Raby Castle building survey: the report is now in

With the final report in the curator of Raby Castle, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown, gives an update on the building survey of the castle the Trust helped fund in 2022 and offers an opportunity for scholars to review it.

In 2022 the team at Raby Castle was fortunate to receive a grant from the Castle Studies Trust to digitally scan the castle exterior. Initially for research and interpretation, the scan has quickly proved to have multiple benefits and uses, and will undoubtedly have more to come. Alongside the scan, Raby (on behalf of Lord Barnard) commissioned an archaeological building survey, carried out by Durham University Archaeological Services and led by Senior Archaeologist Richard Annis, completed last year but updated in January 2024 when able to enter some previously inaccessible areas.

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There had been limited scholarly research into Raby Castle in the past; the most comprehensive history having been written by the 4th Duchess of Cleveland in 1870, drawing largely on antiquarian sources. As such, much of the story of the development of the castle has not been verified by current archaeological research methods, so alongside the survey of the fabric, by Durham University Archaeological Services, the castle team set to work exploring the archives and tracking down the sources used by antiquarians.  

The site has been occupied since before Domesday Book; the earliest record comes from the reign of Canute when Rabi was part of a gift offered by the King to the shrine of St Cuthbert in Durham. Although no trace of the early medieval structure is in evidence, it is from the later middle-ages, predominantly the 14th century when the castle was owned by the Neville family that the castle developed into the magnificent structure you see today, described by architectural historian Robert Billings in the 19th century as “the most perfect of our Northern Castles, retaining in the mass all its ancient features” … if only it did! Later developments from the 17th century onwards by the Vane family – later Barons Barnard (and even later the Earls of Darlington and Dukes of Cleveland) – who still own the castle today are well documented in the castle archives.

But apart from the castle itself, our sources for the Nevill period are limited. At some point, presumably after the attainder of Charles, 6th Earl of Westmorland for his part in the Rising of the North in 1569 or during the early years of ownership by the Vane family (purchased 1626) the documentary records for the earlier centuries of the castle were either taken away or destroyed.

One of the best early descriptions of the castle comes from the 1540s when it was still owned by the Nevilles. It was sources like this that we were keen to check against the findings of the recent survey. John Leland, in his survey of 1535-1543 wrote ….. 

“Raby is the largest castel of logginges in al the north cuntery, and is of a strong building, but not set other on hill or very strong ground.

As I enterid by a causey into it ther was a little stagne on the right hond: and in the first area were but 2. tours, one at each end as entres, and no other buildid;  yn the 2. area as in entering was a great gate of iren with a tour, 2. or 3. mo on the right hond.

Then were l the chief tours of the 3. court as in the hart of the castel. The haul and al the houses of offices be large and stateley; and in the haul I saw an incredible beame. .. The great chamber was exceedingly large, but now it fals rofid and devidid into 2 or 3 partes. I saw there a little chamber wherein was in windowed of colerid glass al the petigre of the Nevilles: but it is now taken down and glassid with clere glasse.

There is a touer in the castel having the mark of 2. capitale B from Berthram Bulmer.

There is another touer being the name of Jane, bastard sister to Henry the 4 and wife to Ralph Neville the first Erl of Westmerland.

There long 3. Parkes to Raby whereof 2. be plenished with to 92 dere. The Middle Park hath a lodge in it”. (Toulmin Smith, 1907).

Even with the later alterations to the castle, Leland’s description clearly gives an accurate depiction of surviving medieval structures but also lost features. Pleasingly stained glass windows depicting both Neville crests and those of the families connected by marriage were incorporated in the vast Barons’ Hall extension windows in Burns’s alterations in the 1840s.

The Neville Saltire. Armorial glass added to the Barons’ Hall in the 1840s. Copyright Raby Estates

Equally interesting is the fact that other antiquarian sources appear, thus far, to be generally accurate. Although no trace has been established (yet), it is likely that the earliest structure was an unfortified manor house in the 11th century from which the castle developed ‘organically’, particularly in the 14th century when in phases, a double hall, solar tower, great chamber, private or refuge tower, chapel, postern gate and towers for servants, retainers and guests were added, believed to be the work of the John Lewyn whose hand can be seen in so many north-eastern castles. The kitchen tower is particularly significant, with its high domed ceiling, clearly linking to Lewyn’s work for the Bishop of Durham in the Prior’s Kitchen, Durham Cathedral.

