Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Towers in Frejus, South of France

Towers in Frejus

Sandwiched between St Raphael to the North East, and Saint Aygulf to the South West, and some twenty kilometres to the North of Saint Tropez, Frejus, in the South of France is well known for its Roman remains. Sporting one of Europe's largest amphitheatres and a number of other Roman ruins, the town also possesses a number of medieval towers. Originally called the Jullii Forum (after the Roman Emperor Gnaeus Julius Agricola) the town's name soon evolved to become Frejus. Emperor Agricola placed great importance on the port of Frejus, building a port capable of welcoming cargo ships from all over the empire, setting up a market for selling and buying imported goods, establishing the Colonia Octaviorum, a retirement complex for verterans of the Eighth Legion and establishing the town as the base for the Roman Empire's Mediterranean fleet. Over time though, with the Roman empire fading, and the port silting up, the town became less and less important. It wasn't until the 10th century that the town's fortunes improved. Bishop Riculphe is credited with the building of the 'new town', but he was continually thwarted by pirate attacks which slowed the town's progress down.

The above photo shows the Roman ruins of the Porte des Gaules, now missing its facing stones. To the left, and shown below, a medieval tower has been 'tagged' onto the end, utilising the line of the port's walls. I'm under the impression (though this has to be confirmed) that this tower and the wall marks the extremities of the old medieval town, possibly indicating that Frejus was once a walled town.

As far as I can tell, the tower shown below, was the original palace for the Bishop of Frejus, probably built in the latter part of the 11th century, with additions being made into the early part of the 12th century. The tower is three storeys tall, with a vaulted hall on the second floor and a terrace on the roof, originally designed to take a dozen canons for the town's defence.

The building has lower walls some three metres thick, and was designed to accommodate the Bishop, his family and other town dignitaries, and would have formed part of the original town walls.

In the 13th century, a separate building was erected, possibly shown above, where all the town's canons were moved to.

As I trawl through the French language web sites with information on these towers, I'll update this post.

Low Hall, Little Strickland

Low Hall
Little Strickland

Although only a tentative possibility of a fortified building exists here, I thought it would be good to include it anyway. Little Strickland can be found about 5 miles South of Penrith, just off the A6 and behind Thrimby Grange.

Finding the Hall was a little difficult, as the building is set back off the B road and is situated amongst all sorts of buildings on a working farm. I think that the photo above represents the end of one of the wings....although if anyone tells me otherwise I'll go with that!!

From a historical documentation point of view, the site has always been described as a hall site with towers, although it's thought that the towers were either built over, or incorporated into the present buildings. Some historical texts describe the site as having a 9 feet curtain wall, so it was fairly well defended.

The hall was most likely built for the Crackenthorpe family, some time around 1540, although there are a number of 16th, 17th and 19th century buildings and alterations present.

The photo above, if actually of the hall, was a very narrow view, only available from the grass verge of the small road running nearby.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Blog for churches!!

As I have managed to visit around 150 churches in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and North Lancashire, it is only right that these buildings get their own blog. A new site has therefore been put together, and can be found at the following link cumbrianchurches
This blog will continue to be used for fortifications and other historical buildings visited in the future, and the church blog will be solely dedicated to ecclesiastical buildings.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Warton Old Rectory, Autumn 2008 visit

Warton Old Rectory

Autumn 2008 sees me re-visiting Warton Old Rectory, a rare medieval stone house situated in Warton, just off the Yealand Conyers to Carnforth back road. The remains are extensive, with the main body of the late 13th, early 14th century still standing to full height at the gable ends, and most of the windows and doors still in situ.

