“ Conisbrough Castle / Castle Hill / Conisbrough / Doncaster / South Yorkshire / DN12 3BU / England / Tel: 01709 863329 „
Conisborough castle is one of Yorkshire's lesser well know attractions, but is definitely worth a visit to see a fine example of a Norman Keep in all its glory. Built around 1180, by the 5th Earl of Surrey, Hamelin Plantagenet, who was the half brother of King Henry II, it is now managed by the English Heritage, and is a lovely place to visit.
I had been to the attraction many years ago when I was about 8 years old, and since having children, I have meant to go back many times as it is only 6 miles away from my house, located in the small village of Conisborough. The village is like many in the area that do not have a mining background, in that it seems less changed than other villages that had to rapidly build houses to accomodate the mining communities that moved into the area. Although the castle is on a hill, and is quite a sight to behold, it is not seen until you are almost on top of it.
It is located on Castle Hill, and has the postcode DN12 3BU, and can be contacted by telephone at 01709 863329. It is on the X78 bus route between Doncaster and Sheffield, with a bus stop right next to the entrance, or you can drive there, and park for free in a small car park located at the bottom of Castle Hill, and then a short walk up to the top for the entrance. Today when we visited there were very few people there, so we had no problem parking and walking to the site.
We first went into the park at the bottom of the hill, and paid our respects at the war memorial, and checked out the village stocks, before walking up the hill and going into the Visitors Centre. Here we were greeted really pleasantly, before sorting out our admission. We all have English Heritage membership (Our joint couple membership cost £80 for the year.) Admission to English Heritage properties is free with the membership. If we had needed to pay, it was £4.50 for an adult, £4.10 for concessions, £2.70 for a child entry for 6-16 year olds, with under 5s being free, or £11.70 for a family of 2 adults and up to 3 children.
We were offered a programme at the gift shop for £1.99, and also could buy simple refreshments such as drinks or ice creams from self service areas, and we could look at the displays in the center. There was another set of stocks, a model of a rich man and a peasant, and models of what the buildings would have looked like, originally as a wooden structure, before being built in the stone finery you can see today when you visit.
A lot of the structure is run down, but the main Keep is still standing, and in the grounds there are the remains of various structures such as the chapel, and the scullery, along with various information boards so you can work out what was where roughly.
We were in Winter opening times today, so the castle is open between 10 and 4, and we could have taken our dog with us if we wanted to, and there did seem to be a few people with dogs walking in the grounds. We made our way up the path into the castle grounds, crossing a path over a ditch, which must have been where the moat was.
Entering the Keep itself, we climbed a new set of concrete steps to get into the entrance, which was not located on the ground floor for the better protection for the Earl and his wife. It was quite a steep climb, and would be hard going for anyone with limited mobility. Walking round parts of the site were tricky for my 3 year old, as once you got inside, the steps were original and heavily worn in places, so it is essential to watch your step.
On the first level, you could see the top of the well where they would have got water into the Keep, and the basement area, though you could not get in there to have a look around. You could see ropes around a pulley, and a bucket and the kids were intrigued at the fact there was no tap.
We then walked up into the next level which was the round Great Hall. Here there is a big table with a big cloth on, and we explored the latrine off the main room, as well as shining our torch up the chimney, and looking at the sink in the room. There were a few wooden stools in this room to sit and have a rest if you wanted and there was a family there doing just that, with some worksheet they had got for their girls to have a look at.
Walking up the next set of stairs, we arrived in the Earl's Chamber. While this would not have been the Earl's room every time he slept at the castle, it would have been in times of danger. There is a 4 poster bed in the room and a linen trunk, to give you the idea of how people lived, and we were talking to our kids about how they needed the curtains round the bed to keep them warm in the room. There was a big fireplace in this room too, a latrine off the main room, and a small chapel area. This was quite intricately carved.
You could then walk up another level and go up on the roof of the Keep. Here you got a good view of the river and the town, and the local area. Today was very windy and blustery, so we didn't really stay up there long, but we could see where the soldiers would have been stationed to guard the castle.
The castle was quite poorly lit, with a few lights put in, and a little light coming from the slotted windows where the archers would have sat to protect the Keep. English Heritage suggest you take your own torch so that you can look in the little nooks and crannies like the fireplace, and this was a good tip to make it more appealing to small children.
We spent just over an hour walking round the site today, which was a good amount of time in Winter as the site was so cold and exposed on the hill. On a summer day, I could see us spending longer there, and taking a picnic, as even on a busy day, there is a lot of space there for kids to make believe. Our two were enjoying pretending today. At one stage we had them running up the hill pretending to attack the castle while they had arrows being shot at them, which amused us greatly when the little one fell and rolled back down the hill. Luckily we caught him before he fell in the patch of nettles.
We also walked round the outside of the site, looking at the latrine holes from the outside, as for some reason, my 5 year old said that was the best bit of the castle, though we don't know why. There are certainly a lot of examples of them in the site. We then pretended we had lost Grandad in the dungeon.
It is perhaps not the most interactive site to take children to. Ours would have got less out of it if we didn't have some awareness of the history ourselves, but they certainly did enjoy the visit to the site and want to go again soon. The beauty of the English Heritage membership is we can go as often now as we want and get in free. I might even splash out and get the kids a sword or bow and arrows next time, so we can enjoy the role play some more.
