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Melbourne Castle fortified manor and earlier medieval manorial remains

A Scheduled Monument in Melbourne, Derbyshire

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Latitude: 52.823 / 52°49'22"N

Longitude: -1.424 / 1°25'26"W

OS Eastings: 438909.588164

OS Northings: 325204.103072

OS Grid: SK389252

Mapcode National: GBR 6G9.0S5

Mapcode Global: WHDHF.395P

Entry Name: Melbourne Castle fortified manor and earlier medieval manorial remains

Scheduled Date: 11 December 1973

Last Amended: 18 October 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008610

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23336

County: Derbyshire

Civil Parish: Melbourne

Built-Up Area: Melbourne

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Melbourne St Michael

Church of England Diocese: Derby


The monument includes the known extent of the site of the medieval fortified
manor known as Melbourne Castle. This early 14th century manor was preceded by
earlier manor houses dating back to the first half of the 11th century. The
fortified manor is believed to have incorporated part of a royal manor house
noted in 13th century documents and is known to have possessed a variety of
ancillary features at various periods in its history. The buried remains of
earlier and later medieval buildings and associated manorial features will
survive throughout the area of the scheduling, partly overlain by Castle Farm
in the northern half and, in the southern half, sealed beneath the new housing
development and residents' car-park which is now being completed on the site
of Castle Mills and Castle Cottage. Both mill and cottage were demolished in
the late 1980s. The Castle Street frontage of the mill formerly stood on
the site of a row of cottages which were demolished after a fire in 1933.
Knowledge of the fortified manor derives from field observation, a large body
of documentary evidence held principally by the Duchy of Lancaster and a
number of partial excavations. The latter were largely carried out in the
northern half of the monument and include the discovery of a turret in the
garden of Castle Cottage in the 1880s and the exposure of medieval wall
footings and other features around Castle Farm in 1967, 1971 and 1987 by the
owner of the farm, Mr John Blunt, and members of the Derbyshire Archaeological
Society. Following the demolition of Castle Mills and Castle Cottage, limited
excavation and field observation confirmed that medieval remains extended
south of Castle Farm and included a massive wall footing interpreted as the
curtain wall of the fortified manor. Further excavations carried out north of
Castle Farm in 1973 revealed, in addition to pits of Neolithic date, a
medieval boundary wall and a ditch of uncertain date. There is insufficient
evidence to relate these features to the fortified and earlier manors,
however, and so this area has not been included in the scheduling.
The full extent and ground plan of the fortified manor, together with its
sequence of construction, is not yet fully understood but its good state of
preservation is attested to by the remains uncovered during the Blunt
excavations and by an upstanding section of wall-core which measures 4m high
and extends c.15m from east to west. At its west end, this wall stands as an
exposed buttress-like feature in the garden of Castle Farm. Elsewhere it
forms the back wall of outbuildings on the south side of the farmyard of
Castle Farm and has been shown by excavation to have additional wall-footings
extending off it both northwards under the farmyard and southwards into Castle
Orchard. The existence of `subterranean apartments' beneath Castle Farm and
`considerable foundation many parts of the garden' were recorded in
1843 and 1889 by Joseph Deans and W Dashwood-Fane and at least some of these
features were uncovered by the 1967 and 1971 excavations. These partial
excavations, carried out in Castle Orchard, revealed a complex of ashlar-faced
battered (sloping) wall plinths, extending southwards from the upstanding
wall, which appear to represent the remains of projections or towers and may
belong to more than one phase of building. Architectural features include the
base of a flight of steps leading up to a robbed-out level, drip moulds
designed to protect walls from rainwater, the respond or supporting column of
a stone door jamb, drainage holes and some 38 mason's marks. In 1987, the need
to disassemble and reconstruct the east end of the lean-to cart-shed on the
north side of the upstanding medieval wall led to the discovery of a possible
floor and a north-south running wall while, in the same year, the curving
stone foundations of a tower or bastion were also found beneath the lean-to,
some 10m to the west where they are now sealed beneath a concrete floor.
Attempts to correlate the exposed remains with the building depicted on an
18th century drawing of the castle, copied from a survey executed in the reign
of Elizabeth I, are problematic because it is not entirely clear which way the
drawing is orientated. The location of the square-towered church on the right-
hand side of the drawing suggests that it is a view of the west face of the
manor but this is by no means certain. It is therefore not possible at this
stage to interpret the remains other than to say that they belong to a
substantial medieval building of late 12th to late 14th century date.
Associated with the earlier and later medieval manor houses would have been a
variety of ancillary and service buildings whose remains will be preserved in
the open areas surrounding the core building. Some of these, such as the
gatehouse, may also have been of stone construction although others are likely
to have been timber-framed. Also surviving will be the buried remains of such
features as stock-pens and drainage ditches, an example of which was found in
1988 in the south western area of the monument. Two additional ditches were
recorded beneath Castle Mills in 1989 and were considered, possibly, to
predate the massive stone wall believed to have been part of a curtain wall.
The foundations of this wall were also noted during the construction of Castle
Mills in 1857 when they were reported to be 12 feet thick and were exposed in
one of the knitting shops. A second massive east-west wall was identified in
1989, 12m north of the first wall, together with some less substantial
foundations and a possible robber trench, that is, a trench dug by stone-
getters to obtain and remove stone from the foundations of a demolished wall.
To the east, beneath the 1960s extension of Castle Mills, where mill footings
are recorded as having cut through medieval foundations to a depth of 15 feet,
a layer of medieval lead-glazed roof tiles was found. A medieval stone-lined
well, found when the mill was constructed and used to supply its boiler until
it was covered over in 1928, was not seen during the 1989 archaeological
