Walden Castle is the substantial ruined walls of the Norman tower-keep, of a motte and bailey castle, with important archaeological remains.
Little is known of the origins of the Keep. It is thought to have been built in the late 11th or early 12th century, but the builder is unknown. The earliest known reference to it is in 1141, when it was in the ownership of Geoffrey de Mandeville II. It was one of several castles he used to reinforce his power across the region.
In 1143, de Mandeville was forced to surrender the newly built Castle to King Stephen but regained its ownership in 1156, only for the castle to be partly destroyed by order of Henry II around 1158.
The castle was later owned by Maud, wife of Henry de Bohun, Earl of Essex and Hereford. On her death in 1236, the castle passed to her son Humphrey, who became 7th Earl of Essex.
In 1346, Humphrey was given a licence to rebuild and crenellate the castle, adding battlements to the structure. The family had opposed Edward III so in 1362 the castle was confiscated and endowed to the Duchy of Lancaster, later passing into the ownership of Henry IV and remaining a royal manor until the reign of Henry VIII. The manor was given to Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley in 1538 and then passed by marriage to the Howard family.
Much of the stone was removed before or during the 18th century. The turret on the top of the keep was added in 1796 by Lord Howard de Walden. In 1797 the castle passed to Richard Aldworth Neville of Audley End and remained in his family until 1979 when the castle was acquired by Uttlesford District Council.
The layout of the streets surrounding Walden Castle reflects the original line of the castle’s inner bailey: Castle Street, Museum Street and Church Street on the west and on the east side it would have followed the old road, a little to the east of the present Common Hill.
Excavations carried out in 1911-1913 confirmed the location of the castle ditch surrounding the bailey. Excavations in 1973 and 1975 located the northern extent of the bailey along Castle Street and the extent of the bailey eastwards.
The ruins visible today would have formed part of the basement and first storey of the once 3-storey castle keep. Inside are traces of a circular staircase, a well shaft and a fireplace. It was a tower keep, built on the ground where the solid chalk bedrock could take the weight of the masonry. The round tower to the north of the keep is an 18th century addition.
Conservation & Management
Walden Castle is a Grade I listed building located upon the Bury Hill Scheduled Monument, within the Saffron Walden Conservation Area. The building and its grounds are owned and maintained by Uttlesford District Council.
In 2012 The Saffron Walden Conservation Area Appraisal proposed management actions for the conservation of the castle remains. The structure was also listed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.
In 2012 and 2019 urgent repair work was undertaken to stop unpredictable falls of masonry and the loss of important medieval fabric from the castle. This was made possible by grant funding of £410,000 from Historic England and funding of almost £450,000 from Uttlesford District Council.
The flint-rubble walls of the castle keep have now been stabilised and a soft capping has been introduced to prevent further deterioration. New gates have been installed around the historic structure and a new floor finish laid within the ruins of the keep.
At night, a new lighting system dramatically highlights the castle’s prominent position on the historic town skyline.
Visiting the Castle Remains
You can find Walden Castle in the grounds next to Saffron Walden Museum. The grounds are open at any reasonable time. The inside of the castle keep is currently closed, but you can still walk around the grounds outside of the walls and read the information panels. The nearest parking is at the Common short-stay car park or, if you are visiting the museum, there is a limited amount of parking in the grounds.