Oakham Castle

Built in the late 12th Century by Walchelin de Ferriers (de Ferrers) Oakham Castle is one of the best preserved Norman buildings in England. De Ferrers was from a farrier family of Normandy, whose ancestor Henry de Ferrers arrived in England in 1066. Prior to the Norman conquest, much of Oakham, including the land on which the castle stands, had been dowered to Edith of Wessex on her marriage to Edward the Confessor. Following his death without an heir and the deaths of her three brothers at Hastings, the land was lost to the Wessex family, and quite possibly fell into the domain of the new crown of William I. Time Team did a dig in 2012 on the site in an attempt to find earlier Saxon remains.

As most of this side of Rutland passed into the hands of Waltheof, the last Saxon Earl and husband to Judith, Countess of Huntingdon, niece of William, it is feasible that the castle grounds may well have been under their control also. As they have a connection with the nearby village of Whissendine, which provided later bailiffs for the county with the castle being the Court of Assizes from 1229, the idea is not entirely unreasonable. The tradition of a crown court being held in the castle continues to this day, held once every two years.

By 1180. De ferrers was awarded the land, being a close favourite of Richard I and accompanying him on several of his excursions. De ferrers built the Great Hall in around 1180 to 1190, which is all that remains of a larger network of buildings, although current renovation work has almost been completed, adding a new roof, removing an old boiler to be replaced with a toilet block, and clearing the remaining curtain wall of the bailey of overgrown trees and roots, where remnants of D-Shaped towers are clearly visible. A motte is still visible to one side of the hall, and the dig uncovered existence of further buildings including what was thought to be a high status stable block and the remains of sleeping quarters to one side of the Hall. An embankment remains around what was the outer bailey wall and the Castle was guarded by gate with drawbridge affixed iron chains.

Since the days of the de Ferrers as a sort of play on the origins of their name and career as farriers, it became the custom when visiting the castle for the first time for nobles to present a shoe from their Horse to the castle. As a result, there are over 230 horseshoes some dating back several hundred years. One of the most historic being from King Edward IV following his victory at the Battle of Empingham (Losecoat Field) which took place a few miles away. The most recent addition was from HRH the Duchess of Cornwall in 2014, her husband the Prince of Wales having made his own presentation some 11 years earlier. During the renovation work on the interior, all the horse-shoes have been carefully removed, photographed and restored before being replaced on the freshly re-plastered (traditionally of course) and re-painted wall.

The castle is situated off the Market Place in Oakham town centre, at the end of Castle Lane, which is flanked by a row of period cottages, opposite the old Post Office. The gates to the castle and bailey are similar to those outside the large mansion at nearby Burley on the Hill which overlooks the town. Once owned by the 1st Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers who was rumoured to be the lover of King James I and was assassinated by an army officer with a bee in his bonnet in 1628. It is felt that the gates were erected by Buckingham. They are Grade I listed as a scheduled monument in their own right, as is the Castle Hall.

On the Market Place is also the medieval Buttercross, stocks, well and the Tudor buildings and Chapel of Oakham School. Also on the market place which dates back to the medieval period, is a 17th Century coaching inn, and on the top side, a lane leads to the 13th/14th Century All Saints parish church. Another lane leads to the outer bailey, Cutts Close, which incorporates the local park.

Following its refurbishment, with thanks to a Heritage Grant from the National Lottery, Oakham Castle will be staging a grand re-opening on May 30th, 2016 complete with Norman era medieval-centric entertainment, and activities, including tours of the building, falconry, weaving, Norman coin-striking and archery. Knights on horseback will be riding the streets, and there will be a return to the High Sheriff’s Hue and Cry traditions of prisoner apprehension assisted by the public. This will be the first step of a range of activities set to be staged at the Castle throughout the Summer. I’ll be there, please join me if you can.



Baynard’s Castle

Many years ago on the North Bank of the Thames opposite the place that is now occupied by Tate Modern there once stood a Norman structure named Baynard’s Castle. It was named after Ralph Baynard who came to England in the company of William the Conqueror. In 1213 the castle was demolished by King John, it was rebuilt but around about 1276 was demolished again in order to make room for the extension of The Blackfriars Monastery. A fortified mansion was built on reclaimed land so […]

5419127Many years ago on the North Bank of the Thames opposite the place that is now occupied by Tate Modern there once stood a Norman structure named Baynard’s Castle. It was named after Ralph Baynard who came to England in the company of William the Conqueror. In 1213 the castle was demolished by King John, it was rebuilt but around about 1276 was demolished again in order to make room for the extension of The Blackfriars Monastery. A fortified mansion was built on reclaimed land southeast of the first castle and is first referenced in 1338 as ‘Chastle Baynard’ the tower on the Thames but after a serious fire in 1428 raised it to the ground it was rebuilt again.

The new owner of the castle and land was Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, the youngest child of Henry IV and brother of Henry V. When Henry V died in 1447 it was passed to Henry VI who in turn granted it to Richard Duke of York. This important building soon became the London HQ of ‘The House of York’ and was pivotal in the ‘Wars of the Roses’, indeed in 1452 Richard was placed here under house arrest after being disarmed and swearing allegiance to the King. It was at this point it was historically named Baynard’s castle after its original predecessor.

3538120In 1483 it is mentioned as the place that Richard Duke of Gloucester was presented with a petition for him to become King. According to Shakespeare it was Buckingham who proclaimed him King with the words ‘I salute you with this royal title; Long live King Richard, England’s worthy King’.
After the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 it was passed to Henry VII who then transformed it into a royal palace. It was gifted to Catherine of Aragon on the eve of her wedding to Henry VIII. Sadly it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London although some parts still remained up till the 19th century.

