Almost 1,000 years of use
What remains at Stogursey Castle today are the vestiges of almost a thousand years of use, first military and then more peaceable. The little cottage now used as a Landmark was chiefly built in the 17th century, but it also incorporates mediaeval fabric from the gate towers whose site it colonised. Although extensive archaeology has been carried out in the past, the site is a very complex one and questions remain, particularly about the castle’s exact form in its earliest years. Its history falls into six main stages.
Stage 1: 1066 - 1100
Stogursey Castle’s origins lie with William the Conqueror’s need to consolidate his new kingdom. He granted the manor of Stoke to William de Falaise who built a castle on the site as one of a chain running from Dunster to Montacute, to protect Somerset from invasion from the sea. It seems de Falaise did not build the typical motte (defensive mound) since the remains of a later, stone building have been found beneath the existing mound. Instead, his defences took the form of the ‘castle ringwork’, a hall or keep with a timber stockade, on a flat area defended by a strong bank and a ditch.
Stage 2: 1100 - 1150
Early in the 12th century, Stoke manor passed by marriage to the de Curci (later Courcy) family. William de Curci did rather well out of his marriage, with the fortified manor of Stoke a particular prize since castles could only be held with permission from the king. Stoke was made the ‘caput’ or head of the Honour of Curci, lands stretching across several counties but bound by allegiance to the same lord.
Stoke therefore became Stoke-Curci, and eventually Stogursey. It was probably de Curci who built the castle mound to strengthen his new seat. The mound filled the area of the original ringwork, constructed partly from the earth removed to deepen the ditch.
By now, as castle technology developed and stronger keeps were being built, mottes were less crucial to defences, but Stoke was still marshy in those days, and in flat countryside, so a mound would have offered both defensive observation and drier conditions. De Curci built a rectangular keep on the mound, probably of two or three storeys. It had stone foundations, so may also have had stone walls, the use of stone an indication of its strategic importance to the Normans. A stockade surrounded the mound; to the south east, and partly surrounding the mound, was a bailey (defensive enclosure), also stockaded and with its own deep ditch. Some years later, a second, larger bailey was added to the east, perhaps during the troubled years of the power struggles between Stephen and Matilda.
Stage 3: 1150-70
Henry II came to the throne in 1156 and proceeded energetically to consolidate Plantagenet rule across the realm. William de Curci III inherited Stogursey around the same time. He was also one of the king’s stewards and may have been authorised to strengthen Stogursey Castle, which now reached the peak of its strength, protecting the mouth of the River Parrett. Stone curtain walls were built around the mound, patched stretches of which remain today. A rectangular garderobe (or lavatory) tower appeared on the west side. The main entrance, then as now to the east, was probably defended by another tower. Fragments of a timber bridge from this period have been found, suggesting that the moat may by now have been filled with water (the leat system was extended soon after to power a mill, still referred to as ‘new’ in 1225).
Castles fulfilled domestic as well as military roles and Stogursey would have been permanent home to a constable and his household. Every so often de Curci and his retinue (otherwise in attendance on the king) would arrive to take up residence. The keep would have provided limited rather uncomfortable accommodation and evidence suggests that a main hall was also built on the western side of the inner ward, adjoining the garderobe tower. Other service buildings also sprang up as befitted the seat of one of the most influential families in England and a castle which, with Corfe, Sherbourne and Taunton, was one of the four regarded as vital for the defence of the south west.
Stage 4: 1216-30
But Stogursey Castle was now to be superseded by a new castle to protect the crossing of the Parrett, built by King John at Bridgewater as he sought absolute control over the English territories that were all that remained to the English Crown. Stogursey and its owners lost control over the area as a consequence. The de Curci line had petered out, Stogursey passing through Alice de Curci, a wealthy widow, to her second husband Warin FitzGerold, John’s chamberlain. In 1210, the king came to stay with FitzGerold at Stogursey; they no doubt enjoyed good hunting on the Quantocks and then, royal accounts record, the king lost 20 shillings gambling. Although FitzGerold was a loyal signatory to the Magna Carta in 1214, two years later his monarch became suspicious of him and ordered the constable of Stogursey to hold the castle directly for the king, with extra men to defend it in case FitzGerold tried to regain it. Fortifications seem to have been strengthened again. In 1224 Stogursey was held for the rebels against the regents of the young Henry III and besieged. It did not fall, but there is evidence of much patching and repair afterwards. Timber was provided for the repair of domestic buildings and a gatehouse with at least one semi-circular tower was built on the east side of the site.
Stage 5: 1300-1325
Passing through the hands of various owners through the troubled 13th century, Stogursey came to rest in 1309 with the Fitzpaynes, a family of rising importance in the west. The castle was to remain in their hands until the late 17th century. Robert Fitzpayne set about ‘modernising’ his small castle, whose outer bailey had by now disappeared, possibly becoming the castle garden. Defences to the inner ward were strengthened, including a twin-towered gatehouse, a new bridge and a semi-circular tower built against the western wall. A stronger, more compact castle resulted.
Stage 6 1450-1550
According to local tradition, in 1455 or 57 (accounts vary) Stogursey once again became caught up in national events as the rallying point for the Lancastrian cause in the south-west. It was reputedly besieged, overthrown and destroyed, never to be repaired as a fortified site again. Yet there is no written or archaeological evidence of such cataclysm. Certainly the gatehouse defences were improved around this date and then in the 1490s accounts show the gatehouse and a ‘new’ tower were extensively repaired. The advent of the Tudors brought more peaceable times, however, and in common with fortified manors across the country, from now on Stogursey was to pass gradually into domestic and agricultural use.
The later years
In 1670 a major sale of the Earl of Northumberland’s (as the Fitzpaynes had become) lands took place to offset debt. Stogursey Castle and 27 acres were sold as a tenanted farm, known as Mill Farm from its association with the old mill. The castle buildings gradually fell into dereliction as the site became increasingly cultivated. Mr Percy Caple lived in the cottage from 1919 until 1963, a great gardener who produced hundred-weights of potatoes from the former inner ward. In 1963 Mill Farm was sold but the cottage remained empty and was left to decay. Local conservationists got the local Council involved, who were advised on the site by architect John Schofield, who had worked on the Old Hall at Croscombe, another Landmark. When the Council’s plans failed, he suggested an approach to Landmark, who acquired the castle site.