Sunday, 31 January 2016

Orford Castle Update - a further discovery?

It is probably fair to say that, since our visit to Orford Castle back in August 2015, the location has persisted in keeping us busy over the ensuing days, weeks and months.

Orford Castle Keep , from the car park
Unlike previous locations that have proved to be of interest to us,

Laura had genuinely appeared to connect with the Keep and has continued to pick up new pieces of information, relating to both the building itself and those connected to it, to the extent that we’ve now both reached the point, after several months, where we are exhausted and just wish that we’d simply experienced a straight forward trip to the Castle back in August.

One of the more interesting aspects of this case is that Laura is receiving information relating to the very structure of the Keep itself, not just the individual linked to it. This could be down to the occult symbolism employed in its build, or perhaps the atmosphere of the Castle itself.

So whilst we now have a multitude of leads and notes to follow up upon, we thought it was time that we provide another update to where we are at, especially in respect to the body of the young woman that Laura sensed in the Well Room and even a further discovery, possibly relating to the structure of the building.

As you may recall, Laura picked up on at least two females during our visit in August, who we suspect could actually be one and the same person – the frightened female in the passage from the chapel to the Chaplain’s Room and, the body of the young woman apparently concealed in one of the side chambers in the Well Room, in the basement of the Keep.

A Doorway and a death.......
A couple of weeks following our original visit, Laura started to get information relating to a doorway providing an exit / entrance to the basement level of the Keep.

Laura was receiving visualisations of standing in front of a doorway / exit to the outside whilst standing in the basement of the keep.

At the same time, Laura was also receiving information as to how the girl's body came to be concealed in the well room - she had been thrown by two males from the keep, above the entrance, then her body taken directly from the outside, into the Well Room, where her body was concealed in one of the side chambers.

The following is an extract from Laura’s own notes from what she was picking up:

Man, dark suit type clothing. Female, mid brown hair, 20’s.

Arguing, upper floor, above main entrance hall.

She falls, 2 men take body well room.

When I questioned her further about the information that she was receiving, Laura advised that the men had taken the woman’s body to the Well Room in the basement, without going via the main entrance – they took the body in directly from the outside, from ground level.

Initially I dismissed this as, being familiar with the layout of the Castle, I knew that there were only two access points - the main stairs from the lower hall or via the trap door in the floor of the shop as you enter the Keep. 

Whilst I still had my doubts about the second access point to the Keep, the information regarding the concealment of the body was feasible - you were able to access the roof of the chapel (via the stairwell at the Upper Hall level), which was directly above the main entrance. 

However, the possibility of a direct exit to the basement level of the Keep seemed very remote, indeed, so we decided to keep an open mind and re-examine the structure of the building. 

The Basement Level
In addition to the two access points directly into this level, the Well Room itself also had three narrow windows, that had been widened slightly from their original construction at an unknown later date (1), with the light being directed down shafts into the basement to alleviate the gloom, but nothing else. 

The central window in the Well Room
Was it possible to get a body through one of these openings and drop it down to the basement below? We needed to find out. 

Using reference books and photographs that we'd taken previously, I attempted to establish the size of the openings. 

Whilst I accepted that it wasn't an exact science, after some careful consideration I came to the conclusion that it would indeed be possible, especially when taking into account the average size of people centuries ago and indeed young females. 

However, there was no way of being confident for sure without a visit 

As previously referred to above, Laura had also started to pick up information relating to a doorway or tunnel in the basement, to the outside, so how, if at all, did this fit into the scheme of things?

I discussed my theory as to how the young woman's body could have been placed in the basement, via the windows, but Laura wasn't entirely sure that this was correct. 

Unfortunately, she hadn't sensed how the body had entered the Well Room, simply just that it had and, what she had picked up relating to the doorway or tunnel in the basement could be entirely separate and not connected to the death of the young woman. 

Things were getting very complicated. The need for another visit had become even more pressing. 

Making plans
Around about this time, we were due to meet up with our friends, Aitch and Jason, who lived some distance away and, conveniently, Orford Castle involved the same drive for both parties. 

We therefore discussed the situation with Aitch and Jason and all decided that Orford would be a good location for us all to meet up. 

With the winter season approaching and opening times being reduced, we quickly agreed a date, in a couple of week’s time. 

The drive to the Castle proved uneventful. Thankfully, the weather was dry, unlike our previous visit, which would allow us to inspect the exterior of the building in less challenging conditions. 
Pulling into the car park, we found that we were the first to arrive.  

The search begins
Whilst we were waiting for Aitch and Jason, we decided to inspect the exterior of the Castle. This would allow us to also keep an eye out on the car park for our friend’s arrival. 

