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Scarborough Castle Roman Signal Station

A 4th-century Roman signal station, one of several on the Yorkshire coast, was built on the headland at the cliff top. The station was to warn of approaching hostile vessels, and took advantage of a natural source of fresh water which became known as the “Well of Our Lady”.

The remains of the signal tower were excavated in the 1920s revealing it to be square in plan around a small courtyard. It measured about 33 metres across and was built of wood on stone foundations with a gatehouse and an outer ditch

Archaeological excavations in the 1920s produced evidence which suggests a hill fort was built on the headland where Scarborough Castle now stands. Finds were dated to between 900–500 BC, part of the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age.

Among finds dating back about 3,000 years, a Bronze Age sword, thought to have been a ritual offering, is on display in the castle exhibition.

A 4th-century Roman signal station, one of several on the Yorkshire coast, was built on the headland at the cliff top. The station was to warn of approaching hostile vessels, and took advantage of a natural source of fresh water which became known as the “Well of Our Lady”.

The remains of the signal tower were excavated in the 1920s revealing it to be square in plan around a small courtyard. It measured about 33 metres across and was built of wood on stone foundations with a gatehouse and an outer ditch

The Anglo-Saxons built a chapel on the station site around the year 1000, the remains of which are still visible. This is reputed to have been destroyed during the invasion of Scarborough of Harald Hardrada in 1066.

A much later Icelandic poem claims that a Viking settlement around the harbour was burnt down in 1066 by Hardrada’s forces, who built a large bonfire on the headland to supply burning brands to hurl at the villagers below. However, there is no archaeological evidence of such an event, nor any of the Viking presence.

The first evidence of the harbour settlement coincides with the establishment of the stone castle around 1157–1164. This grew from a small settlement around a wooden fortress which the stone castle replaced.

William le Gros, Count of Aumale, a powerful Anglo-Norman baron and grand-nephew of William the Conqueror, built a wooden fortification after his receipt of the Earldom of York, from King Stephen in 1138, granted as reward for his victory at the Battle of the Standard.

Aumale may have re-founded the town of Scardeburg, though there is little evidence of this. As with other castles, there would have been at least a small settlement nearby.

Some information on the establishment of the castle has survived in the chronicle of William of Newburgh, a monk who in the 1190s wrote about the its foundation. The castle had a gate tower, curtain wall, dry moat and chapel. This motte and bailey castle subsequently disappeared, with only the small, raised mound of the motte visible in the inner bailey today.

The fate of the original fortifications is unclear. Henry II ordered that all royal castles be returned to the Crown. He had a policy of destroying adulterine castles, built without royal permission, during Stephen’s chaotic reign. Initially, Aumale resisted the call to hand over Scarborough, which he had built on a royal manor, until Henry’s forces arrived at York. The wooden castle vanished – William of Newburgh, writing near the time, claimed that the structure had decayed through age and the elements, battered beyond repair on the windswept headland. Later interpretations view this as implausible and argue that Henry wanted to stamp his mark on Scarborough, by demolishing William’s fort and creating a much stronger stone complex.

Scarborough Castle Piers Gaveston
The castle was considered to be the natural place for the king’s favourite knight, the Gascon Piers Gaveston, to seek sanctuary when pursued by the barons who had imposed the Ordinances of 1311. The Ordinances were imposed to curb the King’s power, and the barons saw Gaveston as a threat to their interests.Sir Robert Felton was governor of Scarborough Castle in 1311 and was slain at Stirling in 1314.

In April 1312, Edward made Gaveston the governor of Scarborough Castle, but his tenure would be brief.

In May, the Earls of Pembroke and Warenne, together with Henry de Percy, besieged and took the castle. Despite its strong defences, it fell quickly due to lack of provisions. Gaveston was promised safe escort from the castle, but on the journey south was captured by the Earl of Warwick and killed.

It is said he still haunts the castle!

