Pioneering geophysical techniques

Some of the Castle Studies Trust’s projects have made innovative use of cutting edge technology. Nick Tarr explains how a new survey technique was used this year at Pembroke Castle.

Geophysical Survey Technologies (GST) was formed to improve survey equipment for archaeologists to use in all environments including equipment suitable for use in woodlands. The equipment, ideally, should be within the financial reach of amateur groups.

The prototype survey frame resulted from research into voltage surveys (commonly called resistance surveys) where geology or other conditions are unfavourable for conventional methodology. The frame uses a commercially available data logger and power supply but has all four electrodes on a compact mobile frame which is collapsible to fit in boot of a car.

Photo ©Nick Tarr
The prototype frame in use. Photo ©Nick Tarr.

The version used at Pembroke Castle was aimed at keeping the energy from the power supply within the archaeological layers so maximising any opportunity of detecting any archaeology present. A comparison with the conventional twin array in both parallel and zig-zag walking modes was made over a single grid which contained part of a building and a track. The existing twin array frame gave no clear signal for the building, the track was the only major feature seen.

The metal prototype frame. © Nick Tarr.
The metal prototype frame. © Nick Tarr.

The prototype frame gave much better results. A further test across a monastic site in west Wales has also shown improved results over the conventional twin array methodology. Development work continues.

Wressle, a castle with personality

We often think of castles as formidable fortifications around which the medieval world pivoted. Fierce sieges were invested to capture key sites; the Keeper of the Tower of London was a prestigious role, and Dover Castle was the ‘key to the kingdom’.

But castles also had a domestic side. They were residences of the barons, earls, and monarchs who ruled in medieval society.[1] They were decorated with rich tapestries as seen at Chateau d’Angers in France, the scene of magnificent feasts, and wrapped up in symbolism. The Earl of Cornwall built a castle at Tintagel because the place was linked to Arthurian legend.

Personalities are intricately linked to the story of each castle, not always those who owned them. Wressle Castle was built in the 1390s by Thomas Percy. The Percy family was a powerful dynasty in northern England and Wressle was a fortress-palace within carefully constructed garden. Designed by John Lewyn, one of the leading architects of late 14th-century England, the castle had only recently been completed when the fortunes of the Percy family took a turn for the worse.

In 1403 Harry Hotspur, Thomas’ nephew, rebelled against King Henry IV with a string of grievances. Thomas joined the rebellion which was eventually defeated the battle of Shrewsbury. Thomas was captured and executed for his role and the Crown took control of Wressle Castle.

For nearly 70 years the castle either remained with the Crown of was temporarily given to favourites of the king. In 1471 it was finally returned to the Percys, with Henry Algernon Percy making his mark on the castle by updating the interior and the gardens. The gardens contained a two-storey building call the ‘School House’ with paintings of proverbs across the interior. This may have been where Henry Algernon Percy came for some quiet reading.

Wressle Castle never witnessed a siege, though it was garrisoned during the English Civil War in the 17th century. In fact the majority of castles never faced the attacks they were designed to withstand. Despite that the castle lies in ruins today. The garrison themselves left their mark, causing damage estimated at £1,000! After the war the castle was partly demolished, leaving just a quarter standing which can be seen today – though it is on private land. The following century the interior was stripped by fire when a tenant tried unsuccessfully to clear a blocked chimney.

Wressle has a rich history which the survey we funded in 2014 and carried out by Ed Dennison Archaeological Services shed further light on. When Thomas Percy decided he wanted a castle in the late 14th century the village of Wressle lay in the way. The settlement used to extend further to the west, but was pulled down to make way for the castle gardens.

Castles have a direct impact on local communities, and those castles are shaped by the personalities that live in them, who drag them into disputes, and who occasionally fail to unblock chimneys. Next time you’re at a castle take a moment to learn about the people who shaped the building you’re standing in and think what it must have been like.

Want to know more about Wressle or our other projects? Watch our video about the landscape survey or sign up to our newsletter.


[1] Catriona Cooper at the University of Southampton used digital media to explore the experience of living inside a medieval castle, looking at Bodiam and Ingtham Mote.

