Sheffield Castle was sited in a naturally prominent position, at the confluence of the River Sheaf with the River Don. Documentary evidence indicates that a timber castle was constructed on the site c.1100; it was burnt down in 1266 during the rebellion led by Simon de Montfort against Henry III. In 1270 the castle's then owner, Thomas de Furnival, was given a licence to rebuild in stone and crenellate (add battlements). Unfortunately no plans or illustrations of this castle survive, but documentary records give us some indication of its form:
There was an Inner Court with a great ditch (moat) around it, which contained the principal buildings of the castle, and an Outer Court to the south, which contained barns, stables, a granary, etc. The buildings of the Inner Court included the castle wall, a great gate, great tower, great hall, a chapel, a kitchen, a bakehouse, etc. Surviving documents also give some clues about layout at the castle, for instance an account of works undertaken c.1441-2 describes:
"repairing and mending the way from the Hall to the gate";
"reconstructing a battlement above the Hall, and also doing the masonry of the wall at the end of the kitchen next to the Castle wall";
"taking down (and reconstructing) the old tower within the Castle next to the Chapel"
Much of the material for this rebuilding work came from Sheffield Park, which lay to the east of the Castle, across the River Sheaf. Within the Park was a hunting lodge, which by the mid 16th century was becoming increasingly used as the principal residence of the estate. However, the Castle was obviously kept in good order. A description of the funeral of the fifth Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1560, describes "the porch going into the hall and the hall also was hanged with black cloth and garnished with scutcheons of arms (shields with the coat of arms displayed). Then the way from the hall to the great chamber was hanged in like manner. The great chamber was hanged from the top to the ground with black cloth." The Earl was buried in the parish church at Sheffield and after the funeral a great dinner for the mourners was served at the castle. As well as being the main residence for Sheffield's Lords of the Manor from the 12th until the 16th centuries, the castle is notable for being one of the principal places that Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned. Queen Elizabeth charged the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury with Mary's care in 1568 - shortly after she had arrived in England; Mary arrived in Sheffield late in 1570 and left in 1584. During that time she was held at the Castle, and occasionally at the Manor Lodge, with even more occasional trips away - such as to Buxton, to take the waters. In 1584, Elizabeth agreed that Mary's care should be transferred elsewhere, but the sixth Earl was present when Mary was executed at Fotheringhay in 1587. By the outbreak of Civil War in 1642, Sheffield manor & castle had passed to the Howards, Earls of Arundel & Surrey and Dukes of Norfolk. Parliamentarians seized the castle in 1642, but the forces of the Earl of Newcastle took it back in 1643. A garrison, under the command of Sir William Savile, was left in charge of the castle and town. He in turn left Sheffield to the care of Thomas Beaumont, Esq., who held out for 10 days when the castle was besieged by a Parliamentarian force led by Major-General Crawford, for the Earl of Manchester. The Castle was surrendered to the Parliamentarians on the 11th August 1644. On the 30th April 1646 the House of Commons passed a resolution that the castle at Sheffield should be made untenable and a further resolution was passed the following year that it should be dismantled and slighted. From surviving accounts, this appears to have taken place between 1648 and 1649. Materials from the castle were taken to be re-used as building material elsewhere, or on the site; the first detailed plan of Sheffield, Gosling's map of 1736, shows much of the area built over. Development of the castle site continued in the 18th and 19th centuries, including the construction of a steelworks on part of the Inner Court area and slaughterhouses below it, along the edge of the River Don. Modern redevelopment of the site began c.1916 when the area began to be cleared for the creation of Castle Market (the Corporation of Sheffield having acquired the land from the Duke of Norfolk in 1899) and a Co-operative Society store. Subsequently, following damage to the Co-operative Society store in WWII, the market was extended to the south and, later to the west. Excavations carried out in 1927-9 (by A. L. Armstrong) on the site of Sheffield Castle revealed building foundations of three periods. The earliest, the remains of a large wooden structure, thought to be of Saxon date, was replaced by a timber castle c. 1100 AD that was burnt down in 1266 AD. A stone castle built in 1270 AD was demolished in 1649-50. (South Yorkshire SMR)
Excavations in 1927-28 on the site of Sheffield castle found: A dark age hall was discovered fortified by a ditch. This was replaced circa 1100 by a timber castle. This, along with the church and most of the town, was burnt down in 1265 and a stone castle was built to replace it. In 1648, following the English civil war, parliament ordered that the castle be demolished. All that remains today of this C13 castle is part of a corner tower buried in a cellar underneath the castle market. The surrounding geography, however, still marks out the site - to the north and east the castle was bounded by the rivers Don and Sheaf respectively. A moat was dug to protect the south and west sides, its course is (roughly) marked out today by Exchange Street and Waingate.
Much of the masonry work dates from the second half of the C13 but it may well be this fairly major castle had some stonework before this date. Hopefully the story of Sheffield castle will become clearer if and when Castle Market
is eventually redeveloped.