Scarborough fared little better. Edward punished the town for not supporting Gaveston by revoking its royal privileges and placing it under the direct rule of appointed governors.

Despite its decline, in 1265 the castle was committed to Prince Edward, later Edward I (reigned 1272–1307), who held court there in 1275 and 1280.

In 1295, hostages from his campaigns to subjugate Wales were held at Scarborough Castle.

Henry de Percy, who occupied the castle from 1308, had a bakehouse, brewhouse and kitchens built in the inner bailey. Scarborough Castle was once again made into a major fortification.

At the time of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453), Scarborough was an important port for the wool trade, so was attacked several times by enemy forces. With rumours of a French invasion, a 1393 inquiry into the state of the castle led to repairs being carried out in 1396 and 1400.

Henry VI (reigned 1422–1461; 1470–1471) ordered major repairs between 1424 and 1429.

Richard III (reigned 1483–1485) was the last monarch to enter its grounds. He resided at the castle in 1484 while forming a fleet to fight the Tudors, a struggle he lost along with his life the following year.

After assaults by forces from France and Scotland in the early 16th century, in 1536 Robert Aske unsuccessfully tried to take the castle during the Pilgrimage of Grace, a revolt against the Dissolution of the Monasteries and Henry VIII’s (reigned 1509–1547) break with the Roman Catholic Church. Repairs were made in 1537, and in 1538 some of the lead of the towers was used by the keeper, Sir Ralph Eure (Evers), to make a brewing vessel. Eure reported that some of the walls had fallen down.

In 1557, forces loyal to Thomas Wyatt the younger, who opposed Mary I (reigned 1553–1558) and Catholicism, took the castle by entering disguised as peasants. Their leader, Thomas Stafford, held the castle for three days, and was subsequently executed for high treason on Tower Hill.

From about 1157, Henry II rebuilt Scarborough Castle using stone. Much of the building work occurred between 1159 and 1169, when the three-storey keep was built and a stone wall replaced the wooden palisade protecting the inner bailey.

By the end of Henry’s reign in 1189, a total of £682, 15 shillings and threepence had been spent on the castle, of which £532 was spent between 1157 and 1164. Henry’s average annual income during his reign was about £10,000.

The castle became a strategic northern stronghold for The Crown. Henry II granted Scarborough, that had grown up beneath the fortress, the title of Royal Borough.

Improvements continued under Henry III (reigned 1216–1272). By this time, Scarborough was a thriving port, and though he never visited the castle,Henry spent a considerable sum on its upkeep. Around 1240–1250, he installed a new barbican consisting of two towers flanking the gateway, with another two towers protecting the approach. These were completed in 1343, although have been much-modified since.

At this time, the castle was a powerful base which an unscrupulous governor could abuse: Geoffrey de Neville, who was governor for 20 years in the 13th century, used the garrison to seize port goods. Since governors were not required to reside in the castle, they often pocketed funds rather than used them for repairs.

By the mid-to-late 13th century, the defences were decaying, floorboards rotted, roof tiles were missing and armouries bare of weaponry.

Corruption continued among the castle’s custodians, who acted with impunity as the castle was outside the jurisdiction of the borough. In the 1270s, governor William de Percy blocked the main road into Scarborough and imposed illegal tolls.

While Richard I (reigned 1189–1199) had spent nothing on the castle, his brother King John (reigned 1199–1216) ensured that it was a comfortable residence for himself and his retinue.

