Monday 3 August 2009

Bristol Castle - the first structure

Bristol Castle no longer exists and hasn't done since the days of the English Civil War, but it has a fascinating and important history in the development of Bristol.

The first construction of a castle was made, so it is believed in 1088. The Domesday survey of 1087 makes no mention of any type of structure in the area of Barton Regis, which included the city of Bristol. Despite the lack of an important building such as this, the area was still assessed as being wealthy enough to pay the crown 110 marks of silver on an annual basis! However, an Anglo-Saxon chronicle from 1088 mentions, in passing, a castle type building. Obviously recognising the town's worth, its inhabitants wanted to protect it as much as possible.

The castle would have been a typical motte and bailey type. The motte was an earth mound 40 metres in diameter at the base, standing 20 metres high. The bailey had an open space and outbuildings to house a garrison and covered and area of around 2 acres. The motte and bailey were, in turn, surrounded by a large earth embankment with a high stone wall and a ditch connected to both the rivers Frome and Avon.

The castle served the city for around 30 years before being rebuilt in stone by Robert, earl of Gloucester and Bishop Geoffrey de Coutance. It stood 5 storeys high and had square towers on each corner. The walls were reinforced and the original wooden garrison housing were replaced by stone buildings.

The castle was sited on the east side of the town, protecting the only side not covered by the Frome or the Avon. Over time the town walls were rebuilt in stone making Bristol a formidable town that could withstand a determined siege with ease.

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