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Authority English Heritage
Other Ref SM Cat. No. 91
Date assigned Friday, October 9, 1981
Date last amended Wednesday, March 11, 1992


REASONS FOR DESIGNATION A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the principal defensive feature. The keep may be freestanding or surrounded by a defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops, may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid-15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important. Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and the centre of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post- Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. As such, and as one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupier for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle. 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. DETAILS 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. Other exclusions are the surfaces of paths and drives, all modern fencing and walling, modern gates, the ticket office and all English Heritage fittings such as railings, grilles and notices, the toilet block, the custodian's lodge and outhouses, the surface of the playground of Bolsover Church of England School, the sheds etc. within the English Heritage Works compound, the fittings of the Bolsover Castle Bowling Club and the surface of the bowling green itself. The ground beneath all these exclusions is, however, included. SELECTED SOURCES Book Reference - Author: Faulkner, PA - Title: Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire - Date: 1972 - Type: DESC TEXT - Description: DOE Official Guidebook Article Reference - Author: Hart, CR - Title: Bolsover: the archaeological implications of development - Date: 1977 - Type: DESC TEXT - Description: N D A C Pamphlet Book Reference - Author: Hart, CR - Title: North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey - Date: 1984 - Page References: 148 Book Reference - Author: Pevsner, N and Williamson, E - Title: The Buildings of England: Derbyshire - Date: 1978 - Page References: 92-94 - Type: DESC TEXT Book Reference - Author: Renn, DF - Title: Norman Castles in Britain - Date: 1968 - Type: DESC TEXT Article Reference - Author: Currey, P H - Title: Bolsover Castle - Date: 1916 - Journal Title: Derbyshire Archaeological Journal - Volume: XXXVIII - Page References: 1-28 - Type: DESC TEXT

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Sources (2)

  • Scheduling record: English Heritage. 1981. Scheduling Notification: Bolsover Castle: eleventh century motte and bailey castle, twelfth century tower keep castle and seventeenth century country house.. List entry no. 1012496. SM Cat. No. 91.
  • Unpublished document: Challis, K & Sheppard, R. 1991. Bolsover Castle: Report on Archaeological Watching Brief on Groundworks at South End of Terrace Range.



Grid reference Centred SK 4709 7063 (274m by 319m)
Map sheet SK47SE

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Record last edited

Feb 20 2020 1:48PM

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