A very brief history of Sheffield Castle, adapted from notes produced for Krys Zasada (1996) A history of Sheffield Castle and markets.
Sheffield Castle once stood on an outcrop of sandstone at the confluence of the Rivers Sheaf and Don.
It is likely that soon after the Norman Conquest, around 1100, William de Lovetot, a Norman baron from Huntingdonshire, constructed the first earth and timber castle at Sheffield. It is also likely that de Lovetot encouraged the development of the town by building a bridge over the River Don, establishing a market and the first parish church on the site of the present Cathedral.
The castle probably took the form of a `motte and bailey’, the motte being a large mound, (the natural sandstone outcrop), and the bailey an outer wall, (an outer ward would have been used for service buildings).
`In custamento claudendi castellum de Sedfeld vii l per breve regis’
This is the first known written reference to Sheffield Castle. It records that, in 1183/4, the second William de Lovetot spent £7 for making a fence around the castle of Sheffield (Sedfeld).
In 1266 the wooden castle and much of the town was destroyed by John de Eyvill’s forces, supporters of the Simon de Montfort rebellion against Henry III.
In 1270 Thomas de Furnival was granted permission by Henry III to rebuild the castle in stone on the site of the former structure. This formed the nucleus of the building which survived until the 17th century.
It is said that when the castle was demolished a large flat stone was found inscribed with the following words:-
`I Lord Furnival
I built this Castle Hall
And under this wall
Within this tomb was my burial’
In the Castle
No plans remain for the interior of Sheffield Castle. However, an inventory of household goods and furniture dated 1582 describes the castle and its contents and gives an idea of the types of rooms in the castle at this date.
The rooms included a chapel, a porch going into the great hall, a way from the hall to the great chamber (which was probably the large dining hall), a wardrobe, the Lord’s chamber and outer chamber, the Lady’s chamber, a tower chamber, a bakehouse, brewhouse, pantry, washhouse and low washhouse, a round tower, a square tower and a turret, round towers on either side of the gatehouse and walls running along the water side, a porter’s lodge, a dungeon, a square room, little kitchen, old kitchen, a kennel and a range of stables.
Mary Queen of Scots
Between 1570 and 1584 Sheffield Castle served as the main prison of Mary, Queen of Scots. She was placed in the custody of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, on Elizabeth I’s instructions. Schemes and plots were to lead to her eventual trial and execution at Fotheringhay in 1587.
The Castle during the Civil War
On 2 July 1644 the largest battle of the civil war took place 6 miles west of York on Marston Moor. The famous roundhead victory here shattered Royalist control of the North, and attention then turned to resistance further south.
That August, Sheffield castle was besieged by the Parliamentary forces of the Earl of Manchester, under the command of Major General Crawford. On August 11th, after 10 days and heavy bombardment, the castle surrendered.
The generous terms of surrender allowed the Royalists to march out with all the honours of war, and without risk of imprisonment. Special provision was made for Lady Saville, the pregnant widow of the former Castle Governor. There was no midwife in attendance, but she had staunchly declared throughout the siege that she would rather die than see the Castle fall. The night after surrender, she was carried by coach to Wentworth Woodhouse, but gave birth to her child on the way.
By all accounts, Sheffield Castle was strongly fortified. It had a moat, 12 foot deep and 18 foot wide, and its outer wall was two yards thick. During the siege, local miners had tried to dig a tunnel under the wall, but had hit the solid sandstone outcrop upon which the castle stood, and been forced to turn back.
The following account of the siege is taken from Vicar’s Parliamentary Chronicle 1646.
Demolition of the Castle
With the defeat of Charles I, the Parliamentarians were determined that strongholds garrisoned by Royalist forces would not be used in this way again. Resolutions were passed by the House of Commons in 1646 and 1647 for Sheffield Castle to be made untenable, `sleighted and demolished’. The order was carried out very thoroughly in 1648 the stone and various effects being sold to local people for building material.
An account of the demolition records that £1-13s-4d was paid `for dimoleishinge of the last dimoleishments’, suggesting that the destruction was complete. However, the Earl of Arundel seems to have had other ideas. He was allowed to buy back the castle and estate for £6000 in 1648 and thought there was sufficient left of the castle for it to be used as an occasional residence. But nothing came of his plans, and the ruined walls of Sheffield Castle were never built up again.
A Sheffield poet, Francis Buchanan, put into words the feelings of many people at the loss of Sheffield Castle in the following poem written in 1882.
I cannot hail thee, tho’ thou liv’st in story,
Thy turrets and thy towers are all gone.
Little is left to indicate thy glory
But old tradition, and this little song.
Spectre of time! Where are thy relics resting?
Where are thy battlements and lordly hall?
Nor vestage here, nor stone with noble crest in,
Nor remnant of a buttress or a wall.
No effigy supreme, however broken.
No tottering gable in the sunlight glow,
No grey remembrance that would be a token
To take us back to ages long ago.
In 1764 the Rev. Edward Goodwin of Attercliffe stated in the Gentleman’s Magazine that no visible traces of the castle existed apart from street and place names including Castle Hill, Castle Folds, Castle Green and Castle Lathes. The site of the Castle and these street names are clearly shown on Fairbank’s plan of the town of Sheffield in 1771. This helps preserve the memory of the stronghold that had been in full use for at least 500 years.