In the middle of the Peak District National Park, high above the town of Castleton lies Peveril Castle, a small but distinct triangular Norman castle. Known through much of the Middle Ages as Peak Castle or the Castle of the Peak, Peveril Castle was not only strategically placed but also enjoyed good hunting in the surrounding area.
The Devil's Arse
Peveril Castle is located on top of what is locally known as 'The Devil's Arse.' Peveril Castle is located on a small triangular hill 200 feet above the town of Castleton, adjacent to a larger hill. To the north of the castle is a steep slope down to the Hope Valley and the town of Castleton, now a Mecca for cyclists and potholers. To the south and east is the sheer drop to Cave Dale.
Separating Peveril Castle's promontory pinnacle from the rest of the peak is Peak Cavern Gorge - 150 feet wide and 230 feet deep and a sheer-sided chasm in the hill's side. Peveril Castle, however, is not completely separated from the rest of the peak as it is narrowly joined on its south-east side, although not to the height of the castle or adjacent hill. All of this meant that Peveril Castle was perfectly placed to withstand attack as only its north side was not protected by vertical cliffs.
Peveril Castle was originally protected by a barbican on the other side of Peak Cavern Gorge. This was a D-shaped outer ward believed to have been defended by palisaded earthworks, the grass-covered mounds of which still survive. The castle's stables and other domestic buildings would have stood in the barbican. A bridge would have crossed the gap to the castle and the castle's western gatehouse.
From the barbican are paths leading to Peak Forest, the hunting grounds and the nearby silver and lead mines, as well as Hope Valley and Winnat's Pass. The approach to the castle from this way is a much gentler slope than attempting to climb direct from Castleton.
The North Wall
The most complete of Peveril Castle's three walls is the north wall, dominated by the remains of the Postern Gatehouse at its easternmost side. Although only the southern half of the gatehouse survives, enough remains to give an impression of its size and shape. The gatehouse nearest the town of Castleton was not the castle's original main entrance - however, today, nothing remains of the western gate or the barbican beyond.
The north wall itself no longer remains at its original height, but still runs to its original length. The most distinct feature is the remains of a turret tower near the gatehouse, which dates from the 13th Century. This was clearly built when the town of Castleton below grew in importance and allowed defenders to better protect the castle's walls. Another feature of the wall is that its early origin and construction is visible in the use of herringbone masonry1 - this is a feature largely absent from later castles.
The West and South-East Walls
Much of the remains of the western wall are the remains of the domestic buildings built against this range. Very little remains of the original western gatehouse, the original entrance to the castle. Beyond the keep on the south-east side of the castle above the long drop to Cave Dale is the south-east wall. Almost all of the original wall no longer exists, and has been replaced for safety reasons by a more modern stone wall.
Much of the southern side of the castle was taken up by the great hall, only the rubble of which remains. The south-east wall was distinct and in the 13th Century two circular towers were constructed - one near the keep and one halfway along the wall's length. Although little remains of the tower near the keep, a few remains of the second tower still exist. This was built using stones reused from the Roman fort of Anavio just over a mile away.
Many castles did not have their main buildings and rooms inside the keep, but rather spread them across a range of domestic buildings inside the castle's bailey; Peveril Castle is no exception. Although many of the castle's buildings such as the stables were originally housed in the barbican outside the Western Gate, several buildings, now all ruined, existed inside the castle's inner bailey.
One of the major problems with Peveril Castle is that it is situated on quite a steep slope. This made the construction of buildings difficult, so much so that clay was carted into the castle in order to raise the northernmost side of the castle, creating the flat green that exists today. However, none of the original wooden buildings that occupied the site have survived. There are, however, the foundations of the new hall against the north-west wall. The hall's fireplace and some of the columns survive, as do the outlines of the hall's buttery, pantry, service rooms and kitchen. On the westernmost side of the hall stood the lord's quarters. The solar would have been on the first floor, and the lord's quarters included windows both over the town of Castleton in its north wall, and a bay window over Peak Cavern Gorge. There are also the remains of a garderobe.
On the south side of the castle near the keep are the foundations of the original great hall, which measured only 20 feet wide and was later replaced by the new hall. This was an L-shaped building and contained a porch near the Keep. Next to the old hall lay a small chapel.
The keep at Peveril Castle is a small example of a Tower Keep, built under the orders of Henry II in the 1170s. The keep is built at the castle's south-west corner, the highest part of the castle, where it would have helped defend the castle's original main entrance as the western gatehouse originally lay beside it. The keep is forty feet square and sixty feet tall.
The keep is small - only two storeys high - and much of the original fine ashlar stonework that clad the keep has been removed, giving it a much rougher, weathered appearance than it originally would have had. The keep did not have a forebuilding and access was up a flight of wooden stairs to the first floor, the stairs now replaced by a modern concrete spiral staircase. The keep door was further protected by a draw bar.
The first floor of the keep contained one main room that did not contain a fireplace and had two large windows. This was unusual for a first-floor keep in a castle as it weakened the keep considerably, even though both windows face inside the castle's inner bailey. There was a garderobe on this floor on the southernmost corner, as well as a closet in the North Corner.
On the south-west side of the castle lies a lookout window above roof level, which gave a good view of the approach to the gatehouse and the castle's bailey. In the east corner near the entrance lies the spiral staircase. Although the stairs up to the now ruined keep's wall walk have now gone, they still lead down to the cellar or basement below. This cellar was used mainly for storage and in common with the bottom floor of most tower keeps had poor lighting, small windows and no fireplace.