The main reason for the re-visit, was to get some photos of the security of this building, namely, the draw-bar-slot in the main East facing doorway. Apart from the thickness of the walls, the fact that the main doors all exited into a semi-secure courtyard, the draw-bar-slot represents a clear desire for this building to be secured. Against whom...I'm not sure. It's very possible, as with any buildings with this form of security\minor defence, that it was designed purely and simply as security. There's also the possibility that this could be classed as a 'light fortification', but seeing as the building obviously had windows at ground floor level, I'm not sure this is really the case. It's possible that any desire for defence or security, was influenced by a Scottish raid in the area dating from 1322. This was a wide ranging period of disturbance, with many villages in the area being raided and damaged.

Detail of the draw-bar-slot built into the thickness of the wall.

The draw-bar-slot vanishes into the wall to the depth of about three feet, and is about 9 inches square. It was obviously quite a large draw-bar that was used to secure this external door.

The above photos shows three smaller draw-bar type slots (one now filled) in one of the central doors. There are three doors of this type, side by side in this wall, and this is the only door with these shallow, oblong slots. This door originally led to a small room that was used either as a pantry or a what use security would have been here, is debatable. There's every possibility of course that the use of the room changed at some point.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Chester City Gates, Chester

Chester City Gates

All of the old medieval gates in Chester have unfortunately been removed. All that we are left with, are architecturally interesting replacements that do not bear any resemblance to their original fortified incarnations.

The Wolf Gate

The Wolf Gate, situated opposite the Roman Amphitheater, is probably built on the site of a Saxon gateway. Built in the 17th century, it was rebuilt again later in the 18th century, and is linked to the Wolf Tower, also known as Thimbleby's Tower a short distance to the North.

The Newgate

The Newgate was built in 1937\38 and follows a Neo Gothic design. As with the other gates in Chester, it was built to allow the free flow of traffic into and out of the city.

The Water Gate

Situated at the West of the city, the Water Gate links Watergate Street with New Crane Street beyond the city walls. This gate was built in 1788 to a design by Joseph Turner, and was often referred to simply as the West Gate.

Up until the 18th century, the River Dee actually came right up to the city walls at this point, giving the gate its present name.

St Martin's Gate

A controversial addition to Chester's architectural heritage, this concrete footbridge was erected in 1966 and spans the Inner Ring Road.

During its construction the remains of a Roman tower were found.

The Bridge Gate

Unfortunately there were roadworks taking place underneath this gate, so I was unable to take any photos at road level. This gate was constructed in 1782, again to designs by Joseph Turner. This gate was also known as the South Gate (for obvious reasons) and also as the Welsh Gate.

The North Gate

This structure was built in 1810, to designs by Thomas Harrison. It replaced the medieval gateway which at the time contained the city gaol.

The East Gate

This gate was built between 1768 and 1769, and replaced the original medieval gateway which was far too narrow for the increasing flow of traffic. This gate was considered to be the main entrance into the city.

The clock that sits atop the gate commemorates Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Chester's city wall towers, Chester

Chester City Walls

The city wall walk at Chester is easily walkable in under two hours....time enough to walk the whole circuit and stop to examine all the major features along the way. The walk is a revelation, taking you along side the canal, over the main gates into and out of the city of Chester, past towers and along wall walks offering fantastic views of the city and beyond.

The City of Chester web site offers some excellent maps, detailing not only the walk, but details of the many features that can be seen and the excellent viewing points along the way.

The walls around Chester were first built by the Romans in around 70AD, when the Roman settlement\fort of Deva was founded. At this time, the defences consisted of earthen ramparts, with ditches and embankments protecting the settlement. By around 90AD, some of the earthen defences had been rebuilt in stone, utilising the easily quarried red sandstone that is so much in evidence in Chester. There was a long period of neglect, when the rebuilding was halted, and not started again until mid 200AD. The Romans left in around 410AD, leaving the tribes of Britain to their own devices, and into this power vacuum, the Saxons gradually moved, slowly making their dominance felt. Between 894, and 895, an invading Viking army wintered in the city of Chester, using the Roman defences as a safe haven until Spring 895. The Vikings moved on, and in 907, Aethelflaed created the Burh of Chester, making it a fortified town, and extending the walls right down to the river side.

