Rockingham Castle is one of the oldest castles in
Northamptonshire. William the Conqueror first recognised the strategic importance of the site of
Rockingham Castle History and Facts
The original design of the Rockingham Castle followed the
standard Norman pattern with an outer bailey, or courtyard, containing the Great Hall, chapel, and
the garrison's living quarters, surrounded by a massive curtain wall and entered between two square
towers protected by a portcullis.
Inside the wall stood the keep on a fortified mound, approached across a
drawbridge and forming a second line of defence. There was a second bailey extending a further two
hundred metres to the south west, the earthworks of which still exist, and the whole complex was
capable of housing anything up to three thousand people when the King was in residence. The pattern
of administration of the country, such as it was in these early years, was conducted by the kings
on an itinerant basis as they progressed with their advisers and entourages from castle to
Rockingham was more popular than most because it allowed them to pursue their
passion for hunting, and a number of important historical events occurred there. Probably one of
the most significant was the Council of Rockingham in 1095 when King William II, the Conqueror's
son, met Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, to debate the compatibility of the Church's allegiance
to both Pope and King.
Throughout the 12th century Rockingham continued to be
visited regularly by successive kings and King John, in particular, came frequently, probably every
year of his reign. Edward I's reign marked the climax of building as an exercise of royal
authority. He spent vast sums constructing castles in newly-conquered Wales, and allowed many of
the early Norman royal halls to fall into decay, or pass on to local barons as seats of local
government and county prisons. Rockingham, however, along with seven others, was kept as a major
royal residence and centre of Government.
This new importance qualified Rockingham for a major proportion of the King's
building expenditure and during the period 1276-1291 the primitive Norman castle was modernised.
Windows and fireplaces were installed in the Great Hall, a bedroom was built into the eaves for
Queen Eleanor, and the fortifications were updated with the addition of the massive round towers on
the original Norman gatehouse.
During the long reign of Edward III the Castle passed to his Queen, but he
reclaimed it on her death in 1369, carrying out further repair and modernisation work. In 1378, the
office of the Clerk of the King's Works was established to control expenditure on royal residences,
and twenty years later Rockingham fell under its jurisdiction. By then Government had become
centered more and more on London, and Rockingham's importance as a royal administrative centre
The last King to use Rockingham as a royal residence was Henry V in 1422 and by
1485 it was in such a bad state of repair that Henry VII had a hunting lodge built in the Park. In
the reign of Henry VIII the castle was considered so worthless that the Crown gave permission for a
local landowner to remove stone and other materials to build his own house in Leicestershire. In
1544 Edward Watson obtained a lease on the Royal Castle and Park of Rockingham. He moved into the
lodge in the Park and began converting the derelict mediaeval castle into a comfortable Tudor
residence. The work took him thirty years to complete.
His grandson, Sir Lewis Watson, bought the Castle from James I in 1619 and
rebuilt the Gallery wing in 1631, only to see it largely demolished twelve years later in the Civil
War when Parliamentary forces led by Lord Grey of Groby captured the Castle, fortified the keep,
and held it against repeated Royalist attacks. The Castle was returned to Sir Lewis after the war,
but it had been so severely damaged that he spent the rest of his life claiming compensation from
Cromwell and restoring the house. His son continued the restoration, building Walker's House, and
the Laundry at the head of the Street which he completed in 1669.
Little building work took place at the Castle in the 18th century, and it was
not used regularly as a family home until the 19th century, thus escaping the excesses of Georgian
architectural aspirations. In 1836 the new owner, Richard Watson, embarked on a major modernisation
programme, employing the architect Anthony Salvin, a pupil of John Nash, to renovate the interior
and improve the appearance of the exterior.
The Georgian stables set against the curtain wall were removed, the towers
castellated and a flag tower added to the Gallery wing. Corridors were built outside the Library
wing to give privacy in the bedrooms, and two new staircases were installed. In all this work care
was taken to use old materials wherever possible and not to destroy the principal features of the
Richard's son George had considerable building ambitions with plans for a gothic
chapel and cloisters in the courtyard but, in the end, lack of funds reduced him to building a
substantial square tower onto the library wing to serve as bachelors' quarters with access to the
main house from the ground floor only! This tower now forms the basis of the Saunders Watson's
Rockingham Castle Visitor info
Rockingham castle is located in Market Harborough, at the border of
Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. It lies 16 miles (25 km) from Leicester and 3 miles (about 5
km) from Corby.
For information regarding opening hours and ticket prices of Rockingham
Castle please consult the official website at:
Rockingham Castle Map&Location
Rockingham Castle Estate Location: Rockingham, Market Harborough, Leicestershire
LE16 8TH, United Kingdom. Get gelp with directions using this map:
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