A Fun Day Out at Warwick Castle – Part 1

warwick-castle-the-east-front-by-canaletto-in-1752
East Front from the Outer Court, 1752. Painted by Canaletto (1697-1768). Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Originally uploaded by Gillian Tipson at English Wikipedia. Public Domain.

I last visited Warwick Castle on a family day out in August, 2015, and have been meaning to write a post about it since then. Well, here’s the first part (it would be far too long as a single post and is likely to end up being three!). Louise – aka @afairymind – shared some of her photos from the day on her blog, ages ago. I’m just late with mine, as usual.

Warwick (pronounced Warrick) is one of the most famous and well-visited castles in England. It is also one of the most complete medieval fortresses in Britain. I’ve visited the castle several times, some of those with classes of Year 7 students aiming to decide how they’d attack and defend this great structure – and the weapons they’d choose to do it. But, I digress… so back to describing the place.

Warwick Castle is situated on a sandstone cliff along a bend in the River Avon in the town of Warwick, in Warwickshire:location-of-warwick-castle

The history of the castle site goes back to the time of King Alfred’s daughter, Aethellflaed /Ethelfleda who established a fortified burh* here – one of ten aimed at defending Mercia from invading Danes. But the actual castle came into existence following the Norman Conquest of 1066. In 1068, William the Conqueror ordered a motte-and-bailey castle* to be built on the site in order to maintain control of the Midlands as he advanced northwards. It can be seen on the plan below, labelled as the Castle Mound, and I’ll add a photo of it later, with other views from the Courtyard.

warwick-castle-plan

Here are a few photos of the castle from the outside, which you’ll probably be able to place on the map. (Photos of the mound are from the courtyard, and are show later).

A word about the Gatehouse and Barbican…

The entrance to a castle was usually the main target for attacking forces, so it stands to reason that this should be as heavily fortified as possible. At Warwick, the barbican* (definition below and shown on the above plan) was the ‘Killing Zone’. If attackers managed to get through the outer gateway – a drawbridge in earlier days, plus the portcullis, they would have to face an iron portcullis and a heavy door at the inner end as well. Once trapped in there, usually by the crush of their own men piling in from behind, defending soldiers would fire arrows and pour boiling liquids down on them through the ‘murder holes’ above. This is a photo taken inside the barbican, looking out through the outer portcullis. It’s from Louise’s collection (thestorytellersabode) from our day out. My photos were far too glary, so Lou kindly offered me hers.

view-through-gatehouse

Following Norman times, the castle has a long history of ownership, rebuilding and extension. Although it’s interesting, I don’t intend to go into it all here! In this post (Part 1) I want to show some photos of the castle itself. The main displays to be seen in the State Rooms, and the events on that day, will be in Parts 2 and 3.

Here are a few views of inside the castle taken from the Courtyard:

And here are some of Guy’s Tower – a twelve sided, 39m high, five-storey structure built into the curtain walls in 1395 (Caesar’s Tower, the first to be added to the walls, was built in 1350).The tower contains a sitting room and two side rooms – a garderobe (toilet) and probably a bedroom. During the Civil War, Warwick Castle was held by parliamentarians and the towers were used to house royalist prisoners. The exhibits in Guy’s Tower are mostly armaments connected to this period:

To finish off, here are few views taken up in the towers or along the battlements. Some are of the town of Warwick beyond, others are views of the inner courtyard and buildings around it.

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  • Burh An Old English fortified settlement
  • A motte-and-bailey castle consists of a mound – on which usually stands a keep or tower – and a bailey, which is an enclosed courtyard.
  • “A barbican is a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence to a city or castle, or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defensive purposes.” Definition from Wikipedia.

The Surrender of Newark!

May 8th 2016 marks four hundred and fifty years since the Royalist forces holding the town of Newark-on-Trent during the English Civil War surrendered to Parliament. This was done on the orders of King Charles 1, who had already surrendered himself to Parliament at the town of Southwell, eight miles away. Members of the Sealed Knot re-enactment group gathered last Sunday (May 8th) to commemorate the events of the official ceremony of surrender. And we hopped along to have a look.

