Norman visited ‘Conquest 950’ yesterday at the University of Sheffield. It sure inflated his ego to hear the Normans talked about so much and to even see embroideries of himself on the screen a few times. After hearing the talk by John Moreland, head of the Castlegate Steering Committee, Norman thought we should share some information about Sheffield Castle as our next blog post.
Little is known, and a lot has been suggested, about Sheffield Castle. Domesday Book, an 11th-century census of land ownership and wealth throughout England, records the Northern lord, Earl Waltheof, as having had a hall in Hallamshire. When the site was first excavated in 1927-30 by archaeologist A.L. Armstrong, he uncovered evidence for a timber structure which he proposed to be evidence of an Anglo-Saxon longhouse. This has been connected with the Domesday book record and it is often suggested that Castlegate may have been the site of Waltheof’s hall. However, Armstrong’s suggestion of an Anglo-Saxon date for the structure was largely based on the fact that it was made of timber, which does not necessarily mean it was built in the late Anglo-Saxon period, and the pottery found with the timber is now known to be from a later period. To date, no certain evidence exists for an Anglo-Saxon structure on the site, and no documentary evidence has been found to more accurately locate Waltheof’s hall, so the suggestion of Castlegate’s Anglo-Saxon origins remains somewhat tenuous.
It has also been suggested that there may have been a motte-and-bailey castle built on the site in the years immediately following the Conquest when the land was owned by Roger de Buisli and then Robert de Bellesme. As Normans gained land in England many motte-and-bailey castles were erected across England, but there is no archaeological or specific documentary evidence to confirm that this was the case at the Castlegate site. It is thought that a new (or initial) castle may have been built after the land passed to William de Lovetot in the 1120’s. Although there is no record of the construction of a castle, he did build a church and a bridge over the river Don. There was certainly a castle on the site by the later 12th century, which was destroyed in 1266. At that time the area was owned by Thomas de Furnival, who subsequently received a license to crenallate (essentially permission to fortify your property) and rebuilt the castle. It is this stone fortification that survived and imprinted itself into the memory of Sheffield’s people.
Sheffield castle survived through the Middle Ages and was the centre of a number of exciting events (something to do with somebody called Mary Queen of Scots, Norman was told). Since they have little to do with the Norman Conquest, we won’t mention them here, but do highly recommend reading further about Sheffield Castle. Friends of Sheffield Castle are ardent supporters of informing the public about the castle’s past and current events, and have a website full of excellent and exciting information. Launching today at the Festival of Arts and Humanities Showcase is a new app called Sheffield Lives: the Birth of a City. This app, created by the University’s Department of Archaeology, will take you on a walking tour of Sheffield, centred around the Castle, and led by Sheffield’s historic residents from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The castle was gradually demolished from 1648, and today there is nothing remaining above ground but the knowledge of its previous existence which has secured itself in the Sheffield community memory. However, the University of Sheffield is currently working closely with the City Council and Friends of Sheffield Castle to expose and understand more of the castle’s origin in future years.
The image of Sheffield’s Gatehouse used above was created by ARCUS after research conducted in 2009. http://friendsofsheffieldcastle.org.uk/gallery-2/artists-impressions/gate_house/