PEACEFUL greenery is all that remains of an impressive medieval castle which was steeped in rich history and even featured in the Domesday Book.

Rayleigh Castle stood proud on Rayleigh Mount for three centuries, as a traditional Norman “motte and bailey” castle. But all that was left of it after it was deserted has faded into the Essex countryside, becoming a haven for dogwalkers and family picnics.

It was founded around 1070 by Sweyn, son of Robert FitzWimarc, following the Norman Conquest. The location offered a commanding view of the Crouch Valley, offering Sweyn a suitably defensible position. He constructed a timber-framed building on top of the mount.

After he died around 1087, the castle passed to his son Robert, who assumed the grand surname “de Essex”. Incidentally, Robert founded Prittlewell Priory in 1110.

Echo: Artist's Impression of the Castle circa 1180Artist's Impression of the Castle circa 1180 (Image: Southend Museums)

Over the next century, the de Essex family name rose and fell with their association with Henry II, who was accused of fleeing the battlefield after his English army was crushed by a humiliatingly small Welsh force at the Battle of Ewloe in 1157.

As the town of Rayleigh continued to develop in the 13th and 14th centuries, the castle bailey was raised to the ground and residents were encouraged to quarry stone from its foundations.

Echo: Visitors exploring Rayleigh Mount last summer.Visitors exploring Rayleigh Mount last summer. (Image: Julie Gooding)

Now, all that is left is a haven for wildlife, which is owned and managed by the National Trust. It is situated next to the Mill Arts and Events Centre.

With thanks to Ross Dandridge, Southend Museums and Julie Gooding.