From the Archives: The Brays

We know a great deal of the phases of development of Kenilworth Castle itself, but what of its enigmatic counterpart known as The Brays? Was it a hastily constructed rampart thrown together as a result of the Siege of 1266? Was it constructed earlier during the reign of King John? Or does it in fact pre-date the Castle altogether and date from Anglo-Saxon times, the Roman era or even earlier?

Norman Stevens ponders these very questions, in an article first published in the 2010 edition of Society’s yearly publication Kenilworth History:

The Brays

by Norman Stevens

That Kenilworth had a Roman settlement within it or in the immediate vicinity cannot be doubted. The tile kilns at Cherry Orchard and Chase Wood underline that, as do the Roman tiles to be found associated with the Abbey, in what little is left of the visible structure and in the debris washed into the 12th century access shaft of the water conduit running from near the Queen & Castle to the Abbey. A ground-penetrating radar trace of an underground continuous level beside the Abbey ruins suggests a building layer years before the Abbey.

Roman artefacts found in the Cherry Orchard Dig of 1964
Roman artefacts found in the Cherry Orchard Dig of 1964

Further, the settlement known as “Chesford” clearly has a Roman origin, and an examination of the topography shows possibly one or two platforms above the River Avon to the east of Chesford Bridge in the contiguous fields there, beyond the clearly defined hollow-way that at one time was the access to the ford itself. An investigation of the site is well over-due.

A quotation from a principal commentator on the Anglo-Saxon (A-S) development of England, Warwick Rodwell, ties the Roman presence in Kenilworth with a later Anglo-Saxon feature. He says: “There are . . . many instances of Anglo-Saxon manor houses emerging on or close to the sites of Roman villas and farmsteads . . .” “. . . it is fundamental to the history and topography of the late Saxon and mediaeval country-side.” p14 col. 1

He goes further: “. . . . the villa was the central point of an estate, the residence of authority, and it was that authority which could and did embrace Christianity, giving rise to the construction of a private estate church which formed an integral part of the contemporary suite of manorial buildings. As so often happened, that church became parochial in the tenth or eleventh century.” p15 col. 1. [Churches in the Landscape: Aspects of Topography and Planning, Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon Settlement. Ed. Margaret L. Faull. Oxford University Department for External Studies. 1984]

I have argued before that the pair of stone cottages on Castle Green, Nos. 12 & 13, is, in fact, a Saxon church [Kenilworth History 2001-2, KHAS, published annually]. Then, I claimed the mass dial, arrow-sharpening marks, the double plinth, the squint, the orientation, and the recorded fact that there was a church/chapel in Kenilworth before S. Nicholas’ Church, made it quite clear that this was a very early church. Since that article, I have had the privilege, thanks to the present incumbent, of measuring the thickness of the walls, and these, at just under 30 inches, (75 cms) are typical of a Saxon church, and atypical of a Norman one, which was very rarely less than three feet.

No's 12 & 13 Castle Green - a Saxon church?
No’s 12 & 13 Castle Green – a Saxon church?

We have to accept, if all this is true, that Kenilworth was a stable Anglo-Saxon community in the early 1100s, already recorded at Domesday in 1086. At the moment, all we have is the Castle Green “church”. There is not a lot of evidence otherwise of Anglo-Saxon presence in the town, although there is plenty around, nonetheless. Perhaps the nearest most significant is Blacklow, where the Society found a high-status A-S burial and associated grave goods in the course of a rescue dig in 1971-2.

The Avon valley, generally, has evidence of A-S presence, as one might expect. One might almost ask “why not?” And by far the most important is Warwick itself, a major A-S site. It would appear to have enjoyed some sort of defensive bank and ditch arrangement appropriate to its importance, but much of that has been subsumed by the major works applied since the Conquest.

Tamworth, further north, enjoyed a similar treatment, and, as a Saxon “burh”, or burgh, was well fortified, and, as Warwick, later over-whelmed by Norman work.

As I have argued before [KH1994] Kenilworth stands on a drovers’ road, of what antiquity we don’t know, although these were in use for centuries. It is near a significant crossing of the Avon, and is a nodal centre for a number of ancient trackways. It is not very far, in fact, from Watling Street, which became the boundary between A-S Wessex/Mercia and the Danelaw. So there is some reason to suppose that it had an importance which is not reflected in theDomesday entry which speaks of a community of some seventy souls.

All this is merely a preliminary to the question: what is “The Brays”? Considerable research, examination and thought may provide an answer. To the best of our knowledge, no concentrated, even superficial, work has ever been carried out on the area other than an English Heritage (EH) survey of levels. In his article on the 1563 Survey of the Castle in EH Historical Review, Vol 3, 2008, Nicholas A D Molyneux speaks of ‘a massive earthwork enclosure of uncertain date’. The Castle as we know it is such an iconic structure that it absorbs all our attention, and we fail to address a remarkable, but very knocked about, feature right alongside it.

