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The unique Octagonal Keep, the only of its kind in Britain, is all there is left from the once magical Odiham castle

Stefan Andrews

Odiham Castle was one of the only three fortresses built by King John, adding to the ninety he already had under his control. Locally known as King John’s Castle, it was said to be one of his particular favorites.

The castle stands in ruins today and can be visited halfway between Windsor and Winchester, near Odiham in Hampshire. Presumably, the king may have decided on Odiham as a suitable site for the castle on his visit to the nearby town in 1204. Work on the building began in 1207 and continued until 1214. The construction had a two-storey stone keep, a square mat, raised banking and palisades. The stronghold also had a “domus regis” or what would be a king’s house.

Remnants of the Odiham castle

Remnants of the Odiham castle

 

Odiham castle

Odiham castle

 

“Magna Carta Libertatum” was a charter agreed by King John in 1215. The chart played a role in the English political life, regulating the relations with the church, the barons and so forth

“Magna Carta Libertatum” was a charter agreed by King John in 1215. The chart played a role in the English political life, regulating the relations with the church, the barons and so forth

The appearance of the castle was most certainly unusual as its great thick walls were made almost completely of flint, and there were narrow brick arches at some of the openings. Moreover, the octagonal keep, which is the only part of Odiham still standing today, is the only one of its kind in Britain. With a little bit of imagination, it is very easy to see how magical this place was in its day.

In 1216, soon after it was finished, Odiham Castle underwent a two-week siege by the French. In the following years, it was completely rebuilt, likely to restore the damage done by the French attack. At this point, the mound on which the keep was situated was raised by 5 meters and an inner moat surrounding the keep was added to strengthen the defenses.

It was either Odiham or Windsor from where King John took off to meet the barons and seal the Magna Carta in Runnymede. By some, the document is deemed as one of the first steps that led to the formation of the UK constitution.

It was either Odiham or Windsor from where King John took off to meet the barons and seal the Magna Carta in Runnymede. By some, the document is deemed as one of the first steps that led to the formation of the UK constitution.

 

The remnants of the Odiham castle

The remnants of the Odiham castle

 

Aerial view of the whole complex

Aerial view of the whole complex

During the 13th century, the castle prospered as the home of the de Monfort family. In 1238, King John’s daughter Eleanor married Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester. Eleanor had been already given Odiham Castle by her brother, King Henry III, and her union with Simon made the castle one of the most powerful households in the realm. In that period, the castle building was renovated again to provide some extra space for living.

Later on, Simon became one of the major figures in the baronial stand against Henry, until he eventually lost his life at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Eleanor was exiled and Odiham Castle was retained by the state.

Sunbeam falls at the Odiham ruins

Sunbeam falls at the Odiham ruins

 

The ruins seen from another angle

The ruins seen from another angle

 

Aerial footage of the whole site

Aerial footage of the whole site

 

Odiham castle

Odiham castle

 

Nature guards the ruins day and night

Nature guards the ruins day and night

Odiham was further involved in the whereabouts of the Despenser family rebellion and hosted the Parliament in the 14th century. It was also the place where King David II of Scotland was imprisoned for 11 years after he was captured at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346.

We have another story for you: Portchester Castle: The turbulent history behind the medieval castle built within a Roman fort

Unfortunately, the glorious days of Odiham were over by the 15th century when it was used only as a hunting lodge, and by 1605 it was reported to be in ruins. Archaeological excavations were conducted on the site in 1953 and through the 1980’s. In 2007, the Hampshire County Council undertook a restoration of the shell keep in order to preserve it.