A guide to Leicestershire's castles
08:33 18 October 2010
The first castles came to Leicestershire almost a thousand years ago, with the Normans in the late 11th century and were used as military bases during the invasion period after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
A new touring exhibition Palisades to Palaces - the Medieval Castles of Leicestershire and Rutland explores the many other castle sites in the area and how these structures were used by noble hunting parties, local administrators and as high status dwellings for powerful lords and their families.
Most of Leicestershire and Rutlands castles are no longer standing and are only visible as curiously shaped grass covered earthworks. The earliest castles were made of wood and many were not in use for very long and gradually rotted away. Others were rebuilt in stone, but even these once impressive structures have disappeared over time as crumbling walls were robbed for building stone by the local residents.
Many older buildings in towns such as Castle Donington and Mountsorrel were built out of the abandoned castles, while many were purposely destroyed by order of royality as punishment against the owners. Most are described as motte and bailey - which means a castle situated on a raised earthwork and surrounded by a protective fence. For many the raised earthwork is all that remains despite that many are scheduled ancient monuments.
A wide range of excavated artefacts from Leicestershire museum collections add further evidence of life at sites such as Sapcote, Kirby Muxloe, Oakham and Ashby Castles. The exhibition uses photographs, historical images and accounts as well as fun reconstruction artwork to paint a vivid picture of the development and later decline of castles in the area.
Many visitors to the exhibition will be surprised to learn of a castle near to where they live or that they drive past everyday, says David Sprason, from Leicestershire County Council. This project will hopefully help to inspire the people of Leicestershire to take pride in their medieval heritage.
Palisades to Palaces - the Medieval Castles of Leicestershire and Rutland
will be touring at venues around the county over the next year.
Leicestershire and Rutlands castles
Ashby Castle is run by English Heritage. The property began as a manor house in the 12th century and reached castle status in the 15th century. In the 1820s the publication of Sir Walter Scotts Ivanhoe led to a mini stampede of tourists to the ruins of Ashby Castle, surprising locals who had previously regarded the remains as a rather handy source of masonry. Scott used the environs of the castle as the setting for the jousting tournament between the Black Knight and Ivanhoe, and the castle itself as a scene for "high revelry" with Prince John.
Bagworth Castle is thought to have existed in the Middle Ages, probably as a large manor house, although its site is not clear.
Beaumont Chase situated to the west of Uppingham in Rutland features early castle earthworks on Castle Hill, a steep hillside overlooking Leicestershire.
Belvoir is still home to the Dukes of Rutland, home to the Manners family for 501 years, the castle is open to visitors at certain times and a range of special events take place throughout the year. Inside the castle are many notable collections, from the military treasures in the guardroom to the stunning staterooms with their impressive period art, tapestries, furniture and sculpture.
Castle Donington castle is no longer visible, having been built over by some of the towns oldest buildings.
Earl Shilton castle was built around the site of an existing twelfth century chapel called Saint Peters that lies between Church Street and Almeys Lane to become The Earl of Leicesters new motte and bailey castle. This area is known locally as Hall Yard. The castle, as a fortress, lasted for 30 to 40 years before its destruction by order of the king, and subsequent conversion to a hunting lodge.
Essendine Castle sits in the village of Essendine in the east of Rutland, the earthworks of a small castle remain close to the church.
Hinckley Castle was originally an 11th century earthwork motte and bailey fortress, founded by Hugh de Grantmesnil.
Garthorpe is home to around 100 people and sits five miles east of Melton Mowbray.
Gilmorton Castle is a large flat-topped Norman earthwork motte, encased by a wide wet ditch. To the west, of this timber castle, is a medieval moated platform and two rectangular fishponds.
Groby Castle was built in the late 11th century by Hugh de Grantmesnil, possibly on the site of an existing Saxon manorial complex. It was destroyed in 1172 on the orders of Henry II after the rebellion by his son Prince Henry. In the 13th century a stone manor house was founded on the site.
Gumley Castle, a tree ringed mound to the west of Gumley, is a Scheduled Monument.
Hallaton Castle lies 20 km south-east of Leicester. An earthwork 118ft (36m) high, and 630ft (190m) in circumference encompassing the keep, occupying, with the outworks, about two acres of ground is all that remains.
Ingarsby is one of the best-preserved deserted medieval villages in England. It is situated about six miles to the East of Leicester, and a little to the North of Houghton on the Hill. The majority of the site, which is situated on a West-facing slope and lies on both sides of the Houghton to Hungarton road, is now a Scheduled Monument.
Kibworth Harcourt Castle was a 12th century earthwork motte and bailey fortress, founded by the de Harcourt family.
Kirby Muxloe Castle today looks much as it did more than 500 years ago - incomplete. The castle was commissioned in 1480 by William, Lord Hastings, and cost a mere 1,000. But interest in the project evaporated when Richard III executed William in 1483. William Hastings was a fervent Yorkist and follower of Richard, Duke of York, father of Edward IV. His considerable wealth came mostly from forfeited Lancastrian estates. He also married well and acquired foreign pensions, particularly from Louis XI of France. Williams support was rewarded when Edward IV made him Chamberlain of England. When the king died in 1843, he was denounced as a traitor and executed at the Tower of London.
Leicester Castle is in the west of the city centre, between Saint Nicholas Circle and De Montfort University incorporating the Castle Gardens, St Mary de Castro, The Great Hall, the castle remains and Castle yard - once used for public executions. Leicester Museums believe the castle was probably built around 1070 (soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066.  The remains now consist of a mound, along with ruins.
Mountsorrel Castle was built in 1080 by Hugh Lupus. Mountsorrel castle was used as a bastion against King Stephen, and was subsequently destroyed in 1217 by the Kings men from Nottingham, branded a nest of the Devil and den of thieves and robbers. All that remains of the castle today is a granite crag on Castle Hill.
Oakham Castle dates from 1180-90. Only the great hall of the Norman castle is still standing, and is surrounded by steep earthworks marking the inner bailey.
Ravenstone Castle most probably consisted of an earth mound and ditch surrounded by a wooden palisade, is documented in a treaty concluded between 1147 and 1153 by the Earls of Chester and Leicester, in which it was agreed for it to be destroyed since it threatened their respective estates. The exact site of the castle has so far never been established, but it may have stood on the north side of the village on or near the site of Ravenstone Hall.
Sapcote is home to an early Bronze Age occupation and a Roman villa and bath house dating from the 1st century AD. The village was the home of the Bassett family between the 12th-14th century.
Sauvey Castle is an early medieval ringwork and bailey castle and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument in Withcote. The castle was built sometime between 1135-1154.
Shackerstone Castle During World War II the remains of the motte and bailey castle in the village had an air raid shelter dug into it. It is believed that this still has a rocking chair within it.
Shawell Castle was a 12th century earthwork motte and bailey fortress, founded during the anarchy, in the reign of King Stephen. The low circular flat-topped motte, retains part of its surrounding wide ditch and some distance to the south, stands a small circular earthwork mound.
Whitwick Castle was a 12th century motte and bailey castle, and held by the Earls of Leicester, though it was recorded as being ruinous by 1427. The foundations are said to have been visible at the end of the 18th century and a wall was still to be seen on the north side in 1893. The mound retains the title of Castle Hill and is surmounted by a 19th century folly.
Woodhead Castle is in Great Casterton in Rutland.
Did you know...
Rockingham Castle in Rockingham, Market Harborough may have a Leicestershire address (LE16 8TH), but its proud 900-year history belongs to another county - namely Northamptonshire.
The village of Rockingham sits within the civil parish in the Corby district of Northamptonshire, England.