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The facts about Ipswich Castle

PUBLISHED: 18:00 17 January 2002 | UPDATED: 11:11 03 March 2010

IPSWICH might be billed as the oldest English town, but few people know that it was once home to a Norman castle. It wasn't a grand structure and archaeologists aren't certain where it was.

IPSWICH might be billed as the oldest English town, but few people know that it was once home to a Norman castle.

It wasn't a grand structure and archaeologists aren't certain where it was.

There are no remains, so they think it was a simple wooden motte and bailey structure – not a major stone castle.

But they know from the Domesday Book and other documents that it was owned by the Bigod family – the Norman earls of Norfolk – and it was their original power-base in the years immediately after the Battle of Hastings.

Most historians believe the castle was in the area of the town where the Civic Centre is now.

Some believe it was in the Castle Hill area of town, but most think this was too far from the heart of Ipswich.

David Jones, from Ipswich Museum, said a kink in Elm Street could not easily be explained. The original road could have been built around battlements of the motte and bailey castle.

Wherever it was, it would certainly have needed to be within easy walking – or marching – distance of the river, where even then there was a trading port for the continent.

The Bigods would have wanted to ensure they could easily reach the river if robber barons were coming up the Orwell in an attempt to raid them by water.

The castle certainly wasn't in the area now occupied by the football club. That was lush watermeadows used to graze the animals owned by the most important citizens of the town. They were known as the Port Men – where the name of the road comes from.

The meadows would have been flooded during the winter but there may have been paths across forming a link between the town and castle and river.

The land certainly wasn't used as a burial ground, either – although it is possible that the knight wandered off a path between the town and the river when the meadow was flooded one winter and was drowned in the cold water.

His body may never have been found – until it was disturbed by the new construction work...

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