Bodiam Castle Bits is a series of posts looking at details of the castle that may have passed you by. Bodiam Castle is a NT property in East Sussex, England.
This post considers the main gatehouse
Apologies – It has been a long time since the last post but the winter season at work will allow a bit more time to re-engage with blogging, though probably not as regularly as before.
During the summer I managed to buy a couple of eighteenth century prints of the castle from eBay. This one shows the castle courtyard looking north towards the main gatehouse.
The seller described it as “A plate taken from Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales. London Printed for Hooper & Wigstead, 212 High Holborn facing Southampton Street, Bloomsbury Square. Published 27th May 1785 by S Hooper”. This would be the era of Webster ownership. I suspect the original image dates from a few years earlier.
It’s a good impression of the castle – fascinating to see the trees, bushes and ivy which were only eventually cleared by Lord Curzon after 1917. The earth seems to pile up against the wall on the left (west). The reason I’m interested in the image, however, is its depiction of the gatehouse. I know that it is not a photograph and cannot be read as fact, but it is not just an artist’s impression either. At the very least it begs some questions.
The gatehouse today is recognisably the same building…
The crenelations have been restored and a couple of chimney pots have gone but the images (taken from slightly different angles) line up pretty well.
There are a couple of differences, though, that are worth a second look. Here’s a close up from the 1785 engraving…
The proportions inside the arch seem a bit awry but the rest is pretty good.
The gatehouse’s stair turrets are rather odd. The main turret which goes from ground level to the summit is set in the first (further) bay and is largely the same in both images. The shorter turret butts up against the main turret but only goes to the first level above the second (nearer) bay. The second bay was added late in the building process and is of a poorer quality of construction. The second stair turret seems to be a late addition to the design and blocks some of the lights to the main turret necessitating the construction of through lights.
The photograph shows that this second turret is now ruined. The first few steps are visible (one of only two staircases in the castle that turn anticlockwise) but are cut in half by a large buttress (19th or early 20th century?) added to support the second bay.
The 1785 engraving shows this turret still intact. It has a flat top and only goes as far as the platform above the second bay. No door is visible from the courtyard. The remaining stairs do not start until a few feet above ground level so it might be that access was from the chambers on the ground floor of the east side of the north range.
There are no lights shown in the face of the turret, so it is not clear how daylight could have got to the through light in the photograph.
The other major difference between the two images is a large buttress projecting from the left hand side of the arch into the courtyard. I can see no evidence of this in the photograph or in situ. Was this an early repair since removed?
Of course, all of these ‘differences’ may be the result of the engraver misinterpreting or simplifying an original watercolour made by an artist who felt at liberty to ‘improve’ the original to make it more picturesque.
I hope to find time this winter to look through some archive photographs of the castle taken in the early twentieth century. Maybe there will be a few more clues there.