Art as history

Recently a re-examination of an 18th-century painting of Caus Castle in Shropshire helped piece together some of the castle’s history. It was prompted by mentioning the ongoing work at Caus on social media which shows how valuable it can be and how people can get involved.

Paintings and drawings are a useful resource, and while they are typically not meant as a pinpoint accurate record of what they depict, they can offer a guide. When used carefully they can be a very useful resource. There are wonderful medieval miniatures, including details of the siege of Bedford Castle in 1224 and this 14th-century image of a siege.

Some of my favourite images are by the Buck Brothers, engravers working in the mid-18th century. Their images are just wrong enough to remind you that these are not infallible records, but good enough to show how these buildings looked more than 250 years ago.

The National Library of Wales has digitised some of their collection and made it freely available online. With that in mind, here are a few historic images of Holt and Pembroke Castle, all of which are in the public domain.

Building on the past

Gleaston Castle, April 2016. Written by Matthew Emmott.

Throughout the week of the 25th to the 29th of April, the Morecambe Bay Partnership and the University of Central Lancashire’s archaeological department teamed up to give a lucky few a golden opportunity to take part in a further survey of Gleaston Castle in Cumbria.

Following on from the aerial survey undertaken at the end of July last year using a grant from the Castle Studies Trust, it was hoped that any buried structures beneath the courtyard would be identified and mapped out. Adam Stanford’s 2015 survey (Aerial-Cam) used the latest in drone technology, utilising high definition photography\photogrammetry to capture the full character of Gleaston’s ruins, and in the process produced some intriguing survey results pointing towards the possible remains of buildings and platforms beneath the courtyard.

Gleaston vols

Tools on offer to assist in the survey, and provided by the University of Central Lancashire’s Archaeological department, were ground penetrating radar, a magnetometer, an electrical resistivity meter, high definition cameras and laser scanners.

Aided and abetted by Louise from the Morecambe Bay Partnership, volunteers and students were taken through the process of mapping out grids and the use of the equipment. And then the real work was done. By the end of the week it looked as if the whole of the courtyard had been scanned using all the available techniques…..all we have to do now is wait for the results and hope that Gleaston has at last given up some more of her secrets.

Click below for the 3D model produced last year.

Gleaston Castle
by aerial-cam
on Sketchfab

Matthew Emmott writes about Cumbria’s castles at matthewpemmott.co.uk

Tragedy, intrigue, and kings: Shakespeare’s castles

Today is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Of course some of the greatest works of English literature would have been completely different had it not been for castles. They are the perfect scenery for some of his most dramatic plays.

Kenilworth

Photo by steve p2008
Photo by steve p2008 CC-BY 2.0

Kenilworth was renowned in Tudor England and features in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2. While at Kenilworth the king receives news that the Duke of York has arrived from Ireland, accusing the Duke of Somerset of being a traitor.

We have an idea of the condition of about 300 castles in the mid-16th century: only about a third were in good condition, and generally those looked after by the Crown were better off. Today the ruins of Kenilworth give some idea of how grand it was before it was demolished in the 17th century. Robert Dudley famously held lavish banquets at Kenilworth while courting Queen Elizabeth.

The Tower of London and Baynard’s Castle

Photo by Richard Nevell
Photo by Richard Nevell CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard is declared king at Baynard’s Castle, while the young princes, Edward and Richard, are imprisoned and murdered at the Tower of London.

It is rare enough for somewhere to have two castles, but the City of London had three. Only the Tower of London stands today, while Montfichet’s Tower was demolished in 1213 and Baynard’s Castle in 1666.

Pontefract

Photo by Tim Green CC-BY 2.0
Photo by Tim Green CC-BY 2.0

Today the ruins of Pontefract Castle are on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register, but in its heyday it was one of the most impressive castles in Yorkshire. Pontefract Castle has a colourful history, with its owners falling in and out of royal favour and major sieges during the English Civil War, but the most famous event was the reputed murder of Richard II.

Unsurprisingly this is an important part of Shakespeare’s Richard II, though Pontefract’s name is changed to Pomfret, and Richard III. He described the castle as a “bloody prison, fatal and ominous to noble peers”.