The Brays
Aerial view of The Brays, courtesy of Bing Maps

From the top of the banks to the bottom of the ditches it is 30 feet (Keith Croucher’s otherwise excellent monitory article in KH2002-3 suffered a regrettable misprint which states 25 metres). This is not, then, an insignificant earthwork. The extensive works that clearly once existed in the area of the Brays will have been executed either in an emergency, or at a time when such things were normal and could be achieved within the every day routine. If the former, was it Geoffrey de Clinton, newly arrived in an unknown environment, providing himself a secure earthwork camp he could use as a base for building the castle that Henry I had commissioned? If the latter, was it an A-S ‘burh’, like Warwick, built against the threat of the Dane ? On the other hand, however, the earthworks may already have been there. Whenever they were built, there were considerable resources available, either of manpower or time.

Brays Entrance
The entrance to The Brays from Castle Road

It stands at the end of a tongue of land sloping down towards a confluence of three streams, and, as we have noted, commanded several established routes through the countryside. No dating evidence has ever been found, and, we suspect, ever been looked for, to determine when these substantial earthworks were made. They are the size of Helmsley Castle’s, Castle Acre’s, and Castle Rising’s. But, and it is a big ‘but’, they are a funny shape. No Norman motte and bailey ever had a perimeter as irregular as this. An examination of Iron Age and Neolithic forts, contour-hugging, shows a much closer parallel. A-S towns, like Wareham, were not as regular as the Norman fortifications. Roman fortifications were utterly and predictably regular, so these are not Roman.

Where are we to place them in the time scale? We can see that they were much curtailed and reduced later. Who did that ? King John, in building his dam to heighten the Mere ? Were they really erected against the 1266 siege, complete with walls, and with the towers that the 1925 Ordnance Survey map shows ? In that short time? That is the received wisdom, but a walk up the lane towards Grounds Farm shows us that the powerful trebuchets of the 13th Century would have caused havoc, as the fortification is downhill from there. Or were the changes made by John or Robert Dudley redesigning the site, landscaping it to the ideas of their day ?

The Brays as seen from Castle Grove
The Brays as seen from Castle Grove

Ultimately, we are forced back to saying that “The Brays” is an enigma. We have found no detailed research work on it as yet, and (apart from a recent unrevealing trench dug along the road to lay cables) no excavation or even soil-sampling to establish either the actual depth of the ditches, or the presence of stone where the mediaeval walls and those ‘Towers’ shown on the 1925 Ordnance Survey sheets were supposed to be. The iconic presence of the Castle, as we and the rest of the world knows it, is our enemy ! All eyes are on that : the Brays is where you park your car !

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The King’s Arms & Castle – Then & Now

King's Arms & Castle
King’s Arms & Castle 1960s and 2015

The King’s Arms & Castle, 1960s. According to Rob Steward’s “The Inns and Roads of Kenilworth” (Odibourne Press, 2000) the “King’s Arms Inn” was the venue of the Abbey Courts Leet in 1563 and remained so until the nineteenth century.

By the nineteenth century, Coaches used to call in at the King’s Arms ‘from a quarter past seven until ten at night’ and later ‘omnibuses and cars’ from the King’s Arms & Castle would meet every train from the station.

Sir Walter Scott stayed at the inn in 1815 and commenced writing his famous novel Kenilworth published in 1821. It is also though that Charles Dickens stayed at the inn during preparations for writing Dombey and Son which was published in 1848 and featuring the line “A stroll among the haunted ruins of Kenilworth”.

During renovations in 1985, it was found that the facade of the building was erected around an earlier timber framed structure, which was now perilously unsafe. It remained in scaffolding whilst developers deliberated about how to resolve the situation.

Ultimately, it was decided to completely demolish the building in 1986 and rebuild the facade from scratch. Close examination of the two image shows discrepancies in the roof line, wings at the rear have been omitted from the new design and windows are not aligned with their predecessors. The interiors have been completely altered, with features like the bed which Sir Walter Scott is said to have stayed in having been long since taken elsewhere.

The rebuilt Kings Arms was repurposed as a nightclub named Drummonds, with residential flats to the rear. In 2005 it closed and became neglected, before eventually reopening in 2007 as separate restaurant units named now named Zizi, and Ego.

