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A brief history of Bodiam Castle

Aquatint engraving of Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, by S Hooper c1777, with a fisherman in the foreground, fishing in the moat
Aquatint engraving of Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, by S Hooper c1777 | © National Trust Images

Today the castle sits within the Rother valley as a moated ruin, but in medieval times it was a symbol of prestige and hosted high society. The castle is an important survivor, both as a work of architecture and for its medieval setting.

A turbulent age

Civil unrest and wars

Bodiam Castle was built around 1385 by Sir Edward Dallingridge and his wife Elizabeth. They lived in a turbulent age, with protests and social upheaval caused by the Black Death and royal disputes that led to the Wars of the Roses.

Becoming a knight

During the second half of the 14th century England was at war with France, and his military career brought Sir Edward prestige and wealth. He was a soldier of fortune in north-western France from 1367, Knight of the Shire of Sussex after 1379 and Warden of London in 1392, a promotion made by King Richard II. As a servant of the king, Dallingridge reached the highest circles of English society.

Marks that tell a tale

Built by craftsmen

A stone-by-stone survey undertaken in 2016 found over 800 inscriptions. Banker’s marks were the most common marks found and would have been made by those roughing out the stone for use in the external walls. Marks made by fine masons are far less common and are only found in the high status areas of the castle. These would have been made by expert masons responsible for detailed carving and quality control.

Ritual protection marks

A large number of protection marks have been found around entrances and windows of the castle. Designed to ward off evil influences, these suggest that the medieval castle occupants felt they needed something stronger than battlements and portcullises to protect them.

Arches in the interior ruins at the medieval Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
The three arches of the Screens Passage at Bodiam Castle, East Sussex | © National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The castle becomes a ruin

Today much of the castle interior is lost. Nobody can be certain when Bodiam Castle stopped being a home, and there is no evidence of a siege. The castle may have slowly fallen into disrepair during the 15th-17th centuries, when owned by a series of absent landlords.

The 18th century saw a growing interest in ancient monuments and Britain’s ruins became popular places to visit. Many examples of graffiti from these early tourists can be found at Bodiam.

Restoration and conservation

‘Mad Jack’ Fuller

As the interest in ruins grew, so did the efforts to protect them. From the 19th century the castle’s owners tried to conserve it. The first was the MP John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller. A vocal opponent of abolition, he owned estates in Jamaica including enslaved people. On his retirement he settled at Brightling, Sussex, and bought nearby Bodiam Castle. His accounts show that he financed extensive work on the castle and its surroundings.

After Fuller’s death the castle was bought by George Cubitt, the 1st Baron Ashcombe. His son bought additional land around the castle and organised a programme of repairs.

Lord Curzon

The last private owner was Lord Curzon, 1st Marquess of Kedleston and former Viceroy of India. Passionate about built heritage, he was a leading figure in the development of conservation policy. At Bodiam Castle he undertook an extensive programme of research and repair. On his death in 1925, he left Bodiam Castle to the National Trust.

A large old metal key inserted in the lock on the sturdy, aged wooden door to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex

Bodiam Castle's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Bodiam Castle on the National Trust Collections website.

A view of the classic pale stone Bodiam Castle with towers and crenellations surrounded a moat and greenery

Bodiam Castle 

Archetypal 14th century moated castle with ruined interior - a glimpse of medieval splendour

near Robertsbridge, East Sussex

Fully open today
Visitors walk around in the open-air centre of Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Exploring Bodiam Castle 

Discover what to see and do at Bodiam Castle. Climb the stone towers to take in the views, learn about defending a medieval castle and explore the impressive ruins.

Frosty winter grounds with exterior south side of Bodiam Castle in backdrop, East Sussex

The grounds of Bodiam Castle 

Discover what to see and do in the grounds of Bodiam Castle. Take a riverside walk, stop for a picnic or look for wildlife – from rare bees to bats.

A collage image containing three artworks: a painting of Teresia, Lady Shirley by Van Dyke at Petworth House; an oil painting of a young coachman at Erddig; and a photograph of the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar at Polesden Lacey.

Addressing our histories of colonialism and historic slavery 

Read our report on colonialism and historic slavery in the places and collections we care for and discover how we’re changing the way we approach these issues.

Overhead view of an octagonal table with the figure of Silenus, a drunken follower of Bacchu, in The Library at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire


Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.