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Goodrich Castle

HER no. 349, OS grid ref: SO 5770 1990

One kilometre north-north-east of Goodrich village, midway between Ross and Monmouth, Goodrich Castle stands on a ridge above the river, with a commanding view of the countryside below.

The name Goodrich has been attributed to two very different sources; some say that is taken from the Welsh name for the River Wye, Gwy, and reich, which means "territory". Other scholars say that it is a derivation from the name of the man credited with its origin, Godric of Mappestone (Godric Mapson) (Bruce Coplestone-Crow, Herefordshire Place-Names, British Archaeological Reports British Series 214, 1989, p. 91). 

Description and tour of the castle today

The steep scarp, which rises more than 30m above the water meadows, provides a strong natural defence along the west side via a deep lateral valley. The castle would have been a good defensive structure against possible attacks by the Welsh and would have provided a suitable base for forays into Wales.

On the south and east there is a wide rock-cut moat, whilst a smaller ditch surrounds the barbican, defending the gateway to the castle.
The castle rises from red sandstone, from which much of it is built. The castle consisted of a parallelogram-shaped inner ward with circular towers flanking each corner. Three of the towers are on square bases with spurs. Each tower was of three storeys, with the uppermost storey rising above the curtain wall. The fourth corner had a gatehouse and chapel tower. On the other side of the gate is a small circular turret similar to the other towers.

The walls linking the towers are straight, except on the south, where the wall is brought out to a point. 

The castle was - and still is - approached via a trackway which runs roughly alongside the east wall and leads into:

The barbican

The barbican of Goodrich Castle is well preserved and illustrates the use of this style of defence. It forced attackers to capture and pass over two bridges at right angles to each other. A stone wall encloses the barbican, against which the remains of a stone bench suggest the existence of previous lean-to buildings.

Behind the barbican is found: 

The gatehouse and chapel tower

On the right as you enter the gate passage is a small doorway, which leads to a porter's lodge on the right and a garderobe on the left.

In addition to the drawbridge there was a long, vaulted gate passage, 50ft long, that was protected by two portcullises. The grooves for these portcullises can still be seen in the roof arches.

In the vaulting between the portcullises, meurtriers or murder holes were used for pouring boiling water or molten lead upon the enemy. These holes run through the gatehouse roof and into the room above. 

The gate passage leads into the north-east corner of the inner ward, which has buildings on all sides. To the left is:

The chapel

The windows in the east and west walls are 15th century additions. The base of the altar and the original basin for washing communion vessels can still be traced in the recess of the eastern window.

The stone seat in the south wall dates to the 13th century. The later staircase in the north wall led onto the western gallery of the 15th century. Corbels carved as angels carrying shields support this gallery. The staircase also leads to rooms above the chapel and gate passage, and to the wall walk. The rooms above the gate passage had fireplaces, and traces of the portcullis workings can be seen.

The eastern range

The lower part of the eastern range is early 13th century. A long rectangular building once stood against the inner face of this wall. It was originally of one storey but in the 15th century a second storey was added and the parapet raised.

The south-east tower

Inside this tower is a spiral staircase leading to the roof. In the two upper rooms there are fireplaces and embrasures. This, of all the towers, appears to have been occupied by the guard. As such it has access to every other part of the walls. Steps lead down from the south-east tower to the:

Norman keep

This building is the earliest surviving work of the castle and dates from c.1160-70. The keep had three floors and was faced with ashlar (squared stone) masonry laid in level courses. It has shallow clasping buttresses (a mass of masonry projecting from the wall to increase its strength, encasing the angle) at each angle and pilaster buttresses from the middle of each side.

The keep is interestingly built of grey conglomerate, which was probably brought by river from the Forest of Dean a few miles to the south.

The doorway at ground level is a later creation, the original entrance being via the opening above the present door, which is now a window.

The uppermost storey is marked by a stringcourse decorated with chevron ornament, and two of the original windows are preserved. 

The kitchen

The kitchen is between the keep and the south-west tower. Inside is a fireplace between two ovens, which filled the centre of the outer wall. A third oven between the curtain wall and the keep is partly destroyed.

The entrance to the kitchen is in the corner of the inner ward, immediately beside the entrance to the Great Hall, presumably so that food could be transported quickly to the eager diners.

A low, covered walkway leads from the kitchen to the well on the north side of the courtyard. 

The south-west tower

Like the south-east tower, this consists of three floors; the lowest floor forms the basement, which is entered via steps down to the left.

The ground floor was entered by a double doorway from a passage behind timber screens from the Great Hall. The ground floor room was the buttery, which was used for the storing and distribution of liquor. On the floor the earlier foundations of a round tower of small diameter can be traced.

In the north wall the garderobe can be seen; it is reached by a stair leading from the Great Hall.

The great hall

This building occupies most of the western side of the courtyard, and measures 65 ft by 27 ft 6 inches. On the west there are three windows, each one with a trefoil head and a horizontal bar across the opening. Above the window nearest the south-west tower is a doorway that led onto the wall walk.

The remains of a large fireplace with corbelled hood still exist.

Inserted into the north wall is a late 14th century doorway; beyond this lies a small vestibule leading to the solar and other private rooms. Above this vestibule was a small chapel that would have been used by the family and friends of the lord.

The solar and north-west tower

Occupying the western half of the northern range of the courtyard is a two-storey building. Immediately in front and at the same level was the solar building. This building was separated into two by a screen of two arches, which rose through two floors.

In the south corner of this room there is a basin and arrangements for a pipe leading from the well. In the opposite wall a doorway, protected by double doors and a portcullis, leads into the outer ward. This back door would have been used as a way for the inhabitants to escape the castle unnoticed at times of attack.

