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 12 projects, coming from the UK, Ireland and even one from Greece, are asking for £88,000. They cover not only a wide period of history but also a broad 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:

Bedrule, Roxburghshire: The project aims to advance understanding of the role of the castle in the evolution of a well-defined rural community in SE Scotland between the 14th and 16th centuries using a variety of sources including archival research, LiDAR and GIS data analysis.

Berkeley, Gloucestershire: Using a variety of techniques including drone survey and archival research to understand the structure of the castle’s twelfth century shell keep, and then to develop a reconstruction drawing of what it could have looked like at that time.

Cavers Castle, Roxburghshire: Archaeological assessment of earthworks and early castle remains at Cavers Castle, Roxburghshire, which stands as a part-demolished ruin, using a variety of techniques such as geophysical survey, review of documentary and cartographic evidence and LiDAR.

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.

Dunoon, Argyll: The project will conduct a geophysical survey of Dunoon Castle mound and its immediate environs to determine the extent, nature and character of buried archaeological remains and will also provide signage to help illustrate what was found.

Galey, Co. Roscommon: Geophysical and topographical surveys to explore the possible motives behind the placement of, as well as  immediate landscape context, morphology and any attached settlement and industrial activity, that occurred at a lakeshore-sited late medieval Gaelic-constructed tower house castle.

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.

Millom, Cumbria: Geophysical survey of the area surrounding this 14th century castle to try to understand more about the landscape in which it was built.

Pontefract, West Yorkshire: Geophysical survey of the castle focusing on parts of the castle not previously explored by the excavations in the 1980s, especially around the northern ramparts.

Raby, Co Durham: The aim of the project is 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.

Shrewsbury, Shropshire: To excavate the top of the motte of this important Marcher castle 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.

Sleaford Castle, Lincolnshire: Geophysical survey of the to context between the castle earthworks and the principal southern road of the town to establish if further remains of the castle exist in this direction (an area heavily during the 19th century) and establish if there were any links to the town other than the established route along Castle Causeway.

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. You can see how the assessment process works from our blog back in January 2016 https://castlestudiestrust.org/blog/2016/01/17/how-the-castle-studies-trust-selects-its-projects/