July 28, 2022 10.28 am

History rewritten: Archaeologist discovers Tattershall Castle is older than we thought

Impressive discoveries in light of new research

A series of stunning discoveries have been made at Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, which shine a light on many aspects of the castle’s history, including its age.

Buildings archaeologist James Wright’s newly published research has transformed academics’ understanding of the castle, including its use by the aristocracy and servants.

One of the finest surviving examples of English medieval brickwork, the castle was built in the 15th century for Lord Ralph Cromwell, Treasurer to King Henry VI, to display his wealth, position and power. Its tower rises 33.5 metres above the flat Lincolnshire Fens.

However, the results of scientific tree ring dating were closely inspected based on Tattershall’s remaining original medieval woodwork, including floor beams. It has revealed the castle to be at least 15 years older than previously thought, being constructed between c.1431-51.

As consequence this means the castle pioneered an entire style of English architecture.

View of battlements and roof, with corner turrets that contained medieval banqueting suites for high status guests. : Photo: National Trust, Labyrinth Mini Movies

Antiquarian drawing of Ralph Cromwell and his wife, Margaret Deincourt’s tomb brass at the collegiate church of Holy Trinity, Tattershall. | Photo: National Trust

This new dating confirms it was one of the earliest brick-built buildings in England and constructed on a scale that had rarely been attempted before.

Crucially, however, it shows that Tattershall influenced buildings such as Eton College that was built for royalty, rather than being influenced by it. Its pioneering design went on to inspire an entire style of English architecture which later included Oxburgh Hall and Hampton Court Palace.

Multidisciplinary techniques of buildings archaeology were used for the research, using all the available tools in the toolkit and providing James with fresh clues as to the use of various buildings in the huge structure.

Research into buildings formerly thought to be kitchens and stables reveals they were designed as rooms for guests, not for servants or animals and the castle’s dramatic roof turrets are now identified as banqueting suites for high-status visitors to take in the views.

The first floor of the great tower showing the fireplace. | Photo: National Trust

 

Formerly known as the Guardhouse, this building was lodgings for Cromwell’s household retainers. | Photo: National Trust, Elpeeko

An area that was previously thought to be a ’tiltyard’, or area for jousting, has now been discovered to be a formal garden, with an area which has been measured to be exactly 2 acres in size, the common medieval ideal and the size of garden at similar sites.

An archaeologist for over 20 years, James carried out four years of doctoral research on the history of Tattershall Castle, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in partnership with the University of Nottingham and the National Trust.

Tower chamber, formerly known as the parlour, on the ground floor of the great tower now discovered to be a servants’ hall. | Photo: National Trust

 

Exterior of the castle’s roof and battlements showing elegant machicolations and detailed design. | Photo: National Trust

Tom Dommett, Head of Historic Environment at the National Trust said: “Research plays an essential role in helping the trust to share a deeper understanding of our places with our visitors. James has had the opportunity to completely reassess Tattershall Castle and what we thought we knew about it, and in so doing his exciting discoveries are literally re-writing the story of the building, how it was used and its influence on the architecture that followed.”

Victoria Mason Hines, Property Operations Manager at Tattershall Castle added: “James’ research has brought the castle into the limelight and is helping us to explore how we can tell its stories through new tours, exhibitions and other projects, including ways to bring the property to life, both virtually and for those visiting in person.”

Another view of the exterior of the castle’s roof and battlements showing elegant machicolations and intricate design. | Photo: National Trust

 

Formerly known as the Great Stables this building was lodgings for Cromwell’s household retainers. | Photo: National Trust – Elpeeko

 

The castle towers, with its distinctive style, has stood proud for almost 600 years | Photo: National Trust, Labyrinth Mini Movies