Castle Rising castle and 11th century church


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)
Castle Rising
National Grid Reference:
TF 66601 24558

Reasons for Designation

A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops, may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid- 15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, 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 nationally important.

Castle Rising castle keep is a particularly fine example of a variant type known as a hall keep, in that the height is less than the breadth, and the hall and Great Chamber are both on the same floor, and it is comparable in many respects with the even larger Norwich castle. The forebuilding has been described as the best preserved in England, and the keep retains a wide range of features, relating to both the organisation of a noble household in the 12th century and subsequent changes in the use of the building over several centuries. The surrounding impressive earthworks also survive very well and will retain further important archaeological information concerning their construction and the defences associated with them, in addition to the evidence already recorded in limited excavations. Excavations in the southern part of the central enclosure have uncovered details of some major buildings surrounding the keep, and information on other buildings, including retainers' lodgings, workshops and stabling, will be preserved in the remaining, unexcavated areas. Limited excavations have also demonstrated the existence of buried soils below the raised surfaces of the eastern and western outworks, containing evidence for the earliest occupation of the castle and for a settlement which preceded it. The relationship of the castle to this earlier settlement and its church is of great interest, as is its relationship to the village to the north, which has some characteristics of a medieval planned settlement and is thought to have been founded when the castle was built.


Castle Rising castle stands on a broad spur above the southern edge of the village of Castle Rising, c.1km south of the Babingley River and near to the edge of the marshland which borders the Wash to the west. The monument includes a 12th century hall keep castle, and the remains of associated buildings of various dates, amongst which are the ruins of an 11th century church which was incorporated in the castle and put to secular use. These buildings are set within a ringwork comprising a central enclosure with a strong earthwork bank and ditch, an entrance on the east side with a bridge and 12th century gatehouse, and outworks to east and west. The standing buildings of the castle, including the bridge and gatehouse, are Listed Grade I and included in the scheduling.

The church is the earliest masonry structure identified on the site and is situated in the central enclosure c.30m to the north of the keep, partly within the southern face of the northern bank. The walls still stand to a height of up to 4m. The building measures c.26m in length overall and is divided into three cells: the nave at the western end, measuring 12m by 4.8m internally, with a low stone bench running around the foot of the walls, a central area c.4m square, and a chancel measuring c.4.8m by 4m internally with an apsidal east end. At the western end of the nave there are two opposed doorways, both of them now blocked, in the north and south walls respectively. The chancel was lit by three narrow, round headed, internally splayed windows, two of which remain on the north and east sides of the apse. The third, which no longer survives, was on the south side, where it was recorded in the 19th century.

The church dates from the period before the construction of the castle, when Rising was held as part of the manor of Snettisham by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent and then, afer 1088, by William de Albini I. It is thought to have been the parish church prior to the 12th century, when the present church of St Lawrence was built 260m to the north. Pottery and traces of timber structures and hearths, found in excavations below the floor of the keep, are evidence for the existence of a settlement adjoining it in the 11th century. It remained in use as one of the domestic or service buildings of the castle until at least the 16th century, when a brick hearth was inserted into the wall on the west side of the south doorway.

The castle is thought to have been founded by William de Albini II, Earl of Sussex and Lord of Rising, around 1140, which is the approximate date of the keep and gatehouse. Excavation has shown that the original date of the surrounding earthworks cannot be very much earlier than this, if at all, contrary to a tradition that they are of Roman origin. The central earthwork enclosure is ovoid in plan, surrounded by an inner bank standing to a height of between 6m and 10m above the prevailing ground level, and a ditch c.8m deep. The enclosure and earthworks together have overall dimensions of 198m north-south by a maximum of 150m east-west. The entrance to this inner ward is protected by a rectangular eastern outwork measuring 155m north-south by 92m overall, with a bank up to 9m high above the prevailing ground level and an external ditch with a depth of between 4m and 5m. A ramped causeway leads up to the outwork from the north and crosses the bank and ditch on that side at their western end. The northern part of the causeway, which underlies the modern road and two cottages on the east side of it, has been disturbed by the installation of sewers and other services and is not included in the scheduling. A corresponding causeway across the earthworks on the south side of the eastern outwork is not an original feature.

The smaller outwork on the west side of the central ringwork is also rectangular in plan and measures 125m north-south by 50m overall. The ditch, which is c.2m deep, and a slight bank up to 1.5m high, enclose a platform raised up to 5m above the prevailing ground level. There is no surviving means of access from the inner ward.