It is a fairly inexpensive day out for a family, and we would certainly recommend it if you are in the area. You might want wellies or walking boots in Winter. While the main site was well kept and mud free, we walked round the grounds and it was a bramble and nettle infested area, with plenty of evidence that it was popular with dog walkers. We were glad we had a change of shoes to come home in.
Conisbrough Castle has often been described as South Yorkshire's best kept secret. It is located in the village of Conisborough, six miles west of Doncaster and seven miles east of Rotherham.
It is thought that Conisbrough Castle dates from around the year 1070 although very little is known about the early days of the Castle other than it was built for Earl William, the son in law of King William the first. He had supported King William, his father in law during his famous battle of 1066 and it is possible that Conisbrough Castle was given to him as a gift for this support. The Earl William was given the title Earl Warrene and had two other estates at Castle Acre in Norfolk and at Lewes in Sussex. It is believed that he did not spend very much time at this Yorkshire Castle. When he died in 1088 his three estates, including Conisbrough Castle passed to his son, another William who was also Earl of Surrey until his death in 1138. The title, along with Conisbrough Castle then passed to yet another William who died in 1147.
The first three Williams were all very closely related to the Kings of England but they were also closely linked to the Royal Nobility of France. The second William married Isobel, Daughter of Henry the 1st of France.
When the third Earl died in 1147 he left no male heir, only a daughter Isobel. She married William de Blois, son of King Stephen but he died a few years later without any children. Another marriage was arranged for Isobel to Hamelin Plantagenet, the illegitimate half-brother of King Henry the Second.
It is known that Hamelin spent a lot more time at Conisbrough Castle than any of the previous Earls. He held the Earldom for almost forty years, from 1163 until his death in 1202. During this time he carried out a lot of modernisation work to the Castle and wrote in his journal that "he intended to turn this Castle into a place fit for a King." It would seem that his intentions came true because in 1201, the year before his death, King John stayed here for a whole Month.
Following Hamelin's death possession passed to his son, another William until his death in 1239 when it passed to John, his son by his second marriage to Maud. John held the Castle until his death in 1304 when it passed to the last Earl Warrene, his eighteen year old grandson John, since his own son William had been killed in battle.
A marriage was arranged for John, to Joan de Barr, granddaughter of King Edward the First but it was not a happy marriage and there were no children. By 1313 the couple had separated but the King refused to grant them a divorce. This signalled a very turbulent period in the history of Conisborough Castle and several battles were fought to determine its ownership over the next 30 years, with the Castle falling into the hands of the House of Lancaster, the Crown and back to the Earl Warrene family before reverting back to the Crown who held the Castle thereafter but left it to fall into a state of disrepair.
The story of Conisbrough Castle does not however end there. It was made World famous by Sir Walter Scott in his novel, Ivanhoe, which uses this Castle as its setting. The story of Ivanhoe and the people of Conisbrough Castle during the Reign of Richard the First are largely fictitious but the descriptions of the Castle are accurate and it is known that Sir Walter Scott fell in love with this Castle during his youth and visited here many times.
The majority of the Castle as we see it today is little more than ruins but the Keep is still very well preserved. It is thought that this 100 feet high stone Keep was built around 1180 by the fifth Earl of Warenne, Hamelin. It was restored in 1994 when a new wooden roof was installed and two new floors were built.
The disrepair of the Castle is actually one of the reasons why the Castle still exists today in its present form. Had it not been neglected at the time of the English Civil War then it would have been destroyed so that the enemy did not seize it and turn it into a fortress.
Outside the main entrance of the Castle there is a visitors centre. If you wish to look around the Castle however there is an admission charge. Tickets must be purchased from this Visitors Centre.
Current admission charges are as below:
Adults - £4.00 (6 Euros)
Children - £2.15 (4.5 Euros)
Concessions - £2.75 (4 Euros)
Family ticket (2 adults + 2 children) - £10.00
Children under 6 and English Heritage members - Free
The Castle is open daily from 10am until 4pm during the Winter and until 5pm during the Summer.
If I am honest there is not a great deal to see within the Castle when you take into account the cost. It is the sort of thing that you would only pay for as a one off event and it is possible to see the majority of the Castle and its ruins from within the grounds for free.
When you part with your money you receive a guide book and a set of headphones. The audio tape tells you about the various parts of the building that you are stood in and even comes complete with some sound effects. Throughout the tour there are a series of information points that show illustrations of how the Castle would have looked in its heyday.
One of the most valuable things about Conisbrough Castle is its availably to young people and trips of schoolchildren come here every day. As a educational tool for such people it is superb and a lot more fun than learning history in a classroom, something that I recall on my own school trip here many years ago.
The Castle is also very easily accessible by disabled people and of the 30,000 people that visit this attraction every year there are many hundreds in wheelchairs.
I have visited the grounds of this Castle many times but I have only paid the entrance fee once, when I brought some friends here. We had a fantastic day here and the thing that I remember the most was the breathtaking view from the top of the Keep, looking straight down the Dearne Valley.
Conisbrough Castle is managed by the Ivanhoe Trust on behalf of English Heritage and Doncaster Metropolitan Council.
Telephone - (01709) 863329