Walden Castle, is early 12th century keep built on a artificially heightened hill. Keep later used as semaphore station, barn and lime kiln. The Bailey ditch has been found by various excavations, and suggests that there were two ditch phases. The earliest bailey appears to have encompassed the whole circuit of Bury Hill. This was replaced by a much reduced bailey which ended East of the present church site, on the East side of the present Museum Street, and was entirely cut anew within the area of the earliest bailey.
The ruins stand adjacent to Saffron Walden Museum.
The town of this name is in the N.W. of the county, near Cambridgeshire, the site of the castle of Walden being on the N. of the town. Stukeley calls its situation the “most beautiful he ever beheld ; a narrow tongue,” he says, “shoots itself out like a promontory, encompassed with a valley in the form of a horseshoe, inclosed by distant and most delightful hills. On the bottom of the tongue stands the ruins of a castle, and on the top, or extremity, the church, round which, on the side of the hill, and in the valley, is the town built.” In 1768 Morant says, “The keep and other earth works remain, and some of the walls about 30 feet high, on the inside; an hill called the Bury, adjoining to the castle, was the mansion house of the castle.”
At the Domesday Survey, Geoffrey de Manneville, or Mandeville, received, for great services to the Conqueror, 118 manors, forty of which were in Essex, and among them the town and manor of Walden, which he fixed on for his abode, and the head of his barony, and here he is supposed to have commenced to build a castle. He died in 1086, and his son William succeeded, who married Margaret, the daughter of Eudo Dapifer, a companion of Duke William, who was appointed Grand Seneschal of England, and may have built Colchester Castle. His son Geoffrey was highly favoured by Stephen, who conferred Pleshy ;Manor on him (where he built that castle), and made him Constable of the Tower of London, and further, Earl of Essex. He married Roesia, daughter of another Essex magnate, Alberic, first Earl of Oxford. In spite of these favours Geoffrey—influenced most probably by his wife and her family, who were steady supporters of the Empress—espoused the side of Maud, and was seized and imprisoned by Stephen, nor did he regain his liberty until he had delivered over to the King his castles of Walden, Pleshy, and the Tower, in 1143. Thereon he took to reprisals by ravaging the demesnes of the King, and is said to have been killed in 1144, being shot in the head by an arrow, while besieging Stephen’s castle of Burwell in Cambridgeshire. He had seized and plundered the abbey of Ramsey in Hunts, for which he had been excommunicated, and at his death some Knights-Templar, obtaining his body, put it into a leaden coffin, and hung it on a crooked tree in their orchard at the old Temple (Holborn), but when the ban was taken off they buried it, probably in the churchyard of the “New ” Temple. (Morant.)
He had four sons, the second of whom, named Geoffrey, succeeded him, being restored to his possessions and title by Henry II.; and was followed by his brother, William, a Crusader, as third earl. He died s.p., when the estates went to his surviving cousin, Beatrix, daughter of his father’s sister Beatrix, who had married William de Saye. This lady, Beatrix de Saye, was married to Geoffrey FitzPiers, Chief Justice of England, one of King John’s councillors, by whom he was advised not to submit to the Pope ; he was sheriff of Essex and Herts, and died in 1212, leaving three sons, two of whom died unmarried, and, the third being Dean of Wolverhampton, the castles and manors of Walden and Meshy, with the rest of the lands, went to their sister, Maud, who was the wife of the great noble, Henry de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, and Lord High Constable of England, his wife also having the earldom of Essex entailed on her. Maud, the countess, had, like her brothers, adopted their grandmother Beatrix’s name of Mandeville, which was derived from a locality in Normandy, and it is noteworthy that, Geoffrey de Mandeville having been the ancient proprietor of Kimbolton Castle, Hunts, when that estate was purchased by the Montague family from the Wingfields, and Sir Henry Montague was raised to the peerage in the reign of James I., this name of Mandeville was adopted for the second title, as it is now of the Dukes of Manchester, their descendants. (See KIMBOLTON.)
Then the son of de Bohun and Countess Maud, Humphrey, “the good Earl,” succeeded as Earl of Essex to all the lands and Walden (to fortify which he had a licence in 1347) passed, as Pleshy (q.v.), to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, killed in 1397 by his nephew Richard II. ; and upon the partition of this noble inheritance (temp. Henry V.) Walden fell to the King, and became merged in the Duchy of Lancaster. It remained with the Crown until it was granted by Henry VIII. to Thomas Audley, and from the Lords Audley, the castle and manor, with other large estates in the district, devolved on the noble family of Howard, Earls of Suffolk. In 1777 both manor and castle belonged to Sir John G. Griffin, having descended to him from one of the Howard heiresses.
The drawing given in Grose’s “Antiquities ” was sketched in 1787, and shows the circular wall of a shell keep 25 feet high, stripped of its ashlar facing and standing on a slight eminence. The masonry that remains is merely a mass of flint concrete, and there is a tower which has been repaired of late. The only architectural features are some semicircular recessed arches in the keep basement. No history of interest is attached to this Castle. The modern tower was erected by Lord Howard de Walden. The hollow space on the W. formed the prisoners’ cell, which, until the upper earth was removed, in 1780, lay below the ground level. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)