The outer ward

The restricted area of the outer ward meant that it was kept free of buildings due to reasons of defence. When this area was no longer required for defence it housed the stables, but these buildings were burnt down during the Civil War by Colonel Birch and Colonel Kyrle, and now only the stone floors remain.

The inner courtyard can be reached from here by climbing steps beside the barbican.

History of the castle

From its position high above the banks of the River Wye, Goodrich Castle commands an ancient ford crossing of the river. This route is thought to be the original Roman road from Gloucester to Caerleon via Monmouth.

Goodrich Castle does not appear in the Domesday Survey, but seems to have been in existence by 1101/1102 as it is mentioned in a document under the name of Godric's Castle. This Godric is thought to be Godric of Mappestone. One possible explanation for its absence from the Domesday Book is that as the area had been laid to waste by the Welsh it had not been minutely surveyed.

1144: William fitz Osbern seized the castle during the anarchy of the reign of Stephen.

In the following reign the Crown holds the castle and manor.

1203: King John granted the castle and manor to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. The castle was held by the service of two knights' fees. Marshall's son William died at Goodrich in 1245. He was the last male of the line to hold these lands, but as he had fought for the Barons at Lincoln, possession reverted to the Crown.

1247: Goodrich passed to William de Valence, half brother to Henry III, by his marriage to the heiress of William Marshall. William de Valence and his son Aymer made many alterations to the castle. They knocked down the towers and outer walls and rebuilt them, leaving the original keep surrounded by new structures. This is why the keep is so distinctive in its light grey colour compared to the red sandstone of the surrounding buildings. Aymer de Valence died in 1323, and Goodrich Castle passed to Aymer's niece Elizabeth Comyn.

Elizabeth was forced to grant her rights to Hugh Despencer. Her husband Richard, 2nd Baron Talbot, who in the autumn of 1326 seized the castle, later disputed this.

1331-1355: Lord Talbot was summoned to Parliament by the title of "Richard Talbot of Goodrich Castle" (Rev. Charles J. Robinson, Herefordshire Castles and their Lords).

Richard Talbot apparently used the ransoms of prisoners of the French Wars to fund improvements to the fortress.

1356: Richard Talbot was succeeded by his son Gilbert, who fought with the Black Prince in the French Wars. Sir John Talbot, the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, was the hero of 40 battles and was slain at the battle of Chatillon in 1453.

For many years Goodrich was home to the Talbots, who were made Earls of Shrewsbury in the 15th century.

1460: On the defeat of the Lancastrians and the forfeiture of the castle, Goodrich was granted to the Yorkist William Herbert. However, John, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury made his peace with the king and regained control of his lands before his death in 1473.

1616: The death of the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury with no male heir brought Goodrich into the hands of Henry Grey, Earl of Kent. At this point the castle was no longer occupied.

1643: The Earl of Stamford, who had seized Hereford in the interests of Parliament, garrisoned the castle.

1646: The castle was the scene of one of the most desperate sieges in Herefordshire during the Civil War. The fortress was at first in the hands of Parliament, but was later occupied by a garrison led by the Royalist Sir Henry Lingen. Colonels Birch and Kyrle, along with 500 men on horse and foot, made an attempt to capture the castle but only managed to burn the stables and outbuildings.

Colonel Birch took possession of a great culverin (a type of cannon) from Gloucester, as well as other guns from Ludlow Castle in south Shropshire. He even built a cannon that could carry a shell of two hundredweight - this was called "Roaring Meg". This cannon stood until recently in the Churchill Gardens Museum in Hereford, but English Heritage has since had it moved back to Goodrich.

The castle remained strong and its defenders in good spirits. However, Colonel Birch gained fresh supplies and made successive attempts on the castle, which later surrendered. On 31st July terms were proposed and agreed that saved the lives of the defenders.

Colonel Birch was allowed to capture the fortress and its main contents of 30 barrels of beer. Besides Sir Henry Lingen were gentleman from some of the most distinguished families in the county, including the Bodenhams, Vaughans, Berringtons and Wigmores.

On 25th August 1646 a request was made that the castle should be completely destroyed; the following spring it was resolved that it should be de-garrisoned and slighted, making it virtually uninhabitable.

1740: Goodrich remained with the Earls of Kent until this year, when it was sold to Admiral Thomas Griffin.

The castle later passed through various hands until 1920, when it was placed with the Commissioner of Works. It has been under the care of English Heritage since 1984.

Construction and restoration

No remains of the Godric's Castle mentioned at the beginning of the 12th century have been discovered, however it is highly likely that the rock-cut moat follows the line of the original defences.

The earliest surviving piece of the castle is the Norman keep, dating from the middle to late 12th century.

The square enclosure with the angle towers was built around the keep in the early 13th century. Of this wall, only the east wall and the foundations of the south-west tower survive, the rest of the surviving curtain wall being of the 13th century when a period of extensive reconstruction occurred.

The barbican and the outer ward were added some time after 1296. The upper storey of the eastern range, as well as the added room on the gatehouse, were built later in the history of the castle. In this year we have evidence of royal clerks and workmen nearby, thus adding weight to the theory that the rebuilding of the barbican and keep happened in this period.

In 1280 and 1282 we have evidence of grants of oak trees from royal forests being made to Goodrich, suggesting a period of rebuilding at the castle.


In 1988 a watching brief was carried out during the excavation of a trench for an electricity cable to light the ticket office. This long cable trench ran along the vehicular access road, around the outer edge of the ditch, past the barbican and into the outer ward.

During the work a Christian burial ground was discovered near the edge of the ditch to the south of the castle. The close proximity of the burial ground to the ditch suggests that it pre-dates the ditch.

Other finds include pieces of medieval encaustic floor tiles and pottery sherds dating from the 13th-20th centuries.