February 21, 2024

Kirby Muxloe Castle & Lancaster Castle

Kirby Muxloe Castle

Kirby Muxloe Castle, four miles west of Leicester, is the companion of Ashby Castle, being the work of William, Lord Hastings. Although a license to crenellate was granted in 1474, construction did not commence until October 1480, by which time Ashby was nearing completion. The building accounts, which survive in full, give a total expenditure of 1088 pounds on the incomplete castle.

An older manor house occupied the site and some of its foundations are visible in the courtyard. Unlike Ashby, where Lord Hastings utilized existing buildings, Kirby Muxloe was completely rebuilt on quadrangular lines. It is oblong rather than square in plan. Kirby also differs from Ashby in the choice of brick as the main building material, stone being used only for doorways and windows.

The low revetment wall, which defines the courtyard, rising out of a water-filled moat, marks the position of the intended curtain and its square angle towers. Only two portions, the gatehouse and the west corner tower now stand, though more must have been built.

The gatehouse is a ruin and is known to have been left incomplete. It is a sturdy, oblong structure with semi-octagonal flanking towers and stair turrets at the rear. The angle tower has fared better because it is still intact, including the battlements, though now a shell.

Kirby Muxlor was one of the last castles built with some serious regard for defense. A drawbridge, a portcullis and two pairs of gates defended its gate passage, and gun ports pierce both the gatehouse and the surviving tower. These gun ports, however, are the primitive type, which are pierced by gun ports. These gun ports, however, are the primitive type that had been in use for over a century – small roundels permitting only a limited range of fire.

Lancaster Castle

Lancaster Castle and its distinguished neighbor, the priory church, crown the summit of a hill overlooking the River Lune. A Roman fort occupied the site. Following the arrival of the Normans, Lancaster became part of the vast estate granted to Roger de Poitou and the first castle is very likely to have been his foundation.

In 1265, the castle became the chief seat of the powerful lords who followed, including Thomas, ring leader of the baronial opposition to Edward II; Henry, the first palatine duke; and john of Gaunt, who married his way into the duchy. After John of Gaunt’s son seized the throne as Henry IV in 1399, and the consequent union of the Duchy of Lancaster with the Crown, the castle fell into decline as a residence but remained the administrative center of the Duchy. It remains very much a working vastle, still serving as a courthouse and prison.

The existing castle is largely a reconstruction of 1788-1823 by Thomas Harrison, designed to meet the growing requirements of the country gaol and the courts. The phony curtain and towers enclose an area roughly corresponding with the medieval bailey, except on the north side where the prison juts out in a big arc. Furthermore, a series of assize buildings, notably the semi-circular Shire Hall, projects on the west.

Fortunately, a few important pieces of the medieval castle have been preserved. The finest of these is John of Gaunt’s Gate, one of the most majestic of medieval English gatehouses. It is a massive and rather austere-looking block as befits the entrance to a prison.

There is a continuous machicolated parapet around the wall head and the well-proportioned gateway preserves its original portcullis. Semi-octagonal towers that carry inner turrets above parapet level flank it. The circular Hadrian Tower forms part of the Shire Hall complex.