Stunning, ruined, dreary, mysterious; there is so much to say about Hadleigh Castle that the first time I tried to share my photos with you, I got overwhelmed and posted something else instead.
The history of Hadleigh Castle is fascinating and in my opinion, a bit sad. Unlike some of the other places I share, it’s also thoroughly documented and easily accessible. One of my favourite re-tellings is in this wonderfully thorough piece by Beyond the Point that effectively illustrates the castle at the height of its use and documents it through the centuries.
That being said, here is short but impressive list of qualifiers for this beautiful, desolate place (not necessarily in chronological order:)
- Built in the 1200s
- Subject of a famous John Constable painting.
- Location of Black Shuck sightings.
- Haunted by multiple ghosts.
- Hideout of notorious highwayman Dick Turpin.
- Smugglers’ den.
- Residence of royalty including King Edward III.
- Grade I Listed.
- Owned by three of King Henry VIII’s wives.
- Sold as a source of building materials.
- Surrounded by the Salvation Army Farm.
- Adjacent to the 2012 Olympics’ mountain bike park.
What a discovery Hadleigh Castle was for me. Let me digress and share a silly story. I grew up with a love of history and an English grandmother who shared stories of “home” with me. She always intended that once I finished school she’d take me back to see her hometown (St. Helens, Lancashire) and meet my extended family. Sadly, she passed away the year before I graduated and that dream was never realized.
In 2001, I accepted a job as an au pair in Kent and upon arriving in England, my eyes were glued to the landscape between Gatwick Airport and Sevenoaks. I dearly hoped I would see a grand house or castle but of course the route along the M25 wasn’t incredibly scenic.
Fast forward 11 years. I’d since gone back to Canada and in 2013 returned to the UK to live with my partner in his home county of Essex. As you can tell, I fell in love with the history, landscape and churches of the area!
In 2014, I took a job at a marketing agency in Leigh-on-Sea, making the drive from South Woodham Ferrers. On the first day, a directional sign at the side of the road caught my eye. “Castle” it pointed.
Castle? Yes! If traffic was slow and I craned my neck I could barely catch what I thought was a glimpse of the castle. Of course, I had to go see it up close. Finally, 12 years after staring out the window hoping I’d see something historic during a routine drive, my commute to work included driving past an actual castle.
Hadleigh Castle is steeped in history, neglect and mystery. It was passed between owners, abandoned and partially demolished. Parts of it have even slipped down towards the Thames Estuary.
Hadleigh Castle is many things. While I’m in awe of its ruined beauty and fascinated by its history, what captured my heart initially was the opportunity to pass by it during my routine commute, something that always felt special to this Canadian in the UK.