Kronborg

British Library HMNTS 10002.g.16-19.
British Library HMNTS 10002.g.16-19.

Shakespeare’s plays were set across Europe, including Hamlet which took place in Denmark’s Elsinore Castle. Elsinore Castle was based on Kronborg Castle in Helsingør. The 15th-century castle is the second UNSECO World Heritage Site in this list along with the Tower of London.

Inverness Castle

Photo by David Iliff, CC-BY-SA 3.0
Photo by David Iliff, CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Tragedy of Macbeth sees the title character murder the Scottish King Duncan in his own castle at Inverness. While the play is set in the 10th century, it is uncertain when the castle at Inverness was actually built, but where better as a setting for the murder of a king.

Exeunt flourish

Announcing our grants for 2016

The Castle Studies Trust is delighted to announce the award of two grants for 2016:Pembroke Castle keep

  • Pembroke Castle – geophysical survey of the castle’s interior. Best known for its massive round keep built by William Marshal, the greatest knight of his age, little else is known about what exactly was in the castle’s interior. Dyfed Archaeological Trust with the guidance of well-known castle expert Neil Ludlow will use the latest geophysical techniques including ground penetrating radar to try and reveal some of the secrets.
  • Caus Castle – earthwork, geophysical and photogrammetric survey of the castle. Frequently referenced in medieval research as an example of a Marcher castle and associated failed borough on the Welsh borders, nobody has done any proper analysis of one of the most important medieval sites on the Anglo/Welsh border. This first detailed archaeological analysis will be carried out by Dr Michael Fradley who has previously undertaken ground breaking surveys of castles at Wallingford (Oxon), Sudeley (Glos), and Newhall (Ches) and Giles Carey. The focus of the project will be on the outer bailey where the medieval borough was situated.

Donate to Have Opportunity to Visit the Selected Projects 

Within the next year the Trust will be organising exclusive visits the selected projects during the initial research stages or at completion of them. These visits are only open to those supporters who have donated to the Trust.

If you would like to be invited to a site visit you can donate in a variety of different ways:

Not only will you have the chance to visit the sites you will also be increasing the amount we can give away to more exciting projects like the ones above next year.

Talking to our supporters

Site visits such as 2015’s trips to Gleaston and Pleshey are a good chance for the Trust to meet its supporters and learn about what motivates them. Of course it’s not just at the Trust’s events where you might meet our supports, and at Rochester Castle in October we caught up with Joy, one of our donors. She talked to us about why she donates to the Trust.

Some people dismiss me as a committed and pathetic castles anorak. Rather at heart, I am secretly a very thwarted and equally pathetic would-be archaeologist. So it pleases me to contribute in a small way via the Trust to the furtherment of discoveries, as much to provide new interpretations and understandings as to hopefully draw the interest of another generation to what I’m sure must be a very rewarding and dare I say frustrating occupation.

You can hear more from our supporters in the short testimonial video below.

In February we will be deciding which sites we will be looking at this year, doing our part to further discoveries and reach new interpretations and understandings. Keep following this blog for the news.

How the Castle Studies Trust Selects its Projects

The way the Castle Studies Trust selects the projects it will award grants to is a simple but thorough process that takes place in two parts:

  • Assessment of the projects by our team of experts
  • Based on the feedback from our assessors, the trustees decide which grants to award at a board meeting in February.

As you can see our experts are not only some of the leading experts in the field, they also cover all countries in the British Isles to have the local expertise.

Applications are sent to our assessors immediately after the closing date. They then assess each of applications on six criteria:

  • Will the project advance the study/understanding of castles?
  • Importance of site and/or castle studies topic being researched.
  • Does the applicant(s) have the necessary skills and expertise to complete the project to a satisfactory standard?
  • Is the aim achievable by means suggested?
  • Is the aim achievable within time frame (ie within nine months)?
  • Are costings realistic and achievable?

On each of the criteria the assessor is asked to mark the application out of five (one low, five high) and to put the mark in context make comments explaining the mark. As an additional check we will then ask each assessor to rank their top three or five projects, depending on the number of applications received.

This is a classic example of where great minds may not think alike. In both the first two years of grant award rounds at least half the applications have been ranked in their favourites by at least one assessor. Indeed, in the first two years, only one project has received universal support by assessors – the Wressle garden survey.

