Mount Fitchet

Created on 4/8/2008

Mountfitchet Castle is, perhaps, an oxymoron. There is no castle at Mountfitchet. There used to be a castle, and there are some very limited remains, but paraphrasing William Shakespeare, I did not come to bury Montfitchet, but to praise it.

Mountfitchet Castle is a national Historic Monument, protected by the Department of the Environment. It is in the South East of England, very close to Stanstead airport in the county of Essex. It is set in a picturesque valley near to a very old village within a short few miles of the M11 motorway.

Mountfitchet is an early Iron Age fort and Roman, Saxon and Viking settlement and a wide selection of artifacts found on the site from these periods support this belief. The site contains a wonderfully evocative recreation of what it would have been like to live in the Norman period of English history. What we particularly enjoyed was the “hands on” feel of the place. Kids loved its inter activity.

Castle Shield In 1066 the Normans and Robert Gernon, the Duke of Boulogne attacked the site, built his castle here, making it his chief seat and the head of his Barony. There is some evidence that Robert Gernon was a close relative of William the Conqueror.

Robert Gernon (or Robert Greno as he is referred to in the Domesday Book) came over from France with William the Conqueror, and was rewarded with this Lordship and several others in the County.

As soon as he became of age (the exact date is unknown), Richard de Montfitchet II joined the Baron’s opposition to the King.

His motives and the order of events are both obscure. The opposition to King John had begun with a number of North Country Barons who "then made common cause with a group of magnates, drawn together by family ties or by private or public grievances, whose sphere of influence was chiefly centered in Essex".

When the Barons gained their seeming victory at Runnymede in 1215, Richard de Montfitchet II, in spite of his youth, was one of twenty-five Barons chosen to enforce the observance of Magna Carta. Henry Laver in his article on "The Castle at Stanstead Mountfitchet" describes Richard de Montfitchet II as "the youngest, yet one of the three bravest Knights in England".

John was swift to react when it was in his power to do so. Two of the rebel leaders, Eustace and Fitzwalter, were in 1212 found guilty of treasonable designs and outlawed. John followed this up by destroying as many of his opponents' castles as he could and Mountfitchet Castle seems to be one of these.

After the attack on the Castle around 1215 by King John, the stones were taken by the villagers to build their houses and the castle site lay overgrown and forgotten for over 700 years until its re-construction today.

The toy museum is the largest privately owned toy museum in Europe with over 80,000 individual items of mixed antiquity on display, housed within an area of 7,000 sq ft. The artifacts range from the late Victorian era right through to the 1990's, and are based on the collection of one man who started in 1946 by buying a Hornby train set with his pocket money.

Over years, a huge range of toys, games and books have been bought from all corners of the world, that enable the visitor to see toys that would probably have otherwise been lost to the public.

There is also a display of variable quality of film, theatre and rock 'n' roll memorabilia and a large collection of vintage slot machines, which brings nostalgic joy to every adult and thrills every child.

The only direct way we have of learning about dinosaurs is by studying fossils. The study of the prehistoric world provides the individual with a lifelong interest that is as variable as it is dramatic in length of time from the initial building blocks of life, to the birth of insects, plants, dinosaurs and even mankind - the science of Paleontology.

Fossils inspire people to study prehistoric life in the context of former, sometimes unimagined environments and appreciate how global events have shaped the modern world.

The House on the Hill Toy Museum first opened its doors in 1991 and was created to provide a nostalgic and evocative encounter with toys that people of all ages enjoyed during their formative years.

Our family conducted it’s own straw poll about the entire Mountfitchet experience and it scored 10 out of 10 with the kids and 9 from one adult. The grandparents, otherwise known as the ancestors or relics in the family, both scored it at a 7. The reasons for this slightly lower but still good score were that the castle has a clear needed for far better catering and shopping.

A themed playground of the era, containing contemporaneous children’s games, would have also been a big plus which youngsters would have loved. It would have also been great to include some guides dressed in period costume. Also, if the budget could be stretched to it, some of the models should be better constructed and made to move. For a relatively low price the facility could have a small film show which describe the history.

Initially we hadn’t been sure what the connection was between a castle, dinosaurs and a toy museum but within a short while it becomes obvious. The link is that people, mainly kids, will find pleasure in it all. There is a child like enthusiasm behind everything at Mountfitchet that the founder of the place as a tourist attraction wants to share.

This is one of England’s truly idiosyncratic tourist attractions. In this case that’s a plus. If you are in the general vicinity between mid March and mid November and have half a day to do something different for you and the kids I highly recommend it.