Nottingham Castle was once one of the most important castles in England, as impressive and important as Warwick and Windsor, visited by Royalty and nobility. A castle stood on Castle Rock, above the River Leen, for nearly 600 years…
Yet today very little of such a large and important castle still exists – only the gatehouse to the entrance of the outer bailey and part of the outer wall. The Castle, and Nottingham’s inhabitants living around it, have had a turbulent past, befitting of such an important castle, but requiring its visitors today to have a vivid imagination.
Walking up Castle Gate, from the Market Square, you approach the original medieval gatehouse. Look up and imagine approaching the castle walls and seeing the imposing castle tower to your upper left, built high up on a natural outcrop of rock. The castle would be bearing down on you, demanding and powerful with thick stone walls and a standard flying from the top. This would have been the inner bailey. The image above is an impression of what Nottingham Castle would have looked like in the 1600’s, before its demise, giving a sense of how imposing it was.
As you pass through the gatehouse and into the outer bailey, you are now greeted by beautiful gardens, yet in medieval times a steep hill and another castle wall would have needed to have been penetrated before being able to enter the middle bailey where the royal apartments were.
The outer bailey would have been full of Nottingham townsfolk, with traders selling their wares, food and drink being enjoyed and lute players entertaining the crowds. Goods would have been brought up from the River Leen that was diverted to run at the bottom of the castle, close to where Brewhouse Yard is now. Walk to your right, up towards the far right corner of the castle grounds, Richards tower and the royal apartments would have once stood near here, under where the former Nottingham General Hospital building now stands. Part of the outer wall to the North here still stood until the 1800’s.
So what fate befell Nottingham Castle, which was once so impressive and such a strong hold.A castle was first built on this site after the battle of Hastings in 1066, when William the Conquer ordered a wooden motte and bailey fort to be built on top of a rocky outcrop, opposite a settlement built by the Anglo Saxons on the opposing hill, where the Lace Market is now located. The castle was the Norman side of Nottingham, French speaking as opposed to the Saxon side of town where olde English was spoken, the Market Square between the two, where both sides could trade.
The wooden castle stood for nearly 100 years before King Henry II had the wooden castle re-built in stone. It took from 1156 to 1170AD for this to be completed. He also ordered for a new bridge to be built over the River Trent called Heth Beth Bridge, as this was an important strategical point on the River Trent and the original Saxon wooden bridge needed to be more substantial.
was originally built over when an access road down to The Park estate, where a former royal deer park was located, was built in 1831
This impressive castle stood on the highest point of the rock outcrop, where the mansion now stands, consisting of an upper bailey where the mansion now stands, a middle bailey extending out from where the top lawn is now and Richard’s Tower and royal apartments under the old General Hospital building and, finally, an outer bailey extending out to where the gatehouse still stands. The castle stood for nearly 500 years, serving royalty and nobility and giving rise to legends of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
It wasn’t to last. In 1642AD, civil war between King Charles I and Parliament breaks out and Charles retreats to Nottingham Castle for safety, raising his standard there, showing the castle and city’s allegiance to the King. Charles I was defeated by the Parliamentarians and, as punishment to the city, in 1649 the castle and its walls are ruined.
Rule by the Parliament didn’t last long and by 1660AD, the Monarchy and Charles II was restored to the throne and so the Duke of Newcastle, Henry Cavendish, built a stately home on the foundations of the razed castle.
In 1831 the mansion built on the site of Nottingham castle was burnt down by citizens of Nottingham who were rioting after both the Duke’s and Parliament’s rejection of the rights for ordinary people to vote. The shell of the mansion stood derelict for years before TC Hine, an architect who’s work is seen throughout Nottingham, restored the Mansion in 1875, as the first municipal art gallery outside London. The interior ignored the previous interior floors and window placement to create a gallery modelled on the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in Paris.
The northern part of the outer bailey wall was lost when a road was constructed to access the Park Estate in 1831, to access housing being built on a former deer park which was part of the castle’s estate. Nottingham General Hospital is now built over the northern part of the castle’s middle bailey and wall.