A Visit to Conisbrough Castle

As with many of my recent posts about interesting places we’ve visited, our trip to Conisbrough was last year. It was my second visit to the site, the previous one being in 1969, when the castle wasn’t managed the way it is today. Being a local-born lad, my husband had been many times as a child and teen in the 50s and early 60s, but was happy to go and see what changes had been made now that it was managed by English Heritage.

English Heritage flag atop the keep 3

Conisbrough Castle is located on the north-eastern edge of the town of Conisbrough in South Yorkshire, UK. It is  approximately 6 miles south-west of Doncaster and 7 miles north-east of Rotherham:

Location of Conisbrough Castle in South Yorkshire
Base map of South Yorkshire, UK from Wikipedia. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData. Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons

The name Conisbrough comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Cyningesburh, which means ‘the king’s borough’. Although Conisbrough was already an important town before 1066, little is known about the actual site of the castle before that time. In 1066 the ‘Honour’ (or Lordship) of Conisbrough was given to William Warenne, a trusted supporter of William 1 – also known as William the Conqueror.  Warenne acquired land over thirteen counties  and became known as the Earl of Surrey.

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Coat of arms of the Warenne Earls of Surrey. Author: Madboy 74  Creative Commons

It was probably Warenne who built the first fortress at Conisbrough, which is thought to have comprised an earthwork enclosure with a wooden palisade along the top, with timber buildings inside. There could also have been an outer bailey. It occupied a strategic position on a large knoll (hill) along a ridge of magnesian limestone.

On the death of the third earl in 1147, having no sons as heirs, the castle passed to his daughter, Isabel de Warenne, William Warenne’s great granddaughter. The stone castle, the ruins of which we see today, was built by her husband, Hamelin Plantagenet, the legitimate half-brother of Henry II.

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Aerial view of Conisbrough Castle in 2007 geograh.org.uk  Author :Richard Bird Creative Commons

The stone castle consisted of an outer and inner bailey.

The outer bailey would have protected the inner bailey and contained structures needed for the management of the castle and the supply of those living there. Domestic buildings included quarters for servants, maids and farmworkers, workshops, stables and and other livestock stalls, and storage areas like barns and sheds. The barbican shown on the diagram below (which is from an information board at the site) wasn’t added until the middle of the 13th century:

Bird's eye view of the 15th century castle+

The inner bailey would have contained a number of domestic buildings behind a stone curtain wall. At Conisbrough these included:  A: solar block B: great hall C: kitchens and pantry D: keep and stairs  E: barbican and gatehouse F: chapel – as shown on the diagram below:

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The inner bailey at Conisbrough Castle, early 13th century.  Author:User.Hchsc2009. Creative Commons

Today, only the foundations of these buildings can be seen.

The inner bailey with its magnificent great tower/keep is reached by crossing the outer bailey from the visitor centre to what remains of the barbican (a fortified entrance) and gatehouse through the inner curtain wall.

Approaching the barbican through the outer bailey

Built around 1210, the inner curtain wall would have provided effective defence against attackers, especially once the barbican was constructed. The wall would originally have been topped with battlements, from which lookouts and archers ensured that no attackers sneaked up unseen. Five small, solid towers were positioned on the wall’s exterior on the east, south and western sides. To the north the steep drop provided ample defence. The wall itself was not as well built as the keep, consisting of roughly dressed coarse stone with a rubble core.

The outside of the inner bailey wall

These are a few photos of the inner bailey, showing more of the crumbling curtain wall and the remnants of some of the buildings listed above:

The great tower was  built of high-quality, local magnesian limestone and is one of the best examples of an ashar-faced structure in the UK. (Ashar facing means sawed or dressed square stone used in facing masonry walls.) The tower is over 78 feet high with a circular core and flanked by six wedge-shaped buttresses of 90 feet in height that extend beyond the rooftop.

Conisbrough Keep 1
Inside the tower are five levels (the rooftop being the fifth). This rather unclear photo of a diagram at the castle may give some idea of that:

Plan of keep +

The lowest level is the ground floor or basement, with a well used to bring water into the rest of the building. The basement has no windows or doors and is accessed only via a ladder through the hole in its vaulted ceiling. It was probably used for storage.

The entrance to the tower is on the first floor, twenty feet above the court, and was originally reached by an exposed external timber staircase with a timber drawbridge leading into the tower that could be dismantled for defence. Nowadays a concrete staircase has been erected.