Chester was endowed with a castle in 1070, when William I further fortified the town, with the walls again being extended to the West and the South. In 1264, buildings deemed too close to the town walls were pulled down, possibly as they were deemed to be threatening the integrity of the town's defences. The castle at this time (around 1282-83) was garrisoned and used as a staging post in Edward I's campaigns in Wales. Between 1322 and the early 1600's a number of towers were constructed, detailed below, to provide points along the walls where watch could be kept and troops stationed in the continued defence of the town. Between the early 1700's and 1966, the town's gateways were gradually demolished and replaced with the gates that we see today.

The following details are in no particular order.

The Water Tower

The water Tower can be found at the junction of Water Tower Street and City Walls Road, to the North West of the city. Built between 1322 and 1326, it is situated at the end of a small stretch of wall, connected to the main wall circuit by Bonewaldesthorne's Tower. It was constructed in the middle of the Dee, a navigable river at the time, and designed to protect the city from river born attacks. The Dee has since receded, and the tower now stands isolated in a small park.

This tower is one of the finest preserved features on the walls, and is easily visible from the wall walk. It reputedly cost £100 to build, and was paid for by John de Helpston. The wall that connects this tower to Bonewaldethorne's tower is thicker than the rest of the city walls, and has an archway penetrating its thickness, in which a portcullis was probably present in earlier times.

The tower is open on certain days of the year.

The Watch Tower

The Watch Tower is situated on the South Eastern part of the City Walls, and can be accessed directly from the wall walk. This square tower, of which only the lower portion now survives, was used, during the Civil War, as a sniper point, and as such received much attention from attacking Parliamentarian forces. It is said that the points where canon balls hit the walls can still be seen.

What can be seen today, certainly at wall height, is only a portion of what must have been a much larger, taller tower. When looked at from the Roman Gardens below, the damaged part of the tower can still be seen, with the repairs bringing the stump of the tower back to wall height.

The tower is best viewed from the Roman Gardens below, where the path leads right along the base of the walls.

There are great views to be had across the River Dee and to the Church of St John, where the attacking Parliamentarian forces stationed their canons in the bombardment of the city.

Thimbleby's Tower

This peculiar little tower, now only really a scrap of its former self, can be found on the Eastern side of the walls, sandwiched between newer buildings and the Roman tower footings. Once called the Wolf Tower (in relation to the Wolf Gate a few hundred yards to its South) the tower appears to have been in a rather poor state of repair.

It is best viewed from the road near the Roman Amphitheatre, and is easily missed. Its recent steepled roof (added in 1994) doesn't immediately indicate it's age, but peering through the windows whilst walking past on the walls, the interior can be tantalisingly glimpsed through the dirty glass.

It's a difficult tower to photograph, as can be seen here. Like the Watch Tower, what is seen today is only a portion, height wise, of the original tower.

The tower probably dates from the 13th century, and was partially destroyed during the Civil War when the city was besieged. It was probably a drum tower, when complete and in use, but not much remains of it now.

The Round Tower

The Round Tower can be found at the South of the city walls, and overlooks the River Dee and the Old Dee bridge on the Groves.

The tower was again probably built in the 13th century, and what can be seen today is only a small portion of the original structure.

The crenellations date only from the 19th century, and the tower was dropped in height in 1876\87 as part of the development of the wall walk.

The tower affords excellent views out across the River Dee.

The South East Angle Tower

This Roman tower can be found between Thimbleby's Tower and the Wolf Gate, at the South East of the city walls, just across the road from the Roman Amphitheatre.

The footings, excavated in 1930, probably date from somewhere between the late 1st century to the early 2nd century.

The ditches in front of this small portion of Roman remains have been dug out to demonstrate the extent of the Roman defences.

Pemberton's Parlour

This tower can be found at the North end of the city walls, along Water Tower Street. It can be viewed from the wall walk, and from the street some 12 to 15 feet below. This 18th century tower, sits on the site of an original drum tower, originally referred to as the Goblin Tower, and the Dille's Tower.

