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Nottingham Castle has been at the centre of many tales, notably those involving Robin Hood or the Sheriff of Nottingham. Images of a fine medieval fortification doubtless bring many a tourist running to the city in the hope of treading the ramparts where, perhaps, Robin himself had stood.

I hate to see them disappointed, but disappointed they are. Instead of the keep, curtain walls and crenellations they see only a gatehouse and an edifice which appears to owe more to wedding-cake design than medieval defence structures. Come with me, and I will explain.

A Little History

Originally built as a motte-and-bailey wooden structure in 1068 at the behest of William the Conqueror, it stands on a 130-foot tall cliff, overlooking the Trent water meadows. 1170 saw the construction of stone walls to replace the wooden palisade, and following the successful capture of the castle by Richard I in 1194, work began to strengthen and extend the castle.

King John's work expanded the defences further, to include a curtain wall, which is marked by the location of the current gatehouse. The work is supervised by Philip Marc, the ruthless and efficient sheriff of Nottingham, who orders the construction of siege engines for attack and defence.

Between about 1250 and 1255, Henry III orders the construction of the present outer wall and gatehouse, and the keep and apartments are upgraded. By this time, the city of Nottingham has expanded, and many building cluster around the castle, both at the foot of the cliff (the Brewhouse Yard, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem), and on the hill leading to the gatehouse.

In 1330, Roger Mortimer is arrested after Edward III's courtiers break into the castle through a tunnel (still known as Mortimer's Hole). Mortimer is taken to London, where he is hanged, drawn and quartered. Many other tunnels and caves are carved into the rock - many can be seen to this day, although most are fenced off and locked up.

During the 1470s, Edward IV erected Richard's Tower, a semi-octagonal structure which overlooked the outer walls. The ground floor of the royal apartments were also laid against the walls, although they were not completed until the reign of Richard III, in about 1485 - the same year that he rode from Nottingham to the battle of Bosworth Field, and his downfall.

Plans for a refurbishment of the castle were drawn up for Sir William Cavendish by the architect John Smythson in 1617. These documents give us the only detailed layout of the castle before the 18th Century. Royalty lost interest in the castle as a military requirement, and James I granted it to the keeping of the then Earl of Rutland, Francis.

Civil War and the castle's demise

1642 saw Charles I raise his standard outside the castle wall to recruit support for what became known as the English Civil War. The area just North of the castle is still known as Standard Hill in commemoration. However, the castle fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians, and in 1651 the work of dismantling the defences began, a process which took just under six months. The locals applauded this action, as good free building materials were suddenly in abundance.

William Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Newcastle began building a residence on the rock summit in 1617, and by 1678, his son saw the mansion completed. It stood until 1831, when it was gutted by Reform Bill rioters who razed it by arson. The £20,000 he received as compensation went toward the building of the Park Estate behind the castle.

Over forty years later, in 1875, the empty shell was bought by the Nottingham Corporation, and it was restored to become the first municipal museum outside London for fine and applied arts. It was officially opened in 1878 by the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Present Times

The castle continues as a museum, tourist attraction and local education centre. The grounds are remarkably peaceful, set up and away from the main city streets, and oftimes I have sat under the trees by the curtain wall in the sunshine.

Many events are staged here, from the Guy Fawke's Night fireworks, to the medieval Pageant, and events such as the Tournament and re-enactments. The gatehouse is the oldest part of the castle, dating back to about 1255, and houses a gift shop and reception centre. Tours are conducted up Mortimer's Hole, and many of the cave and tunnel entrances are still visible. A visit to the south walls will reward you with a panoramic view across the Trent valley, and there are some lovely pubs within five minutes walk, notably The Trip and The Salutation Inn.

It is still worth a visit - just don't expect to find Robin Hood.

52:56:59N, 1:09:18W A Place for Everything (and Everything in its Place)

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