Sandal Castle, Yorkshire, to host medieval battle on New Year’s Eve

castle, Sandal Castle, Yorkshire
A castle in Yorkshire will be the scene of a reenactment of one of England’s most important battles.

The Battle of Wakefield, fought on December 30, 1460, will be reenacted by the Frei Compagnie. Members of the group will not only be fighting it out medieval style, but will also be displaying medieval arts and crafts and talking about life in the 15th century.

Sandal Castle has an intriguing history. The first castle here was built in the early 12th century in the Norman motte-and-bailey style. An artificial hill had the main house on top, surrounded by a wooden palisade. A larger enclosure and other buildings on level ground were also surrounded by a palisade and the entire thing was further protected by an encircling ditch. These castles were quick, cheap, and easy to make and were one of the ways the new Norman rulers of England suppressed the rebellious Anglo-Saxons. Like many motte-and-bailey castles, the wooden walls of Sandal Castle were later replaced with stone.

The castle’s main claim to fame came during the War of the Roses, when Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, made a bid for the throne. He gathered a great deal of support and fought the armies of Queen Margaret and King Henry VI. In 1460 Richard was at Sandal Castle with an army of a few thousand men when his enemies showed up with a much larger force. Richard’s army was beaten and he was beheaded. The House of York continued to fight, but it was the beginning of the end.

While the original battle was on December 30, the reenactment will be on New Year’s Eve from 1-3pm. For more on Yorkshire’s sights, check out our series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

castle, Sandal Castle, Yorkshire

Lincoln Cathedral quieter than usual as 176 year old bell gets repaired

Lincoln CathedralGreat Tom, the giant bell at Lincoln Cathedral that has struck the hour every hour since 1835, has stopped ringing.

The clapper has almost shared off, a church official said. The last time the bell was silenced was during the filming of The Da Vinci Code in 2005.

Lincoln Cathedral is one of the great cathedrals of Europe. The original cathedral was commissioned by William the Conqueror and consecrated in 1092. Fires and earthquakes caused a few rebuilds over the years and like so many cathedrals, different parts date to different centuries.

Still, it’s one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in England. The soaring nave and the three tall towers make it a memorable landmark.

Lincoln cathedralOne odd little bit of decoration is the Lincoln Imp. This is said to be one of two imps sent by the devil to cause mischief. They smashed the furniture, tripped the bishop, and caused general mayhem until an angel floated out of a book of hymns. One imp became scared and hid, while the other threw things at the angel. The angel then turned the more aggressive imp to stone while the cowardly imp ran away. An imp is still the symbol of the city of Lincoln.

Smaller bells will continue to ring the quarter hours and church officials hope to have it up by the end of the year.

Imp photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Cathedral photo courtesy Geograph.

Mystery mound in England turns out to be ancient monument

England, Silbury Hill
England’s prehistoric landscape has a new addition.

Marlborough Mound in Wiltshire has long been a mystery. The flat-topped cone of earth looks like a smaller version of Silbury Hill, pictured here. The bigger mound was finished around 2300 BC at a time when Neolithic farmers were erecting stone circles such as Stonehenge and Avebury. Now archaeologists have taken samples from Marlborough Mound and carbon dated them to 2400 BC.

Carbon dating, which measures decaying carbon isotopes in organic matter, has a slight margin of error that increases the older the sample is. Thus Silbury Hill and Marlborough Mound may have been finished simultaneously, or at least in the same generation. The two mounds are only about 20 miles apart, a day’s walk for a Stone Age farmer or excited archaeologist.

The mound was reused several times. The Romans had a settlement next to it and the Normans built a castle on top of and around it in the late 11th or early 12th century. Early Norman castles were wooden palisades around an artificial mound. In this case their prehistoric predecessors saved them some work. The wooden walls were later replaced with stone ones but the castle has long since vanished. In the 17th century the mound was turned into a garden. The mound stands on the grounds of Marlborough College and is off-limits to visitors. Hopefully that will change now that its true importance is understood.

Top five best castles of Yorkshire


Yorkshire has always been a troubled region of England. It was on the front line of fighting between the English and the Scots and saw lots of action in the English Civil War, when the forces of Parliament under Oliver Cromwell fought the Royalists supporting King Charles I. Because of this, many castles dot the landscape, including some of the most magnificent the country has to offer. Here are five of the best.

York Castle
Dominating the skyline of the city of York is this unusual fortification, often referred to as Clifford’s Tower. The first fort here was built by the Normans in 1068 and was a motte-and-bailey castle. A wooden stockade and tower sat atop a large artificial mound. Around the base of the mound was another enclosure protected by a moat and wooden stockade. Motte-and-bailey castles were cheap and quick to build and provided sufficient protection against the rather basic siege techniques of the time. The Normans threw up hundreds of these in the years immediately following their conquest of England.

In 1190 the castle sheltered the city’s Jewish population during an antisemitic riot started by a man who owed money to a Jewish moneylender and didn’t feel like paying it back. The castle warden let the Jews hide there, but when he went out to talk to the mob the Jews wouldn’t let him back in, fearing the townsmen would swarm in with him. The warden lost patience and called out the militia, which besieged the castle. The tower caught fire and the Jews committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the mob. About 500 people died.