The original medieval tower would have been much taller than the current structure, almost twice as high in fact, and was demolished between 1702 and 1708, with its replacement being erected in 1894.

It's thought that this tower got its name from John Pemberton, who may have once stood on here watching his workmen working below the city walls in his rope works.

North West Angle Tower

This spot, beneath St Martin's Gate, represents the position of the North West corner tower of the Roman fortress. It was probably built around 103AD, and was only discovered in 1965, when St Martin's Gate was being erected.

Measuring 30 feet by 27 feet, this almost square tower had walls some 4 feet thick.

Morgan's Mount

Situated on the North part of the city walls, along Water Tower Street, this tower can be viewed from the wall walk, and from the road below it. Indeed, a great view of it can be had as you cross St Martin's Gate.

Built in 1640, on the site of an earlier tower, it was used during the Civil War as a gun emplacement supposedly by Captain William Morgan or his son Edward Morgan, to direct fire against the Parliamentarian forces besieging Chester.

It was originally, and imaginatively, called The Raised Square Platform.

King Charle's Tower\The Phoenix Tower

This tower was also known as Newton's Tower, but it's most popular name, King Charles' Tower, probably came about due to the local legend that King Charles I stood at its summit and watched his army being routed on Rowton Moor in 1645. It was probably originally built sometime in the 13th century, but has undergone many rebuilds and repairs since then.

It was severely damaged in the 18 month siege (between 1644 and 1646), and largely rebuilt in 1658, with more repairs and changes taking place in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Above the doorway, at the top of a small flight of stairs, the Royal coat of arms can be seen, together with a memorial plaque commemorating the defeat of King Charles' army.

Bonewoldesthorne's Tower

This tower can found at the Northern tip of the city walls, and would originally have stood along side the river Dee. It is linked by a short stretch of wall to the Water Tower (see above) It can be viewed from the wall walk, from the West and from the South.

This tower is linked with the 11th and 12th century extension of the city walls, and probably stands on foundations from this date. It was, like so much of the masonry on this walk, damaged during the Civil War, and repaired thereafter.

The tower now houses a camera obscura and is open on certain days of the year.

Chester Castle, Chester

Chester Castle

Sandwiched between the River Dee to the South and the race course to the West, Chester Castle is a mere shadow of its former self. All that remains of the once powerful Norman motte and bailey castle is the motte, rising to around 70 feet, with a summit measuring some 50 feet, the Agricola tower dating from 12th century, and various portions of castle wall, all refaced during the late 18th and early 19th century.

The castle can best be seen from Castle Street, from the wall walk, and from across the River Dee in St Edgar's Field. All that is immediately visible, is the huge grass covered motte, erected in 1070 by William the Conqueror, and the red sandstone walls that top the mound.

The above photo shows the castle from the South, from the wall walk.

The above photo shows the South West corner of the motte, with the walls and the canon slits.

The Flag tower, not seen on this visit, is one of the original towers built to protect the summit of the motte. It is now in ruins. The Agricola tower would also be in a poor state of repair, but it has been refaced over the years, and is now in a good state of repair. The Agricola tower still contains a consecrated chapel, dedicated to St Mary de Castro, and in use as a regimental chapel, used by the Cheshire Regiment.

A view of the castle from the West, showing the full extent of the re-fortifications on 1745, including the small round tower with the blocked up windows.

The castle can best be seen from Castle Street, from the wall walk, and from across the River Dee in St Edgar's Field. All that is immediately visible, is the huge grass covered motte, erected in 1070 by William the Conqueror, and the red sandstone walls that top the mound.

The Agricola tower can be seen towering above the Thomas Harrison designed buildings (erected between 1788 and 1822) along with the gun emplacement, a stretch of walls on top of the motte with huge cannon slits built in 1745 when the Jacobites were thought to be heading towards Chester.

