The History Of Conisborough Castle – Sheffield Deacons Fraternal At Conisborough

July 1898

Mexborough and Swinton Times July 15, 1898

The History Of Conisborough Castle
Paper By Mr J.D.Leader
Meeting Of Sheffield Deacons Fraternal At Conisborough

The summer gathering of the Sheffield and District Deacons fraternal – the second annual gathering of the kind – with their wives and friends, took place on Saturday last the venue for shipping Conisborough. The party arrived by the 2:15 p.m. train from Sheffield, and proceeded directly to the  Castle Grounds, where Mr J.D. Leader was announced to give a paper on Conisborough Castle.Queen

The paper was specially prepared and as will be seen below, he drew generously on his store of antiquarian knowledge, about this most venerable ruin in the Sheffield district. Unable to be present himself on account of his wife’s health, Mr leader kindly forwarded the paper to Mr Mather, the secretary of the Association, and it was read under the shadow of that ancient ruin by Mr Draper. Mr George Jennings of Rotherham, presided over the gathering, and read a letter from Mr Piper the president, regretting his ability to be present with them. The paper read as follows:

One of the most fascinating spots in South Yorkshire to the antiquary, and one of the pleasantest to the excursionist, is the Castle of Conisborough. It is a place rich in historical tradition, and is still fair to look upon, even though the coalmine has brought smoke and spoil heaps within sight of its old grey walls.

To understand Conisborough require some gift of the imagination, and to thoroughly revel in its legendary history one must abandon scepticism and accept with perfect faith the Saxon Chronicles.

Gildas, the venerable Bead, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Roger of Wendover, and other monkish Chronicle say that Hengist, the great Saxon, was defeated by Aurelius Ambrosius and an army of Christian Britons near this place, that Hengist was beheaded on the hill at Conisborough, and buried at the command of Aurelius, who ordered  “a heap of earth to be raised over his body, according to the custom of the pagan.” These events, if events, occurred about the year 488, and from that time to the Norman conquest, we might depend upon it. Conisborough with its command of the Fords of the Don, was a place of importance, and perhaps of contention, when the Danes were establishing their influence in the Northumbrian kingdom.

In 628 A.D., Edwin, the Christian King of Northumbria, was slain, and his Royal Villa and church burned by the heathens under Penda, King of Mercia, but the Villa and the church were not in Doncaster, as some have supposed, but at Templeborough near Rotherham.

Conisbrough stood in a frontier district, and for more than 500 years must have been the scene of frequent fightings, the details of which have not come down to us in the pages of written history. But the Conisborough of those days must not be thought of as the Conisborough of today. Sweep away in imagination, the great keep tower, and the curtain walls, and leave only the mound and the ditch. The hill on which the castle stands a natural one, but it has been strengthened by human art. The great ditches have been scooped out, and the material used for making the sides higher and steeper. On the top of these banks, the early defenders raised strong wooden palisades, a sort of cheveaux de frise of trees and short stakes, behind which they fought at an advantage as the foe came up the steep hill. But against such a defence fire was a ready weapon, and doubtless the palisade was destroyed every time the place was besieged.

At length, however, Saxon and Dane found a way of dwelling together in quietness, and in the reign of Edward the Confessor, Conisborough was a large lordship owned by Earl Harold, the son of Godwine, worth, with its dependent soke, £18 a year, and apparently taxed on a low valuation.

The Norman Conqueror assigned Conisborough to William de Warrene, along with large estates in Sussex, Norfolk, and elsewhere, but nothing is owing to William of the existing masonry. The lot of Conisborough still made it the home of the great people of the earth. Under the Britons it had been “the Kings fortress;” under the Saxons it was a royal possession – the “Kings Burgh.” Harold, the Earl, and after the King, numbered it among his estates; and when the Normans came, William the Warren, who married the conqueror’s daughter, kept up the association of royalty with Conisborough.

William was probably too busy to bestow much time and money on fortifying his Yorkshire Castle. Lewes in Sussex, and Castle Aire in Norfolk, were enough to absorb his energy and his means. He died in 1088, soon after the completion of the Domesday survey. His son and successor, also named William, died 1135, and his grandson, still another William in 1148. The third William left an only daughter, Isabel, heiress to his great estates, and as was the custom of the time, this young lady was married, first to William de Blois, natural son of King Stephen, by whom she left no issue; and secondly to Hameline Plantagenet, natural son of Henry, Earl of Anju, half brother to Henry II, who became in right of his wife, Earl of Warren.

It was within the period embraced by the lives of these girls that the buildings we now see were erected at Conisbrough. The curtain walls and the remains of the gateway are certainly older than the tower, and may be assigned to the second or third Earl of Warren. The tower is almost certainly the work of Earl Hameline, and may be dated about the year 1200. Anyone examining the inner side of the curtain wall notice indications that there have been building set against it, either one or two stories high. Right and left of the entrance, extending on the left nearby to the keep, or seen the car bells on which the timbers of floor or roof arrested; and if the ground were disturbed the outline of the foundations of these buildings will be trace. These were the drawing rooms of the Lord and his household, and there is space enough for a large establishment. The erection of the keep was a later work, to be attributed to Earl Hameline about the year 1200. A portion of the curtain wall has been removed, so that the north side of the keep stands on its side. The two junction of the old curtain wall with their keep of very rudely Main. The visitor cannot be struck with a perfect workmanship and excellent preservation of the stone in the keep. The tool marks are as sharp as if the building were new, and the stone shows scarcely any signs of decay.

The late Mr GT Clark one of the highest authorities on mediaeval fortification says:

“The keep is a glory of Conisborough and though inferior in size to Caesars or Beauchamp’s tower at Warwick, is more than their equal in masonry, and more complete, inasmuch as it is a keep, and those are subsidiary towers. It stands nearly at the north-east extremity and at the highest part of the inner ward, actually on the line of the curtain,  of which two of its buttresses and the intermediate wall form a part.

It is constantly described as standing upon an artificial mound, which is certainly not the case. Indeed no artificial mound could bear so concentrated a weight. It stands upon the natural surface, here a rock. It has no special ditch, and the ground shows that it never had any. There were indeed no need of the usual ditch, which was represented by the natural steep – and the exterior ditch at its base.

The tower is a cylinder rest upon a bold conical base. Against it, at equal intervals are six bold, massive buttresses, having flat faces, but slightly tapering implants are to be half hexagons with two long sides and a short face. They rest upon bases which expand outwards, but very little literally. The tower at the ground level is 66 feet in diameter, from which its buttresses project 9 feet more, so that it covers an uninterrupted circle of 80 feet. Where the buses are spring from RR United to the tower, they are 15’6” broad. They taper in plan and 39 inches, so that the face of each is 9 feet broad. At 20 feet from the ground the battering they ceases, and the tower is there 52 feet in diameter, and the buttresses project 8 feet, while their tape is represented by a base of 14’6” and a face of 9 feet.

The paper goes on to detail many more measurements