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Duffield Castle
Lecture by William Bland
at the Temperance Hall, Wirksworth, on Tuesday January 11th 1887



Webmaster's Note: This introductory page, at least as far as the Celts are concerned, is based on what were thought to be correct beliefs at the time. For a modern overview, see Philips Historical Atlas Of The Celts.

The earliest inhabitants of this country of which we have any authentic historical information were of the Celtic race, - a people who in pre-historic ages left the table lands of Asia and moved westward along the northern shores of Germany, for homes unknown. These people are described as gigantic in stature, with blue eyes, a long shaggy mane of hair, mostly golden, and a flowing moustache. Their bodies were stained with a blue dye, and they were roughly clad in deer-skin or cow-hide. Their weapons of war were javelins, long sword, and darts, and their shields were made of wood, covered with tough leather. They used stone hatchets and knives, and spears tipped with flint. They pushed their way inland by ascending in their coracles or wicker boats, or wading along swamps and sedges, or cutting a way through dense woods and jungles. They were passionately fond of the chase, they cast bronze tools and weapons, made pottery, and carried on some kind of trade with each other, and with neighbouring countries. Where there was a suitable place for a settlement, such as the margin of a river, a rounded knoll, or a mountain pass, they erected huts of mud and clay, or branches of trees, the approach to which was defended by stout pointed oak stakes and a ditch. By the aid of the pick and shovel of the explorer, many remains of this remarkable people have been brought to light in the form of stone hammers, hatchets, and knives, but especially of pottery. In Darley Dale, Monsal Dale and elsewhere in this county, there have been found sepulchral urns, drinking cups, food vessels, and immolation urns - all of Celtic manufacture. These pots were wrought by hand without the assistance of the wheel, and are mostly thick, clumsy, and imperfectly burnt; it is likely while the pots were being baked, the bones of the dead were being burnt, and then put into the hot urn. Many drawings of vessels of this age are given by Mr Jewitt in his work on British pottery.(a). The discovery of fragments of pottery of this character, or of stone implements or tools, in a meadow, on a hillside, or elsewhere in any locality, may reveal something of the early unwritten history of the neighbourhood, and in this fact lies their achieved interest and value.


During the occupation of this country by the Romans, which extended over a period of 400 years, the great road from St. David's Head to the mouth of the Tyne was made. It is known as Rykneld-street. It entered this county on the west side, near Egginton, and went on to Little Chester, one mile from Derby, and thence by Breadsall Priory, Horsley Woodhouse, Denby, Morley Park, Pentrich, to Chesterfield, and on to the North. This great road passed within a distance of two miles from the east bank of the Derwent, and there is good evidence that the lead mines at Wirksworth were worked in Roman times.(b).Probably lead was one of the first metals discovered in central Britain, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that some of the limestone used by the Celts in encircling the funeral fires, or the baking of pottery, would send out a stream of molten lead, which would arrest attention. The lead obtained at Wirksworth would be packed up in sacks or baskets and put on the backs of mules, and the convoys on approaching Duffield would, it is supposed, pass along a bye-road west of Belper Lane End, then by the Chevin and Moscow to the meadows at the foot of Castle Hill, near which there was a Ford across the Derwent, then on by an ancient road to Holbrook, Coxbench, and the great Roman Rykneld-street. The passage of the ford would necessarily be protected by the Romans; and it was not unreasonable to expect on a careful examination of the banks of the Derwent at this crossing some indications of Roman occupation would be found in the form of fragments of such common articles of pottery in use in Roman times as drinking vessels, or cooking utensils, which had been buried in the sand and in mud deposited by the river in time of floods. The Romans, during the occupation of this country, established pot works in many districts; the three principal places were (a) The Upland Marshes in Kent; here immense quantities of blue, or greyish black, and good deal of dark drab refuse pottery are found; (b) Castor Ware Potteries, on the river Nen, in Northamptonshire; this pottery is usually blue or slate coloured; (c) Salopian Potteries, on the Severn in Shropshire; these pots are commonly of two kinds - (1) a white made of Broseley clay; (2) a red made of a finer clay, found also in the Severn Valley (a). Fragments of pottery of all these different descriptions have been found on the Castle Hill, as well as two specimens of foreign Samian ware, and another piece that probably came from Lyons. A few fragments of Roman pottery and tiles were also found on the bank of the Derwent, close to where the ford is supposed to have been.


Later on, when the Romans had withdrawn their legions from this country, and the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes from the shores of the Baltic and the North Sea had taken their places, and driven the Celtic races into the mountain and forest regions, these German invaders - better known as Anglo-Saxons - became more settled and civilised, and began to make definite earthworks for defensive purposes. Their ideas were not like those of the Romans - of an imperial character; they laid out no great lines of road, and, at first, took no precaution for the general defence or administration of the country. Self-government prevailed. Each family held, and gave a name to, its special allotment. This is the key to the plan of the later and great majority of earthworks. They were not intended for the defence of a tribe or a territory, nor for the accommodation of fighting men, but for the defence of a private estate - for the accommodation of the lord and his household - for the protection of his tenants generally, should they be attacked, and for the safe housing of the flocks and herds. The Anglo-Saxon Thanes usually utilised Roman earthworks or defences. When they took up their abode within a Roman camp or station they turned the Roman works, whether of earth or masonry, to account - altering their banks and ditches and moats to suit their new arrangements.(c).


