Saturday, May 16, 2009

Helmsley Castle, Helmsley

Helmsley Castle
North Yorkshire

The small market town of Helmsley lays about 10 miles West of Pickering on the A170. This road makes a peculiar Southerly route through the village after travelling West from Pickering. As you pass through the village the remains of the castle can just be made out over the roof tops.

Built by Walter Espec in the early 1100’s, the castle is today represented by a wide range of surviving earthworks, masonry and upstanding walls and buildings. The most spectacular and recognisable of which has to be the half destroyed keep.

Above. Looking South across the remains of the old gatehouse, into the courtyard.

A good place to start when exploring these remains, are the remains of the Northern gatehouse and barbican. Today a wooden bridge spans the double ditch, taking you to the D shaped remains of the gatehouse….now standing to around two feet in height. This structure would have been protected on the outer earthen bank by a 13th century barbican…further protection for this, the original entry into the inner court of the castle. The gatehouse probably dates from the early 1200’s, as does most of the outer stonework of the castle, ie, curtain walls (excepting the Southern defences including the 14th and 16th century gatehouse here) The ditch here is around 30 feet deep, and is a similar depth for its complete circuit of the castle…well preserved and intact.

Once over the modern bridge, the whole of the inner court is laid out before you. To the left, the keep can be seen (more about this faux keep later) the scrap of the 13th century chapel, numerous low footings of buildings, and to the right, the West range and the de Brus tower, along with the remains of the Hall and various towers.

Above. Looking North East towards the ruined keep.

The keep is a monumental structure, still standing to around 5 storeys tall. I say half, as only half of this towering building now stands on the edge of the moat. The outer walls of the ‘keep’ were destroyed along with most of the upper levels of the curtain walls on the orders of Oliver Cromwell’s government, after the castle was surrendered to Sir Thomas Fairfax in November 1644 after a three month siege.

Above. Looking North across the courtyard towards the keep.

This left only the inner shell of the building remaining. What is known, is that this building was in fact not the keep, but a tall chapel with an apsed (oval) projection out over the first defensive ditch.

Above. Looking into the ruined shell of the keep.

This chapel formed the core of the castle built in the early 1200’s, and can be entered from the inner court. Looking up at the now empty shell, its immense size can truly be appreciated.

Above. Looking through the South Eastern, and more recent, gatehouse.

Moving South from the ‘keep’ the Southern gatehouse still survives to a height of around 20 feet. These immensely thick walls are part of the original castle from the early 1200’s, and lead onto the 14th and 16th century gatehouse that extends across the double ditches.

Above. The portcullis grooves in the South Eastern gatehouse.

The outer gatehouse, or barbican, still retains its portcullis grooves, indications of the defences employed here. There are the intact remains of two D-shaped towers on either side, with standing portions of curtain wall, and then two more towers, one extending over the first ditch, and the other following the line of the curtain wall.

Above. A view of the buildings on the South Western side of the castle.

This latter tower would have provided defensive line of sight down the Western curtain wall, and out over the Southern portions of the outer court. Here the rocky outcrop that the castle is built upon, can be seen beneath the curtain wall, indicating the strength of the site up on which the castle was built.

Above. View of the faux keep from the South, showing the amount of damage done upon Cromwell's orders.

Above. The original solar tower on the South West side of the castle.

The building to the West of the inner court, consists of the castle’s original keep…the much altered early 1200’s solar tower. This tower was largely re-built on its Southern and Western walls during the early 1300’s. Whereas originally it would have been a stocky, probably almost windowless tower, sufficient as a last place refuge, it became, over the years, a lofty and comfortable tower, sporting a number of windows (including at ground level) suitable for accommodating important residents and guests alike. This tower lacks its roof, but is accessible. It sports an impressive pair of draw bar slots in the entrance wall, and clear indications of the comfort employed for those living in the castle. There are a multitude of fireplaces and indications that the tower had at least four floors. The whole of this castle will take you a good hour at the very least, to walk around...there are simply loads of remains here. I'll follow this up with a history at some point, which will give me the opportunity to add a few more photos.

Beacon Hill siege castle, Pickering

Beacon Hill siege castle
North Yorkshire

It is suggested by some historians that this low scarped mound, some 500 yards to the West of Pickering castle, is in fact a siege castle, not a ‘motte’ as marked on the Ordnance Survey map. Visible from the Southern Gatehouse of Pickering castle, and also from the summit of Pickering Castle’s 20 metre high motte, the earthworks are visible as a flat topped mound, half covered with trees, topped with a bank, and encircled by a ditch and a low outer embankment.

The summit is around 3 metres by 25 metres, and was occupied from the late 1930’s to 1991, by a Royal Observer Corps post (much like Sedbergh’s Castle Haugh) Consequently, it was damaged by its military occupation and use.

