TF 065455


Sleaford Castle was built by Bishop Alexander of Lincoln between 1124 and 1139 on a holm between two branches of the river Slea to the south-west of the present town (1) (Fig 44). Despite its name, New Sleaford was an estate of some antiquity. With a nucleus in the vicinity of the church of St Denys, it had been the centre of a large multiple estate which seems to have encompassed much of the wapentake of Aswardhurn before the Conquest, and, granted to Remigius by William the Conqueror, it was the caput of the bishop's fee in South Lincolnshire in 1086 (2). The construction of the castle marked a move to a new and possibly virgin site and was probably associated with a remodelling of the existing settlement: royal grants of a fair and market were obtained, probably in confirmation of existing congregationes gentium, and burgage tenure may have been introduced at the same time (3). But it retained many of the same functions as the old manorial centre. The knights and freemen of the honour of Sleaford paid suit of court to the castle, and the bishop's estates were administered from it: there may have even been a permanent secretariat in the fifteenth century (4). It was only castle guard, which was possibly transferred from the bishop's castle of Newark in the thirteenth century, that was a markedly different service which was newly rendered there (5).

          With the possible exception of 1139 and 1221 (6), the castle never seems to have been threatened by hostile forces, but, although low lying, the site was eminently defensible. It was protected by the river to north, east and south, and a fen to the west, and the only approach was by the present causeway with access from West Gate. Writing in the mid twelfth century, Henry of Huntingdon claimed that Sleaford Castle was every bit as massive and magnificent as Newark Castle (7), but apart from a record of the expenditure of eight marks and 40d on repairs in 1215 (8), there are no references to the earliest structures on the site. By 1324, however, there were said to be a hall for the constable, a barn, cowshed, and a dovecote in the outer bailey, an orchard without, and a pond and a marsh to the west (9). In 1545 the castle was apparently still standing, for Leland described it as well maintained with a gatehouse, which housed two portcullises, and a high central tower, 'but not sette upon a hille of raised yerth', while in c.1555 it was said to be still defensible and fit for lodging the king and queen's friends. A barn, probably the same one that was recorded in 1324, was demolished by Robert Carre in c.1555, and the whole structure seems to have been dismantled within the next 50 years, for in 1604 it is described as 'the late fair castle'. However, in the 1720's considerable portions of the north wall, north western tower, and possibly the keep and west gate were still upstanding when a cut was made of the remains (10). Only a small fragment of wall remains today, a south-east corner angle which has toppled over partly down the moat bank, but the earthworks are substantial (Fig 45). The site of the gatehouse can be identified to the west, and the platform in the centre may represent the keep.



1.       Trollope, 107


2.       D. R. Roffe, 'Origins', Sleaford, eds C. M. Mahany, D. R. Roffe, Stamford 1979, 11-16.


3.       RA, nos 92, 183; M. W. Beresford, New Towns of the Middle Ages, London 1967, 118-9. 466.


4.       QCO, MS 366 f.x; J. N. Sumner, 'Growth', Sleaford, eds C. M. Mahany, D. R. Roffe, Stamford 1979, 118-9.


5.       RA, no 379; QCO, MS 366, f.x; Documents Relating to the Manor and Soke of Newark-on-Trent, ed. M. W. Barley, Nottingham 1955, xxx.


6.       D. J. Cathcart King, Castellarium Anglicanum i, London 1983, 262


7.       Henrici Archidiaconi Huntendunensis Historia Anglorum, ed. T. Arnold, London 1879, 266.


8.       Pipe Roll, 102.


9.       PRO E142/34/11.


10.     R. W. Ambler, M. Watkinson, 'The Agrarian Problem in Sixteenth-Century Lincolnshire: Two Cases from the Court of Star Chamber', LHA 11, (1976), 16; Trollope, 120-1.