Rockingham Castle

Rockingham Castle is one of the oldest castles in Northamptonshire. William the Conqueror first recognized the strategic importance of the site of Rockingham Castle.

Rockingham Castle History

Rockingham Castle

The original design of the Rockingham Castle followed the standard Norman pattern with an outer bailey, or courtyard, containing the Great Hall, chapel, and the garrison’s living quarters, surrounded by a massive curtain wall and entered between two square towers protected by a portcullis.

Inside the wall stood the keep on a fortified mound, approached across a drawbridge and forming a second line of defense. There was a second bailey extending a further two hundred meters to the southwest, the earthworks of which still exist, and the whole complex was capable of housing anything up to three thousand people when the King was in residence. The pattern of administration of the country, such as it was in these early years, was conducted by the kings on an itinerant basis as they progressed with their advisers and entourages from castle to castle.

Rockingham Castle entrance

Rockingham was more popular than most because it allowed them to pursue their passion for hunting, and a number of important historical events occurred there. Probably one of the most significant was the Council of Rockingham in 1095 when King William II, the Conqueror’s son, met Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, to debate the compatibility of the Church’s allegiance to both Pope and King.

Throughout the 12th century, Rockingham continued to be visited regularly by successive kings, and King John, in particular, came frequently, probably every year of his reign. Edward I’s reign marked the climax of the building as an exercise of royal authority. He spent vast sums constructing castles in newly-conquered Wales and allowed many of the early Norman royal halls to fall into decay, or pass on to local barons as seats of local government and county prisons. Rockingham, however, along with seven others, was kept as a major royal residence and center of Government.

Rockingham Castle garden

This new importance qualified Rockingham for a major proportion of the King’s building expenditure and during the period 1276-1291, the primitive Norman castle was modernized. Windows and fireplaces were installed in the Great Hall, a bedroom was built into the eaves for Queen Eleanor, and the fortifications were updated with the addition of the massive round towers on the original Norman gatehouse.

During the long reign of Edward III, the Castle passed to his Queen, but he reclaimed it on her death in 1369, carrying out further repair and modernization work. In 1378, the office of the Clerk of the King’s Works was established to control expenditure on royal residences, and twenty years later Rockingham fell under its jurisdiction. By then Government had become centered more and more on London, and Rockingham’s importance as a royal administrative center declined.

Rockingham Castle - tea rooms

The last King to use Rockingham as a royal residence was Henry V in 1422 and by 1485 it was in such a bad state of repair that Henry VII had a hunting lodge built in the Park. In the reign of Henry VIII, the castle was considered so worthless that the Crown gave permission for a local landowner to remove the stone and other materials to build his own house in Leicestershire. In 1544 Edward Watson obtained a lease on the Royal Castle and Park of Rockingham. He moved into the lodge in the Park and began converting the derelict medieval castle into a comfortable Tudor residence. The work took him thirty years to complete.

His grandson, Sir Lewis Watson, bought the Castle from James I in 1619 and rebuilt the Gallery wing in 1631, only to see it largely demolished twelve years later in the Civil War when Parliamentary forces led by Lord Grey of Groby captured the Castle, fortified the keep, and held it against repeated Royalist attacks. The Castle was returned to Sir Lewis after the war, but it had been so severely damaged that he spent the rest of his life claiming compensation from Cromwell and restoring the house. His son continued the restoration, building Walker’s House, and the Laundry at the head of the Street which he completed in 1669.

Rockingham Castle garden

Little building work took place at the Castle in the 18th century, and it was not used regularly as a family home until the 19th century, thus escaping the excesses of Georgian architectural aspirations. In 1836 the new owner, Richard Watson, embarked on a major modernization program, employing the architect Anthony Salvin, a pupil of John Nash, to renovate the interior and improve the appearance of the exterior.

The Georgian stables set against the curtain wall were removed, the towers castellated and a flag tower added to the Gallery wing. Corridors were built outside the Library wing to give privacy in the bedrooms, and two new staircases were installed. In all this work care was taken to use old materials wherever possible and not to destroy the principal features of the Tudor house.

Richard’s son George had considerable building ambitions with plans for a gothic chapel and cloisters in the courtyard but, in the end, lack of funds reduced him to building a substantial square tower onto the library wing to serve as bachelors’ quarters with access to the main house from the ground floor only! This tower now forms the basis of Saunders Watson’s private apartments.

Rockingham Castle Visitor info

Rockingham Castle is located in Market Harborough, at the border of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. It lies 16 miles (25 km) from Leicester and 3 miles (about 5 km) from Corby.

For information regarding opening hours and ticket prices of Rockingham Castle please consult the official website at:

Rockingham Castle Location

Rockingham Castle Estate Location: Rockingham, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 8TH, United Kingdom. Get help with directions using this map:

Rockingham Castle Map

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