We walked around the outside of the Keep, trying to find any traces of a doorway. However, as I had suspected, there were none.

Disappointing, but it only reflected what was known about the Castle.  

However, we also inspected the windows, with their accompanying shafts that led down into the basement and found that it would indeed be possible to pass a body of a petite person through the openings and drop it down to the Well Room below. 

Window to Well Room - outside view
Had we found the evidence to support what Laura had picked up relating to the death and subsequent movement of the young woman's body to one of the side chambers in the Well Room? 

It definitely didn't rule it out. 

However, Laura was still adamant that the windows were not the doorway or tunnel that she had visualised, although it was possible that it was the method that the men had adopted to move the girl's body down into the basement. 

Hopefully our inspection of the inside would reveal something. 

It was at this point that Aitch and Jason pulled into the car park, which provided a suitable break to proceedings. 

We returned to the car to greet our friends and, after exchanging pleasantries, made our way back up the path to visit the Keep itself. 

With no planned agenda, we initially visited the location of Laura's previous discovery, the petroglyph, or hand print (EH verifies Petroglyph) and, at this point separated, allowing Laura some time to inspect the various areas of the Castle on her own, to see if she could pick anything else up. 

The Upper Hall
Our first port of call was the Upper Hall, where Laura had stated that the man had the argument with the young woman had started.

If Laura was correct, I was looking for 'exit' where the woman was pushed, or fallen out of the Keep to the ground below, beneath the entrance to the Keep. The most obvious places to me were the windows, but these were not above the entrance.

However, just before you entered the Upper Hall, on the staircase, there were a set of french windows to an outside battlement. The windows were locked, so I could not inspect the battlement more closely, but I could see that the battlement was in fact the roof of the chapel, which was directly above the entrance to the Keep. Again, Laura's information appeared to be correct.

The Well Room
Laura examines the former entrance to
the garderobes, now blocked, where she'd
previously discovered the handprint
The rest of us, after touring the Keep, spent some time re-examining some of the side rooms, where eventually, more by accident than design, I finally found myself alone in the Well Room. 

I spent some time taking photographs of the basement and especially chamber where Laura had originally picked up upon on the body of the young woman.  

I found that the long shafts leading up to the windows were spread fairly evenly on the north side of the basement, two either side of the chambers and the third situated between the chambers, separating them.

It would have been a simple matter for one of the men to push the girl's body through one of the windows and down the shaft to his partner in crime below. 

Waiting down in the Well room, it would have been a relatively quick and easy task to drag the body a couple of feet to the rear of the adjacent chamber, to where Laura had sensed it had finally been concealed. 

A close up of the shaft leading up to a
window in the Well Room 
Satisfied, I now turned my attention to the small matter of the doorway that Laura had picked up previously. I spent some time carefully examining the exterior walls of the Well Room, but to no avail. 

No matter how hard I studied the walls of the circular basement, there was absolutely no trace of any former doorway to the outside world. 

Once again disappointed, but not entirely surprised by the lack of supporting evidence for a former doorway, I made my way back up the stone steps to the Lower Hall, where I rejoined the others who had been waiting for me. 

Spotting Laura, I went straight over to her and confirmed that my search for any traces of a former doorway or tunnel had drawn a blank. 

Laura acknowledged what I'd told her, but stubbornly insisted that there had been a doorway or tunnel to the outside in the basement level - it wasn't the windows, it was definitely an opening.  

She explained once again that she had visualised it, open in front of her, letting the bright sunlight into the dark interior of the Keep. 

By now, we had all completed our exploration of the Castle, so we decided to take our leave and find a suitable place locally to eat. 

Making our way out of the building and down the steps from the Keep, Laura decided to have a look in the gift shop in the reception area, so the rest of us assembled on the grassed area at the foot of the stairs and waited for Laura to exit, which she soon did. 

Looking back at Laura as she descended the stairs, I suddenly spotted something...... 

A Discovery?
Directly beneath the stairs I noticed a course of brickwork distinctly different to the surrounding stonework. Approximately five feet from the ground was a short row of bricks, horizontal, in the shape of an archway.

The mysterious course of brickwork beneath the entrance to the
Keep - did they indicate another entrance to the building, now
erased from history?
Was it possible that we finally had our doorway? I pointed the brickwork out to the others, who all confirmed that I wasn't seeing things. I wasn’t going mad. Not yet anyway. 

I took some pictures of the course work for further study and then we all made our way back to our cars. 

It was lunchtime. 

Clearly our visit had given us more than one type of food for thought. 