The group of works of which the mound, with a moat as the base, was the principal feature, constituted a "Burh." The Burh was always fortified, and each inhabitant of the surrounding district was bound to aid in the repair of the works, almost always of timber - a material of which the Saxons, like other German nations, appear usually to have preferred for building purposes to stone. "Burh" are mentioned in the early laws of England, and by the time of the 11th. century, the significance of the word had become extended, so that it was frequently applied not only to a moated mound, but also to the town that had grown up around it.(c). Later on, the term "Burh" fell into disuse, and that of "Borough" took its place. In many parts of this country, when important excavations have been made, "finds" of Anglo-Saxon date have been numerous, especially with respect to pottery. Mr Jewitt says, the Anglo-Saxons but little practiced art in making pottery, except for sepulchral urns, and these are found in grave-mounds and cemeteries, and, as might be expected, made of the clays found in the neighbourhood. This is proved incontestably in the case of the those found at Kings Newton. The marked feature of the pottery of this period is the frequency of small punctured or impressed ornaments, which are produced along with lines and bands. These ornaments were evidently usually made by the end of a stick, cut and notched across in different directions, so as to form crosses and other patterns.(a). The discovery in hill sides and meadows of fragments of pottery of this description may be of assistance in recovering the earlier history of a place or neighbourhood. Relics of this character have been found in the excavations on Castle Hill.(i).


In the 11th century, when William the Norman invaded this country, and completed its conquest, he found that the English lord had attached to his estate an earthwork, upon which he and his ancestors had lived for centuries, which was identified with the estate or district, and regarded with respect and confidence by the surrounding tenantry. Mr. Geo. T. Clark remarks, it is surprising to find how completely the leading positions in this country had been thus occupied. The upland passes, the margins of river, the summits of detached hills, the spots rendered strong by cliffs, or ravines, or extended or impractical marshes. Each had its aula, where a succession of lords had identified themselves with the people, afforded them their protection, and received in return their support. For the old-fashioned residence - half mansion, half fortress, formed of earth and timber, or at best of a rude kind of masonry, was strong when held by brave men in sufficient numbers, for a short time; but under ordinary circumstances, it could easily be attacked and set on fire. These fortified residences were out of fashion with the Normans, and fell into disuse. The Normans seem to have adopted a new and permanent description of fortress. Discarding the old-fashioned structure of timber, they erected walls and towers in masonry. Of these, the best known because the most durable, were those of rectangular form. William's first object, having conquered, was to secure his conquest, and his first care, on obtaining each division of the kingdom - or each capital, city, or town - was to regard it from a military point of view, and to order the construction of such strong places as might be necessary for the holding of it. Each baron, or great tenant in chief, was permitted, and, indeed, at first expected (and was no doubt sufficiently ready) to construct castles for the security of the lands allotted to him, which, in the majority of instances, means to re-model the defences of his English predecessors. The building of a Norman castle required both time and money. The architects, overlookers, and probably the masons, had to be imported from Normandy and in some cases the stone for the exterior. Castles of stone erected by the Normans were not only strong when well garrisoned, but their passive strength was great, and when the bridge across the moat was lifted up and the gates closed, it was at all times safe against attack by anyone unprovided with engines. Fire, the ordinary and ready weapon of the populace, against such buildings of these - 11 to 15 feet thick and more - could do nothing.


One of the barons who rendered William the Conqueror most essential service in invading and conquering this country, and, afterwards, as one of the Commissioners appointed to make the great survey described in Domesday book, was named Henry de Ferrars. To him, William granted 114 lordships in Derbyshire, besides estates elsewhere. These manors lay principally between Heage and Shottle on the North, and Tutbury on the South. Henry de Ferrars, having become proprietor of this extensive territory, which had previous to the conquest belonged to many independent Saxon lords, whose names are given in Domesday book, built a castle at Tutbury, and made it his chief seat; but he required a residence in the North of his domains for the maintenance of his power, and the protection of his lands and tenantry. Here roamed deer, both red and roe, in great abundance; and here too, no doubt, would the wolf be seeking its prey, for it was not exterminated in the Peak Forest till the time of Edward II. Here were many square miles of unreclaimed forest and woodland. Here flourished the oak, the holly, the alder, the hazel, the maple, the birch, the crab, the blackthorn, the whitethorn, the bramble, in numbers too great to be estimated.(d). Here were extensive wastes and swamps, especially on the banks of the Derwent; and along here, strings of mules, with packs of lead, on their way from Wirksworth southwards, tracked their road over hill and dale. On a rounded knoll of Yoredale rock, 70 feet above the river Derwent, and overlooking the Makeney ford, which mound the Celt, the Roman, the Anglo-Saxon, and perhaps the Dane, had each in his turn occupied and fortified, Henry de Ferrars erected a castle of extraordinary size and enormous strength, second to none north of London in importance.

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First published 1887, Website copyright 2001 Jed Bland. 27.09.01