May 18, 2024

Pendennis Castle & Peveril Castle

Pendennis Castle

Pendennis Castle crowns a headland a mile east of Falmouth. The name suggests a Dark Age hillfort but any remains are buried beneath the later rampart. What now stands is an Elizabethan artillery fortress surrounding one of Henry VIII’s coastal forts. Erected in 1540-45, when the Reformation had made England a target for invasion, the castle protected the entrance to Carrick Roades, the large inlet pf the sea which could have offered a sheltered landing place to the fleet of the Catholic powers. St. Mawes Castle was placed on the opposite shore and the guns of the two forts commanded the mile-long sheet of water between them.

Pendennis is unusual among the Henrician coastal forts in having such an elevated position. On the rocks below is a semi-circular blockhouse which would have been of value in repelling ships invisible from the castle. As originally conceived Pendennis was one of the smaller coastal forts, just a squat round tower with gun ports at all three levels. The walls were thick enough to withstand the artillery of that time and the merlons of the parapet are rounded off to deflect any well-sized cannon balls.

The porticullis remains in position and the slots for drawbridge chains can still be seen. Over the entrance is a handsome panel bearing the royal arms. The low chemise wall with gun emplacements surrounding the tower must also have been an afterthought, as it blocks the gun ports on the ground floor of the tower. Henry’s castles were purely defensive units, but the quality of masonry here is high and there was clearly a lot of pride in the workmanship.

A Classical entrance commemorates the completion of the defenses in 1611. The enlarged castle was garrisoned as part of the coastal defense system until the Second World War.

Peveril Castle

Peveril Castle crowns a steep hill overlooking Castleton in the Peak District. This area was a center of medieval lead mining and William the Conqueror appointed William Peveril (supposedly his illegitimate son) as bailiff of the royal lands here. The ruined castle that bears his name was usually called the Castle of the Peak in medieval times. It existed by the time the Domesday survey and comprises a triangular enclosure sloping upwards to a sheer drop at the rear.

The very ruinous curtain is probably William Peveril’s, since I displays herringbone masonry typical of early Norman work and stone was easy to come by here. It is of some interest as an early stone enclosure with neither keep nor gatehouse originally. It would seem that the north wall, guarding the easiest approach, came first, with the western wall (overlooking the ravine) following. Henry II inserted the present gate arch, facing the town. The precipitous southeastern side of the bailey was not walled until the thirteenth century and the curtain here has since disappeared. Two round towers stood along it, though why there should have been towers on the edge of the cliff but none elsewhere is difficult to explain.

When the third William Peveril forfeited his estates in 1155, the castle was taken over by Henry II. Expenditure of 184 pounds in 1176-77, is just enough to account for the square keep which now dominates the castle. The keep has come down to us in good condition, preserving its ashlar facing except on two of the outside walls. As keeps go its is a modest structure, just two stories high, though the walls rise higher to protect the vanished roof. The entrance was at first-floor level as usual but there is no evidence for a fore building. Clearly the main accommodation was always in the bailey and the foundations of two successive halls.