Rockingham Castle stands high on a hill overlooking Rockingham Forest and gives clear views of the Welland Valley from an easily defensible site. The site has been used as a fortification since the Iron Age.
William the Conqueror built the first motte castle here in the 11th Century and the castle is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Although the first castle here was probably more residential than military, it was important. The Council of Rockingham was held here in 1095 to resolve the question of divided allegiance to the two rival popes.
William II replaced the original castle with a stone keep and the outer bailey was enclosed by curtain walls. Henry II took over the castle in 1156 and over the next two centuries the castle was extended and repaired. One of the most notable features of this time was the castle's twin towered gatehouse which was built by Edward I and is still an imposing site.
The castle retained its close royal allegiance for almost 600 years as it was used as a royal retreat and hunting lodge – the nearby Rockingham Forest provided plenty of game for the various kings who visited.
Edward III was the last king to visit while it was still a possession of the Crown and the castle gradually fell into disrepair. Henry VIII granted the castle to Sir Edward Watson and the Saunders Watson family still holds the castle today.
Sir Edward replaced parts of the castle with a more comfortable Tudor mansion and the new mansion became a hunting lodge for the nobility. His son, Sir Lewis Watson, was a knight and baron. During the English Civil War in the 1640s he stayed loyal to King Charles I, but Rockingham was taken by Parliamentary forces and badly damaged with its remaining walls being slighted in 1646.
The castle was given back to Sir Lewis after the war and its restoration took the rest of his life (and most of his son's too). The work was finally completed in 1669 and it came to look much as it does today. Another tower was added in 1838 and there was some other remodelling done at around this time.
During the 19th Century the castle was host to large house parties and it was a favourite haunt of Charles Dickens who was a friend of the family. The castle is said to have been the inspiration for Chesney Wold in "Bleak House".
Rockingham Castle has also appeared in film a couple of times. It was used as a set in the comedy film "Top Secret" and for the BBC period drama By the Sword Divided.
The castle today is still used as a private residence, but it is open to visitors during the summer months (June to September) on Tuesdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays. Visitors can tour the castle and go around the extensive, and exquisite, gardens. Other facilities available include a tea rooms, a gift shop, and the castle plays host to numerous cultural and social events throughout the year.
Rockingham castle can also be hired as a wedding venue and offers corporate days out and private hires. Group visits can be catered for and school and educational groups are encouraged and can be catered for with guided tours and specially-prepared information packs and workbooks.
Status: Residence / Visitor Attraction
Owner: Saunders Watson family
Tel: +44 (0)1536 770 240
Opening Times: June to September Tuesdays, Sundays & Bank Holiday Mondays 12pm - 5pm
Entrance to Rockingham Castle
Rockingham Castle viewed from the Welland Valley