It has been suggested that the siege castle was raised to threaten Pickering Castle during the Anarchy (1135 to 1154) a 19 year period of unrest throughout England, however no documentary evidence has been found that supports this theory. It’s therefore more likely, that it was built to threaten the castle during the period, 1216, 1217, during the first few years of Henry III’s reign. The damage done at this time to Pickering castle, necessitated the spending of several hundreds of pounds on the rebuilding and repair of the castle's fabric. You'll need to click on these photos to see them full screen, so that you can identify the siege castle on the horizon!

Pickering Castle, Pickering

Pickering Castle
North Yorkshire

The castle at Pickering in North Yorkshire, lays on the junction of the A169 and the A170, about 20 miles West of Scarborough. The significant remains can be found at the end of Herisson Close, a residential street at the centre of Pickering, and on the banks of Pickering Beck which runs to the West of the castle. There is a significant amount of both masonry and earthwork remains here, including curtain wall, towers, a huge impressively preserved earthen motte, and a large quantity of masonry footings and low walls. Entrance is via the Southern gatehouse, straight onto the Outer Ward which stretches to the ditch in front of you, and to your right, all the way around to the wall that separates the inner and outer wards across the deep ditch. To the left, and below the level of the Southern gatehouse, the Mill Tower still stands fairly intact. It is joined to the gatehouse by a low section of curtain wall, which has probably been reduced in height at some time. The remains of the gatehouse are also joined to the Diate Hill Tower to the East of the castle, by curtain wall, here surviving to a greater height. This portion of higher wall continues right around to Rosamund’s Tower in the North Eastern section of the castle. Immediately in front of you, the ruined shell of the Colemen Tower can be seen, with a thick wall with wall-walk climbing the steep sided motte to the summit where the King’s Tower would once have been. The motte is indeed the most impressive structure in the whole of the castle (in my opinion) Steep sided, intact and well preserved, it serves as an apt centre piece to this impressive castle. You are free to explore the whole of the castle and its attendant buildings…nothing is closed off.

View of the Coleman Tower with wall-walk to the summit of the motte.

The Coleman Tower straddles the Outer and Inner Wards, and would have served as a defence against intruders trying to make it into the inner sanctum of the castle. It was built around the end of the 12th century. The tower is a squat, square building, and in 1323 records show that it was being used as a prison. The tower was remodelled after this time, and a parapet was built onto the top floor. The Coleman tower would have originally butted onto the Grayss Chamber…another fortified building that would have held sway over the drawbridge across the deep ditch separating Outer and Inner Wards.

A view of Rosamund's Tower from the Outer Ward, showing the attached curtain wall.

Rosamund’s Tower, at the far North Eastern part of the castle, protected the curtain wall where it met the Inner and Outer Wards….with line of site into both parts of the castle’s grounds. The upper portion of the tower was probably built for accommodation, with a room for lowering and raising the drawbridge from the postern in the lower floor of the tower. A nearby turret would have given defenders good line of site over anyone looking at breaching the postern. The outer door, leading into the Outer Ward has a set of impressively deep draw bar slots for securing the doors. The postern can be accessed from the walk that now encircles the castle.

A good view of the motte, with the remains of the Coleman Tower to the left. Rosamund's Tower can just be seen to the right behind the trees.

The motte would have formed the centre of the original timber based castle built by William I (Conqueror) in 1069-1070. A deep ditch, some 5 metres deep surrounds its base, with the motte standing some 20 metres tall. It’s base measures around 60 metres in circumference, and is complete and in good condition. The steep sides seem to have withstood the test of time with no slippage or damage visible. The top of the motte would have housed the King’s Tower, first timber built, and then rebuilt in stone, possibly between 1180 and 1236. The remains of a few portions of this tower still survive.

Above. The gatehouse from within the castle courtyard.

The gatehouse, in the Southern wall of the Outer Ward, has been virtually demolished. All that remains is the external brickwork minus most of the building beyond the curtain wall. A double door would have been hung from the jambs here, with a draw bridge over the shallow ditch. The archway that the double doors occupied can be seen when looking back at the gatehouse from the Outer Ward, now bricked up and only just visible. Some timbers are also embedded within the stonework, probably from later building periods. A barbican would have extended beyond the curtain walls, affording the castle’s occupants good lines of site for firing on any would be attackers.

The North facing door of the Mill Tower, secured from the outside.

The Mill Tower, situated at the South Western corner of the castle’s Outer Ward was built to protect the vulnerable corner of the curtain wall. The tower measures around 8 metres square, with the ground floor being used as a prison….the door here was secured from the outside. The floor above most likely provided fairly spacious and perhaps luxurious accommodation. The tower most likely gained its name from the horse powered mill that once existed nearby.

