Standing on a large knoll above the surrounding area, the keep of Conisbrough Castle dominates the surrounding area and is a landmark for miles around. It was made famous by Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘Ivanhoe’.
The town had been an important Saxon burgh. After the Norman Conquest, it was given to William de Warenne, the son-in-law of William the Conqueror. He built a timber castle here. It passed by marriage to Hamelin Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou and half-brother of Henry II. He was responsible for building the stone castle in the C12th. The massive circular keep with its six wedge shaped buttresses was built first. This design is unique in England and was intended as a private living space with a chapel.
The curtain wall with its round towers and associated buildings were added in the C12th. Parts of then still stand to nearly their original height.
In the C14th the castle was passed to Edmund Langley, fourth son of Edward III and Duke of York. In the C15th, the third Duke of York was killed at the Battle of Wakefield. His son defeated Henry Vi’s army at the Battle of Towton and took the crown as Edward IV. Although the castle passed through several families, it was never lived in again and fell into ruin. The keep lost its floors and roof. Parts of the curtain wall had slid into the surrounding ditch. It played no part in the English Civil War.
In the C18th and C19th landscaping work was carried out and the castle became a romantic ruins beloved of painters and tourists.
In the 1990s, the castle was managed by the Ivanhoe Trust who reroofed and refloored the keep, turning it into an extravaganza about Ivanhoe. It is now back in the management of English Heritage.
The castle stands on high ground on the eastern side of Conisbrough. It is surrounded by a dry ditch. Little remains of the outer bailey apart from part of the entrance gateway. A barbican led to the inner bailey with its curtain wall. This was built quickly on poor foundations, which may have caused the collapse of a large stretch of the south wall.
To the north is the keep with the domestic buildings round the walls. These were extended and improved in the early C15th to provide more comfortable accommodation. All that is left of these are the foundations and the well.
The kitchens were on the north wall and the drain and the base of a fireplace can still be seen.
The keep abuts the eastern wall of the inner bailey and there is a short audio visual presentation in each of the rooms in the keep, focusing on different personalities of Conisbrough. None of the rooms are furnished and there is a little bit of information in each of them.
A modern external wooden staircase leads to the first room which had no natural light and was probably used for storage. Beneath it is the basement reached by a pulley system was the most secure space in the castle and money and valuables would be stored here. It also contained a well, providing a secure supply of water if the castle was attacked.
A wide stone staircase leads up through the wall to the great chamber above. This was used by the lord for entertaining important guests and carrying out business. It has a fireplace and the only light came from a single window. This was unglazed with wooden shutters. Near the fireplace is a basin, supplied by water from a cistern on the roof. A latrine is down a side passage in the walls.
The top room is reached by another staircase in the walls. This was the bedchamber with a fireplace, basin and latrine off. The small private chapel is built into the wall. This has two small round windows and a small Norman window with chevron carving. Wall pillars with carved capitals lead up to the stone vaulted ceiling with carved stone bosses.
Another stone staircase leads up to the roof with its views over the surrounding countryside.
The castle is open daily from Easter to the end of September and weekends in the winter months. There is a small shop selling a range of English Heritage souvenirs and gifts as well as hot drinks, sweets and ice cream. There is a small exhibition about the castle with a display of some of the artefacts found in the castle.
Visitors with disabilities can be dropped off by the entrance to the visitor centre and there are a few disabled parking places here. The Visitor Centre is fully accessible. The grounds are accessible but not the keep as there are stone steps.
The post code is DN12 3BU and the grid reference is SK 514989.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/castles/england/yorkshire/conisborough/index.html