- Explore the centuries-old stone curtain wall, on the perilous Wall Walk.
- Dress up as a Norman knight or a Victorian worker at the exhibition in the Workhouse.
- Take the 'Under Attack' family trail around the castle, and help protect the castle from siege.
- Wander around the large lake and enjoy the vast grounds of Framlingham Castle.
Originally, the first building that has now become what we know as Framlingham Castle existed in the mid-12th century, and was built by Roger Bigod, the sheriff of Norfolk. However, it is thought that a manor house existed on the site even before this, which was documented in the Domesday book in 1086. To replace the timber fortress that was built by his father, Roger's son Hugh, the 1st Earl of Norfolk, decided to construct a large stone castle. The castle was built with large stone walls, the remains of which are still seen today as you walk around the castle. While the Bigod family became one of the most powerful families in Norfolk during the 12th century, their relationship with the crown soured, resulting in King John plundering the castle as part of the First Barons' War. However, the Bigods didn't permanently lose ownership of the castle and were reinstated sometime shortly after.
During the 13th century, various additions were installed to the castle, including a 600 acre Great Park, extensive renovations and even a large prison. Framlingham castle history states that the castle itself was then passed to the Brotherton family, and various other families in their lineage until the 15th century. Two large lakes were added, and Framlingham became a popular location for parties, gatherings and celebrations in the local area. This medieval castle brought a lot to the economy at the time, and there were often dozens of people living in the castle at any one time. At the highest count, 83 people were calling the castle home.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Framlingham Castle gained its famous Tudor connection. First owned by John Howard, who was the Duke of Norfolk and close friend of King Richard III, lots of additions were made to the castle, including the Great Chamber, a new drawbridge, and the addition of the Great Hall. After his death, the castle passed to his son, Thomas Howard, and then his son by the same name. This Thomas was the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and the uncle of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, two of Henry VIII's famous wives. He was disgraced and almost executed due to his involvement in these marriages, and the castle was taken from the Howard family. It was acquired by Henry's daughter, Mary Tudor, in 1552.
Eventually, the castle was bought by a wealthy philanthropist by the name of Sir Robert Hitcham. While he died soon after buying the castle, it was transformed into a 'poorhouse' in accordance with his wishes. While poorhouses were a popular way of attempting to aid the poor, they were not always pleasant places to live and required the inmates to work hard to live there. The poorhouse remained until the 18th century, and after being used as a parish hall, was eventually passed to Pembroke College at Cambridge University, and finally English Heritage in 1984. Now, Framlingham Castle is one of the top historical places to visit on a trip to Suffolk, with lots of fascinating things to see and do.
One of the best ways to experience the looming castle walls and the historic site where medieval knights roamed, is to take in the history of Framlingham Castle with a 'Wall Walk'. While the curtain wall around the castle has crumbled in some places, most of it remains intact. This means that the 880-year old curtain wall, which is over 2 metres thick and 10 metres high, is the perfect place to take a walk around Framlingham castle. Not one for those with a fear of heights, once you've climbed up on to the Wall Walk you'll be able to get a great view of all the different areas of the castle and absorb some Framlingham Castle facts about the brick chimneys and medieval castle walls.
Back in its heyday, Framlingham Castle would have been full of buildings, but now the only building that remains in the bailey, or courtyard, is the old poorhouse. This building used to be connected to the Chamber Block on the other end of the castle, where the occupants of the castle would have lived and slept. You can still see the remains of the chambers in the walls of the castle, where they are little more than ruins. However, with some knowledge of Framlingham Castle and its history, it is fascinating to be able to walk around and imagine the grand banquets, conversations and day-to-day occurrences that happened within these walls. There are also audio guides available to borrow, with both adult and children's versions, enabling you to fully immerse yourself in the tales of the castle's past.
Also known as the Red House, the Workhouse is the only building that still stands within the walls of Framlingham Castle. Named so because of its red bricks, the Red House sits on what used to be the Great Hall and was created by Robert Hitcham as a 'poorhouse'. Nowadays, you can go inside and take a look at what life used to be like for the people who lived in this building. There is an exhibition inside, which tells the history of Framlingham and delves a little deeper into the nobility who lived there, and how their lives intertwined. In the Poorhouse Kitchen, you'll also find a selection of books where you can read more about this ancient relic.
