Books, Prehistory, Archaeologia Volume 27 Appendix

Archaeologia Volume 27 Appendix is in Archaeologia Volume 27.

Eynsford Castle, in the County of Kent.

April 9th, 1835. Extract of a letter from Edward Cresy, Esq. to John Gage, Esq. Director, accompanying three Plans of Eynsford Castle, in the county of Kent.

These interesting ruins are the property of Sir Percival Hart Dyke (age 67), Bart, and had long been used as stabling, and kenneling for fox-hounds. Circumstances having occurred to occasion the removal of all the modern erections, on my being professionally employed to effect this object, much presented itself during the demolition to induce an examination of the ancient portion which remained; and the Rev. B. Wenston, Vicar of Farningham, and the Rev. A. W. Burnside, to whom I am indebted for the execution of the accompanying model, obtained permission to examine around the walls of the Keep, which appeared to consist only of one large room, with four loop-holes on its eastern side. By the indefatigable and liberal exertions of these gentlemen, many workmen were directed to remove the earth and rubbish, which had accumulated to a vast heap, and the whole was cleared to the depth of eight or nine feet down to the very footings, when the entire plan, with its winding staircase, another room with a chimney, a necessarium, &c. were discovered, as shewn in the accompanying sketches.

This Castle, situated in a narrow winding valley, formed by the passage of the Darent through the chain of chalk hills, which rise to a considerable height on each side, was well calculated to defend and command the passage across the river hereafter referred to; which passage was, in all probability, the work of the Romans at the time they occupied the camps of Keston (or Noviomagus) and South Fleet (Vagnaca), for it is in the direct line between these two stations, as Otford is between Noviomagus and Oldbury, which summer camp is on the route to Madus, or Maidstone. At Lullingstone, a short distance from this ford, a tesselated pavement was discovered, and Roman coins are constantly found in the neighbourhood. This valley formed a portion of that called by the Saxons Holmsdale, which extended into Surrey, and was bounded on the north by the chalk hills, which run in a parallel line, about twenty miles south of the Thames; and through it a chain of castles may be traced, ruins of which remain at Guildford, Betchworth, Reigate, Otford, Shoreham, and Eynesford; and to the sense of security engendered by these strong holds, may perhaps be attributed the distich, still remembered:


Was never conquered, nor never shall.’

Many writers have attributed their foundation to Alfred, and their object the protection of this fertile and beautiful tract of country against the incursions of the Danes, to which it would be exposed from the facility of navigating the Darent, afforded by its communication with the Thames.

At this period, the former river appears to have been crossed by three principal fords, viz. Tarentford (Dartford), Anglesford (Eynsford), and Otford. Anglesford or Eynesford, so named, as Lambard says, from its being the Englishmen’s ford, is between the other two, distant from Dartford seven, and from Otford about four miles.

On the north side of the Castle, and only across the moat, is still to be seen the remains of the causeway which conducted to this ancient ford. It has its commencement near the high road from Farningham to Otford, and continues without interruption through the orchards and gardens for a considerable length, until it arrives within a short distance of the margin of the river; it is nearly level at the top, and about thirty feet in width, on the north side; its facing, of well- constructed flint wall, is seen rising in some places five feet above the level of the ground over which it passes.

Previously to the river being embanked, the whole of the low grounds were undoubtedly under deep water, and the simplest method of crossing such a lake would be by the means we find carried into effect here; the quantity of water passing is not considerable, and a narrow opening in the causeway would be sufficient for its passage, over which may have been thrown some moveable or temporary bridge. On the western side the hill rises rapidly, and there would be no need of a causeway. From thence the Roman road probably continued by Lullingstone, Chelsfield, and Green-street, to the station Noviomagus (on Holwood hill, Keston).

That Eynsford was in the possession of a Saxon nobleman of the name of Leofric, we learn from the Textus Roffensis, in which is the account of a dispute between him and the churches of Canterbury and Rochester, finally adjusted by Dunstan in a full court held at Crayford. Some time afterwards, the manorial rights were enjoyed by a family of some note, who, according to Pliilipott, took their name from this place. During the reign of Henry the Second, Archbishop Becket, who resided at Otford castle, had a dispute with William de Eynesford about the presentation to the church of this parish, and which it has been asserted was the ground of the last quarrel between the Primate and the Ring. After Becket s martyrdom, the popular feeling was so roused against all the enemies of the Archbishop, that the holder of these estates, among others, was excommunicated, and their castles left, from superstitious feeling, untenanted, and suffered to fall into decay. The subject of our inquiry appears to have been so neglected, and to date its ruin from that period; as we have no account, not even a tradition, of its having been inhabited since.

