Last week I went to visit Nottingham Castle for the first time not only since the pandemic began but also since they reopened after a £30 million refurbishment. Timed tickets are available online with an adult ticket priced at £13 though city residents like myself receive a 10% discount.
I’ve written about the castle several times before and it’s generally worth reiterating that this isn’t the castle of fairy tales but, as it is now labelled around the site, a ducal palace which retains its castle name from when a castle was first built on the site in 1068 on the orders of William the Conqueror. Since then it’s had a turbulent history, as reiterated in the new Rebellion Gallery. Considered to be militarily important many kings, and their queens spent time at the castle.
It was here that the future Edward III captured his mother Queen Isabella and her lover who had been running the country while he was a minor and removed them from power; Isabella went into exile, her lover was hanged. It was also here in 1642 that Charles I raised his standard, essentially launching the British Civil War. However it was a local landowner Colonel John Hutchinson, fighting on the side of parliament, who actually succeeded in billeting his troops in the castle. Following Parliament’s victory (which ended with Charles I losing his head) the castle was torn down.
The ducal palace began to take shape under the instruction of William Cavendish, Bess of Hardwick’s grandson (builder of Hardwick Hall), who as a Royalist had spent the years that Oliver Cromwell was in charge in exile in Europe and who purchased the remains of the castle in 1661; it was completed in 1679. It then became the site of discontent as the House of Lords refused to pass the Reform Act which had made its way through the House of Commons. This would have changed the voting rules so that more men would have the right to vote. On October 10 1831 the citizens of Nottingham showed their anger by setting fire to the castle and leaving it a roofless shell. The Reform Act would successfully pass through the House of Lords the following year.
The castle was then rebuilt for a final time and opened in 1878 as the site of an art gallery and museum, as it functions today. For many years members of the Nottingham Society of Artists, including my great-great grandfather, also exhibited their artworks at the castle. There isn’t a huge selection on display but a couple of my favourites are this statue called Fundilia Rufa dating from 50-1BC
and these boulders made out of glass by Peter Layton.
I also enjoyed the Nottingham Lace Gallery with some beautiful pieces on display; many of my family on both sides going back several generations were involved in the lace industry in Nottingham, something I’ve previously written about in reference to the Framework Knitter’s Museum.
The view from the castle isn’t perhaps the most photogenic, given that the castle is right in the centre of the city, but it’s interesting from a local’s perspective who hasn’t seen what’s been going on in the city for a long time thanks to the pandemic. It’s certainly good to have the castle back but it’s never been somewhere we’ve visited regularly and I’m old enough to remember when entry for city residents was free! Nevertheless, if you have any interest in history it’s a good place to visit and if you have kids there are a bunch of new areas that we didn’t investigate that are aimed particularly at children as well as tours of the caves under the castle which we didn’t have chance to do, but certainly intend to in the future.
You can find more photos of the castle, past and present, here.