Donnington Castle: a quadrangular castle and 17th century fieldwork.
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- West Berkshire (Unitary Authority)
- Shaw cum Donnington
- National Grid Reference:
- SU 46109 69135
Reasons for Designation
A quadrangular castle is a strongly fortified residence built of stone, or
sometimes brick, around a square or rectangular courtyard. The outer walls
formed a defensive line, frequently with towers sited on the corners and
occasionally in intermediate positions as well. Some of the very strongly
defended examples have additional external walls. Ditches, normally wet but
sometimes dry, were also found outside the walls. Two main types of
quadrangular castle have been identified. In the southern type, the angle and
intermediate mural towers were most often round in plan and projected markedly
from the enclosing wall. In the northern type, square angle towers, often of
massive proportions, were constructed, these projecting only slightly from the
main wall. Within the castle, accommodation was provided in the towers or in
buildings set against the walls which opened onto the central courtyard. An
important feature of quadrangular castles was that they were planned and built
to an integrated, often symmetrical, design. Once built, therefore, they did
not lend themselves easily to modification. The earliest and finest examples
of this class of castle are found in Wales, dating from 1277, but they also
began to appear in England at the same time. Most examples were built in the
14th century but the tradition extended into the 15th century. Later examples
demonstrate an increasing emphasis on domestic comfort to the detriment of
defence and, indeed, some late examples are virtually defenceless. They
provided residences for the king or leading families and occur in both rural
and urban situations. Quadrangular castles are widely dispersed throughout
England with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex protecting a vulnerable
coastline and routes to London. Other concentrations are found in the north
near the Scottish border and also in the west on the Welsh border. They are
rare nationally with only 64 recorded examples of which 44 are of southern
type and 20 are of northern type. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited
with no two examples being exactly alike. With other types of castle, they are
major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of
society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci
for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and
evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource,
both with respect to medieval warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of
medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date
are considered to be of national importance.
Donnington Castle survives as a fine example of this class of monument. In addition, part of its documented history is particularly well-illustrated by the survival of the associated fieldworks built during the Civil War to strengthen the castle defences when it was besieged by Parliamentarian forces.
The monument includes the remains of Donnington Castle and the earthwork
remains of the 17th century Civil War fieldwork which surrounds it. The site
occupies a strong strategic position, commanding the crossing of major north
to south and east to west routeways. The castle itself is of quadrangular
style and consisted originally of an enceinte of curtain wall, four round
corner-towers, two square wall-towers and a substantial gatehouse. The
gatehouse is the only part to survive well, remaining up to 65 feet high, with
two storeys roofed at battlement level. Elsewhere the castle walls are less
well preserved and are extensively rebuilt. The standing remains of the
castle are Listed Grade I. Historical sources attribute the construction of
the site to Richard de Abberbury, who was granted a licence to, 'crenellate
and fortify a castle on land at Donyngton Berks', by Richard II in 1386. The
Castle was later held by Chaucer's son Thomas in 1415 and subsequently passed
into the hands of the crown. Henry VII is reported as having stayed at the
castle in 1539 and Elizabeth I in 1568. The 17th century Civil War
earthworks, surrounding the lower slopes of the hill, are the remains of a
fortification built on the style of Italian Renaissance 'star' artillery
defences, the diamond shaped projections being designed to provide the
defending gun emplacements with a wide field of fire. Originally it is likely
that the rampart was faced with a wooden revettment and that vertical stakes
occupied the bottom of the ditch. Today these defences survive as a series of
scarps and platforms, averaging 1.7m high. They were constructed by the
Royalist garrison under Sir John Boys, the castle being taken by the king from
the Parliamentarian John Packer in 1643. The castle was besieged by a
Parliamentarian force in 1644, Sir John holding out for 20 months, only
surrendering on the news that the King's cause was lost. After the war
in 1646, the estate was restored to John Packer, who abandoned the much
damaged castle in favour of the Elizabethan lodge which became Donnington
Castle House (not within the protected area).
All modern buildings, fences and metalled surfaces are excluded from the
scheduling though the ground beneath is included.
The monument is in the Guardianship of the Secretary of State.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Ancient monuments terrier,
On site interpretative board,
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing