Blanche Parry

Make sure historic castle is on your radar

Our local historian Ruth E. Richardson says spring is here and with flowers in blossom and places closed for winter maintenance now reopened, this is a lovely time of year to explore our history.

Goodrich Castle, guarding a crossing of the River Wye, has plenty of nooks–and–crannies. There are fabulous views from the 12th century Medieval keep, built of greenish stone by Gilbert de Clare or his son Richard 'Strongbow'. Red sandstone buildings were added in the 13th century by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and England's Regent when King Henry III was a little boy. This impressive castle was updated. Clues are found by differently shaped doors and windows. The entrance over the deep, dry moat was protected by an outer barbican and drawbridge. There are portcullis slots and bar holes for two gates. Guardhouse windows were angled so an archer could fire without being visible from outside. If attackers survived these then defenders used murder holes to drop burning oil or lethal stones on them.

The castle housed a garrison and, sometimes, the owner's household. Countess Joan de Valence liked Goodrich and during her stays about 200 people were in residence. Visitors included her son, daughter, the lady of Raglan Castle and the Prioress of Aconbury, all with servants. They expected comfort, including garderobes, or toilets, which doubled as clothes stores to discourage insects. Latrine chutes emptied into the moat, which stunk in hot weather. Rooms were warmed by ornate fireplaces, the largest of which is in the great hall, where beautiful tapestries were hung to keep out drafts. Large windows, once on upper floors, have window seats which had cushions on them.

Everyone needed feeding and the kitchen had a cooking fireplace and bread ovens. As it is next to the great hall meals could be served hot. The menu for Easter Sunday 1297 (in the English Heritage guide) included ¾ of beef, 1¼ bacons, 1¼ unsalted pigs, ¼ boar, ¼ salmon (all from the castle's stores), ¼ a carcass of beef, mutton, 9 kids, 17 capons and hens, 2 veal calves, 600 eggs, 24+ pigeons and cheese (brought by boat). A feast to enjoy after fasting in Lent.

Unusually, Goodrich has a roofed chapel. It has a priest's seat (sedile) by the altar, a cupboard (aumbry) for vessels and books used in the Mass and a sink (piscina) to wash these vessels. Stone steps meant the lord and his family could view Mass from a wooden balcony. The supporting beam rested on painted corbels decorated with angels carrying shields. Two modern stained–glass windows includes one representing the meandering river. Glass in the 15th century west window commemorates eleven personnel of the Radar Research Squadron who died when an RAF Halifax V9977 crashed nearby on 7th June 1942. It was on a test flight for radar later used on bombing raids.

The castle's defensive use ended in the Civil War as impregnable walls could not withstand cannon fire from 'Roaring Meg'. Find out more on www.english–heritage.org.uk Enjoy your visit.

©Ruth E. Richardson 2013

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