Location of board
Viewing area, The Street, Pleshey
Pleshey Castle was built in the latter 11 century by the de Mandeville family after the Norman Conquest. Following the political power struggles during the reign of King Stephen, Geoffrey de Mandeville II, Earl of Essex, was imprisoned in 1143 and forfeited his castle at Pleshey. It was later returned to the family and re-fortified.
In 1215, Geoffrey de Mandeville III was one of the Barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, but John subsequently laid siege to the castle on Christmas Eve and captured it. Later, it passed to the de Bohun family by marriage in 1227/8 and subsequently to Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester in 1374. Documents from the time show that the castle was a large and wealthy estate. By the mid 16 century it had become ruinous.
Pleshey is one of the finest surviving examples of an earthen motte and bailey castle. The great mound, or motte, formed its central defensive feature surrounded by a moat. Much of the domestic life of the castle was centred in the adjacent bailey, a kidney-shaped enclosure protected by a bank and ditch.
Nearby Back Lane is very similar in size and plan to the castle bailey and it is probable that this street marks the position of a second bailey, which later passed out of use. Castles such as Pleshey relied on settlements to serve their domestic and economic needs and the protective bank and ditch of the Norman town enclosure can be seen quite clearly at the site.
The massive earthworks which remain today would almost certainly have been capped by timber palisades and would have enclosed a wide range of buildings. Excavations on the mound in 1907 discovered foundations of a rectangular stone building, probably the 15th century Great Hall, which replaced the original timber keep.
Between 1959 and 1963, the foundations of a chapel were uncovered and traces of other buildings can still be made out in the uneven turf. The original entrance to the castle may have been on the east side of the motte.
Excavations in the 1970s examined the area around the mid 15th-century brick bridge, one of the earliest and finest examples surviving, and found a series of earlier wooden bridges. One of the finds from the moat was the arm bone of a monkey, probably the pet of one of the owners.
Today, it is difficult to imagine from the remains what life was like in the castle. The de Mandevilles and its later owners would have had extensive households of retainers, officials, craftsmen and labourers working in the castle and on the family estates.
The service buildings would no doubt have been in sharp contrast to the family apartments. Tapestries, bed covers of gold and silver cloth, fur coats and a magnificent library are among the possessions recorded in an inventory made after the death of Thomas Woodstock in 1397. We also know that a team of craftsmen worked at Pleshey producing beautifully illuminated Psalters.
The remains of a number of medieval castles can be seen in Essex, although they vary in size and structure. The following are open to the public:
- Castle Hedingham
- Saffron Walden
- Stansted Mountfitchet
This viewing area, owned by Essex County Council, preserves an open area within the village, where inhabitants and visitors alike can enjoy the monument and the important wildlife habitat provided by the moat and vegetation.
Pleshey Castle is privately owned. The castle, this viewing area and much of the land within the town enclosure is protected by law. When visiting the site, you should respect this very important area and remember that it is an offence to damage the monument in any way.