This provides both challenges and some flexibility for the trustees, who, having read through both the applications and the assessors feedback then have the difficult job of selecting the projects at an afternoon-long meeting. In making that choice the trustees also have the added consideration of not just the quality of the research but also how the projects can benefit the Trust, in terms or raising awareness of it and consequently funds for the following years.

The process of selecting the projects is carefully minuted so feedback can be given to the applicant if required. Decisions on grant awards are wherever possible made on unanimous decisions of the trustees. When this is not possible a majority decision will suffice.

The successful applicants are then informed. As is always the case for granting giving charities there are always more good projects that can be funded. In some cases where the project is just not quite good enough, we suggest they can apply next year.

To see which sites are being considered in 2016, read our summary.

2016 grants: who has applied?

The deadline for grant applications passed on 15th December. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the nine projects are asking for £38,000. If you have been following us on social media you will have seen which sites have been proposed. For a little more detail, here are the applications we’ve received:

  • Pembroke Castle, Wales – a geophysical survey of the wards. The castle was once owned by William Marshall, one of the most famous knights of his time.
  • Lochore Castle, Scotland – post-excavation analysis of finds. The site was excavated in 2015, but the team need funding for specialist work on their finds.
  • Lancaster Castle, England (1) – wall penetrating radar of the walls of the castle’s Norman keep. The castle was used as a prison until 2011, so until recently there has been little opportunity for investigation of this sort.
  • Lancaster Castle, England (2) – creating drawings and 3D models to help present the site to the wider public.
  • Caus Castle, England – geophysical and photogrammetic survey of the earthworks of this motte and bailey castle. Caus was one of many such castles while can be found in the Marches of the border between England and Wales.
  • Laughton en le Morthen, England – geophysical survey of the earthworks of a motte and bailey castle. This castle may have been built on top of an earlier Saxon hall.
  • Wressle Castle, England – an examination of the evidence for the slighting of the castle in the 17th century and comparing it to other slighted castles in Yorkshire.
  • Codnor Castle, England – create a virtual reality tour of the castle showing how it once would have appeared.
  • Dunamase, Ireland – remote sensing and landscape survey. Like Pembroke was also owned by William Marshall at one point.

The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. In January the blog will have more information on the assessment process, so be sure to visit again.

However there is not enough money to fund them all and so if you would like to donate to help us fund more and gain a chance for an exclusive visit to the chosen projects go here: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/castlestudiestrust

Exploring Richard II’s treasure house – a tour round Holt Castle

Holt Castle was built in north Wales by John de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, and dates from an age in which the country was transformed. Edward I’s campaign to conquer the Welsh in the 1280s led to the creation of towns and some of its most iconic castles.

The great sandstone walls were once owned by royalty. Richard II confiscated Holt Castle in 1397 and under his ownership the castle was revitalised. It became one of his favourite properties and he used it as a treasure house, storing £40,000 there. If it wasn’t for the Civil War of the 17th century Holt’s unusual pentagonal design and imposing architecture would have made it as recognisable as Beaumaris, Caernarfon, or Harlech.

Instead in the 1640s Holt Castle was demolished and its stone used to build Eaton Hall. Centuries on, it is hard to picture how this once great castle would have appeared. To help with this the Castle Studies Trust supported Rick Turner and Chris Jones-Jenkins in digitally recreating Holt as it would have appeared around 1495.

If you have been following our work, you may already have seen in Current Archaeology or BBC History Extra how Rick and Chris brought together a range of sources to create this unique model. If you haven’t, those pieces are certainly worth a read.

It is important that what we do is available for everyone. That is why when our projects are complete you can find the results on our website. With this model it has even been published under an open licence so it is free to reuse. This can lead down some interesting avenues. One blogger, Megan Whalen Turner, even been called “A perfect starter home for Fantasy Authors”!

As well as video sharing websites we also uploaded it to Wikipedia. Until recently you could read about Holt Castle in English, Welsh, and Spanish. The video has inspired more interest, and now you can read about this 13th-century castle in French, Italian, Catalan, Finnish, Basque, and Swedish.

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