A brief description of Huntingdon Castle, why it was built and what little remains of it.
According to contemporary records many state that the castle in Huntingdon was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, this however is incorrect. He actually rebuilt and refortified a much earlier castle.
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records the visit of Edward the Elder entering the "burgh" of Huntingdon in 921 where he 'repaired and restored' the castle. For him to be able to repair something then it must have been in existence prior to that date. There are indications that the Danes built the first earthworks sometime in the late 9th Century and it was these fortifications that Edward attacked and seized after which he moved on to Tempsford. The building of the first wooden bridge at Huntingdon is also attributed to Edward the Elder. The castle may have been built to protect the bridgehead.
However we must not discount the possibility that given the commanding position above what was then a ford, even the Romans may have built some form of defensive earthworks to guard the northern side of the river above Godmanchester. No archaeology to support this has been found but then as this area has undergone many major constructive and destructive phases it would be unlikely to find any.
Artists impression of what Huntingdon Castle may have looked like.
The early castle built by the Danes would have probably looked much the same to the sketch above. William the Conqueror's refortification of the site probably included some building on stone but the quantity of which is very unclear.
The castle was inherited by King David of Scotland who supported his sons in their efforts to dethrone Henry II. Henry besieged the castle in 1174 and afterwards destroyed what remained.
By the mid 13th Century part of the castle grounds were being used as a vineyard and we are told in numerous contemporary writings that it was an area of great beauty. So it was to remain until the Civil War when both the town and the castle site where refortified by Oliver Cromwell, not because of his association with the town but simply that it commanded a strategic position on the main road to the north.
Cromwell set about adding more defensive ditches around the town particularly at the bridgehead and installed artillery platforms in the castle grounds. Although the town suffered much during the Civil War it was to be a brief disturbance and the Windmill positioned on the top of the Motte as shown on John Speed's map of 1610 was soon working again.
The site of Huntingdon Castle was not to be left undisturbed as first the railway was to pass through the Bailey to be followed 100 years later by the A14 bypass. Let's hope that at sometime in the future all this can be removed and the site revert to the historical monument that it is and provide the citizens of Huntingdon with an attractive park by the River Great Ouse. Follow this link for a map showing the location of Huntingdon Castle.