Stone steps up th keep entrance
This first floor had no natural light and, like the basement, was probably used for storage. These photos show the well cover and modern safety grid and railing:

A wide, well-lit stone staircase takes us up to the great chamber on the second floor:

Steep stone steps in the keep

The room would have been used by the de Warenne lords when they were staying in Conisbrough. It looks cold and bare today, but it would once have contained a number of fine objects and silverware, painted furniture, beds with feather mattresses with colourful rugs on the floor and tapestries on the walls to keep out the cold. A long trestle would have been used for meals, feasts and banquets and so on.  A wide fireplace, with a joggled lintel and possibly a colourful hood, would have thrown heat into the room. A door leads into a latrine and there is an alcove with a window overlooking the entrance to the tower:

The stairs leading to the third floor are narrower than the lower ones. This floor consists of the bedchamber, where the lord and his family could rest and sleep. It would have been beautifully decorated and have a comfortable bed, cushions, a large basin for washing and a latrine. A window alcove faced towards the town, with stone benches that would have been cushioned so people cut sit and rest or chat. A fireplace provided heat. It was the Lady de Warenne who told us all about this room:


A chapel within one of the buttresses on the east of the tower opened from the bedchamber. The de Warenne family would have attended Mass here in private, and the priest, who would have lived at the castle, would pray for their souls. The chapel’s most noticeable feature was the beautiful vaulted ceiling. The two wash basins (piscinas) are on opposite walls – which is unusual, as in most chapels from the 12th century onward the two were side-by-side.

The rooftop forms the fifth floor. Originally it looked quite different to how it looks today. It is thought that at some time there was a room surrounded by an enclosed wall passage, as part of the wall and a door jamb survive. Of the six buttresses that extended above the battlements as turrets, two of them were solid. The other four seem to have functioned as two water tanks, a bread oven and a dovecote.

Rooftop buttresse 1
Views of the surrounding countryside are excellent from the rooftop, especially as the castle is on hill on an already raised ridge. These are a few of the photos we took:

Conisbrough Castle has had an interesting history over the centuries and had a variety of owners. I won’t go into detail here, but a short word will be useful to bring the castle up to the 21st century.

After the death of the last Earl Warenne in 1347, the castle reverted to the Crown.  Edward III settled the Warenne northern estates on his fourth son, Edmund Langley, who later became the Duke of York. The castle became embroiled in the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) after which it was abandoned and fell into ruin. By 1538 the keep had lost its floors and the gatehouse and part of the curtain wall had collapsed. At the end of the Civil War (1642-51) there was no need for it to be further slighted (cannoned down) by Cromwell – as so many other Royalist-held castles were – since it was already in a ruined and unusable condition.

The castle remained a popular tourist attraction until the early 20th century and in the 1950s its management was taken over by the Ministry of Works, who made a number of major repairs. But by the 1980s visitor facilities were declared unsuitable and in 1984 the castle passed into the care of English Heritage.

Together with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and a local charitable trust, the great tower was re-roofed and floored to protect it from the weather and improve public access. A new exhibition centre was built. In 2007, Conisbrough Castle became totally under the management of English Heritage, which does an excellent job in the castle’s upkeep and makes it a wonderful place to visit. Some visitors come with the sole intent of seeing for themselves the place that, in 1819, Sir Walter Scott chose to set parts of his famous novel, ‘Ivanhoe’.

*

Refs:

Conisbrough Castle Guide Book (from English Heritage)

Information boards around the site

Various online sites including:

English Heritage

Conibisbrough Castle:A Comprehensive Guide of the Castle

Wikipedia

Visit Doncaster

Welcome to Yorkshire Yorkshire.com

Wikipedia

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House is probably the best known of the stately homes in Derbyshire and has been voted Britain’s favourite country house several times. It is situated nine miles west of Chesterfield and three and a half miles north-east of Bakewell.

Location of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire

The house stands on the east bank of the River Derwent, looking across to the hills between the Derwent and the Wye valleys.

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The river bridge and the house at Chatsworth,  Author: Rob Bendall

The magnificent yellow-stoned house, set in expansive parkland and backed by wooded, rocky hills rising to heather moorland, is the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through sixteen generations of the Cavendish family.

The original Tudor House was built in 1552 after the estate was acquired in 1549 by Sir William Cavendish. Sir William died in 1557 with the house partly constructed and it was left to his formidable wife, Bess, also known as Bess of Hardwick, to complete it. Little of that original house remains today.

