Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: Hadleigh Castle Was Home to Queens

On the South coast of Essex, where the River Thames starts to widen out and become the Thames Estuary, stand the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, which has more history attached to it than most would realise.

Hadleigh Castle stands on the slopes between Benfleet and Leigh.

The little town of Hadleigh itself is pretty historic. Its parish church, of St. James the Less, is Norman, and has an unusual round apse at its East end. There is a rare demi-figure of Thomas a Becket, dating from within a couple of years of his murder.

Hadleigh was home in the 19th century to Cunning Murrell, one of the most feared of the wizards in this part of the county.

Hadleigh Castle was first built in around 1230 by one of the country’s most powerful men, Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justiciar to Henry III.

In around 1365 it was rebuilt by Edward III to guard London against possible attacks by the French. Even today it commands superb views of the Estuary and Kent.

In the 16th century, Henry VIII owned the castle. It was used as a home for ex- Queens. Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr all lived here at different times.

The notorious Lord Rich, a big landowner in Essex, bought it in 1551 from Edward VI. By this time, the castle was already starting to crumble, and Rich hastened the process by using it as a quarry.

John Constable, the great artist who came from the Essex – Suffolk border, created a famous painting of Hadleigh Castle in the 19th century, and it is this image that will be most familiar to those who do not live in the area.

Hadleigh Castle can be visited at all reasonable times, and can be reached along Castle Lane from the centre of the village.

The castle can be seen from the train between Benfleet and Leigh Stations, and also from Old Leigh. It always arouses great interest when I point it out on my “Old Leigh” Guided Walk.