The ruins of a medieval keep castle predominantly dating from C11 to C14. Among the first of the Norman castles to be built in England after the Conquest and granted to William Peveril, who was thought to have been an illegitimate son of William I and one of his most trusted knights. The castle stands in an impregnable position on a clifftop above the town of Castleton, but predates the town by about 100 years. In 1080 Peveril fortified the site and constructed a wooden keep, but later these buildings were converted into stone. The square keep and part of the curtain wall are still standing and the outer bailey is still visible. Part of the north wall dates from C11, but the remainder is C12 to C14. The castle fell into disuse during the early C15 and was never adapted for domestic use. Only the keep was in use by the C17 as a courthouse. When this was abandoned the castle gradually became ruined until restoration work during C20. The present stone keep, built by Henry II in 1176, survives almost to its full height. Inside the courtyard it is possible to trace the foundations of a Great Hall, kitchens and other domestic buildings. The castle forms the backdrop to Sir Walter Scott's novel "Peveril of the Peak". (PastScape)
Peveril Castle is an important and well-documented example of a tower keep castle and is one of a very small number nationally to be built of stone immediately after the Conquest. As a result, substantial sections of eleventh century masonry survive. In addition, considerable archaeological deposits survive both in the inner bailey and along the approach from the north, and also, in particular, in the outer bailey which has never been excavated.
Peveril Castle is a tower keep castle situated above the north bank of Cave Dale to the south of Castleton. The monument comprises two constraint areas, divided by a narrow ravine, the first incorporating the standing remains of the castle along with the terraced hillside leading to the north-east gate, and the second containing the site of the outer bailey and access to the main south-west gate. The standing remains of the monument consist primarily of the square keep and a curtain wall enclosing a roughly triangular inner bailey measuring c.100m x 60m. The north wall, although much repaired and altered, still contains eleventh century sections, though the remainder of the curtain is twelfth century. The keep, which stands almost to its original height and is also twelfth century, was originally entered at the first floor. It was a primarily defensive feature and, as the castle had fallen into disuse by the fifteenth century, was not adapted to domestic use. It therefore remained a simple structure with only one floor above the entrance level and a basement floor below. Its main function was to guard the south-west gate into the inner bailey. This was reached from the outer bailey via a bridge which, during the Middle Ages, spanned the intervening gorge. A masonry abutment for the bridge can be seen in the ditch below the keep. The outer bailey lies to the south-west where a bank and ditch forms the western boundary of a triangular enclosure, measuring c.80m x 60m, where cattle, horses and people would have been housed. The bank contains the remains of a defensive wall and a gap approximately midway along it shows where the 'Earl's road' entered the castle from the south-west at its main point of access. The steep path up the hillside from the north, which entered the inner bailey via the north-east gate, was a consequence of the town's foundation in the late twelfth century and was largely for pedestrian use, being too steep for vehicles. The castle itself was founded in 1086 and remained in the hands of the Peverel family until 1155 when it was taken over by the Crown. It was granted to John of Gaunt by Edward III in the fourteenth century, thus becoming part of the Duchy of Lancaster, and remained in use until some time after 1400. The standing remains and the northern approach have been in State care since 1932 and the standing remains are a Grade I Listed Building. (Scheduling Report)
Although the main function of this castle must have been as a base for hunting in the Peak forest, and administration of the local lead mining industry, a question to be addressed is the reason for choosing the specific site. Originally it was built in a very isolated site with no settlement. Castleton was founded rather later as a new borough - The Saxon centre of the region was the village of Hope, where a small ringwork still survives (Hope
). The position is naturally strong but this is an area of many strong natural sites, some of which had earlier defences (i.e. Mam Tor). The impressive Peak's Arse cavern, above which the castle directly stands, seems to have had some particular significance (Henry of Huntingdon, writing in the 1130's made this cave the foremost wonder of the Britsh Isles - (Ref. Orme, Nicholas, July 2008, 'Place and Past in Medieval England' History Today
Vol. 58.7 p. 27). The castle may have been founded here, as a personal choice of William Peveril, to show Norman domination over this important natural feature. (see also Barnwell's 2007 paper). However it should be noted that in 1829 coins of Aethelred II and coin dies
were found 'amongst the earth that slipped down the hill at Castleton upon which the castle stands' (Derbyshire HER record 3320). These were lead tokens rather than silver coin but this still implies a Saxon high status administrative site on this hilltop so perhaps Peveril was just doing the standard Norman rebuilding of a Saxon site.
The name Pechefers which occurs in some transcriptions of Domesday Book may well be a deliberate mis-transcription of a scribal long s into a f designed to 'protect' Victorian sensibilities. Pechefers is meaningless; Pechesers is clearly a phonetic Latin form of the Saxon 'Peak's Arse'.