Raby’s remarkable domed ceiling in the Medieval Kitchen

Being in the Durham Palatinate, Raby’s License to Crenellate was granted by Bishop Hatfield in 1378, probably at the end of a phase of fortification which saw the structure emerge as a late contender for a somewhat irregular concentric castle.

How does the castle development relate to the habitation and family fortunes of the Nevilles in this early period?  Interestingly, periods of the castle’s development can be linked closely to social mobility, often brought about by advantageous marriages to wealthy heiresses. Around 1176 Isabella de Bulmer married Geoffrey Neville bringing vast land in Durham and Yorkshire to the family. Bulmer’s Tower still bears that family name, adorned with a carved lower case ‘b’ towards its highest points. Later, Elizabeth Latimer, second wife of John, 3rd Baron Neville KG, similarly brought her fortune to the family on her marriage in 1381 and her family coat of arms is proudly displayed on the Neville Gateway – the main entrance to the castle complex along with the Neville saltire and the emblem of the Order of the Garter, a very visible reminder of the position and prominence of the family.

Bulmer’s Tower from a 1723 engraving by Nathanial and Samuel Buck.

External events also had their impact on the development of the Neville stronghold. The wars with Scotland in the 14th century and particularly the Scottish raids south of the border resulted in increased security measures and fortification for those who could afford it. John Neville and his father Ralph had both played a part in the Battle of Neville’s Cross in nearby Durham (albeit John watching as a child):  A victory for English troops but a constant reminder of the need for defence.

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The ongoing research into the sources that provide context and meaning to the incremental development of the castle work hand in hand with the survey produced by Durham University Archaeological Services. It has been particularly pleasing to begin to explore some of the lost features, from the 3rd ‘court’ (courtyard) now located to the north of the Hall range to the puzzling configuration of spaces above the much-altered chapel gateway.  The myth of the earlier towers and particularly the more unusual shape of Bulmer’s Tower have been explored, along with an identification of a list of features lost to 18th and 19th century development.

At the time of writing, our initial plans to incorporate the model in a new introductory film at the castle are well underway. Film makers Heritage Interactive have incorporated views of the castle in the draft film due to be installed for the 2024 season and we’re currently looking at making more use of the model to create a more detailed approach to digitally recreating the phased development of the site. The scan has also been used by the castle’s quinquennial architects and castle team as part of the inspection and maintenance of the castle and master planning for future activity.

Inevitably, the survey report, model and associated research leave us with more tantalising questions, but the report pulls together and verifies a fascinating plethora of information which had previously been scattered, hearsay or completely unknown! Raby welcomes further scholarship and investigation, building on the work of Richard Annis, Durham University Archaeological Services and indeed Raby Castle’s Curation and Archives team. Thanks to all involved! Scholars wishing to consult the report should apply to the curator, via  admin at raby.co.uk

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Raby Castle: Mapping the Hillocks

As the Castle Studies Trust funded part of the project to learn more about Raby Castle comes to a close, the funding of the digital modelling of Raby’s exterior, the castle’s curator, Julie Bidescombe-Brown explores what they have found so far which includes a short preview of the model in its glory.

Throughout 2022, the team at Raby Castle has been working with Durham University Archaeological Services on a project funded by the Castle Studies Trust to drone scan and create a digital 3d model of the entire castle exterior. At the project draws to a close, Raby’s Curator Julie Biddlecombe-Brown reflects on the work undertaken over the last year, including both the planned outcomes and unexpected benefits of the work undertaken.

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‘At the time of writing this blog, I am waiting with bated breath for an email that marks the end of a truly game-changing project for Raby Castle. The email will include the final embedded link to a detailed digital model of Raby Castle’s exterior produced over a series of drone scans during the summer months of 2022. The sneak preview given to the castle team was breath-taking. When we applied to the Castle Studies Trust for support for the grant I had no idea of the level of detail that the technology now enabled. My initial application for funding was based on the creation of a digital model that could be used as the basis for future interpretation; a tool for presenting the castle to new audiences. What we have achieved has ended up to be so much more.

