Goodrich CastleGloucester
English Heritage
Castle Lane
Goodrich
Ross-on-Wye
Herefordshire   HR9 6HY

 

Goodrich Castle is a Norman medieval fortress near the Welsh border with Herefordshire. Although technically not in the Forest of Dean, it is on the north-west boundary of the Forest.

Although the castle is classed as a ruin, it oozes power and impregnability. Its huge walls, round towers and right-angled buttresses were designed for defence, and it took an extremely powerful mortar called ‘Roaring Meg’ to bring Goodrich Castle to its knees.

The castle’s concentric design became the preferred model for the ring of castles built around Wales to subdue the troublesome Welsh.

Goodrich is unusual because it was also a residence and still boasts one of the most complete sets of medieval domestic buildings surviving in any English castle.

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History
Goodrich Castle stands on a high rocky sandstone outcrop overlooking the River Wye. Its location controlled a key river crossing between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye, and the main Roman road between Gloucester and Carleon in Wales.
 
The first fortification on the site was an earth and timber structure built after the Norman invasion of 1066, probably by first fortification . In the 12th century it was replaced with a small stone keep built of grey sandstone. This is what we see today in the centre of the castle.
 
The keep was too small to live in comfortably, so in the 13th century Goodrich was expanded significantly into a concentric structure, combining luxurious living quarters with extensive defences. The new building used the local red sandstone which gives Goodrich its reddish colour.
 
Defensive Improvements
Around the keep is an essentially square structure guarded by three large towers, all built during the 1280s. On the more vulnerable southern and eastern sides of the castle, ditches 90 feet (27 metres) long and 28 feet (9 metres) deep have been cut into the rock, exploiting a natural fissure.
 
These towers have large “spurs”, resulting from the interface of a solid, square-based pyramid with the circular towers rising up against the walls. This feature was intended to prevent the undermining of the towers by attackers.
 
The gatehouse forms the fourth corner of the defences. It included portcullises, murder holes and a drawbridge. An unusual feature is the presence of the chapel in the gatehouse’s east-facing tower – another example of the castle’s shortage of residential space.
 
Beyond the gatehouse lies a large barbican connected to the gatehouse by a stone causeway. The barbican today is only half of its original height, and includes its own gate, designed to trap intruders within the inner defences.
 
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Domestic Buildings
The Bailey was designed to incorporate a number of spacious domestic buildings. These included a Great Hall, a solarium, kitchen, buttery and pantry. Extra luxury was added with a large number of garderobes (toilets) and fireplaces. The large towers provided additional accommodation.
 
The design of the domestic buildings was skilfully interlocked to support the defensive arrangements of the bailey. The great hall for example, was placed in the strongest position overlooking the River Wye, allowing it to benefit from multiple large windows and a huge fireplace, without sacrificing defensive strength.
 
Water for the castle was originally raised from the enormously deep courtyard well. Later, water was piped in from a spring across the valley. By the beginning of the 17th century, the kitchens had acquired running water.
 
The design of the buildings ensured that the servants and nobility were able to live separately from one another in the confined space of the castle. Such a concept was revolutionary at the time.
 
There was an extensive stable block in the courtyard, able to accommodate more than 60 horses. This was burnt down in the Civil War and all that is visible now is the cobbled floor.
 
The Chapel
The original 13th century chapel was remodelled in the 15th century but when Goodrich Castle was handed over to the Ministry of Works in the 1920s the chapel was almost beyond salvage. A wonderful job has been done on reconstructing, re-glazing its windows and restoring this intimate little chapel to its pre-Civil War state.
 
Remnants of the ancient chapel remain, such as the 13th century priest’s stone seat in the south wall. The base of the altar, and the original basin for washing communion vessels can still be traced in the recess of the eastern window. The altar in the chapel is thought to be older than the castle itself.
 
The windows in the east and west walls are 15th century additions. The east window frame replaced an even taller 13th century one. The east window has been restored with reset 15th century glass.
 
The other two windows are modern and the work of local artists. Nicola Hopkins’ Millennium Window glows with bright colours, while the so-called ‘Radar’ window in the west wall, is just as moving, but more subdued.
 