Above. The Diate Hill tower from within the Outer Court.

The Diate Hill tower stands on the West portion of the Outer Ward’s curtain wall. It is positioned so that it straddles the curtain wall, thereby giving the castle’s occupiers a good view of the curtain wall at a point where it turns gradually West. The 6 metre square tower is fully accessible (except for the second and third floors) A good set of draw bar slots can be seen on the internal door jambs, providing good security against unwanted visitors. The wooden access stair and balcony have been recreated to enable access to the first floor. Good views of the outer walls of this tower can be seen from the walk that circles the outside of the castle.

Above. Rosamund's Tower from within the castle's courtyard.

This view of Rosamund's Tower demonstrates where the Outer Ward meets the Inner Ward. There is a door in the bottom of the ditch (out of shot here) which connects with the postern in the outer wall of the tower. Anyone trying to enter uninvited here, would have faced defenders firing from above, from the flanking walls, and from the keep ahead of them.

A view of the exterior postern door of Rosamund's Tower.

This entrance into the castle, in the Northern wall wouldn't have been as exposed as this. Originally a draw bridge would have spanned the ditch\moat at this point, preventing access to the tower and subsequently the castle. The tower would have had battlements at its summit, and the curtain wall would have had a wall walk from which the castle's defenders could quite easily defend the wall.

Check the English Heritage web site for further information.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Castle park earthworks, Kendal

Castle Park earthworks

This interesting earthwork feature can be seen just to the North of the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal, sandwiched between the A684 and the Kendal to Windermere railway. The railway embankment lays some 50 yards to the East of the mound, with both structures appearing to merge gently into each other. At first glance, this earthwork feature, a mound with a steep West facing slope, crowned by a huddle of trees, appears to be nothing special. Upon closer inspection however, a number of interesting points appear.

The mound is flat topped, with a ring of trees crowning the summit. There is a fairly large central area within this ring of trees.

The rim of the mound appears to have been shored up...there are large amounts of masonry beneath the tree roots. For what purpose this building work was done, and from what period is not known. The fact that much of the masonry appears to be beneath the tree roots, could suggest that the stone work is older than many of the trees.

The most complete piece of masonry, appears to be on the West facing slope, as shown in the photos below.

This photo clearly shows the masonry beneath the root line of the mature trees.

And again, below.

The stone work is visible most of the way around the summit of the mound, although on the North and Eastern sides, it is either buried just beneath the surface, or has been robbed or fallen away.

The above photo shows the summit of the mound from the North. The slope here to the fields below, is much gentler.

The photo below shows the mound from the South. The railway embankment can just be seen to the right of the photo. The walk to the summit from here is a gentle uphill walk.

To the West of the mound, and at the foot of the steep drop, a shallow pond or mere can be seen. The original banks of this small mere can still be seen as earthworks higher up the field, indicating that it may have been larger some time in the past. It is this feature that I feel indicates the initial use of this site.

If this earthwork feature is taken in the context of the Castle Green Hotel, which lays about 100 yards to the South, it could be suggested that it is merely a garden feature or 'prospect mound' attached to what was once a wealthy family's home, not a spoil heap from the nearby railway, and, unfortunately, probably not the remains of a motte and bailey castle!! The Bindloss family built Castle Green as a home....and the motte, or the mound as it should probably be more correctly referred to as, which is probably one of the many drumlins left over from the last ice age, is ideally situated to give the family panoramic views over Kendal. Indeed, the mound looks directly onto Kendal castle, some three quarters of a mile away to the West, with the tiny mere at its Western base making a pretty ornamental garden. The gentle slope rising from South of the gardens of the Castle Green hotel to the summit, would have made for an easy walk to the summit....and the masonry that encircles the summit could have been put in place to stabilise the earth and prevent any slippage, especially with the number of trees already growing there. There seems to be no evidence of this being a motte and bailey castle...there are no signs of infilled or silted ditches, no banks acting as defences at the base of the mound, and the fact that it's overlooked by higher ground to the East negates any defensive qualities this site might posses. All in all, this appears to be an interesting footnote to the Castle Green Hotel, built by a rich local family in order for them to enjoy the gardens of their home, and also to enable them to look out over the town that they lived and worked in.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Royal Observer Corps Monitoring station, Kendal

Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Station

This Cold War bunker, used for monitoring the movement of radioactive fallout in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK, is probably not much known to many locals. Situated on a hillock, overlooking Heron Hill and the Castle Estate, it consists of nothing more than a green concrete 'box' protruding above the surrounding grass.

The bunker was inspected as part of the Defence of Britain survey between 1995 and 2002, and was found to be in good condition. It was opened in March 1963, and closed in September 1991.

Check out the following link for some great close up and interior photos:
Days Later link 1

Days Later link 2