For those not familiar with Raby Castle, this beautiful building in the south of County Durham has remained the family home of the Vane family for almost 400 years. Harry Vane, twelfth Baron Barnard is the current owner and along with his wife, Lady Kate Barnard, has set out ambitious plans to ensure the future sustainability of the castle and wider estate. This project reflects their vision, setting out to better understand the estate so that responsible stewardship of rich heritage assets can see the castle enjoyed and studied by future generations.

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Going back to the castle itself: from the exterior, it is one of the most intact 14th century castles in the north of England, adapted over the centuries to provide luxurious accommodation for the two families who have lived here. First, the medieval northern powerhouse of the Neville Family who lost the castle after the failed Rising of the North. It was the Neville family who created most of what can be seen today, their license to fortify the castle having been granted by Bishop Hatfield of Durham in 1378.  Second, the Vanes, later Barons Barnard, Earls of Darlington and Dukes of Cleveland came to Raby after purchasing the castle in 1626. Over two hundred years later, what remains the castle’s most comprehensive history was written by Catherine Lucy Wilhelmina Vane, the 4th Duchess of Cleveland, in 1870,  a formidable scholar and biographer whose engaging narratives combine clear research of the sources available to her, with a delightful peppering of artistic license. Her handbook has also been a useful tool in this project, with descriptions of alterations, anomalies and observations that come with complete familiarity with a site. The Duchess clearly loved the castle and during the late 19th century welcomed guests from across the globe. Earlier generations of her husband’s family down-played the castle’s splendour. Courtier Sir Henry Vane, who bought the castle in 1626 twice received Charles I there; first in May, 1633; and again in April 1639.  Charles is said to have been greatly struck by the size of the castle, and to have rebuked Sir Henry for speaking of it somewhat irreverently as a ‘mere hillock of stone.’  ‘Call ye that a hillock of stone? By my faith,’ said he, ‘I have not such another hillock of stones in all my realms.”

Images of Raby Castle have been captured for centuries. Above: 1728 Engraving of Raby Castle from the southeast. Samuel & Nathaniel Buck. These topographical images, whilst subjective and sometimes inaccurate, have provided a valuable source in considering the appearance of the castle in the past. Such images shed light on demolished features, such as the barbican depicted here on the eastern (left hand) side of the castle which then has the potential to be ‘virtually reconstructed’ on the base digital model,  

You can judge the latest capturing of ‘the hillock’ yourself, by viewing the model funded by this project. Available to the castle team in multiple formats, from a wireframe for digital manipulation to fully overlaid with photographs for a full ‘photo-real’ view, the scan has created a snapshot of the castle at a moment in time but helps us look backwards into its history and forward, securing its future.  The Raby team is working with Heritage Interactive, sector AV specialists to adapt the model to be public facing and engage visitors with the story of the medieval fabric in a new introductory film that we will launch next year. But the model also gives us the potential to add to this; to explore later phases of development in the same way, to isolate, interpret and even digitally rebuild key features that have changed over time, such as the removal of the 14th century barbican in the late 18th century, creating the now slightly confusing Chapel Gateway, or exploring the remains of passages, staircases and windows that make no sense in the current configuration of the building.  

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The base-line data has multiple benefits – in addition to creating new films, we are exploring 3d printing of a model of the castle in jigsaw puzzle-like sections for use with schools and other audiences – what better way to inspire a new generation of castle enthusiasts than to couple the challenge of a puzzle with a superb digital model? The level of detail will also be of huge benefit to the castle buildings team in monitoring condition, working in tandem with our conservation architects who can now view the fabric almost stone-by-stone. This will, we anticipate, not only help us to detect any building changes that might need attention but will also help us in master planning for the future.

A complimentary annex to the project, funded in-house is an archaeological report by Durham University Archaeological Services that will sit alongside the model.  This collation and analysis of source material – including what we have learned about the existing fabric – has been led by Senior Archaeologist Richard Annis who over the course of 2022 has delved into every nook and cranny of the castle – peering under floorboards, climbing disused staircases and opening the door of every built-in cupboard to see what lies behind. This level of survey has never been done and when linked to the model, and an examination of known archival and other documentary sources compiled by a willing group of volunteers, we start 2023 with a far better understanding of this remarkable building than ever before. The report and model will be used together by the castle team including custodian, curatorial, archive and buildings teams,  and of course our conservation architects as we care for and interpret the castle and will be available as a resource to scholars and academics, hopefully inspiring future research.