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17th century painting of the west front of the Elizabethan Chatsworth. 1680s or earlier. Artist unknown. Pubic Domain

Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here at various times between 1569 and 1584, and although the rooms of her apartment have since been rebuilt, two rooms are still called the Scots Apartment.

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Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87) painted by François Clouet (1510-72) Public Domain

After Bess’ death in 1608, Chatsworth passed to her second son, also named William. In 1618 he was created the first Earl of Devonshire and in 1694 the fourth Earl was created the first Duke of Devonshire. (For anyone who doesn’t know, a duke/duchess is higher in the ranks of nobility than an earl/countess. A duke/duchess comes after prince/princess who is second to king/queen).

Between 1686 and 1707 the first Duke rebuilt Chatsworth in Classical style and between 1720-64, the park was landscaped by the fourth Duke. The famous ‘Capability’ Brown was hired to reshape the then formal gardens to how we still see them today. The stables and the bridges over the Derwent were also added in the 18th century.

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A late 18th century oil painting by William Marlow. It emphasises the romantic aspects of Chatsworth’s setting on the edge of the Peak District. Public Domain

The library and north wing were added to the house by the sixth Duke between 1790 and 1858.

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A view of Chatsworth from the south-west circa 1880. The stables can be seen behind the house and the Hunting Tower is visible in Stand Wood. Public Domain

On entering the house through the North Entrance, we made our way to the Painted Hall and Great Staircase. There were a lot of people in the room, but we managed a few photos during a relatively ‘quiet’ time. This is a magnificent hall, the artwork on the walls and ceiling being particularly stunning. Our photos don’t do it justice due to the glare from the many lights.

We continued along the Chapel Corridor, with lots of sculptures, paintings and other items of interest to  look at…

Chapel corridor with various sculptures and ornaments (2)

…which, unsurprisingly, took us to the Chapel. This is another fabulous room, richly ornamented with a colourful ceiling.

Next to the Chapel is the Oak Room. No prizes for guessing why it is called that:

Though it lacks the colour of many of the rooms, the Sculpture Gallery contains some really beautiful pieces.

Other rooms in which we managed to take photos include the Great Dining Room, the State Music Room,  the Library, the State Bedchamber and one of the Guest Bedroom. I’ve added a mix of these rooms to the gallery below, including a few of the many paintings on display. The images showing wallpaper are included because, as in a few other stately homes we’ve visited, many wallpapers were of a Chinese design and hand painted. I believe the imitation European versions were called Chinoiserie, and although the first were seen in Europe in the 16th century, they were particularly popular in stately homes in the 18th – 19th centuries. A dictionary definition of Chinoiserie is: a decorative style in Western art, furniture, and architecture, especially in the 18th century, characterized by the use of Chinese motifs and techniques.

Last year (2019) Chatsworth was celebrating all things ‘dog’. It was officially titled, The Dog: A celebration at Chatsworth. It explored the Cavendish family’s enduring love of dogs. Around the site are a variety of dog sculptures, paintings, drawings and photos, some from the Devonshire collection and others on loan from public and private collections. These are just a few of them:

Surrounding the house, the extensive parkland, farmyard and playground would take more that a day to fully explore and we had little time to see much of it during our visit. What we did see was impressive, but we would have loved to have got down to the Arboretum and Trout Stream. In the afternoon, we spent some time wandering around the immediate lawns and kitchen gardens. We had planned another visit this year – but I think that will now have to wait until next year.

These are some of the many photos we took around the immediate grounds and gardens:

There are plenty of places to eat at Chatsworth, and a number of talks and activities are available. Chatsworth is a place for family days out as well as for couples, singles, and anyone who loves a good dose of history or lovely scenery. Chatsworth is not a National Trust property and entry prices for both house and grounds are not cheap and can be as much as £17.50 per adult for last minute bookings – as was ours. However, many local families come to just enjoy and picnic in the grounds, which is considerably cheaper. All I can say is that Chatsworth is a truly fabulous place and, at very least, well worth a visit. This amazing fountain has a history all of its own. But I’ll leave that for another post.

Canal Pond and Great Fountain 2

Saltaire

Built between 1851 and 1876, the Victorian model village of Saltaire is located in Shipley, a commuter suburb and small town in the City of Bradford Metropolitan District in West Yorkshire, UK.

Location of Saltaire in West Yorkshire
Base map courtesy of Wikipedia

The name Saltaire is derived from the surname of industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir Titus Salt, who had the village built, and the River Aire which flows through it.

