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Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire

(51°52′33″N, 2°36′41″W)
Goodrich Castle
SO 580 199
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Herefordshire
now Herefordshire
medieval Hereford
now Hereford
  • Ron Baxter
29 August 2008

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Feature Sets

Goodrich lies within the ancient district of Archenfield, a border area betweenWalesandEnglandin the 11thc (see Preface to Herefordshire). GoodrichCastlestands on a sandstone scarp overlooking the river Wye, some 3 miles SW of Ross-on-Wye and 6½ miles NE of Monmouth. Close by was an important strategic crossing point on the road fromEnglandintoWales. Earthworks around the castle indicate the presence of an Iron Age hillfort here, but the first notice of a castle, Godric’s Castle, dates from 1101-02. Nothing of this survives; the oldest building on the site being the mid-12thcGreatTower, probably the work of Richard “Strongbow” de Clare (Lord of Goodrich 1148-76), or his father Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare (1138-48). This Gilbert had been given Goodrich along with the title of Earl of Pembroke, by King Stephen, whom he supported in the Civil War, and the Clares continued to support the king even when most of their neighbours had transferred their allegiance to the Empress Matilda. TheGreatTowerwas retained when the castle was rebuilt around 1300 probably by William de Valence (d.1296) and his wife Joan (d.1307). Thenew castleconsisted of a courtyard with ranges against a curtain wall with towers at three of the angles. The fourth corner, the NE, was occupied by an asymmetrical twin-towered gatehouse with a chapel in the larger S tower and a guardroom above the entrance from which the portcullises and murder-holes were controlled. East of the gatehouse, on the other side of the surrounding ditch, was a fortified barbican, and a bridge with a drawbridge section linked this to the entrance. Within the courtyard, the Great Hall occupied the west range; the kitchen and the oldGreatTowerthe south; the solar block the north; and another hall, perhaps for lower members of the household, the east. Also in the east range is a later medieval garderobe tower, perhaps 15thc. There is an outer ward surrounded by a wall on the north and west, and in the western section of the outer ward are remains of 17thc stables. The medieval stables cannot have been in this position, as it is not accessible from the barbican, where visitors would have dismounted.

The approach to the castle was from the south, giving the 15thc visitor a view of the tall, ancientGreatTowerrising above the battlements of the curtain wall and flanked by the round SE and SW towers. The visitor would have turned to the right, following the outer wall along its south and east sections. On turning the SE corner he would have been visually and nasally alerted to the consumption of great quantities of food here by the effluent from the garderobe tower. He would also have seen the barbican ahead of him; a signal to dismount and continue on foot. Passing through the entrance, the portcullises poised ready to fall and the murder holes above his head emphasized the fact that he was putting himself in another man’s hands. Finally emerging into the brightness of the courtyard he would have seen the Great Hall ahead of him and theGreatTowerto his left.

Only the Great Tower falls within our period, and it is there fore worth describing in more detail. It is approximately square, and its lowest levels are of rubble masonry, suggesting that they were originally hidden under an earth mound. From approximately 2m (6 ft) above the present courtyard level the rubble gives way to fine ashlar facing of grey sandstone (unlike the red sandstone used for the later parts of the castle). There are shallow buttresses clasping the angles, and flat pilasters in the centre of each face except the west. The tower is of three storeys. The undercroft is now entered from the courtyard through a doorway in the north face, but this is a late-medieval addition, and Ashbee suggests that the undercroft was originally only accessible by stairs from the floor above. Certainly the main entrance was through the round-headed doorway, converted into a window in the 15thc, in the N wall. This must have been reached by a timber staircase, as at Chepstow nearby. This doorway leads to the main storey which is impressively tall at more than 6m (20 ft), though not large in floor area. An internal doorway with a tympanum in the west wall of this storey gives onto a vaulted passage and a spiral staircase leading to the top storey; a fine room marked externally by its elaborately-carved N and W windows and internally by window seats, which could have served as the lord’s chamber. Romanesque features described here are the main N doorway, the internal doorway noted above, the top-storey windows and a stringcourse running below them.