And of course, there is still research to be done! The project may have answered questions but has left us with many new ones. Over the coming months, or should that be years …  we will continue to explore some of the puzzles of the building, from the origins of some of the towers, to vertical access routes. But what has changed over the last year is that we now have a superb data set as a starting point. Our thanks go to Archaeological Services Durham University and in particular Richard Annis for bringing their enthusiasm, skills, expertise and inquisitive minds to the project, and also, of course, to the Castle Studies Trust which provided us with the funding to enable it all to happen.

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Exploring Raby’s Medieval Past

The team at Raby Castle were delighted to hear that their application to the Castle Studies Trust for funding to support the creation of a digital model of the 14th century Nevill stronghold. The acual survey to create the model will not take place until May, but preparation is well underway including extensive documentary research by volunteeers. Their curator, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown who will oversee the project during 2022 reflects here on what the project will entail and what they hope to achieve.

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Raby Castle is one of the most impressive intact castles in the North of England. Built in the 14th century by the powerful Nevill family, it has a fascinating history. The castle was seized by the Crown in 1569 after the failed ‘Rising of the North’. In 1626 the castle was purchased by courtier Henry Vane the Elder and has remained in the family ever since. Over the last 300 years, successive generations have altered, updated and modernised parts of the building and although from the exterior, the 14th-century core is still evident, internal reworkings of the spaces mean that it is sometimes difficult to imagine and interpret the castle’s medieval past.

West Side of Raby Castle copyright Graeme Peacock, Raby Castle

In 2016, the castle was inherited by Harry Vane, Twelfth Baron Barnard. Under his stewardship, ambitious development plans were passed to enhance the visitor journey at Raby Castle, Park and Gardens. The dynamic scheme known as The Rising will restore and preserve historic buildings which have been without purpose for decades, providing contemporary event and exhibition spaces, retail and dining experiences and a visitor’s hub.  The transformation of the visitor offer at the castle, park and gardens include improved interpretation of the castle building. An important part of this for the Raby team is increasing our understanding of how the castle functioned during it medieval heyday. In 1378 Bishop Hatfield granted John Nevill a licence to crenellate reflecting a building that was changing from a fortified manor house to the castle we see today. Less than 50 years later, John’s son Ralph arranged the betrothal of his daughter Cecily to his young ward, Richard Duke of York; a marriage that would play a central role in the Wars of the Roses and ultimately in shaping British history. 

View from the inner-courtyard, showing The Keep and Clifford’s Tower ©Daniel Casson

With no significant collections in the castle to reflect this period, Raby’s greatest medieval asset is  the castle itself. Alterations over the past 400 years have reshaped the  building, modernising it for residents as tastes and technologies changed. Whilst it is still medieval in appearance, key features of the 14th century building have been lost. In order to explore how the castle may have looked before these alterations, our 2022 project will create a digital model of the castle that allows visitors then to view the castle’s past appearance based on our ongoing research. 

The creation of the digital model will be carried out by Durham University’s Archaeological Services, using a DJI S900 drone or equivalent. Photographs will be taken utilising a 14mm lens and 36 megapixel sensor, supported by RTK GNSS positioning. The data captured will then be uploaded and processed through Agisoft Metashape Professional and output as a 3D model utilising AutoCad Map 3D and giving the team the opportunity to ‘strip back’ known later additions and ‘rebuild’ known, lost features, such as the Barbican. The resulting model will be used in new interpretation at the castle, sharing our findings with our visitors.

View through the Nevill Gateway to the inner-courtyard and door to the Entrance Hall ©Raby Estates

Instrumental to the success of this project will be a team of Raby’s dedicated volunteers. A group of the castle’s regular volunteers formed a research group to work with the curator to pull together all known sources for the castle’s architectural changes to support this project. They have researched documentary sources including primary and secondary accounts, topographical pictures, maps and plans and in advance of the project will be surveying the castle walls. Their findings will be brought together in a portfolio of evidence which can then be reviewed by specialists from Durham University Archaeological Services who will be carrying out further research and eventually creating the model itself.

