Peveril Castle, Derbyshire

Owned by William Peverel, a knight of William the Conqueror, this is one of the first castles built after the Norman Conquest. The triangular site of Peveril Castle, located high on a ridge with precipitous sides, was likely to have been chosen for its natural strength, being both reasonably inaccessible and easily defendable.

Although Peveril Castle is now largely ruinous and fragmented, with only the Keep surviving to any height, the site provides an intriguing insight into the difficulties of building a fortification on ground of such uneven levels. Parts of the curtain wall along the north side of the site, where the earliest period of building took place, are still standing today. However, the curtain wall along the southern boundary, completed in the 12th century, has virtually disappeared.

Little evidence remains of the original castle entrance, but a craggy section of the gatehouse (or town gate, which provides entry to the site today) still exists, and dates from the mid to late 12th century. Within the inner bailey, foundations can be found of various residential buildings that once formed part of Peveril Castle. To the south of the site is a low brick wall, all that remains of the 12th century great hall, but this was replaced by a later, and much larger hall situated opposite the keep, along the edge of the north curtain wall. There are the remains of a fireplace at this site dating from the 13th century.

Henry II was responsible for building the keep in the 1170s - a simple structure, and relatively small in size indicating that it was unlikely to have been used as the main accommodation block. Despite this, some evidence of the Norman architectural detail has survived to suggest that it was an elegant structure, perched on the high ground overlooking the main entrance. Not unusually for a keep of this size, no forebuilding existed, and access was probably gained from an external wooden staircase, now replaced by a modern spiral one. The exterior of the keep was faced with ashlar cladding, most of which has since been stripped but fragments have survived on the south eastern wall, and some towards the tops of the other walls.

Peveril Castle saw a succession of Royal Kings and Queens, but in the late 14th century, it was granted to John of Gaunt, in exchange for the earldom of Richmond, and became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, on John's death, his son (who became King Henry IV) inherited Peveril Castle and it became part of the Crown estate. By this time the building was considered to be too uncomfortable to reside at, and slowly the apartments were demolished, with only the keep being retained to serve as a courthouse. From hereon Peveril Castle was left unoccupied and rapid deterioration occurred until, in the early 19th century, the Duchy accepted responsibility for some necessary repairs and renovation work.

With its wonderful location in the heart of the Peak District, overlooking the pretty little town of Castleton (famous for the Blue John stone), Peveril Castle may not be the most inspiring of Norman castles, but the breathtaking views it provides of the surrounding countryside are unsurpassed.


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