Pickering Castle, North Yorkshire

Pickering Castle | Devils Tower & Inner Moat
Publisher: Ministry of Works

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Pickering Castle is an 11th century earthwork motte and bailey fortress, founded by William the Conqueror. In the late 12th to early 13th century, King Henry II founded the stone castle, when crowning the motte with a shell keep and encasing the inner bailey with a curtain wall, flanked by the Coleman Tower. The restored chantry chapel of 1227 and the foundations of the early to mid 12th century Old Hall, also stand in the inner bailey. In 1324-26 King Edward II replaced the timber palisade which encased the outer bailey with a curtain wall. The wall is flanked by a gatehouse and three rectangular towers, one having a small postern gate at its base, with its own drawbridge to cross the outer ditch.

Pickering Castle was originally a timber and earth motte and bailey castle. It was developed into a stone motte and bailey castle which had a stone shell keep. The current inner ward was originally the bailey, and was built between 1180 and 1187. The keep was developed into a stone shell keep sometime during the years 1216 to 1236 along with the chapel – there is a reconstruction of the chapel at the site. Between the years 1323 and 1326 there was an outer ward and curtain wall built, along with three towers. There were also two ditches, one situated outside of the curtain wall and one in the outer ward. After this a gatehouse, ovens, hall and the storehouses were built. The castle is situated in the Vale of Pickering and has a considerably steep cliff on the west side which would have been a great defensive attribute.

The original structure was built by the Normans under William the Conqueror in 1069–1070. This early building included the large, central mound (the motte), the outer palisades (enclosing the bailey) and internal buildings, notably the keep on top of the motte. Ditches were also dug to make assault on the walls difficult. The main purpose of the castle at this time was to maintain control of the area after the Harrying of the North.

The use of the castle was in decline by the late fifteenth century although it served periodically as accommodation for royalty who used the adjacent forest for hunting deer and wild boar. However, the defences were neglected and it took no part in the Wars of the Roses. By the Tudor period it was being plundered for its materials and quickly descended into ruin. Although in no fit state to be garrisoned during the seventeenth century Civil War, it was seized by Parliament after the conflict along with the rest of the Duchy of Lancaster. It was returned to Charles II upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 but the castle was never rebuilt and, with the exception of the chapel, it remained an abandoned ruin until taken into the care of the Office of Works in 1926.
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“Mediæval Military Architecture in England, Vol. II”, George Thomas Clark, 1884

The four mural towers already mentioned are all in the southern ward. They are, Mill Tower, Rosamond’s, the Devil’s Tower, and the Gate Tower. Devil’s Tower contains a postern. . . . The Devil’s, or Postern Tower, that north-east of the keep, is rectangular and of ashlar, and has exterior projection only. It is 22 feet broad by 27 feet deep. The basement is vaulted, and pierced by a postern passage. The inner door, pointed, opens in the bottom of the ditch of the cross curtain; it is now nearly buried. The outer door is walled up. It is pointed, of 3 feet 6 inches opening, and placed in a square-headed recess, 6 inches deep, 5 feet broad by 10 feet high, intended to lodge the bridge when up. At the foot of this door, outside, in two large stones, are two holes, 6 inches diameter and 18 inches deep, which contained the wooden axle of the drawbridge. Above is a central chain-hole for working the bridge.
. . .
No doubt the earthworks were taken possession of and walled, either late in the eleventh or early in the twelfth century, in the Norman period, and the mass of the curtains, with the keep and the Norman door, are probably remains of this work. But the whole fortress was rebuilt in the Decorated period, the mural towers added, the curtains raised, and the place rendered stronger. It is difficult to decide on the age of the gateways. They may be Norman or they may be of the time of Richard II., probably the former. The domestic buildings are said to have been of timber. They are gone. There is no known well. The castle mill was upon the river a little below the castle. The ditch along the south and west has been nearly filled up; beyond it is a hollow way leading down to the river, which may be old, and intended as a second line of defence.
“Mediæval Military Architecture in England, Vol. II”, George Thomas Clark, 1884

The castle stands at the N. of the town, on the brow of the hill; the walls of it and the towers being continued round the hill side; in the words of Leland :
“In the first Court of it be 4 toures, of the which one is called Rosamonde’s Toure. In the ynner Court be also 4 toures, whereof the kepe is one. The Castelle waulles and the toures be neatly welle. The loggins that be yn the ynner Court that be of timber, be in mine.” The cross walls divide the area into three courts, and where they meet is the keep, which is multangular, and stood on a circular mound surrounded by a deep ditch. The Mill Tower, on the left of the entrance, and the Devil’s Tower, on the outer wall, close to the moat of the keep, and the Rosamond Tower (so called because Fair Rosamond is said to have been imprisoned there), in the outer court, three storeys high, are tolerably perfect, and are of Edwardian architecture, but there are some remains of earlier Norman work. There is a sallyport in the Devil’s Tower giving to the outer ditch. The chapel is poor. Lovely views are seen from various parts of this castle over the well-wooded country around.
“The castles of England, their story and structure, Vol. II”, James D. Mackenzie, 1897, p. 240

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