Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Nottingham Castle Park

Nottingham Castle Park was the oldest of the Royal Deer Parks of Sherwood Forest.

It was built to provide the King and his retinue with a supply of deer and the sport of hunting on the doorstep of Nottingham Castle.

The Medieval park outline is still preserved on the landscape today in the large circular steep-sided bowl of ground it occupied to the west of Nottingham Castle. The town archey butts overlooked the park to the north (see Archery in the Forest entry) and the castle itself perched on its sandstone rock to the east.

The area it covered survives roughly as the 'Park Estate' built in the late 19th century by local architect T.C.Hine for the Duke of Newcastle to house the wealthy and well-to-do rich of the rapidly industrialising Nottingham.

The medieval park was surrounded by a 3 metre high fence or 'park pale' to prevent the deer within it from escaping.

As well as for housing deer the Medieval Park was designed both to be a place of beautiful solitude - surrounded by sandstone cliffs and containing wood pasture and coppices; and as a supplier of produce.

William Peverel custodian and builder of Nottingham Castle was given 10 acres of land by the King, to make an orchard. This is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 (Morris 1977).

The 1400's Belvoir Map (see the oldest map of Medieval Sherwood Forest entry) lists a 'Castel Apulton' (an apple orchard for the Castle) (Barley 1986). 

This most probably refers to the orchard set up by William Peverel, and was presumably a feature within the park .

As well as an orchard there was a rabbit warren, probably in the form of a 'Pillow Mound' (a mound of earth built over an artificial warren) constructed before 1244 when a stock of rabbits were brought into the park (Drage 1999).

Fish for the castle were provided from the fish ponds in the park. The water from the pond probably came from the River Leen.

Picture: A Pillow Mound Rabbit Warren from the Luttrell Psalter.

Deer and hunting was of course the main raison d'etre for the park. The presence of a large deer herd attached to the castle allowed the king to provide gifts and payments to loyal subjects. Many deer were sent to important dignitaries throughout the medieval period (more on gift of venison from the park soon, see Hunting v Finance entry for more on the use of gifts for payment of service).
The park was entered from a gateway in the western wall of the castle bailey (Foulds 2004) which may have reduced the defensive capabilities of the castle, but improved access to the park.

It was previously thought the front gate of the castle was used on the eastern side with hunting parties having to ride around the castle walls and negotiate the ponds, leats and five water mills located along the southern side of the castle if they tried to approach that way (not very satisfactory).

The Castle Park was a crown possession throughout the medieval period although the 1609 Crown Survey Map of Sherwood Forest by Richard Bankes shows that a small part of it was in the possession of Lenton (Mastoris and Groves 1997) (see 1609 Crown Survey and Map entry).

Lenton Prioiry owned a small cell or hermitage of caves in the sandstone supported by a number of monks known as 'St Mary de la Roche' (St. Mary of the Rock) which was just on the southern edge of the park (the caves behind MFI store on Castle Boulevard) seperated by the diverted River Leen (see the Waterways of Sherwood Forest entry) from the town Meadows to the south. 

'In 1225 Henry III issued a mandate to the Sheriffs of Nottingham and Derby to let two monks of Lenton celebrating divine services daily for the souls of the King's ancestors ''at a rock without the castle of Nottingham'' have 4d a day from the issues of the two counties for their maintenance, as they had been used to receive from previous sheriffs (Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry III, Vol 1247-58)' (Green 1936).

This Hermitage is listed on the Belvoir Map as 'Ye Roche' (Barley 1986), and is mistakenly shown as 'Druidic Remains' by George Sanderson in his 1835 Map of 20 Miles Around Mansfield (more to come on the chapel of St Mary of the Rock soon).

So as well as being a home to deer for the King to hunt, a royal retreat, an orchard, rabbit warren and supplier of fish, the Royal Nottingham Park was also home to a small Hermitage of Monks living in a system of caves and praying for the souls of the medieval Kings of England. 

It is clear then that Medieval Deer Parks were certainly for more than just hunting, and were significant places in the medeival forest landscape.

(More to come on the other Royal Deer Parks of Sherwood Forest, more on Nottingham Park, the Hunt, Rabbit Warrens, fisheries and stew ponds, and the Monks of Lenton Priory soon).


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