Research on Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle’s history and architecture are better understood than those of most medieval English castles. It benefited from extensive survey work and exemplary documentary research for the preparation by English Heritage of a major monograph in 1990. A major archaeological project of 1998–2001 has further enhanced our understanding of the Roman period.

Detail from the carvings on the second floor of the keep

Detail from the carvings on the second floor of the keep. To the left is a boar (symbol of Richard III), and two dolphins, symbols of the powerful northern Greystoke family

Antiquarian Scholarship

Studies of Carlisle’s sieges in 1644–5 and 1745–6 were published as long ago as 1840 and 1846.[1]

In 1866 the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society was founded, and it began publishing annual transactions the same year. The society’s first president, RS Ferguson, published a guidebook to Carlisle Castle in 1875, and a long article on its history in 1876.[2]

The society’s publication of the 13th-century Pipe Rolls for the counties in 1905 provided primary material for the history of the castle.[3]

                    

The Castle as an Ancient Monument 

From the 1890s, when the castle started to attract visitors, the castle’s military governor began to consult the President of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society on new building and repairs.

The first major investigative excavations were conducted by Sir Charles Peers, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, in 1917–18. These uncovered the ditch in front of the inner ward wall with the then-buried half-moon battery.[4]

Sometime in the mid-1930s the ditch and base of the keep forebuilding were uncovered, but there does not seem to be any archaeological account of this work.

             

Architectural History and Recent Studies

The first systematic account of the architectural history of the castle was published between 1963 and 1982 in The History of the King’s Works.[5]

This established a building chronology, confirmed the basically 12th-century date of the keep and defences, and established John Lewyn’s responsibility for De Ireby’s Tower. It also developed the account of Stefan von Haschenperg’s work at Carlisle, already known from BJ O’Neil’s research, published in 1945.[6]

An article on De Ireby’s Tower by R Gilyard-Beer in 1976 represents another important study of the castle’s fabric.[7]

A significant advance in the scholarly understanding of the castle came with English Heritage’s publication in 1990 of a monograph by Mike McCarthy, Henry Summerson and RG Annis.[8] This included an architectural inventory of the whole complex, as well as detailed plans and elevations of the keep and other structures.

Detailed construction phasings of the keep, the Captain’s Tower, the former museum building and De Ireby’s Tower were all established for the first time. Many previously unknown historic views and plans were published.

Henry Summerson’s research also provided, for the first time, a full documentary history of the castle from its foundation to the present day.[9] This gave as much weight to the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as to the medieval past.

John Goodall’s article on the keep represented a further development of our understanding of the monument, placing it in a 12th-century context.[10]

Excavations of Castle Green

Excavations of Castle Green in the 1950s by Dorothy Charlesworth were the first to uncover remains of the Roman fort. Since then, several more excavations have established the outlines of the civilian settlement of Luguvalium.[11]

The most important recent archaeological work was the excavation of Castle Green as part of Carlisle’s Millennium Project, a new pedestrian subway linking the castle to the city centre and the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.

This generated the need for a major archaeological excavation in 1998–2001, conducted by the Carlisle Archaeological Unit and Oxford Archaeology North, directed by Mike McCarthy and John Zant. The excavation revealed evidence of three successive Roman forts and generated a huge number of finds.[12] Traces of the southern edge of the Roman fort were also found between Castle Street and Abbey Street. 

This 3rd-century Roman altar, dedicated by a Syrian officer serving in the XXth legion, was re-used as a lintel over a doorway in the outer gatehouse

This 3rd-century Roman altar, dedicated by a Syrian officer serving in the XXth legion, was re-used as a lintel over a doorway in the outer gatehouse. Further research is needed to determine the relationship between the site of the Roman fort at Carlisle and the Norman castle

Questions for Future Research

It is unlikely that significant new evidence for the castle’s architecture and history will occur without major intervention and archaeological work. Addressing most of the questions below, then, must be a matter of the interpretation of existing evidence.

