About Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames - Morning After a Stormy Night'  by John Constable, 1829
In this picture you can see the piece of wall running along on the left and the tower on which Constable stood to do his painting on the right. There would have been more of it in his time.

This weekend was the first couple of days this year I actually felt a bit summery. It has been the wettest June since records began, and although we did enjoy a bit of a dry spell way back in April/May, it didn’t have that real summer warmth that makes you smile.
This was the first weekend I sat out in the garden and read for a bit, the first time I wanted to wear shorts and Birkenstocks. We had the junior school summer fete and I even came away with a bit of colour!
On Sunday evening, William and I visited Two-Tree Island to take Harry our Border Terrier puppy, out for a wander. Looking up the hill towards Benfleet, Hadleigh Castle stands prominent a majestic relic of bygone glory. As the Olympics approach, we might find ourselves seeing a bit more of the castle, as it is in the adjoining country park that the mountain biking event is being held. For this reason I thought I might enlighten you a little as to the history of the ruin.
There’s no doubt that Hadleigh Castle has a hauntingly evocative presence which draws one’s mind unerringly to wonder at its history. It stands about a mile inland from the Thames Estuary, invisible to road users, but an evocative and unexpected landmark known to all those traveling on the C2C London Fenchurch Street line.
Once considered a strategically important fortress for protecting the approach to London via the Thames estuary, Hadleigh Castle was extensively repaired and rebuilt under Edward III in the 1360s. Today the extremely ruinous remains overlooking the marshes are a haunting reminder of the splendid castle that was given to successive Queens of England as part of their dower.
Hubert de Burgh, Justiciar of England and Earl of Kent, had owned lands at Hadleigh from his time as a revered minister of King John, but a royal licence to crenellate (or to build a castle) was not granted until 1230. At this time de Burgh was enjoying his position as one of the most influential barons, but his fortunes changed drastically within the next few years. Soon after work had begun on his castle, he was imprisoned under some false claim by his enemies, and Hadleigh Castle was seized by King Henry III. Although there is little documented evidence to support the fact, it seems reasonable to assume that the King, recognising even then the important position Hadleigh Castle held, allowed building work to continue.
Originally, Hadleigh Castle was no more than an oval-shape enclosure surrounded by a stone curtain, incorporating a D-shaped tower on the north and south sections of the wall. Domestic buildings were later erected along the western edge of the enclosure and, during Edward III's time, two magnificent round towers were set in the east curtain wall angles, as well as a massive circular tower and barbican to defend a new entrance in the north curtain.
Until Edward VI sold Hadleigh Castle to Lord Riche in 1551, it had remained Crown property, but throughout that period of almost 200 years it was granted 'for life' to a succession of Earls, Dukes and Queens, including three of Henry VIII's wives. Left disused and neglected, Hadleigh Castle had become ruinous by the 17th century. Today the most impressive remains are those of Edward III's 14th century round towers. One of the three-storey towers, built from rubble with ashlar dressings, still stands to nearly full height and has narrow rectangular windows in the upper levels. The second tower has survived considerably less well, appearing to have slid downhill and lost about two-thirds of its shape. Some sections of the curtain exist, and the foundations of the great hall are visible.

The Castle Today.
The Castle & Constable

John Constable (1776~1837) was one of the major English landscape painters of the 19th century. He is best known for his paintings of the English countryside and, in 1814, he visited Hadleigh Castle and made a small drawing of the ruins. In the 1820s, he used this drawing as preparation for ten oil sketches (one of which is exhibited in Tate Britain) and a single painting. This painting ~ 'Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames - Morning After a Stormy Night'  (see top) ~ is now at the Yale Center for British Art at Yale University.
Constable made full-size sketches like those of Hadleigh Castle for many of his paintings, as they allowed him to explore his ideas before committing them to the final canvas. The finished picture in this case was exhibited  at the Royal Academy in 1829. As an image of loneliness and decay, the painting reflects his desolate state of mind at this time, due to the death of his wife.
Hadleigh Castle is part of a beautiful country Park now. You can visit and spend time walking and enjoying the panoramic, sweeping vista across the Thames Estuary to Kent, along the coast to Southend-on-Sea and towards London, the unique countryside and wildlife as well as the Castle ruins. More info available here.

Some photos of us visiting Hadleigh Castle (taken in November 2010):







Climbing the ruins






Kings of the Castle



Looking towards Leigh, you can just make out Southend Pier in the distance.


Sun Setting across the Thames Estuary










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