The comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales, the Islands.
The listings
Other Info
Print Page 
Next Record 
Previous Record 
Back to list 

Conisbrough Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Conisborough; Conisburgh; Coningsburgh; Conigbroc; Kuningeburh

In the civil parish of Conisbrough Ward of Doncaster NPA.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of Doncaster.
1974 county of South Yorkshire.
Medieval County of Yorkshire West Riding.

OS Map Grid Reference: SK51499881
Latitude 53.48437° Longitude -1.22573°

Conisbrough Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also 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*.


Conisbrough Castle is a castle whose main component is a 28 metre high cylindrical tower with six solid wedge-shaped buttresses. The tower consists of several floors, access presently gained via a modern outer staircase leading to the entrance floor circa 5 metres off the ground. A well shaft drops from the entrance floor down into the basement floor below. An interior staircase leads to the upper floors, the positions of which are marked by garderobes and, on the second floor, a thirteenth or fourteenth century fireplace. Surrounding the tower to the north, west and south is a curtain wall enclosing a grassed-over bailey containing well-shafts, a blocked sally-port and the wall footings of ancillary buildings. A modern ramp on the west side overlies the original walled approach to the bailey which leads from a ruined gate-tower. Surrounding the whole is a ditch circa 10 metres deep and circa 20 metres wide and a steeply scarped rampart. The castle is situated on a natural slope and is one of several that, in the Middle Ages, commanded the Don Valley. The site was part of the honour of Conisbrough given to Earl Warenne by his father-in-law William the Conqueror. The castle was built during the twelfth century and remained in the hands of the de Warennes until the reign of Edward III when it passed to Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, and to his descendants. Elizabeth I granted the castle and its demesne to her cousin, Lord Hunsden, since when it has passed through several owners. It has been in State care since 1950. (PastScape)

The earthworks belonging to Conisbrough Castle are of the motte and bailey type and are in good preservation. Motte is very large being 3/4 acre in area and 50 ft. high; whether it is artificial or formed of scarping a natural hill cannot be ascertained without excavation. The motte is large enough for a small ward as well as a keep. It is surrounded by a wide ditch, the bank on the counterscarp being very fine. The bailey has not preserved its earthworks so well and its area cannot be easily determined, but it seems to have had no defences of masonry. There is no early Norman masonry on the motte; the keep was built by Earl Hamelin Plantagenent at the end of C12. There can be little doubt that the earthwork belonged to one of the castles of the Conquest. (PastScape–ref. VCH)

Conisbrough Castle was founded in the late eleventh century as the centre of the Yorkshire estates of the Warenne family, whose head was one of the great Norman barons in the generations after the Conquest. Later it passed to Hamelin Plantagenet, the illegitimate brother of King Henry II. As such it was one of the great castles of the twelfth century, acting, as castles did, as a combination of military garrison, administrative centre, and great residence. The castle was finally abandoned as a useable building in Tudor times. Despite so many centuries of decay, there are still substantial remains of its defences and of its crowning glory, its rare and well-preserved circular keep. Nearly all that can now be seen on the site appears to be the work of Hamelin Plantagenet between 1180 and 1200. The inner bailey is surrounded for two-thirds of its circuit by a stone curtain wall flanked by solid semicircular towers. The remainder of the wall, together with the flanking towers to the gate, had collapsed from subsidence by 1538, though remains of the fallen towers can still be seen. Within the bailey is the circular keep with its six massive buttresses. Surviving to the height of its wall-walk, the keep is a spectacular survival, though lacking floors and roof, as well as being of an unusual circular design. It was planned as the final stronghold of the castle, but also contained the accommodation and services needed by a great lord. Entered from an external staircase, the windowless first floor w as probably used mainly for storage and as a guard-chamber. Above this on successive floors were two circular rooms, each with massive fireplaces, which would have been its owner 's hall and chamber. (Young 1993)

Sometimes called a motte (as in the VCH) but the scarped natural hilltop is really an elevated ringwork. It is sometimes suggested there was a small motte on the site occupied by the great tower. There is no evidence for this and the suggestion seems to come from the misconception that all Norman castles had mottes.
Conisborough was a major centre in Saxon times, when the Don river effectively formed the northern frontier of Mercia. Its importance diminished in later periods and the place did get a market charter or other urban privileges. Effectively this grand castle was little more than a hunting lodge on the extreme edge of the very large Hatfield Chase, with maintenance of the buildings probably far exceeding any manorial income. This may explains it later history of being passed about and the lack of later development and hence the current good preservation.
Despite being owned by Doncaster Council and being in State care the site was managed from the mid 1980's by the Ivanhoe Trust. They roofed the keep, built a highly idiosyncratic visitor centre and interpreted the site in a style like that used by Madam Tussards at Warwick Castle (but at a much smaller level). The author of Gatehouse believes there is room for different and diverse ways of managing historic sites but finds such interpretation historical inaccurate and rather patronising of visitors. For whatever reason visitor numbers fell and the site has had to been taken back it the control of English Heritage from April 2008. In May 2014, after a £1.1 million refurbishment, the castle reopen to visitors, with the great tower equipped with much improved lighting and with the windows no longer shuttered and this allows a much better examination of the towers interior. A more modern interpretation of the site gives a better idea of how the castle actually functioned, although the interpretation remains focused on the elite castle users, who were often absent from the castle.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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

Sources of information, references and further reading
Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from ANY site without proper recording and reporting.
Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.
The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of Historic England, County Historic Environment Records and other individuals and organisations. It may also contain information licensed under the Open Government Licence. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
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.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown. Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.
*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 26/07/2017 09:20:07

Home | Books | Links | Fortifications and Castles | Other Information | Help | Downloads | Author Information | Contact