Limited excavations of the earthworks and in the interior of the two outworks have revealed that the earthworks around the inner ward were originally lower, and that the bank was heightened and the ditch deepened in the late 12th or early 13th century, when the outworks were also modified. The platform of the western outwork was created at this time, presumably with material dug from the enlarged ditches, and the interior of the eastern enclosure is known to have been raised also by the dumping of up to 1.5m of redeposited sand and boulder clay. Traces of a ditch and counterscarp bank, which probably date from the earliest period of construction, can be seen as relatively slight earthworks immediately to the south of the western outwork. They follow the curve of the outer edge of the ditch on the south west side of the central enclosure, but clearly predate it in its present form, and also the western outwork. To the south and east they have been levelled by ploughing, but the ditch survives as a buried feature which extends up to 10m beyond the later earthworks and is partly visible on air photographs.

The gatehouse at the entrance of the inner enclosure is set between the ends of the bank. The main structure, which is dated to the earlier part of the 12th century, is a rectangular tower pierced by an entrance passage with plain round headed arches to front and rear. There are grooves for a portcullis behind the outer arch, and arched recesses in the side walls of the entrance passage. In the south wall there is also an arched doorway leading to a stair which gave access to an upper chamber. The upper chamber is gone and the stair is now truncated and blocked, but the manner in which it is truncated suggests that the building at one time extended further to the west. The structure of the gatehouse shows evidence of later modification, including the insertion of a vault over the passage and the addition of parallel walls to either side of the entrance, abutting the eastern face of the tower and enclosing the approach. The stub of the northern wall remains, along with a part of the southern wall, incorporating a stair.

The bank of the central enclosure was surmounted by a curtain wall, although the date when this was first constructed has not been established. The stone foundations of a wall are visible in many places around the crest of the bank, and to the south of the gatehouse is a short length of standing wall, built of brick and stone and thought to date from the later 14th century. On the inner face of this wall there are deep recesses which contain embrasures and openings and probably carried a wall walk above.

The principal building of the castle was the keep, whose walls still stand, at 15m, to almost their full original height. The main body of the keep is rectangular and has external dimensions of 24m east-west by 20m north-south, with a rectangular tower and forebuilding on the east side projecting up to 6m beyond. The projecting tower, originally of two storeys, contains the entrance to the keep at first floor level, reached by a wide stairway within the forebuilding to the south.

The building is of coursed local stone with facings of limestone. The four corners of the keep are enclosed by clasping buttresses which were crowned at one time by corner turrets, and there are similar buttresses on the outer angles of the forebuilding tower to the east. On the walls between the buttresses there are broad pilaster strips above a sloping plinth, and on the west wall of the keep, which was at the service end, arcading between the pilasters masks the vents of latrines on the first floor. The walls of the forebuilding on the east side and to the south, above the doorway at the foot of the stair, are richly decorated externally with blind arcading and elaborate and finely executed moulding and friezes. Within the forebuilding, the entrance stair is in two flights, with an arch and second doorway on the landing between, above which are the remains of a passage and a `murder hole' for the defence of the stair. A third doorway at the top of the second flight opens into an antechamber within the forebuilding tower, lit by large, recessed windows with flanking columns. On the west side of the antechamber is the main door into the keep, with a decorated round headed arch of three orders, and to the right of the door is a smaller arched door opening onto a stair within the north east angle of the keep.

The keep is divided internally into two parts by an east-west cross wall. The principal apartments and domestic offices were on the first floor, with the Great Hall, or public room of the castle to the north and the smaller Great Chamber, used by the lord of the castle, to the south. Both are now roofless and without a floor. The Great Hall, which measured c.13m by 8m internally, is lit by three windows within large, splayed recesses in the north wall. A small doorway at the western end of the north wall leads from the Great Hall into the kitchen, which occupies the north west corner of the keep, partly within the thickness of the north wall. The circular kitchen hearth is in the north west angle, with a smoke vent above and a circular chimney through the corner turret. In the south west corner there are the remains of an oven, and the west wall is pierced by a drain at floor level. To the south of the kitchen is a separate service room, entered by a door in the west wall of the Great Hall, and between the two is a narrow passage leading from another door in the hall to latrines behind the service room. The Great Chamber was entered by a door through the cross wall on the south side of the hall, and at the east end of the same wall is another door which gave access to the anteroom of a chapel to the east of the Great Chamber. The Great Chamber measured 43m east-west by 5m north-south internally and has a fireplace and chimney in the south wall which are original features, although the fireplace is lined with later brick. At the western end of the apartment, separate doors and passages lead to two more latrines. The chapel comprises a rectangular nave measuring 3.9m east-west by 4.2m north-south, and a small chancel set at a slightly raised level within the thickness of the east wall. It has two large windows, in the east and south walls respectively. The chancel has rib vaulting, with carved bosses at the intersection of the ribs, the nave walls are embellished with blind arcading, and there are decorative mouldings on the semi-circular chancel arch and below the east window. The keep had no third storey accommodation other than a small room above the chapel, reached by way of the stair in the north east angle and a passage in the thickness of the east wall.

