Castle gatehouses in North West England
Date: 15 December 2012
Castle Studies Group Journal
Castle Studies Group
In medieval castles gatehouses and gate towers were the structures which either contained or protected the entrance. Of the 83 castles in North West England - made up of the historical counties of Cheshire, Cumberland, Lancashire, and Westmorland - a minority have gatehouses still standing. The known castle gatehouses in the ...
In medieval castles gatehouses and gate towers were the structures which either contained or protected the entrance. Of the 83 castles in North West England - made up of the historical counties of Cheshire, Cumberland, Lancashire, and Westmorland - a minority have gatehouses still standing. The known castle gatehouses in the region date from the 12th century onwards. In the 20th century, excavations were conducted at 30 castles in the North West; this work tended to focus on stone castles.1 As a result, we know very little about the forms the early gate towers or gatehouses of timber and earthwork castles took in the region. Even elsewhere the form of timber gatehouses can be difficult to ascertain. At the extensively excavated site of Goltho, Lincolnshire, little is known about the gatehouse because the site has been overlaid or eroded. While earthworks can be used to identify approaches and routes through castles – for example a sunken way is evident at Stafford Castle, Staffordshire – the particulars of the structure can only be identified by excavation. In 1992 Barker and Higham wrote: “As with all archaeological reconstructions of timber buildings, it is reliable in ground plan and basic building technique for each structure …. very often, however, decisions about superstructure rest upon a general knowledge of medieval buildings”.2 Whilst this explicitly refers to timber structures, similar issues are at play when only the foundations of stone structures survive. Therefore, when discussing castle gatehouses in this area we are generally restricted to those buildings which still stand. There are exceptions, for example antiquarian drawings of Chester Castle survive, illustrating the gatehouse, and excavations at Buckton Castle in the early 21st century uncovered the earliest known stone gatehouse in the region. The importance of excavation is demonstrated by the fact that before the work in the 21st century it was assumed that the castle was originally timber. It is at Buckton that this study begins.
College of Humanities
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