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Farnham Castle

THIS fine old castle has a most picturesque appearance from the road by which it is approached. It is not more than a pleasant walk from the camp at Aldershot, and stands on a lofty and commanding eminence. The castle build ings are nearly quadrangular, and enclose a large court in connection with the keep, which is hexagonal in form, but is entirely unroofed. It is entered by a high flight of steps leading up an arched avenue of strong masonry. On the eastern side of the great court was another avenue leading to the ancient sallyport. The servants' hall formed a part of the original structure, and it has consequently round columns and pointed arches. The outer walls still retain some square bastions, and are surrounded by a wide and deep fosse, in which, at one part, oak and beech trees flourish.

The Episcopal Palace of the Bishop of Winchester is erected within the precincts of the fortress, and includes some portions of the original castle, as, for instance, the servants' hall already mentioned.

The state apartments of the palace are very fine, and there is a handsome chapel. The library is large, and there are many portraits.

Farnham chapel

The kitchen and flower gardens occupy a considerable extent of ground, and the park is lovely and full of splendid old trees. There is an avenue of elms three-quarters of a mile long, ending in two remarkably large trees, the bole of one being nineteen feet round, a yard from the ground, and the other eighteen feet six inches. In this park one may wander in summer into lovely nooks, overshadowed by oaks and beeches, with softest mosses, turf and wild flowers to rest on, and fresh scents of lime leaves and grass stealing on the air, while the song of birds and the murmur of the little river Lodden charms the ear.

The manor of Farnham was given to the See of Winchester by Ethelbald, king of the West Saxons, and it has belonged to it ever since. A castle, as a residence for the bishops, was built by Henry de Bois, Bishop of Winchester and brother to King Stephen, at the time when that monarch had given permission to all his partisans "to build castles."

Becoming "a retreat for rebels," says Camden, "this castle was razed by Henry III., but afterwards rebuilt by the Bishop of Winchester, to whom it still belongs."

The "rebels" here alluded to were the barons who had called in Louis the Dauphin of France, in the contest with King John, and who had seized the castle in June, 1216.

A story illustrating the chivalrous character of Prince Edward, the elder son of Henry III., afterwards our famous king, is told of Farnham.

Not long after Edward had brought his young and beloved bride, Eleanor of Castile, to England, and while she was living at her dower castle of Guildford, the prince heard of a noted outlaw, who was lord of Selborne Manor (Gilbert White's Selborne), and who kept the country in perpetual fear of him, preying on all the lands of those who were adherents of the king. Adam Gurdon - that was his name - had fought on Leicester's side, and had escaped from the last battle of Eversham, but now lived by rapine and plunder, haunting a woody height near the road, between the Castle of Farnham and the town of Alton.

As he was famed for his strength and courage, Prince Edward determined to put his valour to the test. He came suddenly on the outlaw, who was alone, with a strong body of men; but he ordered his followers not to interfere, and dared Gurdon to a single combat. The outlaw gladly accepted the challenge, and he and the prince encountered each other with the sword. They fought long and gallantly, and their strength and skill seemed so equal that Edward, struck with the bravery of the outlaw, dropped his sword and called on his brave opponent to surrender, offering him life and pardon if he would. Adam Gurdon saw that he had at last met his match, and won also by the frank generosity of the royal hero, he laid his sword at the feet of the prince, who took him with him to Guildford Castle to present him to his princess.

"Prince Edward hath brought him to Guildford Tower,
E'er that summer's day is o'er,
He hath led him into the secret bower
Of his wife, fair Elianmore.

His mother, the ladye of gay Provence,
And his sire, the king, were there;
Oh, scarcely the Gordon dare advance
In a presence so stately and fair."

But Edward, kneeling before his father, besought him to grant a pardon to Adam Gurdon; the Princess Eleanor knelt also, and joined in the supplication, and Henry, who loved to pardon, forgave the outlaw and granted him life and land. We are told by one chronicler that the prince henceforward found Gurdon a true and faithful subject, another says that he resumed his old ways, and robbed the neighbourhood of their sacks of meal and malt again, not even sparing the property of the Bishop of Winchester. 1

Elizabeth several times visited Farnham Castle in her progresses, and in Bishop Home's time she was twice there, in 1567 and 1569. During this last visit the Queen invited the Duke of Norfolk to dine with her, and on rising from table advised him (but not angrily) to be "careful on what pillow he laid his head" - a significant hint, showing that she had learned of the duke's desire to wed the Queen of Scots. But he did not take it, or see the danger he was in, and rushed to his doom. Two years afterwards he was beheaded on Tower Hill.

Elizabeth visited Farnham again in 1591, when Bishop Cooper was her host; and in 1601, when Bishop Montague entertained her.

In the civil war between Charles and his Parliament, Sir John Denham, high sheriff of the county, garrisoned the castle for the king, and in 1642 was appointed governor. But soon after he quitted it, and it surrendered to the Roundhead general, Sir William Waller, by whom it was said to have been blown up but this was not the case, as the next year it was again garrisoned with several companies of soldiers, who in 1643 joined with Waller's army and its London auxiliaries in an unsuccessful attack on Basing House - not the last and fatal one. After besieging it for some days Waller left it, took up his quarters at Farmham Castle, and began to fortify the tower. Twice he drew up his forces in Farnham Park on hearing that the Royal troops were about to attack the place. The Cavalier force did, at last, come in sight, but made no assault, though the ordnance from the castle and park killed some of their men and horses. On the 13th of December Waller marched with the Londoners to Alton, where the Royalists were. He attacked and defeated them, and took 800 or 900 prisoners, who were brought to Farnham and secured in the church and castle.

George Wither, the Roundhead poet, was afterwards made governor of Farnham Castle by the Parliament, but he proved a feeble defender of it, and had to resign it to the Cavaliers.

In 1648 the fortifications were demolished by order of the Government.

After the Restoration, Charles II. restored Farnham to the See of Winchester, and Bishop Morley, who held it from 1662 to 1684, spent a large sum in restoring the Episcopal Palace within the precincts.

Farnham was the retreat of Bishop Fox, when afflicted with blindness; and it was the home of Bishop Sumner after his resignation of his see.

For more than ten centuries Farnham has now been the Surrey Palace of the Bishops of Winchester, and at Loseley there is a document preserved by which we learn that in Elizabeth's reign the lawyers of the Temple drank their wine or ale out of green pots manufactured from the clay in Farnham Park. But in those days Farnham had two parks.

Close by it is the Long Valley, the great remarkable vale which the troops from the neighbouring camp at Aldershot use for their reviews, inspections, etc., etc. Farnham, it will be seen, is therefore on the very borders of Hampshire, as it ought indeed to be, since it belongs to the See of Winchester.

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1. Strickland, "Lives of the Queens of England."

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004