There has never been a full archaeological survey of Raby Castle and opportunities for research have been limited in the past. This project reflects the ambitions and vision of Lord and Lady Barnard, the castle’s owners who firmly believe that it is by understanding and sharing the castle’s past that we will secure its future. This project is part of that important story.

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Feature image: Raby Castle from a drone copyright Daniel Casson

Castle Studies Trust is going on its travels in 2022

In its latest round of grants the Castle Studies Trust has awarded £34,000 to five projects including two projects outside the UK. As well as covering a wide geographic area the projects will also undertake a broad range of technics to boost our understanding of castles.

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Dating medieval towers in the hinterland of Medieval Chalkida, Greece:

Stand-alone medieval towers, often part of castles or larger fortifications, are common in Central Greece. Often thought to have been built by the Frankish nobility during their period of dominance between 1204-1470, there is minimal evidence to back this up. By taking wood and mortar samples, the project aims to answer that question.

The present project forms part of the five-year survey ‘Beyond Chalkida: Landscape and Socio-Economic Transformations of its Hinterland from Byzantine to Ottoman times’ (authorised in July 2021 by the Greek State)

Samples will be taken from six towers of wood used laterally within tower walls to increase their structural strength, and mortar from within the core of the walls (both therefore probably

contemporaneous to the original period of construction). Specialists will use dendrochronological and

Carbon 14 methodology for the wood (8 samples), and optical microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and diffraction (XRD) Spectroscopy (mortar – 21 samples).

Work will start at the earliest in late 2022 and may not actually take place until next year due to the time it is likely to take to get official permission from the government. 

Kilmacahill, Co. Westmeath

Geophysical survey of deserted medieval settlement close to Jamestown motte & bailey castle. The aim is to understand the morphology of settlement and its relationship with the castle and medieval monastery.

This survey will contribute to a larger project: the Human-Environmental Exchanges in the Landscapes of Medieval Ireland Project (HELM Project) which aims to use a combination of multispectral imaging, UAV drone survey along with geophysical survey to gain a much better understanding of the form of the deserted medieval village through non-invasive methods.

At time of writing it was unclear when the survey will take place.

Pontefract, West Yorkshire

Pontefract Castle: Service area between the kitchen and royal appartments copyright Angela Routledge, Wakefield Council

The project funded will be a geophysical survey of two parts of the castle, which during its history was the main royal castle in Northern England, not previously investigated. The survey will be of two areas of the castle using Magnetometry, Resistivity and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

The focus is on parts of the castle not previously explored by  excavations in the 1980s, especially around the northern ramparts. This area stretches from the Swillington Tower towards the Kings Tower, and includes several earthwork features which remain unidentified, or unconfirmed.  Geophysical investigation is likely to reveal several interesting features including the link wall between the curtain wall and the Swillington Tower, which is unique in that it was built outside the main castle defences.

A second area that we have very little information on is part of the castle known as the “service buildings”. This area has never been excavated and we have very little knowledge regarding the layout or function of this part of the castle. 

As yet it is unclear when the survey will be undertaken.

Raby, Co Durham:

Aerial View of Raby Castle copyright Raby Castle

The Trust will be co-funding the project which aims to improve the understanding of the castle in the medieval period, especially around 1400 in the decades immediately after the licence to crenellate, with a buildings survey and development of a 3D model.

Once a stronghold of the Neville family, it moved into the ownership of the Vane family in 1626 and has been much altered and modernised, especially in the Victorian period, into a palatial family home.  Large sections of the medieval castle survive intact, albeit intersected and extended with more recent architectural additions.

This project seeks to strip back the more recent layers, to make sense of the medieval castle. Our aim is to create a 3D visualisation of Raby Castle in around AD 1400, helping us to visualise and to understand (where possible) how it functioned before the later additions.

In addition to boosting our understanding of the castle, the plan is also to train up a team of volunteers in how to carry out a building survey.

The aim is to start the survey work in April. 

Shrewsbury, Shropshire:

Shrewsbury Motte Top copyright Nigel Baker

This is the third project the Trust has funded on this important castle of the Welsh Marches and is an excavation of the motte top. The first two excavations in the inner bailey discovered that the original inner bailey was a lot smaller than it is today with little room for any substantial buildings, especially the royal hall.