investigations but is likely to have been the same well found in a cellar in
the north western corner of the mill and backfilled before these
investigations began. The turret exposed in the 1880s was also examined and
consists of a curving chamfered plinth adjoining, on its east side, a north-
south wall which contains a door jamb and may be a continuation of one of the
walls uncovered in Castle Orchard. The turret lies in the area of the monument
designated as a resident's car-park for the sheltered housing development, and
has been backfilled and covered over. There is a wealth of documentary
evidence referring to Melbourne Castle. It is known, for example, that the
manor was a royal possession from the time of Edward the Confessor until 1265
when Henry III granted it to his second son Edmund, Earl of Lancaster.
References to a royal manor house predating the fortified manor include
requests for repairs to the king's buildings in 1246 and 1248 and it is
recorded that King John stayed there on several occasions between 1200 and
1215, once in the company of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Following the death
of Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, in 1296, the manor passed to his son Thomas, the
second earl, who granted it in 1308 to his steward, Robert de Holland. The
Patent Rolls foor 1307-1313 indicate that, in 1311, Robert obtained licence
from Edward II to crenellate, that is fortify, the manor house. The fortified
manor can therefore be said to date from this time.
Construction work is known to have begun soon after licence was granted
because, amongst the documents referring to the site are the returns of John
Russell, Clerk of Works at Melbourne Castle, dated 1313-14. These returns are
interesting in that they refer not only to costs for various works and wages
for masons, mortarers, plasterers, smiths, carpenters and window-leaders but
to features for which no archaeological evidence has yet been found but will
nevertheless survive. These include a gate and a possible moat (the reference
is to wages for `flooding from the beech (sic) to the gate') and at least two
pools, one of which is referred to as the `new pool' and the other the `old
mill pool'. It is not clear whether the stone-faced `main pool', mentioned in
the same record, is one of these pools or a third. It is possible that the
site of one of them is represented by an area of subsidence in the north-
eastern quarter of the monument although, alternatively, this subsidence may
mark the site of another sunken feature such as a cellar or a fishpond.
Building work was still going on in 1315 because, in that year, Master Peter
de Bagworth, mason, and several other masons of the Earl of Lancaster at
Melbourne, were involved in an armed assault on William Gretheued at his house
in Ravenston, led by Robert de Holewell. During this time, the Earl of
Lancaster, Earl Thomas, was in open rebellion against Edward II, allying
himself with the Scots and, in 1312, unlawfully executing Piers Gaveston, the
king's close friend. In 1321 he succeeded in banishing Edward's other
favourites, the Despensers, but was immediately retaliated against by the king
who moved against him in 1322, taking Tutbury Castle and finally defeating his
forces at the Battle of Boroughbridge after which Thomas and Robert de Holland
were executed as traitors. All Lancastrian property, including Melbourne
Castle, was confiscated by the Crown and not restored until the accession of
Edward III in 1327 when Thomas's brother, Henry became the third Earl of
Lancaster. Earl Henry's son was made Duke of Lancaster and, following his
death in 1361, that title passed to John of Gaunt, Edward III's third son,
through his marriage to the Duke's daughter, Blanche. References to repairs
done at Melbourne in Gaunt's time indicate the existence of a hall and great
chamber, a chapel, a drawbridge and a bakehouse. After Gaunt's death in 1399
and the usurpation of the Crown by his son, the third Duke of Lancaster, Henry
Bolingbroke, Melbourne again became a royal possession. A letter from Henry V
to the keeper of the castle dated 22nd March 1416 ordered that repairs to the
castle be carried out `because certain of our French prisoners will be put
there in security and under safeguard'. The prisoner in question was the Duke
of Bourbon, captured at Agincourt in 1415, who was moved to Melbourne from
Somerton in 1419 and held there for 19 years until released by Henry VI.
References to the castle are more scarce after this date until the reign of
Elizabeth I, although John Leland, during his tour of England and Wales in
1545, found it `praty and yn meately good reparation'. Upon her accession,
Elizabeth ordered a full survey of the possessions of the Duchy of Lancaster
including, in 1564, a survey of Melbourne Castle. Another survey was ordered
in 1576 when it was reported that the castle was in a fair state of decay
though the stonework was good. In 1583, it was recommended by the Privy
Council that the queen move her cousin, the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots,
to Melbourne, and a description of the castle was provided which throws
interesting light on its appearance at the time in that it was said to be
constructed of lead-covered ashlar, had large spacious rooms that would need
to be partitioned, floors of earth and plaster, walls that appear to have
needed repointing and rendering since they were described as being too easily
scaleable, and no paths or wall about the house `so as being out of dors you
are in the myre, for it is verie foule and unpleasaunt to walk round
about...'. This description would suggest that, at some point in the later
Middle Ages, the curtain wall around the castle had been demolished and that
the ward surrounding the main building had gone out of use. In the event, Mary
was never moved to Melbourne and the castle ceased to be a residence. A survey
of 1597 reported that it was used as a pound for stray cattle and, in 1604,
under James I, it was sold first to Sir Edward Howard and a consortium of four
others, then to Henry, Earl of Huntingdon who quickly dismantled it for its
materials and built on its site the dwelling which is depicted on the
enclosure map of 1630 and now forms the core of Castle Farm, a Grade II Listed
Excluded from the scheduling are the house of Castle Farm and its outbuildings
(with the exception of the upstanding section of medieval wall-core which
forms the back wall of a lean-to shed on the south side of the farmyard and
extends into the private garden south of the house), the buildings of the
new housing development on the site of Castle Mills and Castle Cottage, all
modern hard surfaces such as paths, carstands, patios and the yard of Castle
Farm, and all modern boundary fencing and walls, although the ground beneath
all these features is included as are the exposed medieval remains in Castle