The outer or curtain wall, unquestionably one of the most perfect specimens remaining in this country, is an irregular polygonal oval, or horse-shoe, formed of twenty unequal sides, the entire girth of which is about 520 feet.a One of the peculiar characteristics of this external wall is its not having, as was common to Norman fortresses, any small tower or buttresses, where the sides unite; or any loop-holes, or openings for the discharge of missiles. Its original height, nearly throughout, is preserved, which, from the level of the meadows to the passage or walk upon the top, three feet wide, is thirty feet. Eight feet from the level of the ground externally, the wall is battered or tumbled in, about eight inches above which, up to the walk around, its thickness is uniformly five feet four inches; the wall of the battlement remains in some places, and near the opening afterwards described as the original entrance, may be distinctly traced. The apertures or openings on this outer wall are few, and exhibit in their construction Roman tiles. The two at the south end have the character of having been used as sally-ports; they are much broken away, but their sides in part are covered with rough stucco. The small circular hole served only as a drain or outlet for the water which fell into the court-yard.

Note a. At Fontainbleau the court-yard of the palace called the Donjon is of this shape exactly, having its present entrance in the long flat side. The period of its construction is said to be that of the Merovingian Kings. The regular shape of the horse-shoe might suggest, to one unacquainted with geometry, an idea for the outline of a castle, to be erected in a situation not affected by local circumstances.

The principal opening, and which has every appearance of having been one of the original entrances to the castle, is on the north side, and in a very perfect state, situated about 25 feet above the level of the present ground on the outside. The wall here, as in one other division on the south side, is made of an extra thickness, as if to contain some arrangements not required in other portions of it. The opening, or doorway, is three feet wide, and six feet high; and externally the corbel stones remain, which supported a timber platform or landing-place, from whence a ladder was dropped, to enable any one to mount and get admission within. On passing this doorway, you arrive at a small chamber, hollowed out of the wall, six feet long, and four feet six inches wide; on one side of which is a small hole or recess, covered with two courses of Roman tiles, and which seems to have served as a lodgement to a stout wooden beam, that secured the door when shut. This chamber is six feet high, and vaulted semi-circularly; the whole has been covered with rough stucco.

The pavement or floor is about six feet below the walk around the outer wall, and must nearly, if not quite, have corresponded with the level of the first floor of the Keep, to which it was no doubt attached, or had some communication with it; the walls by which this was effected are broken away, though their direction may be traced, inclining towards the north angle of the Keep, but the precise manner in which the juncture was effected must be left to conjecture. This small chamber commands a fine view of the valley towards Farningham, as well as of the whole of the causeway, which is within bow-shot of any one stationed here to overlook or guard the passage across the river. Another opening occurs at the back of the Keep, on the outer wall, in all respects corresponding in level and dimensions with those already described at the southern angle, and has been used in modern times to draw water from a well, constructed since the river has been diverted to a more westerly course. On the south side, and where the present entrance to the court-yard is formed, the wall has the same thickness as that containing the doorway and chamber above described. Thorpe in his Custumale Roffense states, that there formerly existed here a draw-bridge and gateway, but upon no authority; for on excavating two trenches here, it was discovered that the curtain wall continued through the present breach, without any aperture, and was quite perfect. The original level of the yard internally being considerably below this wall, it does not seem probable that it was ever perforated by an entrance level with it as conjectured. The entrance or breach which exists, was in all probability made when the site was used at first as stables, as some brickwork was demolished a few years back, said not to be of an age earlier than Henry the Eighth.

The Keep is a parallelogram in its plan, its outer walls being five feet in thickness, strengthened by five buttresses of unequal projection; those on the north side advance two feet six inches from the face of the work. The most eastern of these buttresses might indicate the position of the fire-places in the upper rooms, or above the curtain wall a look-out chamber might have been hollowed out of it, which would have a view over the causeway and ford. The buttress on the west side projects only eighteen inches; and adjoining to this, though not bonded into the wall, is another mass, seven feet nine inches long, and three feet eight inches in projection, which appears not to be part of the original work. At the south-west angle a buttress of the same length, and of two feet projection, serves to strengthen that part of the building. The proportions of the two rooms are dissimilar, one being considerably more than double the size of the other. The clear width of the Keep is 29 feet 3 inches, or exactly half its entire length, (39 feet 3 inches + 19 feet 3 inches) which does not seem the effect of accident; and it may be observed, that in most of the buildings constructed during the middle ages, these general proportions were invariably attended to. On removing the earth, the footings of the walls were arrived at, which are about five feet above the present level of the ground outside the curtain wall, or 1 9 feet G inches below the floor of the chamber on the north side, described as the probable entrance to the castle.

The walls are constructed with flints, with the occasional introduction of tiles: and the whole has the appearance of having been carried up on caissoons, with mortar composed of coarse sand and lime, well grouted as the work went on. The surrounding country abounds with flint; the quantity, however, required for the outer wall alone, which contains upwards of 300 rods of reduced work, could not have been collected without vast labour. The Keep and other buildings would require more than a similar quantity.

