Framlingham castle is set high on a bluff overlooking the River Ore and is surrounded by a big flint curtain wall with towers. From a distance, especially seen across the Mere, it is a splendid building.
The Normans built a motte and bailey castle. This was was replaced by Roger Bigot, Earl of Norfolk with a larger curtain wall castle with battlements and thirteen wall towers. The earthworks of the bailey can still be seen outside the castle and part of them are now a car park.
By the end of the 13thC, it was luxurious home surrounded by extensive parkland used for hunting. A large prison was built in one of towers for local poachers and religious dissidents. The Bigot family became heavily in debt and the castle passed to the crown in 1306.
Edward II gave the castle to his half brother, Thomas Earl of Norfolk. After his death it passed to the Ufford family, Earls of Suffolk and finally to Thomas de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Framlingham Castle was their seat of power for most of the 15thC. Two artificial meres were added by damming a local stream. In 1476, the castle passed to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who began a series of improvements and modernisations in fashionable brick. The demolished Great Chamber which was built across the inner court, linking Great Hall and chapel would have dated from then. Tall chimneys were added to the towers, each with different design, although only three were functional. The rest were purely ornamental. The drawbridge was replaced by a permanent bridge. Extensive pleasure gardens were built within castle with ornamental ponds and terraced walkways. The prison tower was redesigned as a viewing gallery for the mere.
By the end of the 16thC, the Howards were in financial difficulties and the castle was in a poor condition. It was not regarded as a threat in the Civil War, so the walls were not destroyed by Cromwell’s men.
It was sold to Sir Robert Hitcham in 1635. After his death, the castle was given to Pembroke College Cambridge with instructions that the internal buildings be removed and a poorhouse constructed on the site. This closed in 1839 when the inhabitants were moved to a workhouse.
Since then the castle has had different functions. It was used as an isolation ward for infected patients during an outbreak of plague in 1666. During the Napoleonic wars it held equipment and stores of the local Framlingham Volunteer Regiment. It has been used as a drill hall and county court before being given to the Commissioner of Works. During the Second World War it was used by the British military as part of the regional defences against German invasion. It is now in the care of English Heritage.
The castle is surrounded by a deep ditch. A bridge leads to the gate tower which was remodelled in 16thC when coat of arms of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk were added. This is now very eroded and it is difficult to make out detail. The massive wood gate is one of the few bits of 16thC timber to survive. To the west is a wall leading to the remains of the prison tower.
Inside is a large grassy area with picnic tables. All that is left of the chapel and great chamber is the east window and a few chimney places in the wall on the right.
On the left is the poorhouse. The brick wing on the south was the first to be built. The flint central part and plaster rendered north wing were added later in 1729. The north wing contains the ovens.
The shop is in the brick building. The rest of the ground floor is taken up with a small exhibition about the castle.
A spiral staircase in the corner of the shop leads to the wall walk. At the bottom is a notice warning that steps are uneven. They are, and have become very worn over the years. The staircase is also fairly narrow. When we visited, part of the wall walk was closed as there was restoration work on the curtain wall above the site of the chapel and great chamber. There was a temporary metal scaffold scaffold with stairs down. There is a one way system in operation around the walls, although the metal stairs were a lot easier to negotiate than the spiral staircase.
There are good views down to the old poor house and across to the Mere with the brick buildings of Framlingham College beyond. Views across to the church are restricted by trees. You do, however, need to watch your feet rather than the views as parts of the wall walk are paved with flint and uneven. There are also small steps.
At £6.50 or £6 for concessions we felt this was expensive as there isn’t a lot to see. We felt this is another example of a castle that is more impressive from the outside. The shop is fairly small. In the summer season there is a small kiosk selling light snacks and drinks. Disabled access is restricted to the grounds and ground floor of the poorhouse.
There is a large pay and display car park near the castle entrance. Visitors to the castle can collect a voucher from the ticket office.