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Environment & Planning

A History of Leicester Castle

1: The First Castle

Hugh de Grentmesnil first established Leicester Castle in the late 1060s. This was a time when the Norman hold on England was tenuous, with revolts against Norman rule were breaking out in many parts of the country. Hugh’s castle was strategically positioned in the southwest angle of the Roman town defences, overlooking the River Soar. This was a location that dominated the town, but from which the garrison could escape if they were in danger of being overwhelmed.

Leicester Castle: The first Norman castle
A reconstruction of the first Norman castle
The first castle was of motte and bailey type, and consisted of an oval defensive rampart and ditch. On top of the earth rampart there would have been a timber palisade. The area within the rampart is known as the bailey. This would have contained a well and numerous timber structures including a hall, the forerunner on the current Great Hall, a church, an earlier version of the present Church of St. Mary de Castro, an armoury, a stables, and a kitchen. The master of the castle would have dispensed justice from the hall, where he and his followers would have ate and slept.

To the south west of the bailey was the motte, a large mound of earth, surmounted by a timber tower, or keep. This was the castle's last line of defence. No trace of the timber keep survives, but the motte on which it stood still stands 9 metres (30 feet) high and 30.5 metres (95 feet) wide at the base.