On removing the ground on the south side of the Keep, the walls in advance of the entrance doorway or portal were exhibited; but as they are not bonded or united * with the main tower, it is reasonable to suppose they were after-constructions. They bore a resemblance to one entire mass of concrete, with the exception of the small room adjoining the portal supposed to be a guard-chamber, and a passage parallel and close to the Keep, on a line with the door which enters the room where the guard were stationed. The right jamb of this door, which at the height of the shoulder is much worn, is of Reigate stone as well as the other, where the hooks remain upon which the door turned. The precise way which led to the chief portal has not been decided; it might have been by a straight passage as described, or by a more tortuous one practised in the mass of concrete in face of it.

The portal is not in the middle, and externally its width is six feet six inches. The wall being destroyed at about eight feet from the foundation, its arch or lintel has left no trace. The sill is two feet above the level of the floor, and you could not have entered without descending by two or more steps. The right jamb is of Reigate stone, built at the time the guard-room was constructed; the other jamb is original, and formed with tiles. Behind the reveal on which the door shut, is a small hole six inches square, which slants upwards through the thickness of the wrall, until it again shews itself above the loop-hole on the south side. There are in the curtain wall many of these funnels, probably contrived and used for the purpose of holding a conversation with, or alarming the centinels stationed near them. On entering the Keep, the principal room is 39 feet 3 inches by 29 feet 3 inches, and there is not the slightest indication of its ever having been arched or vaulted over; indeed the thickness of the walls are not adequate to the thrust of an arch of so great a span, unless aided in its resistance by a mound of earth, which this Keep never had, or some other counterfort. In general we find, where vaults are practised, that half their span given to the thickness of their abutting walls, which in this case must have been fourteen instead of five feet.

The only light admitted to this room was by the four narrow loop-holes on the east, and one on the south side, only six inches wride, and not more than 2 feet 3 inches high. At its north angle a doorway, 2 feet 7 inches wide, conducts to a well hole, 5 feet 8 inches diameter, where once was a winding staircase, that served to mount to the upper rooms as well as to the summit of the castle. The tiles with which the jambs of the doorway are built up, are 6¾ inches by 7 inches, and seven courses of them are contained in a foot; they are roughly worked, but well burnt, and of the description usually attributed to Roman manufacture.

he adjoining room containing the fire-place, and which might serve as the kitchen, was entirely brought to light by the recent excavations; it has no apparent entrance^ for the doorway and steps at the northern angle only conducted to a necessarium, most ingeniously contrived in the thickness of the wall. The jambs of this doorway are also formed of tiles, and a staircase 2 feet 3 inches wide continues up to the level of a recess, where are the remains of a drain, passing through the wall into a small cesspool, once arched or covered over with a flat stone. The aperture in the main wall, by which the soil passed, is 2 feet 10 inches in height, and 1 foot 8 inches in width, worked in Reigate stone. The cesspool, or exterior work forming it, concealed this opening, and was not bonded into the wall of the Keep. On mounting the steps from the kitchen, it is plainly perceivable that they terminated at the recess, and were only used for the purposes described, for the wall is closed at their extremity, which would not have been the case had the steps continued. How the kitchen was entered, except by an aperture in the floor above, cannot be imagined; it was not unusual to communicate in this manner. To make it difficult to arrive at the inner rooms of the Keep, seems one of the objects most aimed at in their arrangements. On the south side of the kitchen are the remains of the fire-place, which is built up with Roman tiles, and has every evidence of being constructed with the walls it is recessed in; its opening is 5 feet G inches, and depth 2 feet 10 inches; the back, forming a segment of a circle, is plastered, and so discoloured with the soot that there can be no doubt of its appropriation. Near the hearth were found many bones of a hog or some other animal. The flue could not be traced, nor could the breast be distinctly made out; the walls here being broken off about where the mantle would have occurred; in all probability the flue inclined in an outward direction, and terminated as the flues do at Rochester castle, not continuing to the top of the battlements. On one side of the chimney is a loophole, that would serve to overlook the entrance or passage that was in a line with the door of the guard-room, and which has been suggested as the way to arrive at the chief portal. Through this loop-hole, all the light the kitchen received was admitted, except what it derived from the fire. Neither of the rooms exhibit any remains of a pavement; and from the door of the spiral staircase, as well as that conducting to the necessarium, being set off on the footings, no doubt can be entertained that their top was the level of the floor of the lower rooms of the Keep.

The height of the Keep, in its original state, equalled probably its extreme length, and consisted of two stories in addition to the ground-floor. Its general character, its entrance, as well as some other of its arrangements, must have borne a strong resemblance to that erected by Gundulph at Rochester, though upon a much smaller scale; towering above its curtain wall, and presenting its battlements seventy feet from its base, a warder, on its summit, might have obtained a view of a considerable portion of the valley through which the Darent winds. The position of this Keep, at one extremity of its court-yard, was that usually adopted; by such a position a larger area was obtained for the exercise of the retainers, and more difficulty was produced to assemble a body of besiegers around the walls, nor could a battering ram be applied in the confined space between them and the curtain, which was distant but a few feet from it.