At this time (1745) the city was heavily fortified, as were many towns and cities across England (see the Carlisle pages on this blog )

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lancaster Castle, Lancaster

Lancaster Castle

Lancaster’s Castle has dominated the city’s sky line for the last 916 years, with the Romans occupying its site for hundreds of years before this building was ever erected. There is evidence of probably two Roman forts below the castle walls and buildings, with surviving remains of their earlier occupation to found throughout the city.

Above. The Shire Hall and a collection of canon (no longer there) (from personal collection)

Above. Sketch of Lancaster Castle, probably late 1600s or early 1700s.

Above. The gatehouse at Lancaster Castle (from personal collection)

Above. The keep of Lancaster Castle. (from personal collection)

Above. Another view of the gatehouse (from personal collection)

Above. View of Lancaster Castle from the church tower. (from personal collection)

The castle as we see it today, consists of the 12th century keep, the late 14th early 15th century gatehouse, the early 14th century Well (Witches) Tower, the late 18th century Gaoler’s house, the late 18th century Male Felon’s prison, the late 18th century Shire Hall, Adrian’s Tower from the early 13th century, the late 18th century Debtor’s Wing and the late 18th century Female Felon’s prison.

Click on the plan for a full page view.

A good portion of the Norman and medieval parts of the castle survive. The Keep, built sometime around 1150, is the oldest part of the castle, and stands four storeys tall (20 metres in total) over walls some 3 metres thick. There seems to be a distinct lack of documentary evidence of the exact date the keep was built, who built it and how much it cost.

A view of the castle from the Ashton Memorial. Lancaster Priory can just be seen to the right.

The gatehouse is thought to have been built around 1400 at the command of Henry IV after the original gatehouse and probably some of the castle was damaged during the Scottish invasion of 1389. The new gatehouse was built with two elongated polygonal fronted towers measuring some 8 metres in width. Both of the towers are around 20 metres in height, equipped with a massive portcullis and two doors. The battlements are built out over the corbels of the roof and would have enabled the defenders to easily target attackers as they attempted to breach the castle walls and the gatehouse door.

The Well or Witche’s Tower was probably built around 1325, although it’s likely that what we see today is a rebuild of a much earlier structure, possibly dating from around 1190….a few years after the keep was erected. It gained its name “The Witche’s Tower” after the Pendle Witches were imprisoned here before their trials and eventual executions. The tower measures around 12 by 10 metres, and rises to four storeys. The other name, the Well tower comes from the fact that the tower’s basement contained two of the castle’s wells.

Adrian's Tower. Refaced and hence hiding its medieval origin.

Adrian’s Tower was built around 1210, and measures about 10 metres. Apparently the name reflects local tradition that the tower was originally built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian…obviously dropping the H along the way!! Although the original medieval masonry can still be seen inside the tower, its age is somewhat hidden by the refaced stonework, probably added towards the end of the 18th century.

The Shire Hall sits outside of the original foot print of the castle (see the map above) This addition to the castle was built between 1796 and 1798, and housed the courts. It is of a non-defensible build.

The Shire Hall.

Much, if not all of the original curtain wall has been replaced, but the line of the original wall can be seen on the plan above. From this, it’s easy to see that the original castle layout was significantly smaller, and incorporated a number of towers that were demolished at different times and built over.

The formidable gatehouse.

Although the keep unfortunately is not open to the public (it’s an operational prison) the courts and the accompanying holding cells can be visited, although you’re not able to take any photos within the castle walls. Fortunately though, the castle is easy to photograph from the outside, with great views of the city to be had from the Ashton Memorial (as seen here).

As of 2011, plans are afoot for the closure of HMP Lancaster Castle. Every indication is that Lancaster City Council and the Duchy of Lancaster would like the medieval castle to become a tourist destination when the prison is officially closed. This would mean that at last, tourists would be able to visit the interior of this well maintained medieval fortress.