Standing between the River Crouch and the River Thames, it would have been a defence against the possibility of an invading army marching on London, as well as controlling the local Saxon population. In all of the time it was here, nearly 300 years, it was never attacked.
The lord of the manor
The first lord of the manor of Rayleigh was Sweyne, who built the castle. As the fourth largest land owner in Essex, he was a rich and powerful man.
He would have lived in some comfort in his great hall. On his table would have been roast venison from the deer in his hunting park and mutton, pork and beef from the farm animals, with wine to drink from his own vineyard.
Sweyne was also the sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire. He was responsible for maintaining law and order and insuring the taxes were collected on behalf of the king.
The circular pathway at the base of the mount runs along the bottom of the dry moat that enclosed Rayleigh castle. On the outside is an earth bank, or outer rampart.
Although it is called a moat, and there is a pond in part of it, this defensive ditch was never designed to hold water. The steepness of the sides would have been enough to prevent soldiers attacking the castle on horseback (attacking on foot being much less effective).
The entrance to the castle was through a barbican, a fortified gateway (where the sensory garden behind the windmill is now), then across a wooden bridge that spanned the moat, and on to the inner bailey.
At first, the ground between Sweyne’s castle and where the windmill is now was all on the same level. Henry had a huge ditch, or dry moat, cut into it. The land between the motte, or castle mound, and the edge of the moat now became part of the castle, known as the inner bailey. It was an enclosed courtyard, housing the soldiers and their horses. Soil dug from the moat was used to make the motte higher, and it would have had a small wooden keep, or a lookout tower, on it.
There was also an outer bailey, another courtyard area, between the far side of the moat and where Bellingham Lane is now.
Norman castles were always built on a mound, or motte. Here a small natural hill was used but a deep wide ditch, or fosse, was dug at the bottom and the soil piled on top of the hill to make it higher. All of the fences and buildings were made of wood. Later, ragstone was brought from Kent to reinforce the sides of the motte, but there were no stone buildings or walls, so there are no ruins to see.
Life in the castle
The lower flat area is the inner bailey. This three-quarters of an acre is where most of the castle buildings were. Surrounded on the outside by a deep, wide, dry moat and enclosed by a stout wooden fence, it was a secure area that could only be reached from the outside by crossing a wooden bridge over the moat, with a barbican, or fortified gateway, to protect it.
There was also an outer bailey between the far side of the moat and where Bellingham Lane is now. So, it may have started small, but eventually Rayleigh Castle became much larger.
Although the castle would have been guarded at all times, there were never many soldiers based there. Eventually it was abandoned, rather than destroyed, and in the 17th-century there were farm buildings on the inner bailey area.