Castle Series: Conisbrough Castle

Recently we visited Conisbrough Castle in South Yorkshire since we have a car now and can actually get out and explore!

Conisbrough Castle is located in the small town of Conisbrough, approx. 1hr drive from Nottingham. It is located on the top of a hill (conveniently called Castle Hill) that looks down over the town and surrounding countryside.

The keep is extremely well preserved but the surrounding defence walls have long since crumbled away along with all the interior buildings of the castle grounds. Though these would have most likely been wooden and rot away pretty quickly without regular maintenance.

Visitors can enter into the keep and check out the reinstated floors of the private chambers of the powerful de Warenne family who built Conisbrough Castle in the 12th century.

Opening Times & Entry Fees

Conisbrough Castle is looked after by English Heritage and the entrance fees include entry to the small, onsite museum which has a brief history of the castle and a small collection of items found there.

Member FreeFree
Adult£6.20£6.90
Child (5-17 years)£3.70£4.10
Concession £5.60£6.20
Family (2 adults, up to 3 children)£16.10£17.90

If you want to become a member of English Heritage (and I highly recommend you do!) then head on over to their website and sign up today! You will receive regular magazines and offers, and free entry to all English Heritage sites – this was the main reason we chose to do it. We have joint membership which costs £8.25 per month, so one visit to Conisbrough Castle has straight away saved us money!

Opening times over the summer are 10:00am – 6:00pm through the summer months and for the month of October, the opening times are the same but the site closes at 5:00pm. From November – April, the site is only open on weekends 10:00am – 4:00pm.

It is definitely best to check the website before going though to make sure the site is open and to confirm the entry fees.

There is a gift shop located on site (as is common with most English Heritage sites) where you can get your guidebook – we have a growing collection of these at home! There are also toilets available and while there isn’t a cafe, they do sell snacks and drinks so you can get yourself something to munch on while you wander around.

What is there to see?

I recommend starting with the museum to give you an overview of the castle history, this will help you as you look around the site.

From the entrance hut (where you paid), you will be looking up at the castle on top of the hill, surrounded by ditches – these are the remains of earthworks which probably formed a ringwork (a fortified defensive structure). It is currently unknown who built these though.

The inner bailey of the castle is encased by high stone walls that were not as well built as the keep, which probably explains why the keep is still standing and the walls are crumbling. As you come in the entrance, you’ll come in over the old barbican and gatehouse which was built slightly later than the castle but later collapsed into the ditch below.

Around the inside of the walls you’ll be able to see the foundations of the different buildings that would have been essential in the running of a castle – kitchens, service rooms, a hall, chapel and residential chambers for important guests.

Finally the keep! The modern concrete steps lead to the original main entrance of the keep and from here you’ll be able to look down into the basement and see all the shiny coins people have thrown down there in the years. I believe there is an audio feature on this floor explaining what the room was used for.

Above, are two floors you can visit which have panels to give you a brief overview of what the rooms were used before they rotted away into nothingness. From there you can head up to the roof of the keep and get an awesome view down over the historic town and surrounding countryside.

Conisbrough Castle History

Little is known about the site before the Norman Conquest in 1066, but it is believed that it may have been included in the estates of King Harold, the last crowned king of Anglo-Saxon England.

After the Norman Conquest, William de Warenne acquired Conisbrough along with other land spread across 13 counties and was made Earl of Surrey as a reward for his services during the conquest.

However, it was Hamelin of Anjou – the half-brother of King Henry II, who built the stone keep when he married Isabel, the great-granddaughter of William de Warenne. Upon their marriage, Hamelin also adopted the last name de Warenne and became the 5th Earl of Surrey.

Construction of the keep began in approx. 1170 with the curtain wall and other inner bailey buildings following soon after. Conisbrough Castle was home to members of the de Warenne family for the next 200 years.

In the early 14th century, John, the 8th and last Earl of Surrey became involved in a political rivalry with the Earl of Lancaster. John was besieged and lost Conisbrough Castle to the Earl of Lancaster who was later executed after having taken part in a rebellion against King Edward II, so the castle was returned to John. Seems like a lot of drama to me, but apparently that’s the way things were done back then!

But then, Earl John died with no heir to pass the castle on to so it went back to the crown, before passing to the Duke of York who had been de Warenne’s godson.

Conisbrough became the Duke’s second home (lucky for some!) and he had two sons. His second son, Richard, was born at Conisbrough Castle but his paternity was questioned and he received nothing when his father died. Richard’s older brother inherited the castle but allowed Richard to continue living there as a tenant.

Fast-forward to 1415 and Richard became involved in an assassination attempt on King Henry V on the eve he left for battle in France. Unfortunately for Richard, the plot was discovered and he was executed. His older brother was killed three months later at the Battle of Agincourt, leaving Conisbrough Castle to Richard’s son, also called Richard.

During the 1450’s Richard (3rd Duke of York) became the leader of the Yorkist cause, and claimant to the throne, when royal authority broke down under Henry VI. War broke out between the Yorkist and Lancastrain armies (all very Game of Thrones haha) and Richard was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460. As a warning to others who might try to overthrow the King, his head was put on a spike over Micklegate Bar in York – complete with a crown made of paper and straw.

18 months later, his son Edward defeated the Lancastrian army and ascended to the throne as King Edward IV. This may have been when Conisbrough Castle stopped being used as a regular residence. By the time a survey was completed in 1538 for Henry VIII, the keep had lost it’s roof and floors, and the gatehouse and part of the curtain wall had collapsed into the ditch – where it remains today.

It wasn’t until 1819, that Conisbrough Castle would become popular again after Sir Walter Scott came across the ruins and believing them to be Anglo-Saxon, recreated it in his novel “Ivanhoe.” Visitors would travel up to see the castle after having read the book and it seems that it became popular to paint or sketch pictures of the ruins.

It’s a neat castle to visit, and it should only take a couple of hours to look around and check everything out so you can fit something else in as well. From here, we headed into Gainsborough to check out the Gainsborough Old Hall. Or stay, and check out the village 🙂

Chel xx

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