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The ‘Radar’ Window
Unveiled on 7 June 1992, the window is essentially a war memorial. It commemorates the many service and civilian aircrews who lost their lives in radar development flying duties, between 1936 and 1976.
 
The unveiling marked the anniversary of a terrible tragedy when a RAF Halifax V9977 aircraft, carrying a prototype of the first ever ground mapping radar bombing aid, crashed near Goodrich Castle killing all eleven on board.
 
For visitors who would like to know more about the Radar Research Development Squadron and the people who worked in,it, a Memorial Honour Book is held in the RAF Museum at Hendon.
 
Another useful source is The Imperial War Museum site at:  (© IWM (WMA-32833)
 
The Millennium Window
This stained glass window inside the chapel of Goodrich Castle was commissioned to commemorate the third millennium. Nicola Hopkins used ideas contributed by local people and school children to create this stunning window. She used ancient and traditional methods of glassmaking and inscribing.
 
In describing the window she says:

“The window celebrates this place and its people past, present and future.The rock upon which this castle stands, the river flowing in great loops embracing three communities and the lush, timeless landscape bisected by roads and river crossings are all reflected in the design.”

In the north wall of the chapel is a 15th century staircase giving access to the western gallery. Corbels carved as angels carrying shields support this gallery. The staircase also leads to rooms above the chapel and gate passage, and to the wall walk. The rooms above the gate passage have fireplaces, and traces of the portcullis workings can be seen.

Up until the 17th century, Goodrich Castle had survived the turmoil caused by politics and warring kings and queens, but the 1646 Civil War was its undoing.

Held first by Parliamentary and then Royalist forces, Goodrich was finally successfully besieged by Parliament’s Colonel John Birch in 1646 with the help of the huge "Roaring Meg" mortar, resulting in the subsequent slighting of the castle and its descent into ruin.

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‘Roaring Meg’
This powerful mortar was cast especially to bring about the destruction of Goodrich Castle. Never before had such a potent firepiece been cast. A local Forest iron foundry at either Whitchurch or Lydbrook did the job.
 
With a 15.5 inch (39.4 cm) barrel diameter ‘Roaring Meg’ was capable of firing a 200 pound (90.7 kg) hollow ball filled with gunpowder. Colonel Birch concentrated his efforts on the north-west tower, using his mortar against the masonry and undermining the foundations with his sappers.
 
Royalist, Sir Henry Lingen responded with a counter-mine tunnel dug out under Parliament's own tunnel. This would probably have succeeded, but Birch brought his mortar forward under the cover of darkness and launched a close-range attack on the tower, which collapsed and buried Lingen's counter-mine.
 
Down to their last four barrels of gunpowder and thirty barrels of beer, and with a direct assault now imminent, the Royalists surrendered and were led away to a grizzly end.
 
‘Roaring Meg’ is the only Civil War mortar still in existence. The mortar and a collection of cannon balls excavated from around the site are now on view inside the castle.
 
Despite being a ruin, this Grade I listed medieval castle is well worth visiting – it even has a couple of ghosts.
 
Family Friendly
Yes
 
Facilities
 - The tea room will close 30 minutes before the site closes.
 -  Visitor Centre
 - Toilets, Baby Change, Tea Room, Gift Shop Picnic Area Free Audio Guide Parking (minimal charge)
 
Disabled Access
Very limited Check out English Heritage access page
 
Opening Hours & Admission Prices
Limited opening during the winter. Last admission half an hour before closing.
 
For current prices, Overseas Visitor Passes & opening times go to:
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)1600 890 538   Site
Telephone   +44 (0)8703 331 181   Customer Service
 
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Getting There
- By Car:   5 miles (8 km) South of Ross-on-Wye off A40.
- Parking:  Visitors will find a large car park located close to the visitor centre (400 meters from the castle), which is accessed by some steps. To avoid slopes and steps, please park close to the refreshment area. The path to the castle can be muddy in places. A car parking charge of around £1 applies.
 
- By Public Transport
 
Google Maps - Goodrich Castle