Description of Baconsthorpe Castle
Baconsthorpe was built as a fortified manor house. It combined domestic with defensive elements, reflecting the fact that a castle-like appearance was considered a status symbol long after castles ceased to be built for defence. The most substantial standing structures are the two gatehouses.
The outer gatehouse, completed in about 1560, was a late addition to the moated residence. It was built to display the family’s status, reflected in the expensive dressed flint of the walls, and formed an impressive entrance to the Heydons’ property. The existing embattled entrance is an early 19th-century modification. It was flanked on one side by a row of cottages and on the other by a long barn.
Despite its powerful appearance, the gatehouse was not built for defensive purposes, as it had large windows and no gunloops.
The massive three-storey inner gatehouse was the earliest castle structure. It was built by John Heydon in the 1450s as the first part of a grand courtyard residence, which covered at least half of the present site. Access to it across the surrounding moat would originally have been by means of a drawbridge; the massive pier that once supported it now carries a modern bridge.
The gatehouse was an important symbol of John Heydon’s lordship. The will of his son, Sir Henry Heydon, describes its rooms as being luxuriously furnished with feather beds and silk curtains. A small room directly above the porch was probably a private chapel. The gatehouse was also large enough to serve as a self-contained defensible residence in times of danger.
The inner castle was divided into two courts: the service court and the main house. The service court contained stables, kitchens, a bakehouse and a brewhouse, as well as accommodation for servants.
The surviving east range and the now flooded north-east tower retain various features related to the wool industry. Traces of a turnstile – perhaps for admitting sheep for shearing – have been recorded, and the sunken tank in the north-east tower was probably used for thickening cloth.
The most important building in the main house was the public great hall, used for entertaining guests and holding feasts. Adjacent was a range of lodging chambers for the lord’s entourage, each with a private latrine housed in external towers.
The great chamber of the main house, where the lord and his family had their private meals, was in the south range beside the inner gatehouse. Below this was a cellar, with a row of vertical handgun slots for the defence of the castle entrance.