Further reading online:

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March 2016 Newsletter


» Last month at the AGM, Phil Stock was elected to the Committee in lieu of Barbara Platten, who had resigned. No other changes were made. The Treasurer presented the accounts, to the satisfaction of the membership. The Chairman made a few points, but left the tenor of her view of the year to her Report published inKenilworth History 2016 which was made available to subscribing members.

The AGM was short, and we were able to enjoy an excellent illustrated talk by Tom Garner on what had been entitled “The History of Photography”, but was actually much more “History through Photography”. It was clear from the comments from the floor afterwards that many of us had no idea just how early significant events in world history since the mid 19th century had been recorded in photographs. The talk was very much appreciated.

» Tonight Nic Fulcher will give an account of the “New Place Project” under the aegis of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, standing in for Kate Christmas.

» Next month April 11th Roy Smart will give an account of the career of the First Earl Beatty, under the title of “The Last Naval Hero”.


Unfortunately, the Mayor wants the use of the Castle on the date we had arranged for our visit in July, so we have moved the event to the 25th July. Because this is so late in the summer, the August outing has been abandoned. There will be major ‘Siege’ events over the last weekend in August as well.

At the first Committee meeting after the AGM, the Committee unanimously coopted Christ Blunt, our Webmaster, to its ranks. It is clear that the Committee needs to work closely with him in order to utilise this new and invaluable service to the best interests of the Society.

This evening, Members will be handed a Questionnaire. The purpose is to establish the resources the Society has to hand in the abilities and inclinations of the Membership. This has been done in the past (eg, 1965) when membership was much smaller, and even then the Society was well-known for the amount of work it did. With the current membership level, it may be that we could do more if we marshalled all our forces.

It is intended that members remain anonymous, but there is no obligation to hide you lamp under a bushel, if you would like to declare your hand. The way it will work otherwise is that when a particular expertise is needed, that need will be advertised through the monthly Newsletter, and therefore on the Website. That will be the time to put yourself forward, but only if you want to. What we are trying to  avoid is making anyone feel pressured; if you want just to sit back and enjoy the meetings, then the Committee will be just as happy!

» Kenilworth Family History Society 13 April AGM + Members’ evening Short talks by members. Meetings 7.30 at Senior Citizens’ Club.

» Warwickshire Local History Society Tuesday 15 March 2016 AGM 7.15pm NB, followed by Dr Maureen Harris, ‘The “debauched” parson and the “wit-already-expired-rogue”: Warwickshire parish politics, 1660-1720’ in The Friends’ Meeting House, 39 High Street, Warwick, CV34 4AX

» Warwickshire Geology: All meetings take place at S. Francis’ Church Hall, Warwick Road (Kenilworth main street), Kenilworth CV8 1HL, with coffee at 7pm before a 7.30pm start. 16 March: Prof Sarah Davies (Leicester): Rivers, lakes, swamps and seas: exploring an early Carboniferous environment.

» CADAS: 9th February Title: Hoards, Hounds and Helmets: The story of the Hallaton Treasure Lecturer: Vicky Score. 12th April “The Infancy of the Alphabet” Lecturer: Professor Alan Millard. All meetings are held at the Friends’ Meeting House, Hill Street, Coventry, at 19:30

» The Magazine recycling centre seems to have fallen into abeyance. The object was that Members should take copies of magazines, read them, & bring them back for others. It looks as though they are disappearing into private collections!!

» Another, different, miscellany of guide books of various dates to places all over the country is available for sale at the back of the room 5p each to the Society’s funds.


Chairman – 01676 532654; Secretary – 01926 858670; Treasurer – 01926 852655;

Vice Chairman & Editor – 01926 858090


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Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester

In January 1265 Simon de Montfort called a Parliament (in the name of King Henry III), when for the first time commoners were invited to play a small part in the decisions made. This was an early landmark in the development of Parliament which would, centuries later, result in the two house democratic parliamentary system which we have today. De Montfort’s name has been remembered through the centuries as the ‘father’ of democracy.

The de Montfort Colours
A depiction of the de Montfort colours, with a backdrop of the ruins of Kenilworth Castle.

Simon de Montfort was born at Montfort-l’Amaury, France, around 1208 and came to England in 1230 to regain the earldom of Leicester which had once been held by his family. He found favour with King Henry III, recovered the earldom and married Eleanor, the King’s sister.

Kenilworth Castle was a favourite family residence of the de Montforts. Two of their seven children were born at the castle – their eldest son, Henry, named for the King; and their last child and only surviving daughter, Eleanor. The King eventually gave the castle to Earl Simon and his wife for both their lifetimes – a generosity which he would no doubt come to regret!

