When visiting it is difficult to visualise the overall plan of the complete castle complex, as the keep is the only building standing in evidence. It is adjacent to what was once the important East Anglian port of Orford.
King Henry II built this fortress to stem the troublesome power of
the eighty year-old Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk.
Construction of the castle began in about 1165 taking six to seven years to complete. The keep itself took only two years, an astonishing feat of organisation and work, considering a keep would normally take about ten years to build. It is believed that Ailnoth, the King’s engineer/architect was in overall charge of the work. He was in receipt of a daily fee of 7d for an entire year. The last entry for the castle’s construction was thought to be in 1172 and was for the digging of a "great ditch" round the castle, building a stone bridge across it and making palisades and brattices to defend the perimeter, in preparation for the coming rebellion. The recorded building costs totalled, £1,413.9s .2d. In today’s money, somewhere around, twelve million pounds sterling.
The castle, while being built, was heavily defended as one might expect. Bartholomew de Glanville was its first constable, and it is thought to have been garrisoned with 20 knights and their household troops.
After Hugh Bigod sued for peace in the latter part of 1173,
the castle was continually garrisoned and kept in good repair.
During the 1st Barons’ War, the French Prince Louis, leader of the rebel barons in 1217, temporarily took possession of the castle with, it seems, little damage to its fabric. When Louis was persuaded to return to France in favour of the boy King Henry III, only small sums of money from
the royal coffers were needed for its repairs.
Although in the following years, the castle changed hands several times, in 1336 King Edward III granted it, in perpetuity to Robert d’Ufford, who was created 1st Earl of Suffolk the following year. He was to pay a peppercorn rent, and his heirs after him £20 a year.
The castle’s curtain walls and towers seemed to be intact, according to a 17th century painting, but as one can see today, nothing of them have survived. The only information available, states, “the walls gradually vanishes, the last piece falling down in 1841.”
The castle keep remained in private hands and was presented to the Orford Town Trust by Sir Arthur Churchman in 1930.
It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.
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