In 1972 the site was excavated before a new dual carriageway was built. When the archaeologists left, works continued and it is now, sadly, completely covered from view.


The Tower of London

Aerial view of Tower of London
Aerial view of Tower of London

The Norman conquest of England in 1066 changed the face of England forever. The victorious invader William of Normandy would go on to become known as “The Conqueror”, to cement his power over the people of England, and to bring the people of London, the country’s most important city, to heel, he began to build fortresses up and down the country. The most famous of all of these is The Tower of London.

The great fortress had rather humble beginnings. Archaeological evidence suggests there was a timber Motte and Bailey castle built in the south-east corner of the Roman city walls, one of a number built by William after his coronation as part of his masterplan to ensure control of the city. This stronghold would eventually be replaced with a stone tower, named The White Tower. Construction of this tower was begun in 1078. William had entrusted the job of overseeing the building to the new Bishop of Rochester, Gundulf. Some of the stone used was imported from Normandy, and Norman masons were employed, labour was provided by Englishmen. William wanted this fortress to stamp his authority on the city, and it certainly did the job. The White Tower was completed in 1097, standing at approximately 118 feet tall and 90ft wide, nothing had ever been seen like this in England before, and its presence dominated the skyline for miles around. Sadly William died ten years before it was completed.

Although later used as a royal residence, the Tower was never intended for such purpose. This was a military stronghold to house men, provisions and horses, and as a retreat for the royal family in times of civil unrest. Protected by Roman walls on two sides and 25ft wide, 11ft deep ditches on the west and north sides, it was never designed as a first line of defence against invasion but it could certainly put up one hell of a fight if an invading army should attempt to come up the River Thames.

Later monarchs realised the potential as a military powerbase and updated and expanded the fortress, adding successive lines of fortification. These updates began under the reign of Richard I, The Lionheart, who almost immediately left England on crusade after his coronation, leaving his chancellor William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely in charge of the Tower. By 1191 Longchamp had doubled the fortress in size, by adding new defences, just in time for the Tower’s first test as a defensive fortress. In King Richard I’s absence his brother John, besieged the Tower in an attempt to overthrow the powerful Longchamp, the Tower’s defences held out, but lack of provisions left the Bishop no choice but surrender after just 3 days. When the same John became King in 1199, he frequently stayed at the Tower, and was probably the first person to keep lions and other animals housed within the Tower’s walls. It would continue to serve as a royal menagerie until 1834 when the animals housed there were transferred to create London Zoo. In 1210 King John ordered a moat to be dug around the outside of the city of London wall, this moat was successfully flooded with water from the Thames but not until 1236, under the reign of King Henry III, who also ordered ten new towers , gateways and drawbridges to further fortify the Tower.

Late 15th-century image - the earliest surviving non-schematic picture of the Tower of London.
Late 15th-century image – the earliest surviving non-schematic picture of the Tower of London.

Nowadays The Tower of London is mostly associated with being a prison and place of execution, although that was never its original purpose. The first state prisoner recorded as being housed in the Tower was Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, imprisoned in August 1100 by King Henry I on charges of embezzlement, Flambard would also go on to become the first prisoner to successfully escape from the Tower! Another daring escapee Prince Gruffydd, who was imprisoned between 1241 and 1244, fell to his death during his attempt.

Under the reign of King Edward I the Crown Jewels were moved from their previous home at Westminster Abbey, to the confines of the Tower, which still serves as a treasury to this day. A Royal Mint was also established, and would not leave until 1812. A Royal residence was added by King Henry VII in the late 15th century, and further buildings added by his son Henry VIII, although no longer visible today. By the 1700’s the Monarchy no longer used the Tower as state apartments. In 1653 in the wake of the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England and installed the first permanent garrison, and after the restoration of the monarchy the Tower became the headquarters of the Office of Ordnance, providing military supplies and equipment until 1855. The majority of building works by this point were maintenance of the existing towers and defences, although a new gateway and drawbridge were added in 1774 to give access to the wharf from the Outer Ward.

In 1845 the moat was drained under the orders of the Duke of Wellington, and on the 14th of June that year work was begun on the Waterloo Barracks. During the Second World War there was considerable bomb damage and a number of buildings inside the Tower of London were destroyed, including the 19th century North Bastion, which took a direct hit.

An engraving of the Tower of London in 1737 by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck
An engraving of the Tower of London in 1737 by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck

The expansion and fortification of the Tower has led to the large castle complex we see today. There are 21 different towers, including The White Tower, The Bloody Tower, Beauchamp Tower, Bell Tower, Bowyer Tower, Brick Tower, Broad Arrow Tower, Byward Tower, Constable Tower, Cradle Tower, Develin Tower, Deveraux Tower, Flint Tower, Lanthorn Tower, Martin Tower, Middle Tower, St Thomas’s Tower, Salt Tower, Wakefield Tower, Wardrobe Tower and the Well Tower. The structure also contains two chapels, The Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula, which houses the remains of some of the Tower’s famous prisoners, including two wives of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and The Chapel of St John the Evangelist, inside The White Tower.

Today the Tower of London is a successful tourist attraction. It is easy to see why with such a broad and interesting history. It is cared for by Historic Royal Palaces and is a World Heritage Site. The person in charge of England’s principal fortress is the Constable of the Tower, the first person to hold this honour, Geoffrey De Mandeville, was appointed by William the Conqueror in around 1068. The Constable of the Tower as of 2009 is General Richard Dannatt, estimated to be the 159th constable.