The Domesday Survey records Godrich (sic) among the lands situated within the boundary of Archenfield. Godrich was held by Godric Mappesone in 1086, and by Taldus before the Conquest. The entry records a demesne of 2 ploughs, 4 oxmen and 1 female slave, along with 12 villans and 12 borders with 11 ploughs. There was a render of 18 sesters of honey, a smith and a fishery. No castle is mentioned, and the first notice of one occurs in 1101-02, by which time Godric himself was dead. The castle passed to Wiliam fitz Baderon, perhaps Godric’s son-in-law, and thence to William’s son Baderon in the 1120s. Around 1138 King Stephen granted this important strategic site to Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare (d.1148), creating him Earl of Pembroke. From Gilbert it passed to his son Richard “Strongbow” de Clare. When Henry II came to the throne in 1154, Richard forfeited his earldom and never achieved the political importance under Henry that he had enjoyed under Stephen. He died in 1176 and the estate passed to the crown. Nevertheless the right of inheritance remained in his line, specifically with his daughter Isabella. In 1189 he married William Marshal, a knight of the royal household, and on their marriage Marshal received the castles of Chepstow and Usk. He was granted the earldom of Pembroke by King John in 1199, and Goodrich Castle in 1204. He remained a loyal (and distinguished) servant of the king and his successor, the young Henry III, serving as regent in the early years of Henry’s minority. He died in 1219 and was succeeded as Earl of Pembroke by each of his five sons in turn (all five dying childless). Goodrich was granted to Walter, the fourth son, who lived in the castle for much of his life (although he did not inherit the title to it until 1241, when the third son, Gilbert, died in a tournament accident). Walter died in 1245, and his brother Anselm, the last of the sons, a few months later. The Marshal estates were then divided between the heirs of William Marshal’s five daughters, with Goodrich going to John de Munchensi, son of William’s daughter Joan (d.1234). When John died childless in 1247 the castle passed to his sister, Joan, who married William de Valence, Henry III’s half-brother. William (d.1296) and Joan de Valence (d.1307) were largely responsible for the castle we see today. On William’s death his widow, Joan continued to live at Goodrich for long spells, and his title and lands passed to his son Aymer (d.1324) at her death. He died childless and his heir was his niece Elizabeth Comyn, a minor. While the castle was in crown custody Elizabeth was kidnapped by the Despensers, who held her until she surrendered the castle to them. On her release she married Richard Talbot, Lord Talbot, who promptly seized Goodrich in her name. The castle remained in the Talbot family, created Earls of Shrewsbury in 1442 in recognition of the then lord John Talbot’s distinguished war service. The Talbots lost Goodrich in 1619, when it was claimed by the Crown in payment of debts incurred by the dowager Countess Mary, widow of the 7th earl of Shrewsbury and daughter of Bess of Hardwick. The family retained effective control of the castle, however, leasing it to tenants. In 1632 the heiress was Elizabeth Talbot, who married Henry Grey, heir to the earldom of Kent, who carried out repairs to the building at his own expense in 1631-32. During the Civil War it was occupied successively by Parliamentarian and Royalist garrisons in the battle for control of the Welsh Marches, and was besieged by Cromwell’s men under Colonel Birch in 1646, leaving it in a ruinous condition. In 1648 it was slighted, and rendered uninhabitable. In 1755 it was sold to Admiral Thomas Griffin, and remained in his family until 1920, when it came into the guardianship of the Office of Works. They cleared vegetation from the site, consolidated the standing fabric and repaired decaying masonry, beginning a process of Government conservation that has continued until the present day. It passed to English Heritage in 1984.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses

Thurlby (2006) notes various comparisons with monuments in the region, on both sides of the Welsh border. The preponderance of segmental, rather than semicircular arches is also a feature of the Great Tower of Monmouth Castle; the type of combined tympanum and lintel possibly seen in the Great Tower’s internal doorway here is a common feature seen also at Ludlow Castle and Kinlet Church (both Salop), and more locally at Brinsop, Kilpeck and Mathon (all Herefords) and Dymock and Pauntley (both Gloucs). Thurlby also notes that the type of triple-scallop capital with sheathed cones seen on the Great Tower N doorway also occurs as a loose stone found at Monmouth Priory, and at Kilpeck (Herefords) and Gloucester Cathedral, but this kind of capital is anyway relatively common. These parallels combine to confirm a date between c.1120 and c.1145 for the Great Tower. The elaborate chevron ornament on the jambs of the Great Tower windows pushes the dating to the very end of this range. It should be noted that although this dating places the Great Tower well within the period of the Herefordshire School, those sculptors were obviously not employed here.


M. Thurlby, Romanesque Architecture and Sculpture in Wales, Logaston 2006.

J. Ashbee, Goodrich Castle.London (English Heritage),2005, reprinted 2007.

A. Brooks and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. New Haven and London 2012, 247-51.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire. Harmondsworth 1963, 137-39.

RCHME, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, 1: South-west, 1931, 74-78.

C. A. Ralegh Radford, Goodrich Castle.London (English Heritage), 1987.