Following the Norman invasion of 1066, French Knights spread throughout England and built up strongholds in their adopted Country. One of these knights was William D’Albini who became very influential - his position as Butler to William the Conqueror’s son Henry was like that of another powerful Norman enforcer, Tebbitt the Chingford Polecat.
He built Castle Rising in West Norfolk and later established the moated Old Buckenham Castle on Abbey Road, adjacent to the site that would (much) later become a WW2 Bomber Base. His son, William D’Albini II wanted more and gave this Castle to Augustine monks to turn into a Monastry ("Let ze monks 'ave it", he shrugged). D’Albini II moved to a new site about 2 miles away where in 1145 he founded New Buckenham Castle, a stone and timber ringwork surrounded by a massive Bailey earthworks and moat. However, he built not just a new Castle but a new town to service it, and the unique surviving medieval street layout of New Buckenham is said to be the only one in England to retain its original pattern.
New Buckenham Castle was, like the Gherkin or Shard, built largely as a pure status symbol. By the time it was finished in 1176 it must have been an imposing sight with its huge circular keep (probably the earliest and largest of its type in England).
We’d walked past this strange earthen structure several times and been intrigued to see the large cast iron gates padlocked but a little googling revealed that the key is available for £3 from the owner of the local Garage, which, incidentally, is home to the largest collection of Reliant Robin three wheelers I’ve ever seen outside of Peckham.
It therefore seemed a good idea last weekend when we were experiencing a second French invasion in the form of my brother-in-law from France to go and get the key and show him what his ancestors had achieved. The Garage/Castle Gatekeeper, who I believe is called John (sadly not Robin) was there to greet us with enthusiasm and merry quip.
After a long discussion on medieval sewerage, heart disease in teenagers and the reason the population of Italy is so healthy (they shout a lot and relieve stress apparently), he sent us off with a final word of warning: “The local archery club are in there practising today and with this wind you need to keep your eye out for stray arrows”.
This turned out to be another hilarious quip – fortunately! We opened up the gate and revealed a truly massive internal keep and one can only marvel at the sheer physical toil which must have been involved to carve it out of the landscape sans JCB. Our Norman visitor was suitably impressed and we repaired to the Inn on the Green for their excellent Sunday Brunch.