During the late 1940s and early 1950s the ruins of the once great Conisbrough Castle underwent a change that was to alter the way that the monument was perceived by the public.
As part of a national scheme to preserve the ancient monuments of England, the forerunner of English Heritage, then known as the Ministry of Works, began work to consolidate (make safe) the fabric of the Castle.
During the consolidation work it became necessary to demolish and re-build parts of the monument. Here, scaffolding can be seen surrounding one of the west towers of the Castle's curtain wall.
A substantial portion of the top of this tower had to be re-built in order to make it safe.
Also at this time, the whole of the monument was re-pointed with a “modern” cement mortar to protect the surviving original lime mortar and to help secure loose stones within the walls.
1950s & 1960s
Although this photograph was taken before any consolidation work had been undertaken, it clearly illustrates the condition of the monument and the need for the work carried out during this period.
Following the consolidation of the monument further work was carried out, this consisted of the removal of almost 1 metre of soil and debris from within the inner-ward of the Castle.
With the clearance of 500 years worth of built-up soil deposits, the foundations of the many buildings that where once part of the Castle became visible.
Before you raise your hands in horror regarding the loss of half a millennia of built-up soil deposits, it may be worth noting that the material was not removed from the site altogether, but was deposited in a neat mound via the gap in the curtain wall seen in the right of the photograph.
Although the consolidation work carried out during the 50s and 60s has preserved the monument for future generations, it is worth noting that some of that work has unfortunately obliterated visual evidence from the fabric of the monument.
One case in point, is the diagonal scar of a staircase which is clearly evident in the right of this photograph, this staircase would have lead to the doorway, visible as the arch shaped opening within the wall.
1960s & 1970s
The two photographs here show part of the monument that was replaced as a result of evidence found during the clearance of the inner-ward.
The original build date of this stone staircase is uncertain, but what is certain is that it was not placed there by the builders of the Castle, the foundations of the original steps in to the Keep were discovered in the 60s. By the mid-1970s these steps had been replaced by today's concrete construction, to much local disbelief at the time.
During archaeological excavations at the Castle in the 1970s, the remains of the fallen south wall and gate-house were uncovered. A number of artefacts were also discovered, amongst which were a coin dating to the reign of Henry IV, a fragment of painted floor tile c.1350-1450, a bronze finger ring and a solid gold strap-end weight in the shape of a shield bearing the de Warenne cote of arms.
These and other finds can be viewed by appointment at Doncaster Museum.
Finally, following many years of work by the Historic Buildings Commission and the Ministry of Works, Conisbrough Castle once again opened to the public as a visitor attraction.
It was soon heralded as one of the finest examples of Norman Castle architecture in the country.
Admission tickets were purchased at a newly constructed Custodian's hut in the Castle's inner-ward.
In 1985 the Historic Buildings Commission and the Ministry of Works became English Heritage. The following year, the Ivanhoe Trust was founded in order to assist in the regeneration of the Dearne Valley Communities.
In 1988 the Trust reached an agreement with English Heritage to take over much of the day-to-day operation of the monument, thereby encouraging tourism to the Dearne Valley.
In 1989, the Ivanhoe Trust began a publicity campaign designed to bring the plight of the Castle to the attention of the public.
It had long been recognised (as far back as the 1890s) that the Castle's Keep Tower desperately needed a new roof if it was to remain in its current state of preservation. The ravages of acid-rain had caused severe damage to the inside of the historic building.
Plans were soon formulated to re-fit the roof and floors, which had been absent since the 16th Century.
Also in 1989, a new Visitor Centre of a radical design, was opened amidst much controversy. The temporary building was designed to be “non-invasive” to the archaeologically sensitive land on which it is built.
The building “floats” on a raft of concrete and is held up by its steel frame. No matter what your thoughts are about this building, there is no denying that it is a very useful and well used space.
In 1992, the Ivanhoe Trust and English Heritage agreed upon a scheme to restore the roof and floors to Conisbrough's Keep.
In February 1994, the Castle was closed to visitors and construction began.
The original proposal for the work claimed that the monument would re-open by the autumn of that year, but work continued until spring of the following year.
On the 1st of April 1995, for the first time in over 450 years, the Keep of Conisbrough Castle welcomed its visitors as Hamelin Plantagenet, (the original builder of the Keep), had intended. The long awaited restoration of the roof and floor had finally arrived.
Along with the new installation, an Audio-Visual show had also been places into the Keep; visitors were guided through the tower on 45 minute tours, which were soon cut to 30 minutes due to the popularity of the “New Attraction”.
In September 2000, Conisbrough Castle moved into the “Electronic Age” with the launch of its very own website. Web-surfers all over the globe can now find out about the Castle's history, what is happening at the monument and how much it costs to visit as well as how to find us. One thing that they will not find on the site however, is a tour of the Castle, there being no substitute for the real thing.
2002 to Today
Today, Conisbrough Castle is considered to be one of the best preserved Norman castles in England, it attracts over 35,000 visitors per year, our experienced guides show over 12,000 school children around the Keep each year. The Castle is open seven days a week from 10am each day, we can open after-hours for pre-booked groups and the site is available for private functions.
Much has happened at the Castle over the last 50 years, some of it controversial most of it not, but there is one thing that most people would agree upon:- A visit to Conisbrough Castle is always a pleasant surprise.