Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Leybourne Castle

Due to it's proximity to London and the English Channel, a large number of castles were built in Kent after the Norman invasion and again during the Tudor period.

Some of Kent's castles such as Rochester, Dover and Leeds are very well known around the world. Leybourne Castle (near Larkfield), however, is one that most people, even in Kent, will not have heard of before.

The first castle on the site is likely to have been built by the Normans shortly after the conquest in 1066. The manor of Leybourne was given to William the Conqueror's half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent.

It seems Odo was a very ambitious and somewhat unsavoury character who set his sights on buying his way into the papacy. This caused a rift with William and lead to his eventual imprisonment for a number of years and the forfeiture of his lands in Kent.

The confiscated land included the manor of Leybourne which passed initially to Sir William d'Arsick and then into the de Laibron family from Yorkshire in 1166.

The de Laibron name morphed into Lillebourne and eventually over time into de Leybourne. The de Leybournes were Knights who fought during the crusades as well as in campaigns against the Welsh and Scots.

Sir Roger de Leybourne was amongst the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 and was later captured during the siege of Rochester Castle. His estates were confiscated by King John but in 1216 he was able to buy them back again (for a hefty fee).

His son, also named Roger, inherited the estate in 1251 and built a stone castle at Leybourne in 1260. Roger served King Henry III for many years and is credited with saving the King's life at the battle of Evesham in 1265.

The estate remained in the de Leybourne family until the 1380's. It then passed via the Crown to the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary in London. The Abbey rented the estate to Sir Simon de Burley, Warden of the Cinque Ports who came to a rather unfortunate end when he was executed for treason in 1388.

The estate passed back to the crown following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. By this time the castle was in a poor state of repair and a farmhouse was built on the site.

The house was occupied by many different families over the ensuing centuries. In 1846 the owner at the time, Sir Joseph Hawley, founded a racing stud from which he produced four Derby winners. Quite an achievement.

The Hawleys remained at Leybourne until 1920 when it was purchased by Mrs Ogilvy.

In 1931 Mrs Ogilvy appointed architect Walter Godfrey to design a new arts and crafts style house. Godfrey boldly incorporated the ruins of the old castle into his plans as can be seen in the picture above.

In the 1980's the house was sold to footballer Nigel Short who made a number of unauthorised "improvements" to the listed building (without the knowledge or agreement of English Heritage).

Since the mid 90's the castle has had new owners who are now working to restore it back to a sound condition.

Here is another view of the castle from the rear.

The castle is not open to the public as it is a private residence but it can be seen from the grounds of the adjacent Leybourne church or from a public footpath which passes along the edge of the grounds towards the village of Ryarsh.

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  1. I know Odo very well! And so do my students.

    It is inevitable, isn't it, that a medieval fortified castle will change incrementally with each new family. Although parts of Leybourne still look castle-like, the front looks like a very pleasant rural Georgian residence. I can imagine the younger generation saying to their grandparents "Listen pops, it just won't do. I need more rooms, less clutter and better natural light".

  2. Hi
    That's a new one to me ,thanks for posting,you learn something every day.I've parked near it many times,without realising it.

  3. Hi Hels - thanks for the comments. Despite his faults, Odo was certainly a prolific builder here in Kent.

    Hi Twisden - the castle is tucked away from the main road through Leybourne. You can see it from the churchyard and there is a public footpath which runs through to Ryarsh which passes parallel to it.


  4. A beautiful looking place , would love to do a paranormal investigation in there , must be a lot os history and spirit activity to pick up on, If anyone knows of similar places where owners might be interested in a completely free investigation, with full written report please do get in touch ..

  5. Kent is full of very well known castles and less well known castles also. There are also a lot of ruined castles which we are sorry to have lost. Canterbury castle is such an interesting one.