The Story of the Medieval Town of Arundel

Towns and cities were often sited on rivers. Besides providing fresh water for drinking and irrigation, rivers provided a convenient means of transport and created natural boundaries and defenses.

Britain has many examples of beautiful towns and cities built around rivers. Some even have their own medieval castles.

In the 2nd century AD, the great Hellenistic writer Ptolemy described a river that ran through the steep vale of the South Downs of Provincia Britannia (Roman Britain) as Trisantonis, from an ancient Celtic language meaning “the trespasser”.

He was alluding to the river’s propensity to flood its lower reaches close to the sea. But in its upper reaches, it flowed quickly, and smoothly, and locals called it Arno meaning “run”.

And so it is believed that the town of Arundel means “dell of the flowing river”.

Arundel Castle and Town in 1644
Arundel Castle and Town in 1644

Arundel is home to the Dukedom of Norfolk—the premier Dukedom in the peerage of England. As such, the Duke is also the Earl of Arundel, the premier Earl. As if that wasn’t enough greatness for a single peer, he is also the hereditary Marshal of England—the Earl Marshal, a chivalric title under the sovereign of the United Kingdom.

Arundel Castle. Credit MrsEllacott
Arundel Castle. Credit MrsEllacott

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle is the Duke of Norfolk’s home. Although the title refers to the county of Norfolk, Arundel is in West Sussex.

Arundel Castle aerial view. Credit Miles Sabin
Arundel Castle aerial view. Credit Miles Sabin

As the first Norman King of England, following the successful invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror set about dividing up the country among his Norman magnates.

Roger de Montgomery, a cousin and top lieutenant of King William, was declared first Earl of Arundel and established Arundel Castle, high on a hill, on Christmas Day of 1067.

And so began nearly 1000 years of history, with Arundel Castle handed down through successive generations of noble families, and sometimes reverting back to the crown.

The current owners are the Fitzalan-Howard family, 18th generation of the Dukedom of Norfolk—and they actually live at the castle.

The courtyard of Arundel Castle, West Sussex, England. Credit Mark Tollerman
The courtyard of Arundel Castle, West Sussex, England. Credit Mark Tollerman
Arundel Castle on a sunny October day. Credit Gregg M. Erickson
Arundel Castle on a sunny October day. Credit Gregg M. Erickson
Arundel Castle. Credit Ilya Schurov
Arundel Castle. Credit Ilya Schurov
Baron's Hall, Arundel Castle. Credit Loz Pycock
Baron’s Hall, Arundel Castle. Credit Loz Pycock

Fitzalan Chapel

14th-century St Nicholas Church sits on the western grounds of Arundel Castle and is one of only a few churches that is divided into areas of Catholic and Anglican worship.

St Nicholas Church, Arundel. Credit JohnArmagh
St Nicholas Church, Arundel. Credit JohnArmagh

Its Catholic chapel is a private mausoleum of the Dukes of Norfolk and their families.

Fitzalan Chapel and White Garden. Credit The Land
Fitzalan Chapel and White Garden. Credit The Land
Ftizalan Chapel. Credit Jim, flickr
Ftizalan Chapel. Credit Jim, flickr

For nobles of high birth, it was common practice to place a recumbent effigy on top of their tomb.

A husband and wife were often depicted together, side by side in a state of eternal repose, awaiting resurrection.

Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle. Credit The Land
Effigies in Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle. Credit The Land

There was also a period when cadaver tombs displayed the life-sized effigy of the person, as they were just before death, above a rotting cadaver in the macabre state of decomposition.

Tomb and effigy of John FitzAlan, 14th Earl of Arundel (died 1435), in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel. Credit Lampman
Tomb and effigy of John FitzAlan, 14th Earl of Arundel (died 1435), in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel. Credit Lampman

Arundel Cathedral

Suppressed from worship in 1664, the Roman Catholic Dukes of Norfolk could no longer attend a religious service in a Catholic church or cathedral until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829.

In 1868, the Duke of Norfolk commissioned a new Roman Catholic sanctuary in celebration of the 1850 restoration of Catholic hierarchy in England.

Complementing Arundel Castle’s medieval architecture, he chose the French Gothic style, which was popular between 1300 and 1400 at a time when the Dukes of Norfolk rose to prominence in England.

Arundel Cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of French Gothic Revival architecture in the country.

Arundel Cathedral seen from Arundel Castle gardens. Credit The Land
Arundel Cathedral seen from Arundel Castle gardens. Credit The Land
The nave of Arundel Cathedral looking west, in West Sussex, England. Credit David Iliff
The nave of Arundel Cathedral looking west, in West Sussex, England. Credit David Iliff
Arundel Cathedral Sanctuary. Credit David Iliff
Arundel Cathedral Sanctuary. Credit David Iliff

Arundel Town and Environs

Arundel’s pretty High Street rises up the hill towards the castle, it’s side walks lined with traditional shops and restaurants. There’s an old-fashioned butcher, a greengrocer, a second-hand bookstore, and even a shop specializing in walking sticks.

High Street, Arundel. Credit John Turner
High Street, Arundel. Credit John Turner
Top left clockwise: The Moathouse Cafe (credit grassrootsgrounds); The Tea and Biscuit Club; Shopping Arcade, Tarrant Street (credit Roger Kidd); Kim's Bookshop (credit Basher Eyre)
Top left clockwise: The Moathouse Cafe (credit grassrootsgrounds); The Tea and Biscuit Club; Shopping Arcade, Tarrant Street (credit Roger Kidd); Kim’s Bookshop (credit Basher Eyre)

There’s nothing quite like enjoying your favorite beverage in a pub with centuries of history. Arundel has more than its fair share.

The Duke of Norfolk built the Norfolk Arms in 1785. Fashionable visitors from Brighton stayed there and by the early 1800s, it was the chief coaching inn of the town. The room over the entrance archway could accommodate 150 people for dinner.

The Swan Hotel is recorded as far back as 1759 and was a favorite for carriers. Both it and the Red Lion—possibly built as early as 1658—catered to the new pastime of cycling in the late 19th century. St. Mary’s Gate Inn dates from the early 1800s and had its own bowling green at that time.

From top left clockwise. Norfolk Arms, The Swan Hotel, St Mary's Gate Inn, The Red Lion
From top left clockwise. Norfolk Arms, The Swan Hotel, St Mary’s Gate Inn, The Red Lion

Passing through Arundel is a long-distance footpath that approximates the route taken by King Charles II when he was on the run after being defeated at the Battle of Worcester by Oliver Cromwell’s “New Model Army“.

Top right clockwise. Monarch's Way. (Credit Peter Holmes); Mill Road lined with lime trees on both sides (Credit Nigel Cox); Houses at Crossbush (Credit Chris Shaw); Row boats out on Swanbourne Lake (Credit Shaun Ferguson).jpg
Top right clockwise: Monarch’s Way. (Credit Peter Holmes); Mill Road lined with lime trees on both sides (Credit Nigel Cox); Houses at Crossbush (Credit Chris Shaw); Row boats out on Swanbourne Lake (Credit Shaun Ferguson).jpg

Arundel in Art

Arundel, Early Morning by Alfred East
Arundel, Early Morning by Alfred East
Arundel, West Sussex, at Sunset by George Vicat Cole - 1872
Arundel, West Sussex, at Sunset by George Vicat Cole – 1872
Arundel Castle, with Rainbow by Joseph Mallord William Turner - 1824
Arundel Castle, with Rainbow by Joseph Mallord William Turner – 1824
Arundel Mill and Castle by John Constable
Arundel Mill and Castle by John Constable

For further information, see the history of Arundel Castle.