Oakham Castle perimeter wall unearthed by archaeologists

A part of the defensive perimeter wall that surrounds Oakham Castle, constructed between 1180 and 1190 for Walchelin de Ferriers, Lord of the Manor of Oakham, Rutland, in the East Midlands of England, has been unearthed for the first time in 150 years by University of Leicester archaeologists.

Oakham Castle, famous for its collection of enormous horseshoes, and also one of the best examples of domestic Norman architecture in the UK, is being carefully restored thanks to a £2 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The castle, which is managed by Rutland County Council, will be unveiled as a first-class cultural site for Rutland in the summer of next year.

Oakham Castle perimeter wall unearthedArchaeologists from the University of Leicester have unearthed part of Oakham Castle’s ancient walls. (Image: rutland.gov.uk)

Oakham Castle had a wall, moat and drawbridge

After it was built, this small castle grew into a fortified site with a perimeter wall, a moat and drawbridge. The moat has been filled in and several parts of the castle have been lost over time.

Parts of its defensive Curtain Wall, however, still surround the site and are listed in Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.

Workers have already been clearing out the Castle’s embankment of shrubs and trees that were destroying what remained of the walls. University of Leicester archaeologists have since removed several tons of earth by hand to find limestone masonry dating back to before the Magna Carta (1215).

Portfolio Holder for Culture at Rutland County Council, Councillor Roger Begy, said:

“This is the latest and, perhaps, most exciting phase of a project that will breathe life back into Oakham Castle, so that it can be enjoyed and appreciated for many generations to come. Conservation experts have already taken steps to preserve the Castle boundaries but this is the first time that we’ve dug down to expose the walls themselves.”

“Once the restoration is complete we hope to have repaired and revealed much more of the defensive curtain wall so that visitors can get a true sense of what this incredible building was like many hundreds of years ago.”

Oakham Castle horseshoe collectionOakham Castle has a spectacular horseshoe collection. Monarchs and peers of the realm used to bring giant horseshoes as a gift to the Lord of the Manor. (Image: commons.wikimedia.org)

Giant horseshoe collection cleaned and cataloged

Apart from the work being carried out to redefine the exterior of the castle, refurbishment is also underway inside the Main Hall, including the removal of over 200 commemorative horseshoes left by visiting kings, queens, and peers of the realm over a period of 550 years.

The whole horseshoe collection is currently being cleaned and catalogued. As soon as the restoration work is completed, it will be returned to the castle. The collection includes 230 horseshoes. The oldest horseshoe in the collection was a gift from Edward IV in 1470 after his victory at the Battle of Losecoat Field.

The most recent horseshoes were donated by The Duchess of Cornwall in 2014, HRH Princess Alexandra 2005, HRH The Prince of Wales in 2003, and HRH The Princess Royal in 1999.

Historians believe the tradition of giving horseshoes to the Lord of the Manor is linked to the de Ferrers’ family name. Ferrier in Norman French meant ‘farrier’. A horseshoe appears on the coat of arms of the Rutland County Council.

Prince of Wales visiting Oakham CastleWithin days of Rutland County Council’s bid for a grant to restore the castle was approved, the Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall (who donated this horseshoe) paid a visit. (Image: rutland.gov.uk)

Restoration work on the castle will continue into 2016, and the next phase will include re-plastering the Great Hall with traditional lime render, retiling the Castle’s roof in Collyweston Slate, installing access ramps for disabled visitors, and building a new toilet block.

Oakham Castle is England’s longest-running seat of justice. The first record of an assize (type if periodic court held around England and Wales until 1972) is in 1229 – every two years a crown court is held in the castle. The Great Hall still has its early 19th-century courtroom.

Updates on the Oakham Castle Restoration Project can be found here.

Video – Restoring Oakham Caslte

This video, made by the Rutland County Council, talks about the resoration of Oakham Castle.