knepp history

Knepp Castle Estate's Historical Development






Period - The Norman Castle and Deer Park 

The original castle at Knepp was built by the lord of the Rape of Bramber, William de Braose (1st) or his son Philip, on land given to him by William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It was built as a defensive castle, and became a hunting box sited on a small hillock, or motte, within a deer park. 

A number of different interpretations of the origins of the name of the estate have been put forward. One theory is that the name was originally ‘Cnapp’, meaning ‘the crest of a hill’, in reference to the castle’s elevated position. Alternatively, Sir William Burrell, writing in the late 18th century , suggested that the name derived from the French expression ‘Nape d‘eau’ meaning ‘a sheet of water with the form of a table cloth’, which presumably makes reference to the castle’s proximity to the hammer pond . 

At first William de Braose (3rd) who was at King Richard’s death bed in 1199 was a trusted baron of King John and in 1206 William offered hospitality at Knepp, while King John was preparing an expedition to France. Just two years later in 1208 King John confiscated the lands and castle at Knepp from de Braose, staved to death de Braose’s wife and heir and hounded William de Braose until he was captured and killed in France. 

King John, by Unknown artist, circa 1620 - NPG 4980(5) - © National Portrait Gallery, London  King Richard II, by Unknown artist, late 16th century? - NPG 4980(8) - © National Portrait Gallery, London

King John and Richard the second

King John then installed William Bloet as his steward, and kept 220 greyhounds for hunting deer there. The King stayed at Knepp four times between 1209 and 1215. In the eight years that he owned the land, there is considerable amount of correspondence from the King that makes reference to the deer park. In 1209, he wrote ‘We send you Michael de Puning, commanding you to permit him to take all the fat deer he can without the park at Cnappe as well as by bow as by his dogs’. And again in 1214 he wrote to the Barons of the Exchequer ordering them to pay Bloett’s accounts for repairs to Knepp, for enclosing the park and for putting the Stewpond in order . Later in the same year, following a rebellion by the Barons, the King wrote to Bloet ordering him to ‘transfer everything we possess to Bramber . . to fortify the castle . . and to destroy all the houses which surround the castle’. In 1216, shortly before he died, King John wrote again to Bloett saying ‘we order you to see the castle is burnt and totally destroyed’. It is not known to what extent these final orders were carried out.

In 1218 the castle and lands were returned to the de Braose family, and it remained in their ownership until 1326, when, following the death of William de Braose (6th), the estate passed by marriage to John de Mowbray whose descendent was created the Duke of Norfolk in 1398. At that time the property consisted of 1000 acre park with a watermill, and a further 87 acres of arable farmland. 

The last three Kings to visit Knepp were Henry III in 1218, (and he sent fifteen does from the park as a gift to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1234) a flying visit from Edward II in 1324 and Richard II in 1384.The surviving records from an inquisition which followed de Braoses (6th) death in 1326 clearly indicate that the Deer Park was still in existence at that time. The inquisition found that ‘in the manor of Knepp there was a messuage worth nothing but repairs, a park of a thousand acres worth 10s. a year beyond the support of the deer and the keeping up of fences. A water mill in the park worth 6s. 6d. per annum, 20 acres of land worth 1d., 6 acres of pasture worth 2d. 7 acres of meadow worth 6d. per annum’. It is interesting to note the mention of the ‘water mill’ in the park which may provide a hint at the possible existence of the Knepp Mill Pond.

The estate continued in use as a deer park under successive Dukes of Norfolk, and was still in existence in 1549 ( King Henry VI confirmed the grant which John Duke of Norfolk had made to John Pennycoke of the custody of the ‘park’ for life in 1446). However, it appears to have been disemparked by the time Saxton’s Plan of Sussex was published in 1574. Neither is it shown as a park on John Speed’s Map of Sussex published in 1676, unlike its close neighbour West Grinstead Park (refer to figure 1).

Interestingly, the park keeper in both 1499 and 1529 was a William Burrell.

16th Century Iron Industry

Following the abandonment or disemparkment of the deer park, the estate assumed importance in the iron industry. Records indicate that a furnace on the site of what is now Floodgates Farm, was being worked by the Caryll Family for the Duke of Norfolk in 1568. The Carylls are a well known family who built their fortune as ironworkers throughout the Weald. Their wealth was such that in 1573, Sir Edward Caryll bought the estate from the Duke and his family remained there until 1752, although records indicate that the furnace ceased operation in 1604. This is some years earlier than the general decline of the industry in the region, which occurred after the Civil War, when a reduction in the demand for armaments, and the discovery of coal made it cheaper to work the iron ore in the Midlands.

Thomas Howard Fourth Duke of Norfolk

If it had not existed before, Knepp Mill Pond would certainly have been formed during this period of late 16th century iron working, providing a head of water to drive both the ‘hammer’ which crushed the ore, and the bellows to fire the furnace. Such hammer ponds are a common feature of the Weald, being formed when a clay dam, or bay, was built across a shallow river valley. Writing in 1931, Ernest Straker, who was one of the foremost authorities on the iron industry, stated that ‘the great pond is the largest piece of water in Sussex, with a long and high bay, but owing to the flat nature of the country, small catchment area and low rainfall, the waterflow cannot be great’. Thus it seems that, despite its enormous size, the pond may not have provided sufficient power to ensure that Knepp became a major centre for the industry, and perhaps contributed to its early demise.

18th Century Agricultural Landscape.

Following the death of Elisabeth Caryll in 1752, the estate was sold to a London banker, Mr Belchier, who in turn sold it on to John Wicker in 1754. Immediately upon buying Knepp, Wicker commissioned James Crow to prepare an accurate survey of the whole estate and this plan hangs in the Estate Office today. An interpretation of part of this plan is shown in figure 2. 

The Crow Plan provides a detailed illustration of the layout of the estate some 600 years after it was originally developed as a park. In the area of the current study, it shows an agricultural landscape extending northwards from the original Norman castle, which is bisected by the linear hammer pond. Within the study area, the field layout has a very rectilinear appearance, with field boundaries being generally straight. By contrast, the field system that lies some way to the north of the study area, has a more random appearance, made up of irregular-shaped field boundaries. An interpretation of these differences might be that it indicates the extent of the original medieval deer park. The irregular fields lying outside the park represent the remnants of an ancient field system, whilst the regular pattern of boundaries lying within the original park and were only established after the park was disemparked, some time in the 15th or 16th century.

The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain by John Speed, dated 1676

A road forming the eastern boundary of the estate divided it from its neighbour at West Grinstead, which the plan indicates was owned by Merrik Burrell. This road, which passed close-by the castle was one of the many north-south roads which crossed through Sussex providing access from London to the ports on the south coast. Less common, however, were roads which crossed from east to west. Thus the existence of such a road towards the southern end of the estate, passing between the castle and the Knepp Mill Pond may have meant that the Knepp Estate was more accessible than most, and as such held greater strategic importance.

Other features of note shown on the Crow plan include the Mill and associated windmill adjacent to the bay in the south western corner of the pond and the collection of buildings in the south eastern corner of the pond which were collectively known as ‘Furnace Farm’, in reference to the Caryll’s iron workings in the late 16th century. The Castle itself is shown comprising four sides forming a square. However, in 1762 three of the sides were destroyed to provide road building material for works on the adjacent Horsham to Steyning road (now the A24).

The Crow Plan 1754

John Wicker died in 1767 and the estate passed to his daughter Mary, who was married to Sir Thomas Broughton. He sold it to Rev Joseph Jackson and Henry Fletcher in 1776, who then sold it on again in the same year to Jacob Rider, who owned Knepp until his death in 1787.  



next page >>