The ground floor below would have been used principally for storage, and access to it was originally by the stair in the north east angle, or another stair in the south west angle which communicated with the Great Chamber. Both stairs also gave access to the roof. The two compartments, to either side of the cross wall, run the entire length of the keep and are lit by narrow, internally splayed openings in the external walls. The northern and larger of these basement rooms had an arcade down the middle to support the joists of the vanished floor of the hall above. The two pillars of the arcade do not survive above the base, but the springing of the arches at the east and west ends can still be seen. There is a well head in the floor beneath. The western end of the northern compartment and the eastern end of the southern compartment, below the kitchen and chapel respectively, are vaulted.

The keep, like the rest of the castle and its outer defences, underwent various repairs and modifications during the late 13th and 14th centuries. Anomalies in the upper part of the outer walls show that they were extensively repaired and possibly heightened, reusing original masonry, and corbels were inserted into the long walls of the Great Hall and Great Chamber to carry the timbers of a new roof. Vaulting was inserted in the antechamber of the hall, and a new storey was added to the forebuilding tower above it. Some time afterwards, the new upper chamber was also altered by the addition of vaulting. Other alterations included the insertion of a doorway with pointed arch in the wall between the Great Chamber and the chapel, cutting through the 12th century arcading around the nave.

During the first half of the 14th century, an important suite of buildings was constructed to the south of the keep, including a western range of private lodgings with an adjoining chapel to the east, a hall, and a separate kitchen. All of these but the western range and chapel were later replaced by buildings in timber and brick, which were finally demolished towards the end of the 16th century. Part of the chapel still stood as a ruin in the 18th century, when it was depicted in views of the castle, and the lower walls, together with fragments of the walls of the east end of the lodgings range, are still visible. Details of the plan of the rest of the buildings have been recovered by excavations in this area. To the east and north of the keep, slight earthworks mark the buried remains of other buildings and there is a well c.12m to the north of the keep.

In a survey of 1542-43 the keep is described as a ruin, with only the walls left standing, but parts of it were evidently still being used and adapted for use in the later 15th and early 16th century, even after the collapse of the main floor. Near the foot of the stairs in the forebuilding, a late medieval door was cut through the east wall of the keep into the basement, and near the head of the stairs, another entrance was cut into the Great Hall, apparently through an existing recess. The main door from the forebuilding tower into the Great Hall was blocked and a brick fireplace and chimney stack inserted, and a passage was cut in the thickness of the north wall between the north east angle and the kitchen.

The castle, and in particular the keep, manifests the power and status of William de Albini II following his marriage in 1138 to Alice of Louvain, the widowed queen of Henry I. After the death in 1243 of Hugh de Albini, the last Lord of Rising of that name, the castle and manor passed by marriage to Roger de Montalt and was held by his heirs until 1327, when Robert de Montalt conveyed it to the crown. From 1331 until 1358 it was held by Queen Isabella, the notorious widow of Edward II, as one of her principal residences, and the suite of buildings to the south of the keep probably dates from this period. In 1337 the castle was granted in perpetuity to the Duchy of Cornwall, and after the death of Isabella it was held by the Black Prince until his death in 1376. Several documents of this period refer to works ordered or authorised by the prince to be carried out on the buildings here, and later documents attest its maintenance during the 15th and early 16th century. In 1544 it was granted by Henry VIII to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and to Henry his son.

The custodian's ticket office, English Heritage display boards and notices, and modern timber steps and railings on the castle bank and around the ruined church are excluded from the scheduling, together with the public lavatories at the western end of the car park and the modern gates and path surfaces, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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.

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Books and journals
Brown, R A, Castle Rising Castle, (1978)
Harrod, H, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in Castle Rising, , Vol. 4, (1855), 59-91
Edwards, D, TF6624/T/AFY 1, (1976)
Gurney, D and Floyd, G, (1993)
Gurney, D, Castle Rising Castle: Excavation, 1987, 1987, Summary in SMR file
West Norfolk: Castle Rising 3307,


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.

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