Conisbrough Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte Ringwork), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are major building remains

NameConisbrough Castle
Alternative NamesConisborough; Conisburgh; Coningsburgh; Conigbroc; Kuningeburh
Historic CountryYorkshire
Modern AuthorityDoncaster
1974 AuthoritySouth Yorkshire
Civil ParishConisbrough Ward of Doncaster NPA

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)

Gatehouse Comments

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

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSK514988
Latitude53.4843711853027
Longitude-1.22572994232178
Eastings451490
Northings398810
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
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Laitude 53° 29' 3.33" Longitude -1° 13' 35.01"

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Laitude 53° 29' 3.33" Longitude -1° 13' 35.01"

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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.

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Books

  • Dixon, Philip, 2015, 'Steps to Lordship' in T.A. Heslop and Helen E. Lunnon (eds), Norwich Medieval and Early Modern Art, Architecture and Archaeology (The British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 38) p. 118-134
  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 29, 53, 128, 149-51, 158, 162-3
  • Turner, Maurice, 2004, Yorkshire Castles: Exploring Historic Yorkshire (Otley: Westbury Publishing) passim
  • Hey, David, 2003, Medieval South Yorkshire (Landmark Publishing) p. 68-70
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles and Tower Houses of Yorkshire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 30-2
  • Ingham, Bernard, 2001, Bernard Ingham's Yorkshire Castles (Dalesman) p. 64-5
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 302-4 (plan)
  • Sneyd, Steve, 1995, The Devil's Logbook Castles and Fortified Sites around South Yorkshire (Hilltop Press) p. 8
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 95-6
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 515-6
  • Ryder, P.F., 1982 (paperback edn 1992), The Medieval Buildings of Yorkshire (Ash Grove Book) p. 87-107
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 212-3
  • Hey, D., 1979, The Making of South Yorkshire (Ashbourne: Moorland) p. 45-47
  • Johnson, S., 1977, 'Conisbrough Castle' Archaeological excavations 1976 (HMSO) p. 33-4
  • Magilton, J.R., 1977, The Doncaster District: An Archaeological Survey (Doncaster) p. 28
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 155-57
  • Sorrell, Alan, 1973, British Castles (London: Batsford) p. 26-9
  • Garlick, Tom, 1972, Yorkshire Castles (Dalesman) p. 15-19
  • Pevsner, N. and Radcliffe, E., 1967, Buildings of England: Yorkshire: West Riding (London, Penguin) p. 167-9
  • 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. 616 (late repairs only)
  • Toy, Sidney, 1953, The Castles of Great Britain (Heinemann) p. 105-7
  • Toy, Sidney, 1939, Castles: A short History of Fortifications from 1600 BC to AD 1600 (London) p. 96-8
  • Illingworth, J.L., 1938 (republished 1970), Yorkshire's Ruined Castles (Wakefield) p. 36-44
  • Ellis, A.S., 1913, in Page, Wm. (ed), VCH Yorkshire Vol. 3 p. 404
  • Ellis, A.S., 1912, in Page, Wm. (ed), VCH Yorkshire Vol. 2 p. 28-30
  • Ellis, A.S., 1912, in Page, Wm. (ed), VCH Yorkshire Vol. 1 p. 168-9
  • Thompson, A. Hamilton, 1912, Military architecture in England during the Middle Ages (OUP) p. 166-71 online copy
  • Evans, Herbert A., 1912, Castles of England and Wales (London) p. 186-93
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co) p. 105-6
  • 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. 96-101 online copy
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 213-17 online copy
  • Smith, 1887, History of Conisborough Castle (Worksop)
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 431-35 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 3 (London) p. 190-1 online copy
  • Grainge, W., 1855, Castles and Abbeys of Yorkshire p. 19-32 online copy
  • Britton, John, 1835, The Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain (London) Vol. 4 p. 119-21
  • Hunter, J., 1828, South Yorkshire. The History and Topography of the Deanery of Doncaster in the Diocese and County of York Vol. 1 p. 97-115
  • Wainwright, 1826, Strafford and Tickhill (Sheffield) p. 205-14 online copy
  • King, Edward, 1804, Munimenta antiqua or Observations on antient castles (W.Bulmer and Co) Vol. 3 p. 43-72, 209 online copy
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 2 p. 323
  • Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 6 p. 87-9 online copy

Antiquarian

  • 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. 526
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 36 online copy