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Fortified manors were in most cases the residences of the lesser nobility
and richer burgesses and date from the late 12th century and throughout the
rest of the Middle Ages. Generally they comprise a hall and residential wing,
domestic ranges and fortifications such as a moat or crenellated wall or both.
A gatetower was a common feature of the better equipped.
Melbourne Castle is a very well documented example of a fortified manor built
on the site of, and incorporating, an earlier royal manor house. Its
importance as a royal manor lasted from the 11th to the mid-13th century when
it was granted to the Earls of Lancaster. During the early 14th century it
played an important role in the political history of England when it was
associated with the most powerful baron in the country, Thomas, second Earl of
Lancaster, who was a leading opponent of King Edward II. When Henry
Bolingbroke, third Duke of Lancaster, became King Henry IV it again became a
royal possession until sold by the Crown in 1604. Although the fortified manor
does not survive well as a standing structure, limited excavation carried out
in key areas has demonstrated that the buried remains of the manor house and
other medieval features are extremely well preserved. This is the case even in
areas disturbed by 19th century and later development. Elsewhere, in areas
such as Castle Orchard and the gardens and yard of Castle Farm, which have
suffered little disturbance since the demolition of the castle in the 16th
century, archaeological remains of all periods of occupation are likely to
survive intact and in situ.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Deans, Reverend J , Melbourne Church, (1843)
Haines, , Castle Mills - Thomas Haines and Co., (1962)
Usher, H, Melbourne Castle, (1989)
Courtney, T, 'Derbyshire Archaeological Journal' in Excavations at Melbourne, Derbyshire, 1973, , Vol. 96, (1978)
Dashwood-Fane, W, 'Derbyshire Archaeological Journal' in Melbourne Castle and Park, (1889)
Dashwood-Fane, W, 'Derbyshire Archaeological Journal' in Melbourne Castle and Park, (1889)
Copied from C16 survey, Melborn Castle, (1733)
Dodd, Anne, Castle Mills, on a watching brief..., 1990, Records deposited Derby City Museum
Dodd, Anne, Recovered during watching brief on Castle Mills site, 1989, Derby City Museum (
From copy of Briggs, Matlock Library, Cox, R, Mary Queen Of Scots And Melbourn Castle, (1852)
In possession of Mr Blunt (owner),
In possession of Mr Blunt (owner),
In PRO; copies with Mr Blunt (owner), Records of the Duchy of Lancaster for Melbourne Castle,
Title: Enclosure map of Melbourne
Source Date: 1630

Source: Historic England

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