paston family while much of his money went to Magdalen College in Oxford. The college had been founded by the Bishop of Winchester only a year before Fastolf’s death. This was the first major endowments of the college and enabled its complete construction in the six years following 1474. Today the college has a Fastolf Society for major benefactors. Whether this academic generosity was what Fastolf really intended I rather doubt however. He had wanted to leave the castle at Caister and much of his wealth to establish a large chantry to pray for his soul, but his will  caused much controversy and litigation. The college has remained a major centre of intellectual life for over 500 years while all the chantries in England were abolished less than century after Falstaffs death. The decision to leave the money to Oxford was, whoever made it, a good one.

It became the main seat of the Pastons for over a century throughout the Tudor period. Sir William Paston was the last member of the family to use the castle as his home. It was abandoned after he died in 1610 when the family moved to the newer and more commodious mansion at Oxnead, and the building at Caister fell into disrepair.

Today Caister Castle is namely for the Motor Museum housed there. This large collection of cars and motor cycles is privately owned. It is housed in specially built exhibition space near the castle.

Caister Castle lies in West Caister and that is a separate parish from Caister-on-Sea. The village has not one but two churches dedicated to St Edmund. The current church was built in the 19th century but the nearby ruin is the medieval church named after East Anglia’s regal saint. I have been to Caister Castle only once in 1971 and I took these pictures on that occasion.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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