The castle is Norman, motte and bailey, and has an important part in the history of Britain. It was a Saxon holding before William the Conqueror arrived in 1066, and is the place where he accepted the surrender of the Saxon nobles before heading to London and the crown.
The Norman castle building commenced in the same year, as Berkhamsted lay on a key route from London into the Midlands, and so was seen as vitally strategic. It was a royal castle for centuries, and eventually formed part of the holdings of the Duchy of Cornwall. It remained so until 1930, when what remained of the castle was gifted to English Heritage, who manage the place to this day.
The castle, as you can see, has been plundered over the years, with much of the stone being taken for use elsewhere after it fell into ruin and was abandoned in 1495. In the mid 1800s, it narrowly escaped complete destruction – the new London Birmingham railway was being constructed, with the optimum route seen as being directly through the castle grounds. Luckily, there was a growing movement to preserve ancient buildings and so, when the railway route was sanctioned, the castle was protected, the first building to be protected from development in this way. Nonetheless, the railway route still ran through the outer fortifications, destroying the gatehouse and ditches in the process.
The Keepers cottage sits in the grounds and is occupied still – I think it must be completely wonderful to wake up and look out at a nearly one-thousand year old castle in your back garden, especially one with such an illustrious history. And so that takes us back to the little white door.
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