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Two ‘Secret’ Yorkshire Castles: Tickhill and Conisbrough

A photo of Tickhill castle mound, a low green earthwork against a blue sky.

Sunday 02 July
Depart: Parkinson Steps: 09.30
Arrive: Parkinson Steps: 19.30
Price: £54.50

This excursion to the Yorkshire village of Tickhill and town of Conisbrough, near Doncaster, will allow participants to visit two castles, which both had their roots in the Norman expansion in the North of England. Tickhill Castle is the property of the Duchy of Lancaster and is therefore not normally open to the public. This excursion allows a very rare and exclusive opportunity to study the remains of this little-known magnificent motte and bailey castle.

The early castle at Tickhill was built before 1089 with prominent earth and water features. The motte, at 23 meters (75 feet), is the second highest surviving early Norman motte in the United Kingdom (the highest is at Thetford, Norfolk, some 24 meters (80 feet tall), and the third largest artificial mound Britain (the largest is the pre-historic Silbury Hill, at 30 meters (98 feet) high). The gatehouse is one of the earliest surviving Norman examples in England. The castle witnessed a number of sieges throughout its history, in 1102, 1193-94, 1264, 1322, and finally in 1644. It was set in a landscape which included a moat (which is still filled with water), a mill and its millpond, as well as a 13th-century clapper bridge.

Although famously appearing in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe (1819), the comparatively little-visited Conisbrough Castle remains one of Yorkshire’s best-kept secrets. The castle possesses the most impressive and finest standing remains of a late 12th-century cylindrical keep or donjon in Britain. It has been described as ‘one of the finest examples of late Norman defensive architecture’. The four-storey Norman keep is exceptionally well preserved, both internally and externally, and reaches a height of 27 meters (90 feet). Within its walls is the largest hooded fire-place of its date, an impressive private chapel, and a fine processional staircase.

Nearby is St Peter's Minster at Conisbrough, a 12th-15th century church which, standing on an earlier Anglo-Saxon site of c.750, contains an excellent group of medieval funerary slabs, said to be the finest of their kind in England. A richly carved tomb chest, dating from the 11th-12th century, includes depictions of St George and the dragon, as well as warriors in combat. It has been suggested that some of the subjects illustrated may be representations of The Song of Roland and that it formed the tomb of William de Warrenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey, who died while on the Second Crusade in 1148. A 12th-13th century altar stone in the church probably came from Conisbrough Castle.

Along the way to Conisbrough, the church of St John at Wadworth, will also be visited to see the rare effigy of a medieval forester in hunting garb, complete with sword, buckler, and horn, unique in Yorkshire. There is also a fine effigy of a knight and lady from the time of the Wars of the Roses, Edmund Fitzwilliam (1382-1465), whose father (another Edmund) was Constable of Conisbrough Castle. The tour will also make a brief stop at Braithwell to see the stump of a medieval Cross shaft, which has an intriguing, although sadly unproven, association. It is all that remains of a cross allegedly erected to commemorate the freeing of King Richard I from imprisonment (c. 1191).

This excursion will once again be led by Kelly DeVries (Professor of the Department of History, Loyola University, Maryland and Honorary Historical Consultant to the Royal Armouries) and Robert C. Woosnam-Savage FSA (Curator of Armour and Edged Weapons, Royal Armouries, Leeds).

Sensible footwear is recommended, as there will be a significant amount of walking on uneven surfaces and climbing steep stone steps and slopes. Packed lunches will be provided.

For more information about Conisbrough Castle, please visit