Using the evidence that I have seen, I feel thoroughly prepared to say that yes, I would agree with the statement. The architecture of the keep and the records of the Bishop’s Rolls convince me that there was undoubtedly a drawbridge at Farnham Castle, connecting the Keep on the motte with the surrounding bailey. In it’s current guise, the castle keep is entered from the south-east of the gatehouse, and where currently two flights of stairs approach the keep, and these can be seen from the courtyard neighbouring the entry.
From the courtyard the architecture and structure of the stairs can be viewed, and it is this structure which throws first light on the possibility of a drawbridge. As Picture 1 shows, there are three distinct sections to the stairs. At the bottom, under the initial flight, there is original stone work, as there is underneath the uppermost flight. This shows that the stairs are part of the original Norman structure, and therefore any alterations would support the evidence for a drawbridge pit. This is topped with a thin layer of Tudor brickwork, of little significance other than decoration.
However, the middle section is distinctly different, split very clearly. It is filled without any structure, and contains bricks of many types, from Norman grey stonework to later Tudor red brick. As there is no pattern to the structure, I believe that it is a filled-in pit, with out any other clear purpose. If it were constructed properly, then almost certainly more time would have been spent ensuring the strength of the brickwork, as the entry of the castle would need to be strong for defence. However, the filling-in is a Tudor addition.
I know this because of the Tudor brickwork involved in the structure of the section. Therefore I hypothesise that a pit would have existed here until the 16th Century, as part of the drawbridge defences. Going up the stairs and approaching the gatehouse, the walls on either side of the stairway are of on even height. On the left side (that of the courtyard) the wall is fairly low, but this does not appear to have been the original height. To the right side of the stairs, the wall is much higher, almost reaching the first storey of the gatehouse. It is likely that both walls were this tall, if not taller.
Their probable height is indicated by a set of five corbels set into the gatehouse (Picture 3). These corbels would have held up a structure of some kind, possibly a room or a firing position. Other than this they could have been decorative, but as they are original, they are probably for defensive purposes. On the north-eastern side of the stairs, there is more evidence in favour of a room. A cavity in the wall clearly displays the distinct line splitting the pit region with the two original sections of Norman stonework, which is shown in Picture 2.
However, more importantly, there is also evidence of a pillar, which is positioned in such a way that I can strongly hypothesise that it was part of the supporting structure for a room or structure connecting with the gatehouse. It may well have braced the structure. The evidence for a room is available. From Picture 3, we can see that there is a blocked up doorway, in original Norman style, in the gatehouse. This is in alignment with the corbels, and the brickwork of the blocking is Tudor, suggesting that this was another feature destroyed in the 16th Century.
The doorway would have connected with the structure supported by the corbels. It is probable that the structure would have been a wooden room, made of a strong and durable wood such as English Oak or something similar. It is unlikely to have been made of stone because it would have been far too heavy to overhang, irrelevant of how much support there was. Also, whatever structure there was has now rotted away and does not exist. Stone does not rot away, and would have been hard to deposit somewhere else, unless it was used for the filling of the pit.
However, this is still unlikely for weight reasons. The room would have needed to be very strong, as it would have been the most vulnerable part of the castle, and consequently English Oak, which is incredibly thick and durable, would have been used. The wooden room could have had two purposes, either as an additional firing position for bracketing, or as part of the drawbridge mechanism. Using a wooden room for bracketing would have been unpractical, as the ideal place for bracketing would be to the side of the gatehouse, covering anyone scaling the front wall.
Therefore I surmise that the wooden structure was used for the purpose of holding or controlling the drawbridge mechanism. How it did this is not clear, and there is very little evidence to suggest what part it played. The only clues that we have are the holes to either side of the blocked up doorway, where the room would have connected with the keep. Looking from the steps, there is an arrow slit to the right, and another hole that is broader and shorter. Picture 4 displays this. While the arrow slit is clearly positioned to defend the gatehouse, the purpose of other the hole is unclear.
It is too broad to be an arrow slit, as there is a higher chance of penetration by arrows from attackers. It is possible that the hole could have been the feeder for a chain of the drawbridge mechanism, but the wall on the north-eastern side of the stairway would have blocked it. The only way to bypass this would have been to have a hole in the wall, and there is no evidence to suggest there was one at any time. The other possibility is it was part of the support of the wooden room, but again the wall blocks this hypothesis.
This would mean that any connection between the drawbridge and the wooden room would have to be through the room itself, probably through the bottom of the room. The chain however could not have lead through to the Bishop’s room behind, as the room is too narrow. This would lead me to believe that the mechanism was held within the wooden room, with the chain spooling in onto some kind of drum mounted in the room. This would have been operated manually by the castle’s inhabitants, as there is no other feasible means of power, for example water or wind, which had both been in use (although not in this context) across Europe.
