It’s going to be a busy week, so let’s pretend that we’re tucked up safe in a castle on a hilltop. This is Conisbrough Castle, built in stone in the twelfth century by the de Warennes, who liked to show off. The circular keep, with its six buttresses, is unique (with the exception of the de Warenne’s matching castle Montemer in France). You might have noticed that spiral staircases usually spiral clockwise as you go up? This is to make it difficult for invaders to wield their swords in their right hands as they ascend but Conisborough’s bluff keep boasts a staircase that confidently twists anti-clockwise as you climb. And it is a boast, of course: no army will get this far. There are a couple of sly little defences against subtler attacks in the main hall of the Keep. The stone sink immediately next to the entrance door seems oddly positioned, but apparently visitors would be required to wash hands and head to prove they had no concealed weapons. And one of the steps up to the sleeping chambers is shallower than the others – thought to be a ‘trick step’, so that a stealthy foot would be tripped up. There are number of interesting details in the chapel on the upper floor – it has two neat little portholes, positioned so that the morning and evening sun shines into the niches on the left and right niches respectively. The concentric dogtooth carving over the archway is beautiful (there was a vogue for chevrons in Norman churches, making them all very on-trend at the moment). And note the capitals of the pillars below – our guide told us that Norman churches often have matched opposite carvings – one standing proud, the other in relief.
And there you have it – Conisborough Castle, in an ascending anti-clockwise spiral from enormous buttresses to tiny dogstooth detail. p.s. I just found this fascinating paper about anti-clockwise spiral staircases, if you’re interested.
A note to the faithful reader. When I first started this blog, I vowed that I would never apologise for leaving a gap between posts. It seems conceited. But it has been a while… I’ve been thinking that it might be time to mix the history in with the present a bit more – after all, it probably takes me longer to research the de Warennes (let alone wait for film photographs to be developed) than it would to take a picture of a top I bought from a charity shop the other day. What do you think – if you like, let me know what you like to read. ––sea and sieve x