Kevin Newman, author of Visitors’ Historic Britain: West Sussex takes us through the past of this remodelled and rebuilt Medieval castle and recommends some other Sussex places to visit, eat, drink and stay in.
The marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has created an upsurge worldwide in interest in the Royal Family, royal residences and in Sussex this includes the magnificent Arundel Castle, the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
A jewel of Sussex, Arundel Castle is home of the Earls of Sussex, as the early Earls of Arundel (up to 1243) were also known. It is the stately home where Victoria and Albert stayed in 1846. First built in the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, visitors can still see some of the original features, such as the lower part of the Bevis Tower, the Barbican, the crenelated Norman Keep and Gatehouse. Arundel Castle is not just an amazing hotchpotch of building and rebuilding from different centuries since then, but the home of generations of the powerful Dukes of Norfolk, Sussex’s premier aristocratic family. In Norman times it not only controlled an entire Rape (area) of Sussex but was such a stronghold it replaced the earlier nearby Saxon military site of Burpham, built by King Alfred. We don’t know much about Arundel prior to the Norman invasion, but we do know you will be visiting somewhere Saxon King Alfred ‘the Great’ left in his will in 901AD and there are not many locations that can boast that.
Arundel was an important part of William the Conqueror’s plans to reward his loyalist lieutenants and suppress the Saxons following his 11th century conquest. It was also built to ensure that Sussex couldn’t be used as a gateway to Britain for any other potential invaders who wanted to copy his invasion of 1066. After the conquest, Arundel’s port is mentioned in the Domesday Book and the town grew in importance, with the castle glowering down on the vital crossing of the River Arun the town offered. The castle ended up in the hands of the powerful Norfolk dynasty and once was even the temporary residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on one of their few visits to Sussex; a bed being specially made for their visit. There are numerous wonderful views of the castle, but the best has to be from the Arun, anywhere north of the bridge that once pinpointed Arundel’s busy industrial quayside.
From the quayside or anywhere in the town, it is hard to miss, and not be enchanted by this fairytale castle that has hints of Windsor and hilltop German castles about it. Not only has it been described as ‘Sussex’s Windsor’, it also has doubled as the Queen’s residence back in 1994 when The Madness of King George was filmed here and the castle was graced by England’s queen of the silver screen, Dame Helen Mirren.
Originally starting with a motte-and-bailey, whose site still exists today, the very size of Arundel Castle demonstrates the power wielded by the families who have owned it. For the last 500 years, these have been the Fitzalan family, who were Earls of Arundel, and through the line of female descent, the Howard family, who were the Dukes of Norfolk. The family names were combined back in the 1840s, which followed the rebuilding and remodelling of the castle between 1795 and 1812, with the first section to be completed by the 1870s. The last work was ordered by the Earl Marshall, whose son was responsible for the organisation of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The rebuilding was much needed as, following the era of England’s first Elizabeth, the Catholic beliefs of the Howard and Fitzalan families made the castle a prime target in the Civil War. Subsequently, the castle, like many others, was spoiled in a bombardment by Parliament’s forces in 1643-4.
Thankfully, the rebuilding was carried out in an appropriate and thoughtful manner, and today a visit to Arundel Castle is a chance to engage with not just the Norman age, but 11 centuries of Britain’s history and to see one of the longest-inhabited country houses in England.
There is much to love about Sussex, and like the Normans who built Arundel Castle, you too might come and wish to never leave.
Did you know?
• You can tell when the current Duke of Norfolk is in residence as a banner is flown from the Well Tower in the Norman Keep. Anne Boleyn was the niece of the third Duke of Norfolk, whom he introduced to Henry VIII and subsequently changed the course of British history.
• It was the tradition that the castle’s owls were named after prominent figures in British society. This led to the bizarre situation once where one of the butlers had to report to the Duke of Norfolk that there was a fresh egg for breakfast, laid by one of the castle’s owls. The Duke had several guests over for breakfast, so it caused some confusion when the manservant announced: “Your Grace, Lord Thurlow has laid an egg.”
• Arundel has a most unusual parish church as the east half of it, with access only from the castle, is called the Fitzalan chapel, which is today the mausoleum for the Norfolks. The western part is St Nicholas’ Church and building of it commenced around 1380. Arundel Cathedral, across the road, although appearing of a similar age, was actually built between 1869-1873. The building has the same designer as the Hansom Cab, both being designed by Joseph Hansom.
Where to stay:
• Amberley Castle further inland up the Arun and once also owned by the Norfolks. It was once even the Duke of Norfolk’s backup castle when Arundel was being restored and is today a luxury hotel owned by the Andrew Brownsword group. Church St, Amberley, 01798 831992, amberleycastle.co.uk
• Bramber’s Castle Hotel Inn is not just the home of good food and great Sussex beer, but also a place for those visiting Bramber Castle to base themselves in overnight. The Street, Bramber, Steyning, 01903 812102, castleinnhotel.co.uk
• Castle Goring the rural Worthing home of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’s Lady ‘C’ Colin Campbell. This grade I listed building is half castle, with its Gothic castle façade facing north and its south palladian Greco-Roman façade facing south, making it the first dual-façade house ever built. Should you be missing Arundel Castle, then you’ll be glad that Castle Goring’s north facade was said to be an attempt to reproduce its grandeur. Arundel Rd, Angmering, Worthing, 01903 790254, castlegoring.com
Where to eat and drink:
• Arundel Brewery, based nearby in Ford Airfield Industrial Estate, can be visited during evenings, or instead you can pop into the Arundel Brewery shop which is at No.1 Quay House in River Road in the town itself. arundelbrewery.co.uk
• The George pub, which was bought by the village of Burpham, now has a range of mouth-watering meals, not to mention Sussex’ finest beer, brewed at nearby West Chiltington’s Greyhound Brewery. Their Amber Eyes ale is a nectar worth visiting Sussex for alone! Burpham is also the site of King Alfred’s earlier burh (military stronghold) across the Arun – a military site even older than Arundel (although it is likely the Normans used an existing military site in Arundel as they did elsewhere). georgeatburpham.co.uk
• Riverside Brewery in Upper Beeding is based next to the Sussex river as you journey east, the Adur. The Adur, previously known as Bramber Water and the less-attractively named Soare, once lapped up against the Norman Bramber Castle, which is far more ruined than Arundel but equally well-sited for enchanting views and free to enter. riversidebreweryltd.co.uk
Kevin Newman is a Sussex author of a number of books and his latest is Visitors’ Historic Britain: West Sussex, out now from Pen & Sword Books (RRP £14.99). He is also a tour guide whose tour company, All-Inclusive History (07504 863867, email@example.com) provides a range of talks and tours around Sussex.
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