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Peveril Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Peak; Pechefers; Pechesers; Peak's Arse; Peverel's; Castleton; Castle of the Peke

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

OS Map Grid Reference: SK14948260
Latitude 53.33994° Longitude -1.77742°

Peveril Castle has been described as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are major building remains.

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


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'.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
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Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 124, 139, 451
      Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of the East Midlands (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 24-6
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 51
      Smith, Michael E., 1992, Castles and Manor Houses in and around Derbyshire (Derby)
      Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 175-77
      Merill, J.N., 1988, Halls and Castles of the Peak District and Derbyshire (Matlock: JNM Publications) p. 35-8
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 110
      Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 275
      Pevsner, Nikolaus revised by Elizabeth Williamson, 1978, Buildings of England: Derbyshire (Harmondsworth) p. 200-1
      Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker)
      Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 776-7
      Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 182-3 online copy
      Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
      Gotch, J. Alfred, 1909, The Growth of the English House (London: Batsford) p. 13-20
      Cox, J.C., 1905, 'Ancient Earthworks' in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Derbyshire Vol. 1 p. 379-80 online copy
      Armitage, Ella S., 1905, A key to English antiquites with special reference to the Sheffield and Rotherham district (London: J.M. Dent and Co) p. 101-4 online copy
      Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 473-5 online copy
      Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 3 (London) p. 86-90 online copy
      Lysons, D. and S., 1817, Magna Britannia Vol. 5 Derbyshire p. ccxxxvi online transcription
      King, Edward, 1804, Munimenta antiqua or Observations on antient castles (W.Bulmer and Co) Vol. 3 p. 211-20 online copy
      Pegge, S., 1785, Sketch of the history of Bolsover and Peak Castles in the county of Derby (London: J. Nichols for the Society of Antiquaries - Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica No. 32) online copy
      Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 55
  • Periodical Articles
    • Creighton, O.H., 2010, 'Room with a View: Framing Castles Landscapes' Château Gaillard Vol. 24 p. 37-49 (slight)
      Barnwell, P.S., 2007, 'The power of Peak Castle: cultural contexts and changing perceptions' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 160 p. 20-38
      Anon, 2004, 'Greater Access at Peveril Castle' Castle Studies Group Newsletter Vol. 6 p. 2
      Harfield, C.G., 1991, 'A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book' English Historical Review Vol. 106 p. 371-392 view online copy (subscription required)
      Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
      Himsworth, J.B.,1956, 'Peveril Castle Stones, Castleton.' Derbyshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 76
      Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
      Notes and Queries, 1929-37, 'Peak Castle, Castleton' Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society Vol. 4 p. 186
      Kirke, H., 1906, 'Peverel's Castle in the Peak.' Derbyshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 28 p. 134-46 online copy
      Armitage, E., 1904 April, 'The Early Norman Castles of England' English Historical Review Vol. 19 p. 209-245, 417-455 esp. 243 online copy
      St John Hope, W.H., 1889, 'The Castle of the Peak, and the Pipe Rolls' Derbyshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 11 p. 120-6 online copy
      Hartshorne, C.H., 1848, 'Peverell's castle in the Peak' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 5 p. 207-16 (plans of keep) online copy
      B., 1829, The Gentleman's Magazine Vol. 146 p. 401 (Find of Saxon coins) online copy
      King, Edward, 1782, 'Sequel to the observations on Ancient Castles' Archaeologia Vol. 6 p. 247-54
  • Guidebooks
    • Eales, R., 2006, Peveril Castle (London: English Heritage)
      1999, Peveril Castle Colour Handbook (London: English Heritage)
      Spicer, Suzanne, 1994, Peveril Castle (London: English Heritage)
      Morley, Beric, 1990, Peveril Castle (London: English Heritage)
      Apted, M., 1985, Peveril Castle (London: English Heritage)
      O'Neil, B.H.St.J. and White, P.R., 1985, Peveril Castle (London: English Heritage)
      O'Neil, B.H.St.J. and White, P.R., 1979 2edn, Peveril Castle (HMSO)
      O'Neil, B.H.St.J., 1950 (improved edn), Peveril Castle (HMSO)
      O'Neil, B.H.St.J., 1934, Peveril Castle (HMSO)
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
    • 1086, Domesday Book online copy
      Arnold, T. (ed), 1879, Henrici Archidiaconi Huntendunesis Historia Anglorum (London: Rolls Series 74) p. 11-12 (Peaks cavern as first wonder of Britain) online copy
      Pipe Rolls 1183-4, 1194-9, 1205-12 (see Pipe Roll Society for published references)
      Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 168-70
      DL44/76A (Survey of 4 Elizabeth) The National Archives reference
      SP14/49/82 (Survey of 1609) The National Archives reference
  • Antiquarian (Histories and accounts from late medieval and early modern writers)
    • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
      Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 101
      Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1910, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 5 p. 31 online copy
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • Ryder, Charles, 2011, The spiral stair or vice: Its origins, role and meaning in medieval stone castles (PhD Thesis University of Liverpool) p. 170-73 Download via
      Dave Barrett, Gill Stroud, 2009, Extensive Urban Survey - Derbyshire (English Heritage) Download copy
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This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

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