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Cawood Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Thorpe Lane; Carwood; Cawode

In the civil parish of Cawood.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of North Yorkshire.
1974 county of North Yorkshire.
Medieval County of Liberty of Cawood, Wistow and Otley.

OS Map Grid Reference: SE573376
Latitude 53.83232° Longitude -1.12942°

Cawood Castle has been described as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Cawood Castle, a residence of the medieval Archbishops of York, and Castle Garth, an enclosure containing the palace gardens, fishponds and a quarry pit. The castle is situated on the banks of the tidal River Ouse, 1km downstream from the confluence of the River Wharfe, and at a major ferry crossing on the road from Sherburn in Elmet to York, close to its junction with the road from Selby to Tadcaster. The medieval Bishop Dike, now a main land drain but originally a navigable canal linking the town of Sherburn in Elmet to the river, runs adjacent to the castle and there was an important staith (wharf) at Cawood until the 19th century. Although Cawood Castle could and did serve as a military stronghold in time of strife, it was essentially a well-appointed and comfortable palace, the name implying the status of the building rather than its habitual function. The surviving upstanding buildings of the archiepiscopal palace comprise a three-storeyed stone gatehouse which is Grade I Listed and an adjacent two storeyed hall constructed of brick and stone also Grade I Listed, which were built by Archbishop Kempe (1426-52); both structures were recently restored and are now roofed. The buildings represent the south eastern half of the south west range and the foundations of the rest of the range will survive beneath the attached Grade II Listed 17th century house at 2 Thorpe Lane. The palace precinct is bounded to the north west by the Bishop Dike and extended north and east to Old Road, which will have been the riverfront in the medieval period; substantial sections of the limestone precinct wall are visible to a height of up to 3m in places and are incorporated into the modern garden walls. Further east, the precinct wall is no longer visible but it survives below ground and parts of the wall have been recorded during building works. The precinct wall continued along the line of Old Road as far as the junction with Thorpe Lane; there it turned north westwards, following the line of the present Thorpe Lane frontage to a point opposite the end of the south- west range, where it turned south westwards to adjoin the hall. Trial excavations in the private gardens south east of the hall showed that this area lay outside the precinct and was under cultivation, probably as part of the palace garden. Although the area within the precinct was developed for private housing in the 1970s, the substantial foundations of the palace buildings will survive below ground and archaeological observations carried out during building works confirmed that medieval remains are well-preserved. The exact form and arrangement of the buildings of the castle are not fully understood. Documentary sources note the existence of over 40 rooms and buildings including a chapel, brewhouse, hall, kitchen, porter's lodge, bakehouse, library and gallery. It is thought that these may have been arranged around two courtyards; the surviving gatehouse and hall forming one side of one of these courts. The north westward continuation of Thorpe Lane across the palace site was laid out in 1887, to provide a more direct through-route than was formerly available via Old Road; further archaeological remains will survive beneath the modern road surface. The Castle Garth is a medieval enclosure, lying to the south of the palace itself, and comprises a trapezoidal area 180m-300m wide by 260m long. A recent study of the historical development of Cawood has suggested that the Garth originally extended south east to Broad Lane and north east to Water Row, although, with the exception of a small triangle of common land known as Gill Green, these areas have been largely built-over since the medieval period. The north western boundary of the Garth is formed by the Bishop Dike but, while this was originally a medieval canal, it was deepened and partially culverted in the 19th century so that it no longer retains any visible evidence of medieval engineering. Along the southern boundary of the Garth is a 20m wide, 2m deep ditch or fishpond, known as New Cut. This pond is clearly separated from the Bishop Dike, although it is thought that the New Cut may have been created out of an earlier medieval dock which was linked to the canal. A large irregularly shaped pit, 40m across and extending from the north bank of the New Cut, is an old quarry probably dug to obtain clay for pottery or brick making. Further north, in the rear garden of 2 Thorpe Lane, is an oval water-filled pond, 40m long by 20m