  • How does the siting of the Norman castle relate to the Roman fort? Did it occupy the part of the Roman site? Do the walls follow Roman alignments?
  • Was there a first stage of the Norman castle, embodying the inner ward and its ditch? 
  • Can the dating of the keep and the curtain walls be refined, given the lack of exact documentary evidence and diagnostic features? 
  • What were the original form, plan and appearance of the keep? The 1990 monograph acknowledged that several major questions remained unanswered, including the original plan; whether the keep originally had a spine wall; the form of the forebuilding; the date of the spine wall and the ground-floor vaults; and the original form of the upper part of the keep 
  • What are the date, meaning and significance of the ‘prisoners’ inscriptions’ in the keep? Why are they there? 
  • What evidence is there for the original form and appearance of the ‘palace’ buildings in the inner ward and their development? Is there sufficient material for a reconstruction drawing? 
  • What were the original form and appearance of the Captain’s Tower? How was it intended to be used when it was rebuilt in the 14th century? How was it used in later centuries? 
  • What were the original form and appearance of De Ireby’s Tower? How was it intended to be used in the late 14th century? How was it used in later centuries? 
  • Is there any evidence for the medieval buildings in the outer ward? 
  • What evidence is there, from documents or archaeological finds, for life in the medieval castle?

 

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Footnotes

1. IA Tullie, Narrative of the Siege of Carlisle in 1644 and 1645 (Carlisle, 1840, reprinted Whitehaven, 1988); GG Mounsey, Carlisle in 1745: Authentic Account of the Occupation of Carlisle in 1745 by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (London and Carlisle, 1846; accessed 31 October 2014).
2. RS Ferguson, Carlisle Castle (Carlisle, 1875); RS Ferguson, ‘Carlisle Castle’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, old series, 2 (1876), 56–95.
3. FHM Parker (ed), The Pipe Rolls of Cumberland and Westmorland, 1222–1260, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, extra series, 12 (Kendal, 1905).
4. C Peers, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2nd series, 18 (1918), 235–7, and 19 (1919), 165–7; MR McCarthy, HRT Summerson and RG Annis, Carlisle Castle: A Survey and Documentary History, English Heritage Archaeological Report 18 (London, 1990), 259.
5. RA Brown, HM Colvin and AJ Taylor, The History of the King’s Works, vol 2: The Middle Ages (London, 1963); M Biddle, HM Colvin, JR Hale, M Merriman and J Summerson, The History of the King’s Works, vol 4: 1485–1660, Part 2 (London, 1982); HM Colvin, J Mordaunt Crook, K Downes and J Newman, The History of the King’s Works, vol 5: 1660–1782 (London, 1976).
6. BHStJ O’Neil, ‘Stefan von Haschenperg, an engineer to King Henry VIII, and his work’, Archaeologia, 91 (1945), 137–55 (accessed 31 October 2014).
7. R Gilyard-Beer, ‘De Ireby’s Tower in Carlisle Castle’, in Ancient Monuments and their Interpretation: Essays Presented to AJ Taylor, ed M Apted, R Gilyard-Beer and AD Saunders (Chichester, 1977), 191–210.
8. McCarthy et al, op cit.
9. HT Summerson, Carlisle Castle (English Heritage guidebook, London, 2008; revised edn 2010) (buy the guidebook).
10
. JAA Goodall, ‘The great tower of Carlisle Castle’, in Carlisle and Cumbria: Roman and Medieval Architecture, Art and Archaeology, ed M McCarthy and D Weston, British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, 27 (Leeds, 2004), 39–62.
11. D Charlesworth, ‘Roman Carlisle’, Archaeological Journal, 135 (1978), 115–37.
12. J Zant, The Carlisle Millennium Project: Excavations in Carlisle, 1998–2001, vol 1: The Stratigraphy (Oxford, 2009); C Howard-Davis, The Carlisle Millennium Project: Excavations in Carlisle 1998–2001, vol 2: The Finds (Oxford, 2010).

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