Hertford was founded in 913AD when Edward the Elder established two burghs or settlements
on either side of the River Lea (or Lee). This was one of the few safe places for
many miles to cross the river and is how Hertford is said to have got its name from
the harts (or deer) who came to drink the water from the ford.
It was not until the arrival of William the Conqueror who began to build large earthen
mounds topped by a strong wooden tower, and later of stone that what we have come
to know as the motte and bailey castle was established. All that remains now is an
earthern mound (see right)
The motte became the keep which was the last refuge of the defenders against attack.
The bailey referred to the area inside the castle walls.
Hertford Castle was further fortified from attack by a wall around the perimeter
and a double moat which was dug from the north west corner where the River Lea ran
past and around the north, east and southern sides.
The improvements were completed by 1173 and remained up until the time of this map
The cost of improvements and repairs were continuous entries in the records of Hertford
Castle from this date until the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1. It remained a royal castle
although leased to loyal subjects and every monarch had at one time stayed there.
Hertford is a short journey from London and offered good facilities for hunting,
riding, falconry and other country pursuits; a description that would not be too
far out of place today.
By the middle of the fourteenth century castles had stopped being effective for defensive
purposes and many lords, nobles and kings destroyed them to make themselves a palace
with newly-acquired stone and land. When Henry VIII acceded to the throne he had
a similar ambition for the royal palaces and Hertford was included in this.
A new gatehouse was built on the foundations of the old one using larger bricks that
had come into fashion by the 1530’s. Elizabeth was the last monarch to live at Hertford
Castle and its usage in future centuries was as a private house following the sale
by Charles 1 to William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury in 1628.
In 1789 the Marquess of Downshire attempted to continue the castle’s transformation
into a mansion. He blew up the two wings of the gatehouse with dynamite as traditional
means of demolition failed. The alterations left the gatehouse almost as it appears
today with a new south wing.
All that now remains is the gatehouse (above) constructed by Henry V111, the Norman
motte (above) and sections of the outer wall. The two civic rooms in the south wing
mentioned above are named the Salisbury Rooms and the Downshire Suite after the Marquess
of Salisbury and the town relief road named Gascoyne Way.
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