However, as I say, these forms of power were usually for wind or water mills, and not at all for a drawbridge mechanism. Finally there is the historical evidence. At around the time that Farnham Castle was built, Britain was in a very unstable state of affairs. In the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, the Saxon peoples were still intent on recapturing the throne. This meant that most of the castles built in the period were primarily for defence. An essential feature of the defensive Norman Castles is a drawbridge, and it is unlikely that the castle would have been without a bridge.
As the country settled down and imminent attack was less likely, the drawbridge became a less important part of the castle, until its removal during the Tudor period. This would tie in perfectly with my hypotheses. The evidence that I have found leads me to hypothesise that there was a drawbridge at the entrance to the Keep at Farnham Castle, with a pit below, and a wooden room overlooking it to support the mechanism. The drawbridge would probably have been operated as the diagram shows, as my findings lead me to believe.
Three of my four sources agree with my findings, whilst the other summarily disputes the existence of a drawbridge at Farnham Castle. However, all four have limitations. One is a primary source, which is both good and bad, while two are secondary sources from local historians. The final one is a plan by an anonymous artist. The first and foremost source is a section from the Bishop’s Rolls, covering the years 1208 to 1292. There is a section containing direct evidence of ‘the bridge leading to the castle,’ stating that there was a new bridge built outside the keep in 1217 that was later supported by a pillar.
This is a primary source and is therefore very valuable. Frequently the rolls also relate to the ‘mantle,’ possibly the wooden structure. There is also reference to a pillar, possibly placed in the pit to support the drawbridge and/or mechanism. However, there are a number of limitations in the information it gives. Firstly, the original rolls were written in Latin, which is very tricky to translate, and there may have been some incorrect translation of the text.
Secondly, and most obviously, there is the fact that the original rolls are hand-written, and in a number of places there are a number of interpretations into the text. For example, in 1251 there is a reference to either ‘saucers’ or ‘salt cellars. ‘ Compounding this, there is a large amount of possible spelling errors in both original text and translation. A reference to a ‘polt,’ an unknown word, in 1266 is interpreted as ‘bolt,’ but in the context of the entry it may well have been ‘colt’ or ‘pork,’ as the entry refers to the carrying of pig meat to the Grand Hall in the keep.
However, this does not detract from the fact that the Bishop’s rolls are a legal document, and would therefore be very accurate. Also, the fact that it contains only brief statements and entries means that it is entirely based on fact and not opinion or bias. The second source is from an anonymous local historian in 1997, and thoroughly disagrees with my findings. Firstly, it makes the corbels’ purpose ‘decoration,’ something that I disagree with. In the position that they were they had to have been practical, because otherwise they made scaling the wall considerably easier.
The corbels also are said to be incapable of supporting the wooden room. If the corbels were alone in supporting the room, this would be a true statement, but the historian fails to notice that the walls to either side of the pit could have been used to support the room as well, which makes supporting the structure perfectly feasible. Their arguments for the wooden room not being made of wood are impossible to back up, and English Oak would have made the room very well protected and very able to support a mechanism. The feature was not unusual or unique to Farnham.
The historian remarks that the filled-in doorway was possibly just a window, but this would have made the Bishop’s Chamber incredibly cold, and it would have been a huge and unmistakable defensive weakness. Also: “Evidence from the Bishop’s Rolls is very flimsy” The Bishop’s Rolls do not give flimsy evidence as they continually refer to a bridge leading up to the gatehouse, and the pillar supporting the hypothetical wooden room. In conclusion it would appear to me that the historian has made little or no attempt to research all of the evidence or take account of the structural features.
Their anonymity means we know nothing about them – there is no evidence to suggest that they have ever visited the castle, let alone made an in-depth account. The historian’s words appear very unbalanced; there is very little evidence in their work, and it is very much more personal in its perspective, rather than factual description. The plan of the castle, a top-down diagrammatic map, shows the age of many walls and foundations, including the gatehouse, stairs, and turrets.
It is very limited as it is very sparsely annotated, labelling only a few of the more important sites on the site. However, the shadings (referring to the age of each part of the castle) are in keeping with my hypotheses. For example, most of the castle is built in the late 12th Century, yet the shading of the stairs conveys that the site of the pit was built up at a later date to the stairs and keep. Finally there is an excerpt from the Keep’s own guidebook, by Mr. M. W. Thompson, a known historian.
His testimony agrees with what I have found perfectly, making direct association to some of the points I have mentioned. “There are frequent references to the bridge in the manorial accounts, while others to the ‘mantell’ probably refer to the projecting superstructure” Although the source is secondary, much like that of the anonymous historian, the fact that the selection is from an official guidebook makes the source particularly trustworthy – a guidebook must be well researched to have any use to visitors. Therefore I believe this source to be fairly trustworthy.
There are a few limitations to this however. It comes down to a lack of intricate detail – there is no reference to the working of the drawbridge, or the rectangular markings on the front of the gatehouse. All in all the sources differ a lot in their opinions, with the Rolls being vague yet confirming the drawbridge’s existence, the guidebook being clear and particular in it’s view, and the anonymous quote being very one-sided and unaccommodating of the evidence against it. The plan, though poorly labelled, is accurate in the information it provides.