A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 2, Bramber Rape (North-Western Part) Including Horsham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1986.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
No mention of Knepp castle has been found before 1210, (fn. 1) but there was evidently a house in 1206, (fn. 2) and there may have been a building of some sort when Knepp park was mentioned in the mid 12th century. (fn. 3) Both castle and park are presumably named from the natural mound (cnæp) on which the castle stands. (fn. 4) The castle seems likely to have been built by the de Braoses as a hunting seat and was used as such in the early 13th century, (fn. 5) but it could also have been intended to serve as a retreat in times of coastal danger. (fn. 6)
From 1208 it was in King John's possession through forfeiture, (fn. 7) and it became a royalist stronghold during the civil wars of the latter part of his reign. The king stayed at Knepp in 1206 and on various occasions between 1209 and 1215, (fn. 8) and in the latter year Queen Isabella spent 11 days there. (fn. 9) In 1210 nine royal carpenters were sent to Knepp (fn. 10) and money was spent on general repairs and on the construction of a chimney. (fn. 11) There was further work in repairing and strengthening the building in 1214. (fn. 12) Repairs to a pond (stagnum), presumably either the moat or the pond which fed it, were mentioned in 1210; (fn. 13) the fishpond (vivarium) mentioned in 1214 may be the same. (fn. 14) In 1210 and between 1214 and 1216 the castle was in the keeping of Roland Bloet. (fn. 15) In May 1215 he was ordered to transfer his forces to Bramber and to destroy Knepp, (fn. 16) but he evidently did not do so, for four days later he was directed to receive William de Warenne, earl of Surrey, there or at Bramber, (fn. 17) and in the following October to deliver the castle to Giles de Braose, bishop of Hereford. (fn. 18) In 1216 it was again ordered to be burnt and destroyed; (fn. 19) the use of the first verb perhaps indicates that its structure was then largely of wood. On that occasion its fortifications may have been demolished: the grant of safeconduct later in the same year to Bloet's men may suggest that it could no longer be held. (fn. 20) In 1217 William Marshal took the surrender of the castle en route from Winchelsea to Farnham (Surr.). (fn. 21) In the following year Knepp was visited by Henry III. (fn. 22) In 1234 and 1235 the castle was again in royal hands; Peter de Rivaux had the keeping in the earlier year, but refused to surrender it as ordered, first to Robert le Savage and secondly to Richard, earl of Cornwall. (fn. 23)
A constable of the castle was mentioned in 1215 and 1234. (fn. 24)
The castle evidently remained habitable during the 14th and 15th centuries. Charters were dated at Knepp between 1254 and 1384. (fn. 25) Edward II stayed there in 1324, (fn. 26) and Richard II in 1384. (fn. 27) In 1368 the building was described as a messuage built like a fortress (ad modum forceletti), (fn. 28) but in 1399 the stone walls of the castle were excluded from the maintenance required of its keeper, (fn. 29) as if the fortifications were no longer needed. A building nevertheless still existed on the manor in 1425, (fn. 30) and in 1507 reference was made to a steward of the household, (fn. 31) implying that an establishment was still then being kept up. By the 1720s the castle had its present form, (fn. 32) but it is not clear when the bulk of it was destroyed. The 'furlong moat', apparently the castle moat, still had fish in it a decade earlier. (fn. 33) Stonework from the castle is said to have been used in constructing the Horsham to West Grinstead and Steyning road in the 1760s. (fn. 34) Before 1825 Sir Charles Burrell had inserted iron clamps to strengthen the surviving wall, and had fenced off the remains to prevent further destruction. (fn. 35) The ruin thus became virtually a parkland ornament, as it still was in 1983. (fn. 36)
The surviving remains of the castle (fn. 37) consist of a single wall 36 ft. (11 metres) high, 31 ft. (9.5 metres) long, and 8¼ ft. (2.5 metres) thick, of random rubble faced with coursed Horsham stone; at the north corner is a flat buttress faced with sandstone ashlar. The fragment apparently represents the north end of the west wall of a tower or keep. A doorway and a door or window opening above it survive. There is no indication of the plan, which in 1227 apparently included a chapel (fn. 38) and in 1324 a hall and chamber, a scullery, a 'saucery', and stables; (fn. 39) a castle gate was mentioned in 1507. (fn. 40) The oval mound on which the castle stands was modelled from a natural mound, and is 260-330 ft. (80-100 metres) in diameter and c. 15 ft. (4.5 metres) high. It is surrounded by a ditch and rampart; the ditch, or moat, was fed from a pond on the north-west side, the retaining bank of which survived in 1983. The entrance to the castle was from the south-west.