Peveril Castle in Castleton springs to mind as does Duffield Castle which was razed to the ground thanks to an earl of Derby rebelling against King Henry III once too often. Peveril was one of the earliest post conquest castles to be constructed but what stands to day reflects the improvements of King Henry II after the confiscated it from the Peveril family.
No one could accuse Derbyshire of having an important castle within its boundaries, which raises interesting questions about Derby as a Norman administrative centre although it did apparently have some form of early castle as its remains can be found on Speed’s map of 1610 at Cockpit Hill. It has probably got much to do with the fact that the Normans linked Derbyshire to Nottinghamshire, providing only one sheriff for the two counties. William Peveril was the castellan for Nottingham Castle as well as holding the royal forest in the Peak on the king’s behalf.
There was a fortification at Bolsover as well but today we think of the seventeenth century ‘play’ castle built by William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle rather than a motte and bailey castle designed to dominate the locals and control the area. Sir Charles Cavendish, William’s father, began to change the appearance of the old medieval castle in 1608. The so-called ‘Little Castle’ stands on the footprint of the original building.
And then there’s Codnor but that was built at the beginning of the thirteenth century while the motte at Bakewell, which looks more like a pimple on the hillside, is twelfth century dating from the Anarchy when Stephen and Matilda were taking lumps out of one another and the barony were busy turning to brigandage.
Further reading reveals that there are more Norman fortifications in the county than I first realised:
- Pilsbury Castle guarding the Dove Valley.
- It is suggested that the fortifications at Pilsbury and Hartington, at Banktop, may have been complimentary structures. All that remains at Hartington is a large mound with a flat top.
- Crowdecote is just down the road from Hartington and Pilsbury – there’s not much left and quite why the Normans wanted three forts to guard the crossing of the Dove and its associated trackways is another matter entirely. The manors were all in the hands of Henry de Ferrers who may have built a fortification to ensure he kept his territory. It’s also possible that they were thrown up during the troubles of the Anarchy – in which case Hartington and environs must have been rather dangerous to one’s health on occasion. Crowdecote doesn’t get a mention in Domesday but there were some Saxon pottery finds there.
- Camp Green at Hathersage, next to the church, was excavated during the 1970s and revealed itself to be a ringwork enclosure however lack of dating evidence means that it was unclear whether the Normans got to work with their shovels or whether earlier inhabitants of the Peak created a defensive position here. Based on analysis of many other similar sites Hodges argues it was the Normans.
- Harthill near Youlgrave may be a Norman construction but it’s also been argued that its Iron Age in origin. Certainly, that’s what I always understood it to be!
- Hassop Moss near Glossop has similar dating problems and may well be part of a rather grand hunting lodge dating from a later period.
- Hope had a Saxon Royal manor which seems to have been fortified.
- There’s another platform for a fortification at Stony Middleton on the optimistically named Castle Hill. Dating it is difficult – it could be British, Roman, or Norman and there were pot shards found there dating the for thirteenth and fourteen centuries. Interestingly the site is near to a lead mine which certainly explains the presence of the fortification.
- Tissington has a potential ringwork near its church but the problem is that there was rather a lot of earthwork activity during the English Civil War so its difficult to tell whether the remains are a Civil War redoubt or something olde being repurposed.
It may be the case that the Norman ringworks in the Peak District were built quickly to control some very grumpy farmers whose land had just been ‘harried’ by the Normans in the winter of 1069-1070. It has also been suggested that this was land which was agriculturally viable and needed to be protected. Not that it’s always clear who did the building or when it happened – it certainly demonstrates the importance of dating evidence.
Exciting as all this may be, Derbyshire’s castles are hardly on the same scale as the corresponding structures further north or the castles of the marches of Wales but in its turn it demonstrates that in the aftermath of the conquest matters settled themselves down and it was only during times of civil conflict that people felt the need to sling up a conical mound to perch on. There are, of course, many fortified manors in the region – some of them rather lovely, including Haddon Hall but that’s a slightly different story.
Creighton, O. H. Castles and Landscapes
Hodges, R (1980) ‘Excavations at Camp Green Hathersage (1976-77)’ Journal of the Derbyshire Archeological Society, Vol 100, pp25-34