Conquests and Castles
First published: November 2011
Author: Dave Cook, Priories Historical Society
In 1066 the death of Edward the Confessor, an English King and the subsequent invasions by two foreign contenders transformed the English landscape and the way we lived forever. The Norwegians led by King Harald III and Tostig invaded Yorkshire during September and were defeated after the battles at Fulford and Stamford Bridge. In October the joint Norman and French army led by William, Duke of Normandy, invaded and a great battle was fought at Senlac Hill, the Saxon army was defeated and on Christmas Day William was declared king. The Saxon landowners were mostly removed either through their death during battle, fleeing abroad or having their land seized. The Normans split the land up between them and Nottinghamshire was nearly wholly given to Roger de Busli, with 86 manors held throughout the county.
After the invasion several rebellions occurred. Edwin and Morcar’s Mercian rebellion in 1068 showed the native population were ready for a fight. The response was to build castles throughout the landscape as defensive and oppressive structures carefully placed to control roads and rivers. They also protected the relatively small army from guerrilla tactics and attack.
Early Castles Worksop Castle dates sometime around the 11th century and was built either for Roger de Busli or William de Lovetot although the town may have already had a defensive structure, its Saxon place name indicates a fortification in a waterlogged area (Werk and Sop). This would fit perfectly with the location of Castle Hill sitting on a natural escarpment overlooking the river Ryton. Time however has not been kind on the Castle, the historian and poet John Leland wrote “At Worksop on the covered Castle Hill the Lovetaftes had a castle, cleane downe and scant knowen wher it was. The stones of the Castel were fetchid, as sum say, to make the fair lodge in Wyrkesoppe Parke, not yet finished” whether this meant the present Manor Lodge or another building is unclear. The northern embankment to the castle was quarried for limestone until the 1920’s and
the Ryton was redirected to allow Newcastle Avenue to be created.
On Gaddick Hill in Egmanton stands another well preserved Motte and bailey castle built for Roger de Busli. The castle was redundant by the end of the 14th century but the bailey is still traceable by present field boundaries.
A civil war fought between Edward I’s cousin Stephen and his chosen successor Matilda between 1135 and 1154. Many castles were built without licence to control roads, rivers and subdue the population. The closest known battles were the siege and firing of Nottingham in 1140 and the ‘Joust of Lincoln’ in February 1141. Most of these sites were abandoned by the 1170’s although records show a small number still in use in the early 13th century. In 1154 the Treaty of Wallingford was signed giving Matilda’s son, the future Henry II rights to the crown when Stephen died thus beginning the Plantagenet dynasty.
We can find one of these adulterine castles in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church, Cuckney, constructed by the forces of Thomas de Cuckney. During foundation stabilising to the church during the 1950’s over two hundred bodies were exhumed from four pits in a north to south alignment. Were these moved here during the building of the castle or did they date to earlier times? The bodies definitely predate the church (built c.1200) and it has been suggested they were the remains of the armies from the Battle of Hatfield or a skirmish during these times. Another example is Lowdham, excavated between 1936 and 1941 revealing a 4 feet thick stone keep, filled in ditches with medieval pottery dating to around 1400, pottery, roof tiles, 14th century keys and bones. Unfortunately the Second
World War prevented further work and the notes were never written up so the details of these excavations are scant.
Other Castles and Fortifications
Bothamsall castle sits north of the river Meden and west of the present village. The lands around this area were owned by William the Conqueror and the castle may therefore have early origins as a ringwork castle with a bailey although no structures have been identified. It has also been suggested as an illegally built castle. The motte is the highest in Nottinghamshire being 4.8 metres tall. The 22 metre diameter ditch which surrounding the motte was recently measured at 5 metres wide and 2 metres deep suggesting it was much deeper when first dug out. Damage done to the site includes a road over the motte, gravel quarrying and road defence trenches dug by the Home Guard.
For proof that not all castles are built on the tops of hills we now look at Kingshaugh. First mentioned in piperolls as a hunting lodge and later had a fortified manor house and chapel built for Earl John around 1193. Finds from Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman times also indicates an earlier use which could explain its unusual positioning in the landscape. The fortifications were pulled down but some remain incorporated into Kingshaugh House built in 1630.
Sadly not all castles have survived to the present day, Castle Hill or Little Gringley Castle at Grove was quarried away during the 20th century. Work carried out in 1933 did find wooden foundations and medieval finds. Earlier 18th century excavations also produced Roman items, amongst which two altars were found. There were also fortified manor houses at Rayton (near Worksop) and Hayton which are now nothing but vague earthworks in fields.
Despite their short period of use these Norman fortifications still haunt our history and folklore; where would Robin Hood, King Arthur and Ivanhoe be without their castles? Despite the lack of knowledge and documentation giving clues to when they were first constructed archaeological investigation has pieced together tantalising evidence to give us a fuller picture. Several of these sites are open to the public, Worksop is a small landscaped park, Cuckney is within the open graveyard of the church, Laxton has an annual Heritage day and Kingshaugh is open if permission is sought from the landowners to arrange a guided tour.