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Bolsover Castle

In the civil parish of Old Bolsover.
In the historic county of Derbyshire.
Modern Authority of Derbyshire.
1974 county of Derbyshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SK47087067
Latitude 53.23127° Longitude -1.29646°

Bolsover Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.

Description

The site of an eleventh century motte and bailey castle, and the site of a twelfth century tower keep castle and the standing remains of the seventeenth century country house that was built over it. The country house was built largely on the remains of 12th century masonry. The open areas of the inner and outer baileys, therefore, have been left largely undisturbed since the 11th century and are believed to contain the buried remains of buildings and structures associated with the all periods of the medieval castle's history. The motte and bailey castle took the form of a large oval outer bailey, with a smaller inner bailey. The later medieval castle respected the layout of the earlier, and the square tower keep appears to have been built on the site of the original. The foundations of the twelfth century keep survive below the present 'keep', known as the Little Castle, which was built between 1612 and 1621 and contains wall paintings throughout. During the course of the seventeenth century, the terrace range, now ruined but containing the main state rooms and the Great Gallery, was built in the outer bailey or Great Court. (PastScape)

Bolsover Castle is an important and well-documented example of a motte and bailey castle which developed into a tower keep castle and was later adapted to become a country house of one of the most important families of the seventeenth century. Although nothing of the medieval castles remains upstanding, twelfth and thirteenth century masonry is known to survive beneath the walls and buildings of the later house and extensive archaeological deposits, relating to both the motte and bailey castle and the tower keep castle, survive largely undisturbed across the whole of the site. The extensive standing remains of the seventeenth century house, and the wide range of surviving buildings, make it not only of great architectural importance but also one of the most visually impressive monuments of its class.
Bolsover Castle is situated on a limestone promontory overlooking the town of Bolsover, which now almost encircles it. The monument comprises the site of the eleventh century motte and bailey castle, the site of the twelfth century tower keep castle and the standing remains of the seventeenth century country house that was built over it. The buildings and walls of the seventeenth century house were built largely on the remains of twelfth century masonry. The open areas of the inner and outer baileys, therefore, have been left largely undisturbed since the eleventh century and are believed to contain the buried remains of buildings and structures associated with all periods of the medieval castle's history. The motte and bailey castle took the form of a large oval outer bailey, measuring c.280m by 200m, with a smaller inner bailey, measuring c.80m by 60m, lying to the north at the highest point of the promontory. The inner bailey contained the keep while the outer bailey accommodated such ancillary buildings as stables, workshops and lodgings for retainers. The later medieval castle respected the layout of the earlier, and the square tower keep appears to have been built on the site of the original, though this has not yet been confirmed. The foundations of the twelfth century keep survive below the present 'keep', known as the Little Castle, which was built between 1612 and 1621. At this time the inner bailey became a garden, known as the Fountain Garden, and original twelfth or thirteenth century masonry was noted during consolidation work on its walls in both 1946 and 1978. During the course of the seventeenth century, the terrace range, now ruined but containing the main state rooms and the Great Gallery, was built in the outer bailey or Great Court, along with the riding school and its forge. Four conduit or water houses, which supplied the seventeenth century castle with water, lie outside the castle walls and are not included in this scheduling. The first castle at Bolsover was the motte and bailey castle built in the eleventh century by William Peverel, bastard son of William the Conqueror. In 1155 it was taken by the Crown and the earlier stone keep built between 1173 and 1179, at about the same time as the curtain wall round the inner bailey. The medieval fortification had fallen into ruin by the end of the fourteenth century. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it passed in and out of royal hands until granted to George Talbot, later Earl of Shrewsbury and husband of Bess of Hardwick, in 1553. Between 1608 and 1640, the castle was entirely rebuilt by Sir Charles Cavendish and his heir, the first Duke of Newcastle , the design being attributed to Robert and John Smithson. Newcastle was a prominent supporter of Charles I during the Civil War and, after a seige, the castle surrendered to Parliament in 1644 and was subsequently slighted. After the Restoration it gradually underwent repair but, by the mid eighteenth century, was stripped and in ruins, apart from the riding school and Little Castle. The seventh Duke of Portland granted it to the nation in 1945 since when it has been in State care. The castle is a Grade I Listed Building. There are a number of features to be excluded from the scheduling. The most important is the seventeenth century Little Castle which, being roofed and containing internal architectural and decorative features such as painted panelling, is better served by its Listed status rather than scheduling. The medieval foundations and the deposits underneath are, however, included in the scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

The circular wall around the bailey is of considerable thickness. This wall probably dates to the C13 but all datable architectural detail of gates etc. has been replaced with C17 work. Throughout the middle ages this was an important castle, overlooking a major route way, and sometimes in royal hands. It was built at the same time and the the same builder as Peveril Castle and may well have had a similar form. Some authors, biased by surviving medieval remains, rather than a complete picture of the past, describe this as a sham castle. Clearly the C17 buildings are different in style to the original medieval building, although the interior of the little keep gives a very good impression of the colour palette available to late medieval 'interior designers', although not, of course, the actual decorative motifs. As it stands the major buildings are not those of a medieval castle, although the layout of those building still reflects the medieval layout, the landscape and location can still be read and the surviving medieval documentation give us much more idea about how this castle works than many others (c.f Castell Coch near Cardiff). There were differences in function between the medieval castle and its C17 rebuild although these have more to do with changes in national and local government methods rather than the over emphasised military function of castles. The stylist changes reflect these changes from government based on an elite knightly class who expressed themselves through martial symbols to an educated officer class who expressed themselves through Classical motifs.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling   Listing   I. O. E.
Maps >
OS getamap   Streetmap   Old-Maps   Where's the path   NLS maps  
Data/Maps > 
Magic   V. O. B.   Geology   EarthTools   GeoHack  
Air Photos > 
Bing Maps   Google Maps   Getmapping   Flashearth      
Photos >
CastleFacts   Geograph   Flickr   Panoramio      

Sources of information, references and further reading
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The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated on Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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