Despite the fact that Earl Simon’s character and ideals were very different to those of King Henry they got on well for around 9 years but then things started to sour and they eventually found themselves on opposing sides during the so called Second Barons’ War. There was resentment of the King’s increasing power and the fact that he preferred to rely on the counsel of his foreign advisors (mainly relatives), rather than that of his own Barons, which lead to increasingly high taxation to fund some misguided and unsuccessful overseas campaigns. Notwithstanding efforts to reform the government, the situation deteriorated into civil war with Earl Simon emerging as leader of the opposition.

The arms of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and King Henry III.
The arms of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and King Henry III.

The battle of Lewes in May 1264 was a resounding victory for the Barons. The King, his son Prince Edward, and his brother Earl Richard of Cornwall, were taken prisoner and Earl Simon was virtual ruler of England for the next 15 months. Prince Edward escaped custody in May 1265 and began the fight to restore his father to the throne. In late July 1265 there was a skirmish at Kenilworth. Earl Simon’s second son, young Simon, was encamped with his army outside Kenilworth Castle when Prince Edward led an early morning surprise attack. Young Simon lost many men and also his banners which were subsequently used by the Prince to deceive Earl Simon into thinking that his son was approaching. By the time Young Simon and what was left of his army had recovered they were too late to save his father and elder brother from defeat and death at Evesham on 4th August 1265. Earl Simon’s body was horribly mutilated on the battle field – his head and limbs (and also his more private parts!) were hacked off and sent to different parts of the country as a warning to others.

Battle of Evesham
A 13th-century cloth depiction of the mutilation of de Montfort’s body after the Battle of Evesham. Above Simon is the body of his son Henry.

Earl Simon’s final battle was the precursor to the great siege of Kenilworth Castle which took place the following year. This was the longest siege in English Medieval history and lasted from 22nd June to 13th December 1266. 2016 is the 750th anniversary of this momentous event in Kenilworth’s history.

Bust of de Montfort in US Capitol
Plaque of Simon de Montfort from the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol. One of 23 marble relief portraits over the gallery doors depicting historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American law. They were installed when the chamber was remodelled in 1949-1950.

For further information concerning Simon de Montfort and the Barons’ War visit, the website of the Simon de Montfort Society.

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KHAS Programme 2016 – some amendments

Please note the following amendments and clarifications to the KHAS programme for 2016:

  • 14th March – there is a change of speaker and Nic Fulcher, of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, will be speaking to us on “The New Place Project”.
  • 13th June – it has been clarified that speaker David Snowden is visiting us from the Simon de Montfort Society.
  • 11th July  – Members only evening at castle – we have had to change the date of this. It will now take place on Monday 25th July.
  • August – at the Committee meeting we decided not to have an August outing this year this has been changed to ‘no meeting’

As you know, the monthly Newsletter has been circulated in pdf form after each meeting. From the March issue onwards it is proposed to make it available on our new website instead, via the following link: We trust that you will find this more convenient than having a bulky file arriving in your Inbox, especially if you had already picked up a paper copy at the meeting.

We look forward to seeing you at the meeting on March 14th. The Treasurer will be pleased to receive any subscriptions that are outstanding.

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The Square, Early 1960s – Then & Now

The Square, early 1960s
The Square, early 1960s

The Square, early 1960s. Where the roundabout now stands once stood an elegant building with grand bay-windows, which can be seen on many a postcard of the Square from before the turn of the century. The ‘then’ image above shows its somewhat truncated state in the early late 1960s, following a number of enforced reductions in its size as explained below, shortly before its final demolition.

The right hand side of the building was demolished in 1932 as part of the Abbey End road widening scheme, leaving only the left hand side, minus the upper floor, which survived the war and became Dudley Taylor’s chemist’s shop. Ultimately it gave way to the utilitarian traffic management schemes of the 1960s and now the Square is a somewhat windswept and characterless shadow of its former self, dominated by the towering Holiday Inn.

More information on the tragic fate of The Square and Abbey End can, as ever, be found on Robin Leach’s excellent WWII website:


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Heritage Open Days 2016

Kenilworth Abbey ‘Barn’ Museum & Heritage Centre open both Saturday and Sunday 10th & 11th September 2.30 to 4.30 pm. On Saturday 10th there will also be a free guided walk of the Abbey ruins at 3pm.

The Abbey Barn
The Abbey Barn

If you have ever wondered who built Kenilworth Abbey, why it is sometimes called a Priory, what it looked like, who lived there and why it is now a ruin then do come along and joint our free guided walk.

Buck Engraving of St Mary's Abbey, Kenilworth
Kenilworth Priory ruins as they appeared in 1729, in an engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck (image source: English Heritage)

Meet outside the Museum & Heritage Centre, Abbey Fields (just beyond children’s play area).


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