The Peverils Of Peveril Castle
After the Norman Conquest, William The Bastard made William Peveril, one of William The Bastard's most trusted knights, Bailiff Of The Royal Manors Of The Peak. This title was of supreme importance as the Peak District not only contained valuable silver and lead mines, but was also much nearer the dangerous border with Scotland than today - Scotland still controlled Cumbria at the time.
William Peveril was granted the land of two Saxons, Gernebern and Hundline, and began work on constructing the castle. Although initially there was a wooden keep on the site, the stone curtain wall was built between 1080 - 1090, making the castle one of the earliest stone-walled castles in England2. The castle was near completion, with the exception of the tower keep, by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086.
In 1114 William Peveril died and the castle was inherited by his son, also called William Peveril. By this time the Peveril estates also included the larger Bolsover Castle and William Peveril concentrated his time and attention on this castle instead.
In 1135, on the death of Henry I, the Civil War between King Stephen and Empress Matilda known as The Chaos began. William Peveril was one of the many Norman barons who supported King Stephen and initially resisted the ascension of Henry II, son of Matilda. In 1155, accused of the murder of the Earl of Chester, William Peveril was forced to forfeit his possessions and retired to spend the rest of his life in a monastery.
Henry II was a king who understood the importance of castles; confiscating or demolishing adulterine castles built during The Chaos and improving Crown castles as part of his strategy of reinforcing crown power amongst powerful and unruly barons, a strategy that was to prove more successful than anyone could have foreseen. It was at Peveril Castle in 1157 that Henry II received the homage of King Malcolm IV of Scotland, who was forced to surrender the English land he had conquered during the Chaos of King Stephen's reign. Henry II returned again in 1158 to enjoy the hunting in the forests of the Peak District nearby and returned again in 1164.
Henry II installed a watchman and porter at Peveril Castle who was paid £4 10s per annum and between 1176-1177 the small Keep was built, at a cost of under £200. The castle's bridge was repaired in 1184. After the death of Henry II, Peveril Castle remained in use and in good repair.
In the reign of King John over £100 was spent on the castle. Despite this, during the Civil War at the end of the reign of King John (after his refusal to be held by the Magna Carta), both Peveril Castle and nearby Bolsover Castle were held against the king by the rebel barons. Peveril Castle itself was besieged and the king ordered Brian de Lisle, Peveril Castle's constable, to surrender the castle to William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby. Unfortunately, few details survive, but the castle was besieged and de Ferrers captured the castle. By December, King John had died, Henry III was king and de Lisle escaped punishment.
Henry III and Edward I
Henry III is known to have stayed at the castle in 1235 and regularly spent money on repairing it and keeping it in good condition. It was during his reign that the two round towers on the south wall were built, as well as the New Hall. However, in 1254 the castle was granted to his son Edward, later King Edward 'Longshanks' I, Hammer of the Scots, and was then granted to his wife, Eleanor, daughter of King Ferdinand III of Castile, as part of their dowry. After this, the castle returned to a crown possession and was granted to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.
Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester had secretly married Eleanor, Henry III's youngest sister in 1238. Simon de Montfort led the Civil War against Henry III in 1264 and after the Battle of Lewes he had gained control of the country. Edward defeated Simon de Montfort's son Henry at the Battle of Kenilworth and then defeated Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in August 1265, where Simon was killed. Henry III was restored to the throne under the guidance of his son, who was to become Edward I.
On Edward I's ascension to the throne, Peveril Castle was restored to him but was in need of further repair. By 1272 the castle and its honour was again given to his wife, Queen Eleanor, who paid £100 a year rent for the privilege of owning her dowry present.
Edward II and Edward III
On the ascension of King Edward II, Peveril Castle was granted, as was the case with many royal castles, to the unpopular royal favourite Piers Gaveston. Piers Gaveston had been granted many castles in England, including Knaresborough and Scarborough in Yorkshire. Edward II's elevation of Piers above all others enraged the nation's powerful barons, who forced Edward to send Piers into exile in 1309, when the castle was granted to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. Piers returned to England and again controlled Peveril Castle, yet was besieged by the barons and executed in Scarborough in 1312. Peveril Castle again was restored to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, who had also inherited Sandal and Conisbrough Castles in Yorkshire.
On the ascension of Edward III, Edward II's son was given the throne (after his mother, Queen Isabella, plotting with Roger Mortimer, had Edward II killed at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire). Isabella briefly controlled England and in 1327 claimed Peveril Castle for herself, yet by 1330 Edward III had ordered Mortimer's execution and forced Isabella to retire from public life. Edward III granted it to his wife Queen Philippa of Hainault in 1331. The castle was valued at £291 13s 4d when Edward III visited it. On the queen's death in 1369, Edward III granted Peveril Castle to his 4th son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in exchange for Richmond Castle, which John had inherited from his marriage to Blanche, heiress of Henry, Duke Of Lancaster.
The Castle 1400-present
On John of Gaunt's death in 1399 the castle was inherited by his son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV. The castle was again part of the royal estates as part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Although the honour of Peveril continued to bring an income in for the crown, the castle itself was allowed to decay and saw no action in the War of the Roses or the Civil War. The keep was used as a courthouse until the 16th Century, although the bailey was used merely as a pound for stray cattle.
It was only in the 19th Century that the castle was again in the public eye. In 1823 Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, Kenilworth and Rob Roy published Peveril Of The Peak, a three-volume novel set at the castle. This promoted a rise of antiquarian interest in castles, one which Sir Walter Scott personally played a large part in; Scott was a fervent campaigner for the preservation of many castles, including York City Walls and uncovering the secrets of Edinburgh Castle. Partly as a result of this, money was spent on preserving Peveril Castle, repairing the north wall and buttressing the keep. By 1932, the castle was placed into the protection of the Office of Works and is now looked after by English Heritage.