Caedwalla, an Anglo-Saxon King, signed a charter in 688 CE granting certain lands in Farnham to found a ‘Monasterium’. In 803 the land was passed to the Bishop of Winchester. Little is known of the early period but the monks at Waverley Abbey mentioned the existence of a castle at Farnham in 1128.
Waverley Abbey, Farnham
The start of Farnham Castle’s story
The importance of the Castle to the Bishops of Winchester
The Castle as we see it today
The Bishop’s Palace
The English Civil War and the Restoration of the Monarchy
Georgian and Victorian influences
Farnham Castle - the later years
The Castle also played its part in the second World War, set up by the War Office as a Camouflage Development and Training Centre. Early students included notable figures from the world of art, architecture and stage design, as well as regular army officers.
The diocese of Winchester was regarded as one of the wealthiest in Europe and early Bishops wielded immense power. Nine Bishops of Winchester were Chancellors of England and three were also Papal Legates, giving them a status above that of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The castle has benefitted greatly from its proximity to London and the Channel ports. The journey to London was a frequent one for Bishops whose diocese, for most of its time, stretched to Southwark. Being practically midway between the capital and Winchester, the Castle provided a convenient stopover.
The vast, dense forests nearby offered good hunting for red and fallow deer, as well as wild boar, giving Bishops the opportunity to entertain sport-loving Kings and Queens across the centuries. Multiple visits have been recorded for many monarchs from King John to Charles II. Queen Mary Tudor stayed more than two weeks at Farnham Castle before her marriage to Philip of Spain at Winchester on July 25th 1554.
Queen Elizabeth I made at least six visits, including possibly one for the summer of 1583. And James I leased the whole castlefrom Bishop Bilson from 1608 to 1616 as a hunting lodge.
The Castle buildings today can be divided into two main elements, the round Keep and the Bishop’s Palace, laid out in the form of a traditional ‘motte and bailey’ structure.
Excavations in the c20th showed that a 3 or 4-storey tower formed the original Keep, built from ground level with earth being piled up around its base. 1138 is generally accepted as the date for the beginning of the tower’s construction, instigated by Bishop Henry de Blois, grandson of William the Conquerer and brother of King Stephen. This tower was demolished in the reign of Henry II, not long after it was built, but its remaining foundations and well have been preserved for the benefit of visitors.
The current impressive ring wall or ‘shell keep’ was probably erected at the end of the c12th. The gatehouse with its drawbridge retains evidence of a portcullis and ‘murder hole’ or meurtrière. Some original elements of the Keep’s towers and structure were modified in c17th to form platforms suitable for mounting cannon.
The Palace is a much larger and complex structure. The original Great Hall was constructed in the late c12th - an aisled room, with two rows of oak posts runningdown its length supporting a beamed roof.
Also probably dating from the c11th-c12th are a Norman Chapel and medieval Kitchen. The chapel has a barrel vault roof, round headed windows and door arches of Romanesque style. There are also pointed, Transitional arches added in the c13th, one of which is blocked by a half-timbered Tudor Lodging Range.
Probably built just after the Chapel and Kitchen was the Bishop’s Camera or private room. Built above ground level, it offered storage and stabling space below.
The main, brick entrance tower leading to the Great Hall can be dated to 1470-75, commissioned by Bishop Waynflete. An additional tower was added to the entrance by Bishop Fox in the early c16th. Adjacent to the entrance tower remain traces of a further chapel, which has long since been demolished.
The Great Hall was made far grander than its lower and longer c12th predecessor. It now included a Minstrel’s Gallery, raised flat ceiling with upper gallery or walkway, and a large fireplace with oak fire surround. An imposing staircase was added which leads to the Bishop’s private accommodation and a new Bishop’s Chapel. The entrance doors to the chapel include several double-sided sun carvings said to have been given to Morley by Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. Many decorative oak carvings in the style of the school of Grinling Gibbons are found throughout Morley’s additions.
During the c18th and c19th a number of small but important changes and additions were made to the Palace. Revisions were made to both the layout and stained-glass window in Bishop Morley’s Chapel. A new fire surround and bay window were added to the Bishop’s Camera.
And in the Great Hall three new stained-glass windows were added to depict the coats of arms of nine Bishops who were also Chancellors of England, including two, before the Reformation, who were also Papal Cardinals.
Prior to the war the diocese of Winchester was divided and Farnham became part of the new diocese of Guildford, remaining the residence of the Bishop of Guildford until 1955.
Originally held by Parliamentary forces, Farnham Castle was attacked and taken by Royalists before being retaken by the Parliamentarians under Colonel Sir William Waller. From their base in Farnham Parliamentary forces won back Alton and Arundel in 1643 and were successful at the turning-point battle at Cheriton in 1644.
At the end of the war the Palace was in bad repair, suffering from use as a barracks, a gunpowder store and as a holding place for prisoners of war. The restitution of the monarchy in 1660 meant the return of the Bishops to Winchester and the arrival of one of the most significant figures in the Castle’s history, Bishop George Morley (1662-1684), who set about its repair and reconstruction.
Women hunting - not just a sport for men
George Morley's coat of arms, Farnham Castle chapel
Morley chapel doors
Part of Great Hall
Output from the WW2 Camouflage Development and Training Centre at Farnham Castle: Dummy tank and camouflage posters