ROCKINGHAM CASTLE, LE16 8TH
Postcode: LE16 8TH
Lat/Long: 52.512791N 0.724224W
Notes: Located to the north west of Corby, the castle can be found overlooking the small village of Rockingham. Well sign-posted and, when the castle is open, there is dedicated car parking.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Please note the castle is used as a private residence and has quite limited opening arrangements - check the link above . Most of what is visible today is heavily modified Tudor to Victorian residential structures. Some parts of the earlier castle remain though - the impressive gatehouse, parts of the curtain wall and some earthworks are visible.
1. Northampton derives from the Saxon name for the area as Hamtun. As a similar name was used in the south these eventually became Northampton and Southampton respectively. Rockingham was the centre of administration of Northamptonshire.
2. In 1095 William II visited Rockingham and held a Council with Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss the allegiance of the Church to both Pope and King.
3. Rockingham Castle was the setting for the 1980s BBC English Civil War drama series By the Sword Divided. Whilst in reality the castle had been a Parliamentary stronghold throughout the war, in the TV series it was a fictitious Royalist base known as Arnescote Castle.
Rockingham Castle Configuration. Until the end of the Civil War the castle’s original layout was dominated by the motte on top of which sat a shell keep. A barbican (probably similar to the remains that can still be seen at Sandal Castle) protected access to the Keep. Two baileys served the day-to-day functions of the castle with the Inner (eastern) one containing the major elements including the Great Hall. The subsequent re-building of the castle into country home was all within the Inner Bailey.
Situated on an escarpment overlooking the Welland Valley, Rockingham Castle was built as a motte-and-bailey which served as a Royal base for several hundred years before being deemed surplus and sold to private ownership. Briefly re-fortified during the Civil War it was slighted with all subsequent changes focused on making it a palatial residence.
HISTORY OF ROCKINGHAM CASTLE
Originally the site of an Iron Age hillfort, Rockingham was later the scene of Roman mining and ironwork operations. Later, as Viking raids plagued the country and the nearby River Welland offered them good access to the area, a Saxon fortified burh was established.
The Norman conquest saw the Saxon fortified burh destroyed by the invaders - the Domesday Book of 1086 describes it as 'waste' - but a castle was still constructed here most likely to serve as an administrative centre for the nearby forest and to control the crossing over the River Welland. Initially an earth and timber construction it consisted of two baileys with a central motte topped with a palisade and tower. A prominent Royal castle throughout the late eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was gradually rebuilt in stone.
In 1219 the constable of castle rebelled against Henry III requiring a Royal army to besiege and take Rockingham. Heavily damaged in the effort, the castle was repaired and sustained as a major Royal fortress in the Midlands. This was continued by Henry's son, Edward I, who made significant modifications to the aging Norman structure not least by adding the impressive drum shaped towers to the main gatehouse.
By the late fourteenth century, Rockingham Castle was in decline largely due to the centralisation of administration in London. By 1485 the castle was ruinous and there was limited appetite to repair the fortification; instead Henry VII had a hunting lodge built within the park to ensure he could enjoy the local hunting. The castle was abandoned at this time and used as a source of stone and lead for other building projects.
In 1544 the castle started its association with the Watson family that has continued to this day. Edward Watson leased the castle and its estate from the Crown and commenced converting the medieval castle into a palace residence. The work was continued by his grandson, Sir Lewis Watson, who also fully purchased the castle from the Crown in 1619. But their work would be undone by the Civil War that erupted in 1642. Sir Lewis Watson was a Royalist but he has tardy about garrisoning the castle resulting in a Parliamentary force under Lord Grey seizing it. The vital position, guarding a key route to London, was too significant to be left in Royalist control and significant efforts were made to make the property defensible once again including the levelling of Rockingham village and the church to ensure clear fields of fire from the castles parapets.
The castle was heavily damaged following the Civil War as Parliament ensured it could not be a stronghold in further fighting; of note the shell Keep was demolished and the motte was partially levelled at this time. The property handed back to Sir Lewis Watson after the conflict was once again ruinous. He then spent considerable time and money refurbishing the gutted structure and also re-built Rockingham village albeit in a slightly different location (hence why there are no buildings directly outside the main gatehouse). The days as a substantive castle though were over and subsequent modifications were simply to keep it as a Stately home fit for its wealth owners of the day.
The bulk of what is visible inside the castle grounds is Tudor, Stuart and Victorian - only a fraction is original Norman.
Impressive views from the former parapets.