Further research
Over the following weeks, we put our efforts into researching the physical aspect of the Keep - both its build and subsequent modifications to its structure over the course of history. 

Had there been a direct, exterior entrance to the basement of the Keep? If there had, when was it built and when and why had it been bricked up? 

Despite our extensive search, we could find absolutely nothing, it seemed that there was no mention of the doorway documented in the reference works that we had relating to the Castle. 

Disappointingly, our research had drawn a blank. 

Deciding to take a different tack, we examined what we had established from our research. 

What did we know?
The staircase to the Keep entrance today is relatively modern in the context of the location as a whole, with most scholars suggesting a Napoleonic date, 1799 to 1815.

It is thought that the original stairs followed a similar line to the same entrance we see today, albeit modified, but with a break between the staircase and doorway, where a drawbridge was installed to afford greater protection to the Keep’s inhabitants in times of danger (2).

If this was correct, this would mean that, as the possible doorway we found was directly below the entrance, that if it existed, it could have been concealed by the staircase and hidden from general view. 

Things were getting Interesting. 

Going with the possibility that the door had actually existed, where exactly was it in relation to the interior of the basement? 

As we've mentioned previously, the basement was and still is, split into two areas, the Well Room and the dungeon. 

The Well Room was on the opposite side of the Keep to where our possible door was, on the eastern side of the building, which explained why I couldn't find any trace of a doorway in that area, despite an extensive search. 

Looking at the general floor plans, the suggested doorway would appear to be linked to the dungeon area, but where to exactly? 

The position of the possible doorway, indicated by the 'X' in
the lower diagram
Pulling out our copy of Orford Castle (R. Allen Brown 1964), which helpfully included clear copies of the floor plan of the Keep and, comparing it with the photographs that we'd taken on site, we could see that the doorway would have been at the narrowest part of the basement walls, where the cistern to the dungeon was located - even more interesting. 

I have been privileged in the past to clamber down through the trapdoor and down the ladder to explore the dungeon area several years ago, but, unfortunately, I took no photographs and my memory of the Prison was sketchy as to the details. 

With only the plans to go by, we could see that the dungeon consisted of two parts - the main cell and a separate chamber for the toilet. This was where, in the 12th Century, in the early days of the Castle, the Wild Man of Orford was held, until he made good his escape after several months of captivity (3). Allegedly.

Looking at the floor plan to the basement more closely, I could see that on the opposite side of the wall to where we calculated the door was, there was an indentation shown on the plan. Was this another indication of the former doorway?

Only time will tell,

Summing up....
Unfortunately, despite spending a considerable time searching, we have not, to date, been able to locate any photographs of this area that would reveal any evidence for the doorway from an internal perspective, so, after exhausting our research, we can only summarise as follows: 

• Laura received information relating to the death of a young woman and the concealment of her body. 

• By visiting the Castle we were able to validate that Laura's information relating to this was plausible, dispute our initial scepticism that the layout of the Keep allowed the event to happen as she described. 

• Laura received information via visualisation that there was a doorway or tunnel directly to the outside from the basement level. 

• We have been unable to find any documented evidence of such a doorway ever existing. 

• A site visit revealed the possible traces of a doorway, located directly beneath the main entrance to the Keep. 

• When the Castle was fully operation 900 years ago, this doorway could have been concealed by the tower that was originally used to access the Keep. 

• The doorway would have been located at the thinnest part of the basement walls, which was only a couple of feet thick at this point 

Where are we now?
Needless to say, we cannot progress on this lead any further at this point. We have made enquiries to English Heritage, but sadly, to date, they remain silent on the matter. 

Whilst we are not proposing that we have found a former unrecorded entrance to the Keep, our research once again has not revealed anything that would enable us to dismiss what Laura has sensed psychically. 

If we are eventually able to establish that Laura is indeed correct, then the discovery of a former entrance would again be a remarkable discovery, following on from Laura's rediscovery of the hand print back in August 2015. 

For now, our research continues, with Laura continuing to pick up information related to the Castle. Information relating to people that we've found had lived, as well as events that had occurred in the Keep. Perhaps one day, once we have made sense of it all, we will write further about our research connected to Orford Castle, but it will be a very long article. 

To close this chapter, all we can do is ask you to read what we've written about our experiences and hope that you have found it a worthwhile read. 

We would welcome any correspondence relating to Orford Castle Keep, especially that relating to the build and structure of the Keep itself and look forward to learning more about this historic Castle. 

1. P.16 Orford Castle - R. Allen Brown, 1964
2. P.17 Orford Castle - R. Allen Brown, 1964
3. Chronicon Anglicanum - Ralph of Coggeshall, 1200

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