A long-standing religious affiliation
The gatehouse and its domestic wing are all that is left of Cawood Castle, once upon a time a stronghold of the Archbishops of York. The castle itself has always had significant royal links as well as its strong connection to the church. It was Archbishop John Kempe who built the adjoining gatehouse using the distinctive creamy white stone from a nearby quarry at Huddleston. The civil war saw it change hands several times before it ended up in the hands of the royalists and ultimately Parliament. Along with 7 other castles in the North, Parliament decided that it should be slighted or made untenable with most of the castle being demolished.
The centre of the Vale of York
The gatehouse is attached to the magnificent former great hall (now empty) and overlooks open ground in the centre of Cawood. Stairs from the second floor lead up to the flat roof which offers lovely panoramic views of the surrounding Yorkshire countryside. The nearest town is Cawood, a historic market town with a bridge over the River Ouse. Right in the middle of the Vale of York, guests staying at Cawood Castle benefit from its relative seclusion whilst never being more than 15 miles away from Selby, York and Leeds and all they have to offer.
‘Marvellous, historic building with the added bonus of a roof terrace with views of York in the distance.’
‘Our children were thrilled to be staying in their very own castle.’
From the logbook
Once the principal palace of the Archbishops of York
This Gatehouse, with a domestic wing to one side of it, is all that remains of Cawood Castle, the principal palace of the Archbishops of York from the 13th century, 200 years before the Gatehouse was built, until 1646 when the castle’s destruction was ordered by Parliament during the Civil War. The flat landscape seems an unlikely site for a fortified building, but this was an important cross-roads with a ferry over the Ouse on the road to York and a road running east-west along the riverbank.
The Castle has always had important royal as well as episcopal connections. Henry III, Edward I and his wife Margaret, Edward II and his wife Isabella, have all stayed here, the last on his way to disastrous defeat at the hands of the Scots led by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn.
It was Archbishop John Kempe who built the Gatehouse, using the creamy-white stone from a quarry at Huddleston, owned by the Cathedral. The son of a Kentish gentleman, Kempe rose swiftly through political and religious ranks. Henry VI declared him to be "one of the wisest lords in the land". He rose to be Bishop of Rochester, then Chichester, London, and then Archbishop of York in 1425. He was proud of becoming a cardinal in 1439 and the Cardinal’s hat appears on several of the finely-carved stone shields over the archway. It is likely that he also built the range to the east as it is bonded in with the Gatehouse.
Cawood Castle was by now more palace than castle. Kempe’s successor, Archbishop George Neville celebrated his installation in grand style. John Leland described in every sumptuous detail the feast he threw. Provisions included 400 swans, 104 oxen, 2000 pigs and 4000 venison pasties! It was one of the most famous of all medieval feasts.
Thomas Wolsey became Archbishop of York in 1514, but never came to Cawood until 1530, when he had fallen from power and had to surrender all his offices except York. It was here that he was arrested by the Earl of Northumberland and turned back to the South where he died soon after.
Henry VIII stayed here for two days with his wife Catherine Howard. In her retinue was her lover, Thomas Culpeper who later caused her to be beheaded. Further royal intrigue occurred here in 1568 when the "Rising in the North" first plotted to bring back the Catholic religion and to replace Queen Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots. It ended with the execution of the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland and 400 of their followers at York.
During the Civil War, Cawood changed hands three times. The original garrison of Royalist troops mostly deserted when faced by 600 foot and cavalry soldiers in October 1642. But by June 1643 it had been recaptured by the Royalists, who held in for one year when it was retaken by Sir John Meldon for Parliament. At the end of the war. Parliament decided that Cawood, together with 7 other castles in the north should be "slighted" or made untenable. Most of the castle was demolished including the crenelated parapet on the Gatehouse.
The Gatehouse continued in use by the Archbishops of York as a local or ‘leet’ court, and towards the end of the 18th century, the second staircase was built to enable the judge to enter the court room by a different stair from the prisoners. In 1932, the courtroom was turned into a sitting room and during the Second World war it was used as an Officers’ Mess and also by the Home Guard. More recently it contained a full-sized billiard table, which was still there when the Landmark Trust finally acquired the Gatehouse in 1985.
The gatehouse survived the castle's demolition
Surprisingly, the Gatehouse survived the demolition of Cawood following the Civil War relatively unscathed. The only serious change which had occurred in the 550 years since it was built was to the roof line. The crenelated parapet had been removed and a pitched roof had been substituted for the original flat one. Happily, a small part of the original parapet still existed and so it was possible to replace it exactly. This was done using a similar magnesium limestone from Cadeby, near Doncaster.
The Welsh slate roof was removed and the Gatehouse given a flat one once more, although this time of York stone laid over concrete rather than lead as the original would have been. The original stone springers of the medieval roof vault to the spiral staircase still existed and so the internal dome was re-formed using oak ribs. The oak roof was repaired and given a new lead covering, with a wheat sheaf crowning the turret as a tribute to Archbishop Kempe on whose armorial bearings it appears. Half of the original timber gate was lying below the arch and this has now been mended and the repaired gate replaced.
Inside, the problem was how to obtain a kitchen, bathroom and cloakroom with the minimum of alteration. In the end, our neighbour allowed us to truncate his house by some five feet to make a cloakroom and kitchen on the first floor, and a mezzanine bathroom between first and second floors. The kitchen is lit by a new inconspicuous window made in the south wall.
The ceiling of the sitting room is new as the old one had fallen in. A hard cement render on the walls was removed and redone with lime plaster and limewash. The original lime ash floor had virtually disappeared, and so the remaining patch was covered and the whole repaved with Cadeby stone with slate inserts. Concrete that had been put down in the bay of the north window was left for fear of damaging the cantilevered structure. The bedroom had its floor replaced and a later floor which cut across the windows was removed. The tracery and glazing were restored here as it has been elsewhere.
Outside, the contemporary range east of the Gatehouse was in use as a barn. The north side was blocked by undistinguished farm buildings which we demolished to reveal the medieval construction. A wide opening for farm vehicles that had been knocked through between the third and fourth buttress was blocked up and its window restored. On the south side, three windows that had been blocked up were reopened, and the fifth buttress put back as it had been removed when a farm building was placed against the wall. The whole of the roof was retiled and some of the timber structure repaired. Finally, the brick wall that ran along the side of the pavement was removed to improve the view from the street.
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