John’s rule was strongly opposed by the northern barons, so the castle at Scarborough was fortified as a strategic stronghold. John visited the castle four times during his reign, and spent a considerable sum on the castle.He built the curtain wall on the west and south sides during 1202–1212, and a new hall called the “King’s Chambers”, later Mosdale Hall. In total, John spent £2,291, three shillings and fourpence on the castle. This included £780 that was earmarked for repairing the roof of the keep in 1211–1212. John spent more on the castle than any other monarch. The Pipe Rolls, records of royal expenditure, show that John spent over £17,000 on 95 castles during his reign spread, and Scarborough received the most investment.

n September 1642, at the outbreak of the English Civil War (1642–1651), Sir Hugh Cholmley occupied the castle as a Parliamentarian loyal to Oliver Cromwell but swapped sides in March 1643. The castle was refortified on Cholmley’s orders, including the establishment of the South Steel Battery for artillery. After Cholmeley’s defection, Scarborough Castle, with its garrison of 700 Royalist soldiers, the town and its strategic supply port were on the side of Charles I. (reigned 1625–1649)

The Parliamentarians saw Scarborough as a valuable Royalist target because it was the only port not under their dominion. On 18 February 1645, Sir John Meldrum took the town from the Royalists, cutting off any escape routes by land or sea and delivering the port for Parliament. The same day, Cholmley retreated into the castle and refused to give in, so the Parliamentarians prepared for what would be a five-month siege – one of the most bloody of the Civil War, with almost continuous fighting. The Parliamentary forces set up what was then the largest cannon in the country, the Cannon Royal, in the 12th-century St. Mary’s Church below the castle, and proceeded to fire 56–65 pounds (25–29 kg) cannonballs that pounded the castle’s defences. In turn, the church was extensively damaged over the three days of fighting. The bombardment partially destroyed the castle keep, but the outer walls were not breached. The Parliamentary forces were unable to take the castle and there followed a period of particularly bloody hand-to-hand fighting around the barbican gateway in which Sir John Meldrum was killed. By July the tide was turning in the Parliamentarians’ favour: bombardment, scurvy, lack of water, perhaps a shortage of gunpowder and the threat of starvation and only 25 men fit to fight meant that the castle surrendered on 25 July 1645. Only about half of the original 500 defenders emerged alive.

Subsequently the castle was repaired and rearmed for Parliament with a company of 160. Matthew Boynton, the castle’s new governor, declared for the king on 27 July 1648 when the soldiers went unpaid. This led to a second siege which brought the castle back under Parliamentary control on 19 December, when the garrison was defeated as much by the oncoming winter as by the Parliamentary forces.

The castle changed hands seven times between 1642 and 1648.

The castle was later used as a prison for those who were deemed to be enemies of the Commonwealth of England, the country’s brief period of republicanism; the shell of the keep survives, minus the west wall, which was destroyed in the bombardment. The castle was returned to the Crown following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660

The castle was used as a prison from the 1650s, and the garrison increased in 1658, and in 1662 it returned to the Crown. George Fox (1624–1691), founder of the Religious Society of Friends was imprisoned there from April 1665 to September 1666 for religious activities viewed as troublesome for Charles II (reigned 1660–1685).

The castle declined again. James II (reigned 1686–1688) did not garrison it, he gambled that its defences would be sufficient to resist any Dutch invasion, but the town was seized for William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution that ousted James.

The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, a series of uprising aimed at restoring the Catholic House of Stuart to the throne, saw the castle refortified with gun batteries and barracks for 120 officers and men by 1746. The keep was used as a powder magazine, storing gunpowder, and the South Steel Battery was rebuilt. A barracks, containing twelve apartments accommodated 120 soldiers. Three batteries were built to protect the town and harbour. Two faced south and the other was on the north side of the castle yard. In 1748, the Master Gunner’s house was constructed and served as accommodation until the early 20th century and today hosts the exhibition on the castle. Scarborough Castle saw no action during this time. Later still, the threat of French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars led to the permanent establishment of a garrison, which remained until the mid-19th century, French prisoners were held at the castle during 1796

During the First World War, the town of Scarborough was used for British propaganda purposes after the bombardment of the town by two warships of the German Empire, SMS Derfflinger and SMS Von der Tann, on 16 December 1914. The raid killed 19 people and damaged the castle’s keep, barracks and curtain walls. The castle was severely damaged by the hail of 500 shells directed at it and the town. The barracks were demolished due to the extensive damage wrought by the bombardment.

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