Reasons for Designation
Tower keep castles are medieval fortifications introduced to Britain by the
Normans. They comprise the tower keep itself, a variation of which was the
hall keep, and often a walled enclosure surrounding or attached to the tower
in which interior structures, for domestic and garrison use, were located.
A surrounding rampart and ditch was also common, as were defensive features
such as mural and gate-towers. Tower keep castles were the fortified
residences of a lord or the king and were sited for both offensive and
defensive military operations. Often they were administrative centres,
dominating a town or rural area, and generally occupying strategic positions.
Many developed into enclosure castles though their defensive function largely
ceased with the advent of artillery. There are 104 tower keep castles
recorded nationally, of which less than half have been partially excavated,
and they are found in all regions, particularly along the Welsh Marches. As
such, and as a relatively rare class of monument of which the hall-keep type
is the rarest, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain
and the development of the feudal system. Tower keep castles were built
throughout the Middle Ages from immediately after the Conquest to the mid-
fifteenth century with a peak in the mid-twelfth century.
Conisbrough Castle is an important and well-documented example of a tower keep
castle which, as well as being one of a very small number nationally to have
escaped being slighted during the Civil War, has largely intact archaeological
deposits both inside the bailey and in the surrounding rampart and ditch. In
addition, since the demolition of Peel Hill Castle, Thorne, some time after
the sixteenth century, this polygonal form of keep, with external buttresses,
is now unique.
Conisbrough Castle is a tower keep castle whose main component is a 28m high
cylindrical tower with six solid wedge-shaped buttresses. The tower consists
of several floors, access presently being gained via a modern outer staircase
leading to the entrance floor c.5m off the ground. This staircase has
replaced an original timber structure whose stone footings can be seen below.
A well shaft drops from the entrance floor down into the basement floor below.
An interior staircase leads to the upper floors, the positions of which are
marked by garderobes and, on the second floor, a thirteenth or fourteenth
century fireplace flanked by triple shafts with carved capitals.
Surrounding the tower to the north, west and south is a curtain wall enclosing
a grassed-over bailey containing well-shafts, a blocked sally-port and the
wall-footings of ancillary buildings. A modern ramp on the west side overlies
the original walled approach to the bailey which leads from a ruined gate-
tower. Surrounding the whole is a ditch c.10m deep and c.20m wide and a
steeply scarped rampart.
The castle is situated on a natural slope and is one of several that, in the
Middle Ages, commanded the Don Valley. The site was part of the honour of
Conisbrough given to Earl Warenne by his father-in-law William the
Conqueror. The castle was built during the twelfth century and remained in
the hands of the de Warennes until the reign of Edward III when it passed to
Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, and to his descendants. Elizabeth I granted
the castle and its demesne to her cousin, Lord Hunsden, since when it has
passed through several owners. It has been in State care since 1950. As
well as being scheduled, the tower is a Grade I Listed Building.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are the concrete
surface of the ramp leading to up to the bailey from the gate-tower, all metal
railings, the ticket office, the paved area, stand-pipe, grit-bin and waste
bins near the ticket office, the modern stairway and railings into the tower
and the concrete posts supporting it, all English Heritage fittings such as
lights, notices and safety grilles, the viewing platforms within the tower,
and the flight of steps crossing the rampart to the north-east of the site.
Also excluded is the visitors' centre on its concrete raft, though the
ground beneath this and all other exclusions is included. Also included are
the modern dressed sandstone "kerbs" used within the bailey to show the layout
of certain features, as moving these will affect the bailey deposits. The
custodian's lodge, garage, driveway, garden, the car park, gate and a brick-
built drain beside the gate, all lie inside the Guardianship Area but outside
the area of the scheduling, as does a wicket gate in the south-west perimeter.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.