Every year, hundreds of visitors come to Saltaire to visit the village itself, and/or take a look round Salts Mill, the woollen ‘supermill’ that Titus Salt had built in the town. To do justice to both village and mill ideally takes (at least) a whole day. There is much to see and plenty of places where visitors can buy drinks, snacks or meals when required – both around the village and inside the mill.

Saltaire is situated by the River Aire, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Airedale railway line, all ideal for the import of raw materials for Salt’s woollen mill and export of the manufactured goods.

Plan of Saltaire
Map photographed from a information board in Saltaire

Titus Salt cared about the welfare of the workers for his planned new mill on the edge of Bradford. He wanted to create a community in which they could live healthier and happier lives than they had in the slums of Bradford, where cholera epidemics were frequent. Saltaire was 3 miles from central Bradford and surrounded by open countryside with plenty of fresh air. In addition to these evident health benefits, Salt installed the latest technology in his mill, intending working conditions for his workers to be far better and safer than they were in mills elsewhere in the country. Undoubtedly, such improvements would also benefit output from his mill.

Salt employed local architects Henry Lockwood and Richard Mawson to design his new village. The first building to be finished in 1853 was the mill itself, while building work on the rest of the village continued until 1876.

When the mill opened in 1853, on Titus Salt’s 50th birthday, he threw a huge party for all his workforce. It was the biggest factory in the world, four storeys high and the room known as ‘The Shed’ measuring 600 feet in length. The mill employed 3000 workers and had 1200 looms. Over a period of twenty-five years, 30,000 yards of cloth were produced per day. The noise from the machines would have been deafening and the workplace very hot. Yet working conditions for employees in Salt’s Mill were still far better than in most other textile mills.

The following photos of the working mill  were taken from a video playing inside the mill:

Salt’s enormous success in the textile industry was partly due to his use of the wool from alpacas. He combined it with other materials to create new varieties of worsted cloth. Wool worsted cloth as well as wool/cotton and wool/silk worsted cloths already existed for making men’s suits. In Salt’s day it was fashionable for ladies clothing. Most ladies would have wanted (but many couldn’t afford) expensive silk – and Alpaca made a light, smooth fabric with the lustre of silk, but was more affordable.

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Alpacas, courtesy of Pixabay

Architecture in the village was of a classical style, inspired by the Italian Renaissance. The rows of neat stone buildings were all terraced, arranged in a grid pattern. All streets were named after members of his family, such as Caroline Street after his wife. In total there were 823 houses, shops, a school, two churches, a school an adult education institute, park, hospital, and almshouses for the aged. The streets also had gas lamps.  Each house had its own outdoor toilet – a luxury for the working classes in of the nineteenth century.

Salt also had a wash house and baths built in the village, the wash house because he objected to seeing lines of washing hanging in the back yards. Dirty washing could be brought to the wash house on Mondays to Thursdays. There were six washing machines powered by steam engines and four rubbing and boiling tubs using hot and cold water. Clothes were put through the wringing machine and dried in a drying closet before being mangled and taken home. The whole process took an hour.

Wash House Interior
Photo taken from and information board at the community garden in Saltaire

There were 24 baths for public use with separate entrances for men and women. There was even a Turkish bath. The baths were open every day but Sunday from 8am to 8pm. Salt’s care for the health of his workers is evident but, unfortunately neither wash house nor bath house was popular and the building was converted into housing in the late 19th century. The houses were demolished in the 1930s and replaced by garages which were demolished in the 1950s. The site is now a small community garden.

Saltaire Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church) was one of Lockwood and Mawson’s finest works and is set in a spacious landscaped garden. Salt was a staunch Methodist and insisted his workers attended chapel on Sundays. He also frowned upon gambling and the drinking of alcohol. A mausoleum beside the church is where Titus Salt was buried.

The Victoria Hall is also worth a look inside:

Robert’s Park, alongside the River Aire is a pleasant, open space to spend a little time. The alpaca statues are a reminder of the importance of their wool to the continuing success of Titus Salt, whose statue is also in the park.

 

Salts Mill closed as a textile mill in 1986 and was bought the following year by Bradford entrepreneur, Jonathan Silver who had it renovated. Today it houses a number of business, commerce, leisure  and residential concerns. The main mill is now an art gallery, shopping centre and restaurant complex. There is a fish restaurant and Salts Diner, a cafe which serves a variety of dishes.029

Eating inside the mill

The 1853 Gallery takes its name from the date of the building in which it is housed and it contains many paintings by local artist David Hockney. A bust of Titus Salt welcomes visitors through the door.