To learn a little more about the local history surrounding the castle, your entrance tickets also include access to the Lanman Trust Museum of history, which is located on the first floor of the Workhouse. Here you'll find an impressive collection of local artefacts, ranging from medieval to Edwardian. Named after local antique dealer Harold Lanman, the museum contains lots of fascinating items from within a five-mile radius of the castle. Among the items on display is a dinner guest list of Sir Henry Thompson, doctor to Queen Victoria, which is signed by both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George V!
As well as exploring the buildings of Framlingham Castle, there are also numerous activities for children and families to enjoy. Inside the exhibition space at the Workhouse, kids can learn about what life was like for those who lived there, and even dress up in period gear! The Hats Through the Ages section is a great way for them to experience how heavy a Norman helmet would have been, back when soldiers were guarding the castle from siege. There are also lots of child-friendly games that kids can use to test their knowledge, such as 'Spin the King' and 'Who Eats What?'. Plus, for an extra £1 surcharge, kids can join in on the 'Under Attack' family trail around the castle, and help protect the castle from attacking forces! The Framlingham Castle gift shop is also a popular spot for kids, with medieval knight and princess themed gifts, as well as miniature brick chimneys and much more.
Once you've explored the inside of the castle walls, step outside the castle to enjoy the picturesque landscape, and see the lake (or 'mere' as it is known). The wide expanse of countryside is the perfect place to take the kids for a run around, and the gardens and Mere are also free to explore. Plus, kites are allowed on site so don't forget to pack one, as well as your wellies.
There are lots of Framlingham Castle events on at regular intervals throughout the year. From seasonal events such as spooky Ghost Hunting tours at Halloween to Tudor Days where kids can meet Mary Tudor and listen to the storytellers. In the past, there have also been 'Siege' events run by English Heritage, where visitors can watch a mock battle, meet some costumed soldiers and dress up. With so many interactive events, especially during the school holidays and at weekends, Framlingham Castle is a very popular choice with families in the area. Plus, dogs are more than welcome, so there's no need to leave any family member behind!
Once you've taken in the curtain wall and walked in the footsteps of the Bigod Family, Henry II, King Stephen and Mary Tudor, a cup of tea at a good old English Heritage café might be in order. The Castle Café is the perfect place to try traditional Tudor dishes, including Tudor vegetable soup, and 'Tarte Owte of Lent' which contains all the delicious dairy ingredients you are forbidden to eat during Lent. As with all other English Heritage cafes, however, you can also enjoy a sandwich, coffee or a slice of cake. The Castle Inn pub is just next door to the castle site, and is a great option is you like a hearty pub lunch. If you prefer to bring your own lunch, there are also plenty of places to stop for a picnic on the grounds, and there is also a designated area with picnic benches. The village of Framlingham, on the castle's doorstep, is also home to some great restaurants, such as Watson and Walpole for yummy Italian inspired meals, or Curry India for something spicy. There are also some great shops in the village for you to browse as you wander along.
If learning about the historic curtain wall and experiencing how the royal court lived gave you a taste for history, why not plan a trip to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds for your next family day out? With a beautiful rose garden and numerous places for kids to play, this is a top location for families with children of various ages. Or, for something a little different, head to Jimmy's Farm and Wildlife Park in Ipswich to meet some rare breed pigs among other animals, and take on the fearsome dinosaurs on their Woodland Walk!
What to know before you go
- Framlingham Castle opening times are from 10am-5pm daily.
- Tickets to the castle are free for English Heritage members. Otherwise, they start at £6.80 for children. Family tickets and concessions are also available.
- Dogs are welcome on the grounds and the castle but need to be kept on leads.
- There are toilets on site, including baby changing facilities and an accessible toilet.
- The site is accessible for buggies and wheelchairs, but there is a steep spiral staircase up to the Wall Walk. The exhibition area in the Workhouse has level access, and the first floor can be accessed via a lift.
- Bottle warming is available at the café.
- Please note that the Wall Walk has a height hazard so care should be taken, especially when walking with children or dogs.
- You can find the castle in Framlingham, which is accessible by car via the B1116.
- Framlingham Castle parking is free for members and is a 300-metre distance from the castle. A small charge applies for non-members.
- The nearest train station is Wickham Market, which is 6.5 miles away. Alternatively, Saxmundham Station is seven miles away.
- If travelling by bus, catch the PF Travel no. 62 service, Nightingales no. 482 service or the 118/119 Galloway European.
- Framlingham Castle, Suffolk is on the National Cycle Network, if you wish to travel by bike.