Peveril Castle

Peveril Castle is perched on a high hill above the village of Castleton.

Peveril Castle – Castleton
2005 marked the opening of the new state-of-the-art English Heritage Visitor Centre at Castleton – which houses a display of artefacts found during excavations inside the castle grounds, and which could be described as the first new gate-house at Peveril Castle for almost a thousand years!

In addition to the complete history of the castle, there are also graphic displays of hunting, riding and feasting, as well as a tactile model of the castle and grounds. A shop on site sells English Heritage merchandise including books and gifts, as well as ice cream and soft drinks – and the new centre has toilets, and disabled access with a lift up to the first-floor exhibitions.

The new visitor centre uses displays, models and original artefacts to give a new perspective on the story of Peveril Castle and a fascinating insight into the history of the ‘Forest of the Peak’.
Car parking for Peveril Castle is in the village.

The History
First documented in 1196, Castleton, (literally -`Castle-Town’), these days a thriving tourist centre with famous attractions like Peak Cavern, the Blue John Mine and Speedwell Cavern, had it’s origins a century or so later than the castle – and was laid out in a grid pattern, surrounded by a large bank and defensive ditch with the church of St. Edmund at the centre.

Castleton – A Rude Place!
Castleton was described in an early nineteenth century travel guide as `a rude place’, but the description had nothing to do with the fact that one of it’s main attractions was the `Devil’s Arse’, (another name for Peak Cavern and frequently seen in early guide books & maps) or that it’s eleventh century originator was known as William the Bastard!

William Peverel was the illigitimate son of William the Conquerer, the first Norman King of England, who was himself the illigitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy. After the Conquest, Peverel was given land here to build a castle from which to administer the exclusive hunting ground of the King, where deer and wild boar roamed freely.

Thus Peveril Castle was built to preside over the `Royal Forest of the Peak’, and was one of the earliest Norman castles in the country, and one of the few mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086.

The Castle Today
The castle is spectacularly and strategically located on top of a triangular hill locally known as `The Devil’s Arse’ some 220 feet above the town.

To the north is a steep slope down to the Hope Valley and the town, reached by a winding zig-zag path which runs from the ruined gatehouse down to the new Visitor Centre. Nowadays this is the only way into the castle, but was once merely the rear entrance. To the south and east is a sheer drop to Cave Dale. Separating Peveril Castle’s promontory pinnacle from the rest of the ridge is Peak Cavern Gorge – 150 feet wide and 230 feet deep.

The original access and main entrance to the castle was via the long vanished Western Gate, which stood west of the Keep – and over a bridge which spanned the gorge!
In 1114 when William Peveril died, the castle was inherited by his son, also William, and by this time the Peveril estates had expanded to include the larger Norman Castle at Bolsover. In 1155 Peveril was accused of the murder of the Earl of Chester and retired to spend the rest of his life in a monastery and his lands and possessions, including both Bolsover and Peveril Castle were forfeited to the crown.

Royal Visitors!
During it’s almost one thousand year history, Peveril Castle has been visited by at least four Kings. Henry 2nd installed a watchman and porter, who was paid an annual sum of £4-10s, and is known to have visited on several occasions. The first time in 1157, when he received the homage of Malcolm 4th, King of Scotland, and again in 1158 and 1164.

The Norman Keep which dominates the site is forty feet square and sixty feet high, and was built under the orders of Henry 2nd about 1176 at a cost of under £200, but the only action it ever saw took place forty years later in 1216 when the Barons revolted against King John.

Both Bolsover and Peveril – known throughout the Middle Ages as `The Castle of the Peak’ – were held by the rebels.

Shortly afterwards King John died, and Henry 3rd ascended the throne, visiting the castle in 1235, and spending money regularly on repairs throughout his reign. He is known to have used stones from the nearby Roman fort of Anavio at Brough to build a watchtower.

The final royal visitor was King Edward 3rd who came to Castleton in 1331 and gave the castle and it’s living to his new wife, Philippa of Hainault, at which time it was recorded that with the town and the honour of High Peak, the castle was valued at £291 13s 4d. Edward granted the castle to his second son, John of Gaunt in exchange for the castle and earldom of Richmond, and this brought Peveril Castle into the great estate of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1369.

Although abandoned as a residence around 1400 it still served some formal function as the headquarters of the Peak Estate and in 1480 was said to be `greatly decayed’.
Later, in 1561 the keep was still in use as a courthouse and prison, but the bailey served only as a pound for stray cattle, and by the seventeenth century what remained of the castle was ruinous.

Thus it stood for two hundred years until nineteenth century antiquarian interest in castles resulted in money being spent to repair the walls, and eventually the castle was placed under the guardianship of the Office of Works in 1932. Despite the fact that much of the fine ashlar stone has been robbed from three sides of the keep over the ensuing centuries, Peveril Castle still stands in magnificent isolation high above Castleton in testimony to the fine work of the Norman masons.

Tel: 01433 620613

Peveril Castle