Situated to the south of the picturesque, historic town of Clare, just two minutes’ walk from the town centre, Clare Castle Country Park is a beautiful quiet area to relax, play, get close to nature and learn about Clare’s fascinating history.
The park contains the remains of the 13th Century stone castle keep set upon its 70ft high motte overlooking the town, as well as its inner and outer baileys which are ideal areas for recreation and picnics. The inner bailey also contains the former Clare railway station and the goods yard, which operated for over 100 years, with the goods shed now housing displays and a railway goods van on a stretch of track. A ‘history trail’ reveals the park’s secrets to visitors.
There appears to have been a castle or principal residence at Clare in Saxon times (site not known), but the earliest record of it is in Domesday. The present castle was in existence in 1090 occupied by Gilbert de Clare, whose father Richard Fitz Gilbert was granted the lands by William the Conqueror.
At the town of that name on the river Stour, which parts Suffolk from Essex on the S.W., are a few fragments of masonry which constitute the sole remains of a great castle of the mighty family of De Clare and Tonbridge, Earls of Gloucester, &c.
The castle occupied a range of artificial earthworks of Saxon or perhaps of earlier origin, situated at the conflux of the Chilton stream and the Stour.
Originally the fortress had two irregularly shaped courts separated by a wide and deep ditch, commanded by an immense mound, or burh, too feet in height, in the N.W. angle of the inner court, and enclosed by a strong wall. The whole work covered an area of about twenty acres, and was well surrounded by water defences.
A fragment of the outer wall of a shell keep, circular within and polygonal on the exterior, supported by buttresses, exists on the top of this mound, up which a narrow winding path leads ; it somewhat resembles the keep of Castle Acre, in Norfolk. Portions also of the surrounding walls remain along the N. side of the area, and on the opposite side: and this is all.
There is mention in Saxon times, early in the tenth century, of a fortress here and of a chapel therein, dedicated to St. John Baptist.
Clare was one of ninety-five lordships given by the Conqueror to his half-brother, Richard FitzGilbert, who crossed with him from Normandy and fought at Hastings. From this manor he obtained the name of De Clare, but the possession of Tenbridge, in Kent, gave the family their usual appellation, and their history is given in the memoir of that fortress. Gilbert, the son of Richard, annexed the chapel of St. John to the Abbey of Bee in Normandy by deed in 1090. One of his sons founded Tintern Abbey, and an immediate descendant was Richard, known as Strongbow, the conqueror of Ireland. Gilbert was made Earl of Pembroke by Stephen, and his eldest son Richard was the first of his family to be called De Clare, being created Earl of Hertford; he died in 1139, The sixth Earl, Richard, Earl also of Gloucester, jure u.roris, was one of the guardians of the Great Charter, and died here 1211. Of Gilbert, the Red Earl, of Henry III’s reign, much is noted regarding Tonbridge (q.v.), and other castles. He was a turbulent and violent noble, but Prince Edward seems to have stood his friend, and gave him his daughter Joan in marriage. By the early death of his son at Bannockburn, s.p., the title came to an end, and the estates fell to his three Sisters, one of whom, Elizabeth, married John de Burgh, son of the Earl of Ulster, and the founder of Clare Hall, Cambridge. Her granddaughter, Elizabeth, married Lionel, third son of Edward III., created Duke of Clarence, and their daughter and heiress Philippa, by marriage with Edmund Mortimer, of Wigmore, third Earl of March, conveyed Clare to that family, and gave to it likewise their title to the Crown, the origin of the Wars of the Roses. Their son, Sir Edmund Mortimer, succeeding in 1405, found the castle in good repair and well stocked, and on his death, s.p. (8 Henry VI.), the honour and castle devolved upon his sister Anne’s son, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, the father of Edward IV.
Thus by the Yorkist success the estates were vested in the Crown, and so continued till 6 Edward VI., when they were bestowed on Sir John Checke ; Queen May, however, resumed their possession, but the castle and lordship came later to Sir Gervase Elwes, Bart., of Stoke, in whose family they continued at the beginning of the present (19th) century.
It does not appear that this castle ever sustained any siege, and there is no record as to when or by whom its buildings and walls were dismantled and destroyed ; once neglected, however, and suffered to fall into ruin, its very stones would be liable to plunder in a country devoid of building material, and this has happened. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)