First we headed for the castle grounds to watch the groups gathering before they marched to the Market Place for the actual surrender ceremony. A few tents had been set up and accompanying wives and children, also in costume, added interest to the scene. The soldiers in blue are the Scots, who had fought for Parliament. The royalists are in red, some of the more high-ranking ones dressed as cavaliers with red sashes and big black hats with plumes. One or two Puritan ministers were also present (in black, with white collars):

This is the march to the Market Place to the sound of accompanying drum beat:

Civil War broke out in 1642, for many reasons that I won’t go into here, other than to say that the causes can (very generally) be said to fall into three categories: politics, religion and money. King Charles and Parliament simply could not agree on so many issues. Like all civil wars, it split the country in two as people sided with either King or Parliament. Sometimes, members of the same family were on different sides: a tragic state of affairs.

Newark was staunchly Royalist from the beginning, besieged three times until it surrendered, reluctantly, in May 1646, on Charles’ orders. The town had been surrounded by enemy sconces (forts) and totally battered. Scars from cannon fire can still be seen on the castle wall facing the river, and the church in the town centre displays a hole beneath one of the windows in the spire where a cannon ball struck:

056 Newark Church Cannonball hole.2 +

So, by 1646, the town’s food supplies had been cut off for some time; people were nearing starvation and suffering from plague. War debts and damage to the surrounding grazing and farmland would impoverish it for generations. Yet still, surrender was only accepted under protest by the town’s garrison, the loyal Royalists prepared to hold out to the bitter end.

Newark played a vital role during the English Civil War. Not only was it was situated at the intersection of two major roads (the Great North Road and the Fosse Way) it was also sited at the last crossing point of the River Trent before it became tidal. Additionally, Newark’s central location, near to Parliamentary areas in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, made it particularly desirable to Parliamentary generals.

The Royalists held it  and the Parliamentarians wanted it! And in the end, Oliver Cromwell’s well-disciplined and organised ‘New Model Army’ won out over the less well organised, less well paid and less well fed Royalist troops. The execution by beheading of Charles 1 in 1649, is one of the most well known events of English history.

And finally, here are some photos of the ceremony. Unfortunately, as we were ‘roped off’ it was difficult to get close. The then Governor of Newark, Sir John Henderson (a Scottish military figure who was thought to add ‘clout’ to the Royalist cause) plays the major role. Several speeches were made.

Then it was back to the castle for the stalls and displays of musket fire in the afternoon. As we’d watched the Sealed Knot do this last September (which I posted about) we gave it a miss on this occasion.

The Sealed Knot At The Village Show

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Last Sunday, September 6th, we drove eight miles out to the village of Sutton-on-Trent, where the locals were putting on their village festival.  But this was a village show with a difference, because it was visited by a regiment of the Sealed Knot.

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The Sealed Knot is the oldest re-enactment society in the UK and the single biggest re-enactment society in Europe. It aims to honour those who died in the many battles of the English Civil War (1642-49) and to educate people about those battles and the life of people during that period. Events are staged throughout the country all year. The name, The Sealed Knot, comes from that of a secret association that aimed to have the monarchy restored during the Interregnum/Commonwealth – the period between 1653 and 1659, when the country was governed by a Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. The present society, however, has no political affiliation.

Their events vary in size: a major battle lasts for two or three days, and can see thousands of combatants taking to the field. On this occasion The Sealed Knot did not come to stage a battle. It was a fairly small group, visiting only to demonstrate a few weapon skills and battle formations. They did have their 17th century muskets and pikes, but no cannons this time. Some photos later…

The show was held on Saturday and Sunday and both days were well attended. A variety of stalls and exhibits were arranged around the outer edge of a village field, including local produce, farm machinery and vintage cars and motor cycles. There were also several refreshment stalls.

In the central area, known as ‘The Hollow’ (because it’s a step down from the outer edge) displays were put on at various intervals by The Sealed Knot, Dako’s Flying Angels (a group of gymnastic lads) and the Whitwell Brass Band. There was also someone doing keep-fit with younger children and others hosting a doughnut eating competition. On Saturday, there had been a dog show. The threshing machine, standing right at back of the field was also demonstrated:

In another corner of the L-shaped field, was the small encampment of The Sealed Knot:

The Sealed Knot displayed their skills twice during the day. Here are a few photos:

And to finish with, here are a few photos of the many vintage cars and motorbikes exhibited:

All in all we had a really fun and interesting time. It was sunny and warm, and the ice creams we had really made my day!