Knepp Castle

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The fragmentary remains of Knepp Castle as they stand today
The castle in the late 18th century, in a similar condition to today.
An early 19th-century engraving showing the fence around the castle and the lightning rod.
The 19th century mansion also known as Knepp Castle.
Part of the moat surrounding the castle, with the mound sloping upwards to the left.

The medieval Knepp Castle (sometimes referred to as 'Old Knepp Castle', to distinguish it from the nearby nineteenth century mansion) is to the west of the village of West Grinstead, West Sussex, England near the River Adur and the A24 (grid reference TQ163209). The name is thought to come from the Old English word "cnæp", referring to the mound on which it stands.[1] The land around the castle is now the site of Knepp Wildland.


Knepp was a motte castle, founded in the 12th century by William de Braose.[2] It was rebuilt as a stone castle with a two-storey keep in 1214 by King John.

In 1216, John was at war with the barons of England. Shortly after losing lost control of London, John wrote to Roland Bloett on 18 May instructing him to remove whatever he could carry from Knepp and send it to Bramber Castle, and then "totally destroy" Knepp Castle.[3]

In addition to John the castle had a succession of royal visitors, including Henry III in 1218, Edward II in 1324 and Richard II in 1384. Subsequently, it fell into decline and deteriorated.

Later history[edit]

The bulk of the castle had been destroyed by the 1720s. In the early 19th century the remnants were reinforced and fenced in by Sir Charles Burrell to protect them from further deterioration.

Antiquarian Francis Grose visited the ruins in 1775, and wrote "so completely has been the work of demolition in the instance of this castle, that a reasonable conjecture cannot be hazarded from a view of the ruins themselves, as they then appeared, of its original form and extent".[4] About fifty years later the Rev. Edmund Cartwright observed that the ruins had further deteriorated, with stone from the castle taken to be used in roadmaking.[5][6]

The name 'Knepp Castle' is also applied to the castellated Gothic Revival mansion built nearby in the early nineteenth century by Sir Charles Merrik Burrell, to the designs of John Nash,[7] and currently the home of Sir Charles Burrell, 10th Baronet.


The castle stands on an oval mound, modelled from a natural feature, surrounded by a ditch and ramparts. The ditch, fed from a nearby pond, formed a moat which still contained water at the beginning of the eighteenth century.[1]

The surviving remains of the castle consist of a single wall 11 metres high, 9.5 metres long, and 2.5 metres thick, with a doorway and another opening above it. This wall apparently formed the north end of the west wall of a tower or keep.[1]

Knepp Wildland[edit]

Two cows standing in a field next to a path.
Longhorn cattle at Knepp Wildland

The land around the castle is now the site of Knepp Wildland, the first large-scale rewilding project in England, created from 1,400 hectares or 3,500 acres of former arable and dairy farmland owned by Charles Burrell.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Baggs et al. 1986, pp. 111–112.
  2. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1010765)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  3. ^ Turner 1870, pp. 18–19.
  4. ^ Quoted in Turner 1870, p. 14
  5. ^ Cartwright 1830, p. 294, "A considerable portion of the outworks remained till within the last fifty years, but which affording greater temptation to the road-maker than the stone quarry, have been carried away.".
  6. ^ This was also noted in Horsfield 1835, p. 247, note 1: "[the castle's] scite and extent were clearly defined ... by a stone wall ... which was pulled down, and the materials converted chiefly to the purposes of Horsham and Steyning turnpike road, when first made"
  7. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1354214)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  8. ^ "Rewilding revives a country estate". Financial Times. 28 September 2018.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°58′33″N 0°20′41″W / 50.97578°N 0.34482°W / 50.97578; -0.34482