This leaves only the motte and the aim is to understand the structural sequence and assess the character and the status of the buildings there: specifically to identify the royal hall known to be present during the Middle Ages.

The excavation is due to take place in the second half of July.

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Featured image Shrewsbury Castle by air courtesy of Shropshire Council

A Large and Eclectic Crop of Fascinating Applications for the Castle Studies Trust to Consider

The deadline for grant applications passed on 1 December. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 14 projects, coming from all parts of Britain, one from Ireland, are asking for £88,000. They cover not only a wide period of history but also a wide range of topics.

We will not be able to fund as many of these projects as we would like. To help us fund as many of these projects as possible please donate here: https://donate.kindlink.com/castle-studies-trust/2245

In a little more detail here are the applications we’ve received:

Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire: The aim is to understand the chronology and geography of extreme weather events in the high medieval period, and the effects they wrought on archaeological features that led to the abandonment of the old castle in favour of the new.

Georgian Castles: This project explores two castles in County Durham—Brancepeth and Raby—that were fundamentally reshaped and transformed in the eighteenth century to become notable homes in the area, and it advances not only our understanding of these two buildings in the period, but also the afterlife the castles in the area and the layers of history that they record.

Greasley, Nottinghamshire: The production of an interpretative phased floor plan for Greasley Castle in Nottinghamshire. The castle, built in the 1340s, has an obscure history and the understanding of its architectural phasing is at best very cloudy.

Laughton-en-le-Morthen, South Yorkshire: To provide professional illustration and reconstruction which will also be integrated into the co-authored academic article. Part of the monies will be used to produce phase plans of Laughton during key stages of its development, and a small percentage will pay for a line drawing of the grave cover.

Lost medieval landscapes, Ireland: To develop a low cost method, using drone and geophysical survey to identify native Irish (also termed Gaelic Irish) medieval landscapes and deserted settlements.

Mold, Flintshire, post excavation analysis: Post-excavation analysis from excavation on Bailey Hill of the castle

Mold, Flintshire, digital reconstruction: Visual CGI reconstruction of  Mold Castle using the new-found evidence of further masonry on the inner bailey structure and using information gathered by the Bailey Hill Research Volunteers, showcasing the many changes that have happened on this site from a Motte and Bailey Castle to present time as a public park.

Old Wick, Caithness: Dendrochronological assessment of timber at the Castle of Old Wick, Caithness thought to be one of the earliest stone castles in Scotland.

Orford, Suffolk: recording the graffiti at the castle through a detailed photographic and RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) survey will add to our understanding of how the building was constructed and the ways the building was used over time, particularly 1336-1805, during which the documentary history of the castle provides little evidence of how the site developed.

Pembroke, Pembrokeshire: A second season of trial-trench evaluation of the suggested late-medieval, double-winged hall-house in the outer ward at Pembroke Castle, which is of national significance. The evaluation builds on the results of the works undertaken through previous CST grants: geophysical survey (2016) and 2018 whereby two trenches were excavated across the possible mansion site. The evaluation will again establish the extent of stratified archaeological deposits that remain within the building, which was excavated during the 1930s.

Pevensey, East Sussex: GPR survey of the outer bailey and immediate extramural area and UAV (aerial) survey of the castle to build up a 3-D model of the site.

Richmond, North Yorkshire: Co-funding a 3 week excavation of Richmond Castle, one of the best preserved and least understood Norman castles in the UK. The aim is to understand better the remains of building and structures along the western side of the bailey.

Shootinglee Bastle, Peeblesshire: Funding post-excavation work from the 2019-20 excavation season in particular some charcoal deposits from a C16 burning event.

Warkworth, Northumberland: Geophysical survey to explore evidence for subsurface features in and around the field called St John’s Close in a field adjacent to the castle.

We will not be able to fund as many of these projects as we would like. To help us fund as many of these projects as possible please donate here: https://donate.kindlink.com/castle-studies-trust/2245

The applications have been sent to our assessors who will go over them and prepare their feedback for the Trustee’s who will meet in late January to decide on which grants to award.