Today, Saltaire is a popular place to visit, as an educational experience or simply e a lovely village in which to spend some time. Families come for many reasons, and boat rides along the canal seemed popular on the day we were there. Oddly enough, one of the boats was called Titus. I wonder why…

Boat rides on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal

World Heritage status was bestowed upon Saltaire in 2001. It is described on an information board in the village:

World Heritage status from a noticeboard in Saltaire

Our visit to Saltaire was three years ago now. We had planned to go back again sometime this year. But as they say, ‘All the best-laid plans of mice and men…’  Perhaps next year, then…

Refs:

  1. Information boards around Saltaire
  2. Wikipedia
  3. My Learning

Wyvern of Wessex

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Sons of Kings: Book Three

Eadwulf is back  on the Sea Eagle with Bjorn and his crew on a quest to discover if Eadwulf’s father, King Beorhtwulf of Mercia, is still alive after twenty years as a slave. Bjorn’s great dragonship carries them down to the searing June temperatures and strict laws in the Moorish lands of al-Andalus. But searching for Beorhtwulf proves more difficult than they’d expected, causing them more trouble than they’d bargained for…

In Wessex, King Aethelred is now dead, leaving his twenty-one-year-old brother, Alfred, to succeed to the throne. Though his succession was agreed by the witan, Alfred must now prove himself worthy of the kingship, or lose it. But Wessex is in turmoil, besieged by Viking Danes intent on subjugating the kingdom – and knowing that the new king is young and inexperienced. Alfred must use all his wiles if he is to outthink and outmanoeuvre Guthrum, the Dane who nearly becomes his nemesis.

Alfred’s victories and defeats take him on a journey of learning, during which he gains experience and strength. We share his highs and his lows, and how he rises from the depths of despair to save his beloved kingdom from total conquest.

And at his side in his greatest time of need is his new ally and friend, Eadwulf of Mercia.

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Here are some of the 5 star reviews for Wyvern of Wessex:

    • As an avid watcher of The Viking series on TV, this series was an awesome fill in. Very well-written and kept my interest throughout the entire series. I sure hope there will be another book to tell of Eadwulf’s next phase of his life. ~ Amber Carrow Amazon.com
    • I have fallen in love with the characters in this book. Ms. Thom breathes life into these great people from our past. The different cultures coming together at this pivotal point in history is fascinating. ~ Sonora, Amazon.com
    • Sons of Kings Books 1, 2 & 3 are very well put together. Following the life of Alfred the Great, Millie has added history with fiction into 3 good reads. I liked the Norse/Mercian connection and enjoyed them so much I read one after another and looking forward to Book 4. Talented author and excellent compiler of historical & fiction. ~ Howard Riach Amazon UK
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Bringing History to Life

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The Bayeux Tapestry – an embroidered cloth depicting events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. Some historians believe it could have been made in England – not Bayeux – in the 1070’s

Most people would probably agree that to present history as a mere list of dates, or the minutiae of births, deaths, battles, coronations and political treaties and alliances, would be the best way of putting anyone off the subject for life. Undoubtedly the information referred to has its place; the chronology of historical events is vital. We wouldn’t want people believing, for example, that the Battle of Hastings was a mere hundred years ago.

But there are ways of presenting information that overcome the mundane . . .

I believe that to appreciate the importance of history – and by that I mean the magnitude of its effect on the lives we lead today; the great advances in technology that make our lives so much easier – we must project our minds back to the time being studied, or read about.

Feel it. Live it.

For me, as for millions of others, history comes alive through fiction. Historical fiction has become almost an obsession to me. I read little else. Even my favourite detective novels have an historical setting. I read novels set in any era, any culture. I love to be transported from the here and now to a world of past times; to characters with completely different moral values and attitudes to life than our own.

It all helps to understand how life has progressed; just how far – or in some cases, how little – we’ve come.

I’ll leave with these snippets to consider (there are many more on the ‘Brainy Quotes about Historical Fiction’ webpage):

‘One thing I like about historical fiction is that I’m not constantly focusing on me, or people like me; you’re obliged to concentrate on lives that are completely other than your own.’ (Emma Donoghue)

‘The thing that most attracts me to historical fiction is taking the factual record as far as it is known, using that as a scaffold, then letting imagination build the structure that fills in those things we can never find out for sure.’ (Geraldine Brooks)