Goodrich Castle, situated high on a hill above an important ford on the River Wye, was first constructed of wood and earth by Godric, a wealthy landowner, in the 11th century.
In the mid 12th century Richard the Lionheart granted the Castle to William Marshall, a renowned castle builder, who added the square stone keep which to this day can clearly be seen to be totally different to the later red sandstone work, and his sons occupied the fortress in turn until the death of the last in 1245.
Although Goodrich Castle was built as a fortress, the nearby Welsh marauders never really troubled it and when William de Valance, a half brother of Henry III and a rather unpopular chap amongst his peers due to his brashness and relatively new arrival amongst the aristocracy, took over the fortress he lavishly updated and added to the home comforts of the building. This was further added to in the late 13th century with extensive living quarters and superior defences. When he died, far from going into deep mourning his widow, the Countess Joan , spent a great deal of time at the castle throwing vast expensive parties for all her friends and family.
The Civil War and Goodrich Castle
At the beginning of the Civil War in around 1642, when friends and neighbours were finding themselves on opposing sides, Sir John Bridges who owned Wilton Castle at Ross, just down the road from Goodrich, was trying to remain neutral but his attitude changed when two men, Scudamore and Lingen – Royalists, burned his castle down whilst he was absent. Bridges vowed revenge and together with Colonel John Birch and Colonel Morgan plotted to take Hereford. It was midwinter and freezing, but after gathering as many local men from the Forest of Dean as they could to augment their soldiers, they managed by various cunning means to capture the town. It didn’t take more than half an hour, and although Birch’s losses were few, only a handful of Royalists including Lingen and Scudamore survived to escape over the frozen river. Scudamore found himself forced to explain the reason for the loss of Hereford from a prison in Ludlow but Lingen escaped to Goodrich Castle along with some loyal Royalists. However Goodrich was rather left on it’s own in a sea of Parliamentarians, and seeing an opportunity Colonel John Birch, the Commander tried to seize the castle. He was thwarted for many months by the solid and exceptionally thick walls and the determination of the Royalists inside, so changed tactics and had the water supply cut off – or so he thought; but in fact inside the Castle is an impressively deep well which would have been crucial to the survival of the inhabitants. (It can be seen to this day, although it is covered by a strong grill. It wasn’t always so, and in fact one man tragically fell into the unfathomable depths whilst doing restoration work at the Castle in the 1920s).
Meanwhile Birch had commissioned a hefty canon to be made locally; this weapon, which was to become known as “Roaring Meg”, was quite unlike anything made before and was able to fire a massive 200lb shell, as soon as it was installed and put to use, it very quickly breached the walls. By this time the people inside the castle had heard the news that the King had been captured and this was the final straw , resulting in their surrender on 31st July 1646, by which time much of the Castle was in ruins. Birch allowed Lingen and the garrison to leave, and he was kept under open arrest in Hereford with the proviso that he never donned his sword; although he soon broke this condition, Birch dare not act against him due to his popularity in Hereford, but he set about destroying the rest of the Castle to prevent it being reinhabited and used against the Parliamentarians.
Roaring Meg is thought to be the only surviving mortar from the Civil War, and is currently on display within the Castle. The barrel is massive, and legend has it that John Birch was so delighted with its effectiveness that he fired the final balls of the siege himself.
Poem relating to the Civil War and Goodrich Castle
I found the following poem in an exceptionally old newspaper and believe it to be by Walter Scott……..perhaps if anyone knows different they could put me right! It really brings the Castle during the Civil War to life:
“My heart is on thee Godric! At the time
Thou wast a prize ‘twixt King and Parliament,
When thy broad circuit which had been the stage
Of private feuds, was swept of little thoughts,
And made one area of the public cause –
Within lay Charles’s friends, without, his foes,
Brave men, true men alike, and country men
Tho habit, thought, tongue, cause all different.
From their steel morions flowed the streamy locks
Of the King’s champions, and the dress was gay.
Golden and bright these soldier-courtiers wore;
The stern reformers thro their dusky camp
Wore in their garb the aspect of their souls,
Darkly severe, and formerly precise;
And tho both spoke their native sounds, the sense
To the same accents joined was as unlike
As are the tongues of the Antipodes.
Nor were their thoughts more like than their thoughts drew.
The Kingsmen quaffed the bowl and toasted dames,
Sang the loud catch, and scoffed the bugbear death;
The others’ talk was of the coming wrath
The hints God gives they commented upon
And pondered deeply on the world unknown.
Yet when the trump blew, both as cheerily
Rushed to the death as huntsmen to the field;
Like the serf vassals of two feudal chiefs –
As equally both struck, both bled, and both died –
As if the Lord’s sword and the King’s were forged
Out of the same furnace – in the former days
The Castle never rang more equally
To the matched cries “The Talbot” and “The Grey”
Than now it rings twixt Christ’s name and the Stuart’s
The Roundheads pray, and ply the cruel mine,
Willing to perish so the fort may fall.
The Cavaliers shake their unconquered locks
And bid their foemen “blow them to the moon”
Whence they may laugh at their vain flourishing”
And which did better? – they who fondly clung
To the substantial image of all wrong,
Or the ideal model of perfection?
They who could deck the heartless, thankless clay
Idol of Royalty, in all their wealth,
And it’s cold substance moisten with their blood?
Or they who could uprear on their true breasts
The dizzy structure of a perfect weal
And hope that it could stand for one heart’s throb
Whilst Cromwell’s stormy spirit filled the air.
1859 – The Ross Mutual Improvement Society
The above Society held a grand soiree in the ruins of Goodrich Castle on 28th June 1859, with music provided by the band of the Royal Monmouthshire Light Infantry.
Lord W. Graham M.P. gave his patronage, and boats would convey the guests from Ross with a coach being provided for the return journey.