Research reveals Tattershall Castle was an architectural trendsetter

A series of new investigations, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in partnership with the University of Nottingham and the National Trust, has completely rewritten the castle’s history.

Tattershall Castle was always known to have been one of the first castles to be constructed in brick in England, but new research into its date suggests that it may have been built at least 15 years earlier than previously assumed. If this is the case, then it may have had a significant impact on architectural trends of the time, perhaps even influencing the designs of Eton College and Hampton Court Palace. 

IMAGE: National Trust – Labyrinth Mini Movies

Located in the fens of Lincolnshire, Tattershall Castle was first built by Robert de Tateshale in the 13th century, but most of the buildings that stand on the site today, including the Great Tower, were commissioned by Ralph Cromwell, who was the Treasurer to Henry VI between 1433 and 1443. Previously, knowledge of the site was largely based on excavations undertaken over a century ago. A series of new investigations, however – funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in partnership with the University of Nottingham and the National Trust, and including work carried out by James Wright as part of his PhD research – has now completely rewritten the castle’s history. In particular, dendrochronological analysis of some of the original medieval floor beams from the Great Tower (above) suggest a date of 1406-1431, which would mean it was built before many of the most-famous 15th-century brick buildings.

Commenting on his research, James Wright said: ‘Tattershall’s Great Tower contains many unique design features. Ralph Cromwell and his builders were inspired by a mixture of architectural styles from areas including France, Germany, the Low Countries, and the Baltic Sea. Even the decision to build something on this scale in brick, a relatively new material to England, was very unusual at this period. However, the builders also took inspiration from older Anglo-Norman towers dating back to the 12th century. They were looking in several directions at once in both time and space. Tattershall Castle was therefore a melting pot of ideas.’   

One of the most innovative design features to be reassessed was the roof turreting of the Great Tower. The turrets are located above the bedchambers and offer grand views over the surrounding countryside, suggesting that they had been used by the aristocracy rather than servants. But while there are fireplaces, there are no latrines, which would suggest that they were not used as privy chambers. This left only the possibility that they were used for banqueting. While turrets were frequently used for dining purposes from the 16th century onward, their use as such during the 15th century is unprecedented. It seems that Cromwell and his architects were indeed ahead of their time.

TEXT :K Krakowka.