Journals

  • Philip Davis, 2015-16, 'Interpretations of the roof and upper works of the great tower of Conisbrough Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 29 p. 250-262
  • Neil Guy, 2015-16, 'The Portcullis - design and development' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 29 p. 132-201
  • Davis, P., 2014 Sept, 'Shining light onto Conisbrough Castle' Castle Studies Group Bulletin Vol. 18 p. 11-12
  • Guy, Neil, 2012-13, 'Conisbrough and Mortemer Castles' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 26 p. 203-6
  • < >Brindle, Steven, 2012, 'The Keep at Conisborough Castle, Yorkshire' Château Gailliard Vol. 25 p. 61-73 < >
  • Davis, P. 2012, 'English Heritage plans for Conisbrough Castle, Yorkshire' Castle Studies Group Bulletin Vol. 14 p. 5-6 (news report)
  • Chris Young, 1993, 'Conisbrough Castle' English Heritage Conservation Bulletin Issue 19 p. 22-3 online transcription
  • Thompson, M.W., 1992 Nov, 'A suggested dual origin for keeps'' Fortress: The castles and fortifications quarterly Vol. 15 p. 3-15
  • Thompson M. W., 1980, 'Conisbrough Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 137 p. 416 (slight)
  • Johnson, S., 1980, 'Excavations at Conisbrough Castle 1973-77' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 52 p. 59-88
  • Birch, J., 1981, 'The castles and fortified houses of South Yorkshire' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 137 p. 374-6
  • Johnson, S., 1976, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 20 p. 185 download copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1969, 'Further work at Conisburgh Castle, Yorkshire' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 13 p. 215-6 and plate XXXIII download copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1968, 'Conisbrough castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 125 p. 327-8
  • Thompson, M.W., 1968, 'A Single-aisled Hall at Conisbrough Castle, Yorkshire' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 12 p. 153 download copy
  • 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)
  • Simpson, W. Douglas, 1954, 'The donjons of Conisborough and Bothwell' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 32 p. 100-115
  • Sands, H. and Brown, H., 1934, 'Conisbrough and Mortemer' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 32 p. 147-59
  • Innocent, C.F., 1914-18, 'Conisborough and its castle' Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society Vol. 1 p. 395-8
  • Gould, I. Chalkley, 1904, 'Some early defensive earthworks of the Sheffield district' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 10 p. 29-42 esp. 41-2 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 215 online copy
  • Ellis, A.S., 1886, 'Conisbrough Castle' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 9 p. 399-400 online copy
  • Hoyle, W.F., 1886, 'Abstract of the title to the Manor of Conisbrough in the county of York' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 9 p. 216-20 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1883, 'Conisbrough Castle' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 8 p. 123-57 (reprinted in MMA) online copy
  • Roberts, E., 1874, 'Coningsburgh Castle' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 30 p. 19-24 online copy
  • Milward, A., 1848, 'On the Norman keep towers of Coningsburgh and Richmond' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 5 p. 41-52 online copy
  • 1801, The Gentleman's Magazine p. 201-3 (missing from google online copy)
  • King, Edward, 1782, 'Sequel to the observations on Ancient Castles' Archaeologia Vol. 6 p. 234-46 (reprinted in Antient Castles)

Guide Books

  • Brindle, S. and Sadraei, A., 2015, Conisbrough Castle (London: English Heritage)
  • Johnson, S., 1988, Conisbrough Castle (London: English Heritage)
  • Johnson, S., 1984, Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire (HMSO)
  • Thompson, M.W., 1959, Conisbrough Castle, Yorkshire (HMSO)

Primary Sources

  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 479-80
  • Brown, W., 1886, 'View of the Castles of Tickhill and Conisbrough' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 9 p. 221-2 (Description from 1537) online copy
  • Clay, C.T. (ed), 1949, Early Yorkshire charters Vol. 8 The Honour of Warenne (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series 4)
  • Clay, C.T. 1933, 'The Yorkshire portion of the Lewes Chartulary' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 123 p. 123-
  • Dugdale, William (Caley, J., Ellis, H. and Bandinel, B. (eds)), 1817-30 (originally pub. 1655-73), Monasticon Anglicanum (London) Vol. 3 p. 618 (Constable witnessing charter) online copy
  • Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 440 online copy
  • SC12/17/63 (Survey of 29 Henry VIII) The National Archives reference

Other

  • Ryder, Charles, 2011, The spiral stair or vice: Its origins, role and meaning in medieval stone castles (PhD Thesis University of Liverpool) p. 147-50 Download via
  • Harrison, S.A., 2010, Conisbrough Castle: an initial brief review of the architectural problems and the evidence of the architectural fragments (Unpublished report for English Heritage)
  • Doncaster Council, 2006, Future Management of Conisbrough Castle online copy
  • Harvey, Jeni, 5/3/2008, 'Deal lifts hopes for boom in castle visitors' Yorkshire Post online copy
  • Constable, Christopher, 2003, Aspects of the archaeology of the castle in the north of England C 1066-1216 (Doctoral thesis, Durham University) Available at Durham E-Theses Online
  • Creighton, O.H., 1998, Castles and Landscapes: An Archaeological Survey of Yorkshire and the East Midlands (PhD Thesis University of Leicester) p. 724-5 online copy