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Castles – the very word has gravitas, it feels bulky on the tongue. I was brought up within a mile of a ruined Norman castle in Derbyshire, and played beneath its time-ravaged walls. Codnor Castle is now in such a precarious state that the surviving remains have had to be stabilized over a period of 15 years. For those of you who saw the episode of the TV program ‘Time Team’ which was devoted to the site, it is obvious just how important that castle USED to be.

There are two other Norman castles in the county, the famous ‘sister castle’ to Codnor, Peveril Castle at Castleton, and Bolsover Castle, with its extremely rare Riding House - built for the indoor demonstration of equestrian skills by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, (1592 – 1676), and occupying a dominant position on an escarpment overlooking the Vale of Scarsdale. There is now little remaining of the original Norman structure, and the site overlooks the main M1 motorway between London and the North.

Bolsover Castle was continuously developed over the centuries, with the addition of a curtain wall and several ranges of buildings, as well as an additional small, keep-like tower, known as the Little Castle on the north-western edge of the site. The castle had been sold to Sir Charles Cavendish in 1608, and his son, William, was responsible for many of these renovations and extensions. William inherited the estates in 1617, and forged ahead with the completion of the 'Little Castle', which was built as a virtual 'toy keep', and a pleasure palace with floor upon floor of miniature state rooms, complete with magnificently carved Derbyshire marble and alabaster fireplaces, beautifully painted walls and ceilings and fine panelling. As you ascend higher and higher, some of the painting takes on a distinctly erotic content.

In 1634, William, now Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, invited his Sovereign Lord, Charles I, of the House of Stewart, and as many of his court who might care to travel to the north, to come and see the Little Castle. The Duke had arranged for the foremost playwright of the day, Ben Johnson, to write a masque entitled 'Love's Welcome to Bolsover', especially for the visit. This was to be performed in the walled Fountain Garden, immediately in front of the Little Castle.      

To accommodate the large Royal party, the Duke and his architect, one John Smythson, had built a huge new building, called the Terrace Range, on the edge of the escarpment. This was lavishly equipped, with cellars and several large kitchens to cater for every Royal whim. Sadly, the Terrace Range now stands roofless and stripped, but you can gauge from the remains just how splendid it would have been.

Here you can see the wonderful painted walls, and a superb carved fireplace, in what is known as the 'Star Chamber' (named after the painting on the ceiling). This is one of the state rooms in the Little Castle. The whole site is only partially restored – although English Heritage does a good job with what resources they have; I would urge you all to visit, if you can.

A real candidate for the 'bucket list', I think.

Originally posted to shortfinals on Sat May 11, 2013 at 07:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks and Derbyshire and The Peak District.

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