Like many motte-and-bailey castles, the wooden tower was eventually replaced with stone, in this case an odd design of four semicircles. The rounded walls helped deflect shots from catapults and in 1644 proved useful against cannon too. Local Royalist forces held out against a Parliamentarian army for several weeks before finally surrendering when it became apparent that no help was coming.

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Raby Castle
Unlike most English castles, this one’s still lived in. It’s been the residence of the Lord Barnard since 1626 but actually was built by the Neville family in the 14th century. In 1569, seven hundred knights gathered in the great hall to plot the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth I and install a Catholic monarch. The Rising of the North, as it was called, was quickly crushed, and many of its leaders executed. The Neville family saw their castle and lands confiscated and the property was eventually transferred to the Barnard dynasty.

While this imposing castle and its beautiful grounds are private property, it is still possible to visit Raby Castle at certain times of the year. The rooms have decorations from various periods and include many fine works of art from famous artists such as Teniers the Younger and Van Dyck. Make sure to take a stroll in the 200 acre deer park, with its own herds of deer that have been grazing here since Norman times.

Raby Castle is actually in County Durham, but it’s a quick drive from York and too good to miss.

Bolton Castle
Less grandiose than Raby Castle, the castle at Bolton is more geared towards defense. Finished in 1399, it looks like a solid block of stone with four square towers. While the walls were good for keeping people out, they were also good for keeping people in. Elizabeth I kept her Catholic rival Mary Queen of Scots here as a prisoner.

During the English Civil War the owner of the castle supported the king. Most of Yorkshire was Royalist, like the city of York itself, so the region became a prime target for the armies of Parliament. A Parliamentary force besieged the castle but, despite having artillery, weren’t able to take it. The defenders held out for a year and only gave up in 1645 after running out of food. The scars from the cannonballs can still be seen.

Skipton Castle
Another strong fortress is Skipton Castle. Like York and Bolton castles, it also withstood a siege during the English Civil War, but this time for three years. Looking at it you can see why. It started out in 1090 as a motte-and-bailey, but soon developed into a massive stone stronghold. So massive, in fact, that nobody dared attack it until those pesky Parliamentarians decided to try their luck in 1643. Not even cannons could break the walls and three years later the Royalist garrison was still holding out. All other Royalist resistance in Yorkshire had crumbled and the defenders finally agreed to an honorable surrender.

Despite its ill treatment at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s men, Skipton Castle remains one of the best preserved castles in England. The fabulous gatehouse, towers, and Tudor-era courtyard really give a feel for what it was like in the not-so-good old days. It’s all very impressive, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck there for three years!

Ripley Castle
Like Raby Castle, Ripley Castle is a private residence but open to the public. This stately home been in the Ingilby family since it was built in 1309. It’s amazing they managed to hold onto it considering they remained committed Catholics when England became Protestant. One Ingilby was executed in 1586 for inciting a Catholic rebellion. Other members of the family were important members in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, who persecuted Catholics. The family played a very dangerous political game but they were good at it. They even had a secret room for their priest to hide in so nobody knew they were still keeping the old faith. They also had a hand in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up James I and all of Parliament and make England Catholic again. Even after the plot failed and Guy Fawkes was executed they still managed to wriggle their way out of trouble and keep their castle.

Ripley Castle is famous for its beautiful gardens and deer park as well as its historic interior. You’ll see a room that used to be a British navy ship, a sumptuous dining room, and take in sweeping views of the countryside from the drawing room. The library is much as it was when Jane Ingilby held Oliver Cromwell at gunpoint and took him prisoner. Cromwell escaped, of course, yet despite him leading the Parliamentary forces to victory and taking power, the family still kept their castle!

Colchester Castle celebrates 150 years as a museum

It’s not often that a museum becomes a museum piece.

The Colchester Castle Museum recently celebrated its 150th birthday. Located in Essex, England, and housed in one of the best preserved Norman castles in the world, the museum boasts a massive collection of Roman artifacts.

Colchester used to be the capital of Roman Britain until it was leveled by the warrior queen Boudica in 60 AD. As the leader of the Celtic Iceni tribe, she had defied the recent Roman conquest of England. As punishment she was whipped and her underaged daughters raped before her eyes. Boudica raised an army and wreaked a terrible revenge across Roman Britain, slaughtering an estimated 30,000 people at Colchester alone before she was defeated at the Battle of Watling Street.

The Normans built a castle here around the year 1076 on the foundations of the temple to the Emperor Claudius. The foundations were so large that the castle ended up being the biggest ever built in England. After a stint as an interrogation center for suspected witches, it eventually became a museum in 1860. Today it houses an excellent collection of Roman artifacts as well as collections from other periods. An interesting article in the Chelmsford Weekly News reports the collection is the product of generations of collectors and includes not only priceless archaeological treasures but oddities such as a crab with oysters growing on its shell.

[Photo courtesy Filip Walter via Wikimedia Commons]