wide, which, although enlarged in the 19th century, originated as a fishpond associated with the archbishops' palace. The north eastern third of the Garth is sub-divided by an 8m wide, 1.2m deep ditch into a sub-rectangular garden enclosure. Originally, this enclosure will have extended as far as Broad Lane but was later reduced in size when an 8m wide, 2m deep ditch was constructed along the present south eastern boundary of the Garth. Three rectangular, dried-up fishponds lie in the southern part of the enclosure. The largest pond is 50m long by 18m wide and 1.5m deep; its sides have recently been revetted with timber to prevent erosion. The other two ponds form a parallel pair, each 40m long by 8m wide and partially infilled. Slight parallel linear earthworks, visible in the northern part of the enclosure, are the remains of bedding for trees and shrubs within the garden. Archaeological excavations in areas adjacent to the monument have confirmed that this area of Castle Garth was in use as a garden; further bedding earthworks are visible in the gardens of houses fronting Broad Lane and trial excavation in advance of housing development south of Thorpe Lane showed that area was once cultivated. Part of the garden enclosure continued in use as an orchard until relatively recently, since a small thicket close to the boundary of the monument still contains several old fruit trees. King Edgar granted a vast estate, centred on Sherburn in Elmet, to the archbishop in AD 963. This estate included at least a part of Cawood; the remaining part was held by the de Cawood family, whose manorial seat has been identified as the moated site south east of Broad Lane. Cawood had become an archiepiscopal residence by the 12th century and the archbishops were instrumental in developing the commercial potential of the town, obtaining revenue from its port, ferry and river fishing. Brickworks also counted as one of the archiepiscopal enterprises, whether or not this took place in the vicinity of Cawood. Recent study of the development of the townscape has demonstrated that the medieval expansion of settlement was deliberately planned. A licence to crenellate the palace was granted to Archbishop Gifford, in 1271. As befitted the rank of its occupants, Cawood Castle saw frequent royal visitors, from King John to Elizabeth I. In 1530 the Archbishop Elect, Cardinal Wolsey, stayed at Cawood before his arrest on a charge of treason and his subsequent death at Leicester. When Queen Mary deposed the protestant Archbishop Holgate her soldiers ransacked the castle and it was only partially reoccupied. During the Civil War, the Royalist garrison, under Captain Grey, was ousted by Lord Fairfax and the building was largely destroyed. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse. c 1426-51. For Archbishop Kempe. Magnesian limestone ashlar with stone slate roof to oriel windows otherwise roof concealed by parapet. 3 storeys, 1 bay. North front: full freight, narrow angle buttressing with set-offs. Carriage arch with enriched spandrels and drip mould encroached on to right by 2 Thorpe Lane. Canted oriel window to first floor with heraldic shields to panelled base. Traceried windows with leaded lights. Roof has ornamental cresting. Blocked 2-light flat-arched window to second floor under drip mould. Coved cornice and parapet. Original stair turret with slit windows projects above main roof level. Rear: 4-centred pedestrian archway to left and 4-centred carriage archway to right, both contained under large segmental arch with cornice. First floor band with heraldic shields and capping. Centre 3 shields project slightly to support oriel window of 3 traceried lights, with 4-centred head. Ornamental cresting to roof. To second floor: 2-light window with small leaded panes and traceried heads under drip mould. Angle buttresses with set-offs rise from heraldic band to support coving and parapet. Octagonal stone chimneys to each side. Interior: carriageway has tierceron vaulting. 4-centred doorway to stairs. One original oak door is lying on its side in carriageway. (Listed Building Report)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1272 March 1 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).


The gatehouse is now in the care of the Landmark Trust and used as holiday accommodation. The original gate has been rehung and new matching gates added. It is important to note that the side of the gatehouse visible from the modern road is the back of the gate, the modern road cutting through what was the court of a courtyayd palace/castle that went down to the river. The front of the gate, usually difficult to see, has a 'portcullis' arch but can not have had a working portcullis as the oriel window obstructs this function. The Gatehouse is securely dated to the time of Bishop Kempe (c. 1450) showing 'sham' portcullises were around by this time.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:06

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