Never breached – the fortress has stood the test of time – yet wear and tear has taken its toll and in the late 1920s a major shoring-up operation was required to the west side to underpin and secure the mud and sandstone foundations.
|The Castle entrance to the Great Hall,|
buttery and Medieval kitchens; from here (to the right)
is found the stone tower for the black staircase
and gallery passages to the rest of the Castle
Founded soon after the Norman Conquest, the Castle has been rebuilt, extended, adapted to changing circumstances and uses over a period of 900 years ...
... from being a key northern fortress, transforming itself into a comfortable palace for the Bishops of Durham; and since 1837 as the founding college for the University ...
|The Castle, containing the Norman Gallery leading to|
Tunstal's Chapel, and on the lower floor to the back -
the incredible Norman Chapel
... where students and dons live and study, to the more prosaic bed and breakfast accommodation in such an imaginative setting ... one I think I may take up for my next visit.
The buttery and kitchens have been in use for over 900 years ... adapted over the centuries and today, in term time, the meals for 300 members of the college are prepared and served from here.
|see paragraph in text of blogpost|
This picture shows the kitchen as it probably looked in the late 19th century ... the two great fireplaces seen here, and another at the opposite end, together with the roof, brickwork and windows have remained unchanged since Bishop Fox refurbished a twelfth-century building already serving as a kitchen, in the late 1400s – very early 1500s into the medieval kitchens we can still see today.
|The Great Hall - full of international|
students, who were treated to
a real English Christmas dinner
c/o the staff - they didn't travel
home as it was too far.
c/o The Journal
The Great Hall is now the dining-hall of University College – a huge and wonderful space ... which was refurbished in 2011 affording the opportunity to add additional layers of pictures to the walls, mirroring the style favoured in the early years of the University ...
... the portraits include a series of late 17th C Spanish representations of Saints ... that were apparently ‘lost’ or ‘stolen’ in the early 1800s ... they are not valuable ... but the gold leaf on one of the frames is of more value!
|The black staircase - my |
photo from guide book
The window in the great hall has historical value ... and was recently cleaned over six weeks, at a cost of £10,000.
The Black Staircase built in the early 1660s, is 57 feet high, and except for the intricately carved side panels, which are of soft wood (painted black to match), is made of oak.
It was the first example of a flying staircase ... and now sits a little like the leaning tower of Pisa ... but has been propped up permanently with plain oak cylindrical columns ... it (understandably) does groan ... you can see the crack in the soft wood panels, the pineapple stand in the distance, while the plain column can be seen seated onto one of the pineapple stands - where the pineapple was removed.
|Norman stone work in the long gallery|
c/o Durham World Heritage site
Bishop John Cosin responsible for building the Black Staircase and who contributed significantly to the wider architecture of Durham, including his library, encouraged a style of woodwork unique to the area ... a sumptuous fusion of gothic and contemporary Jacobean forms.
The decorative elements include ... pineapples, which only the super wealthy could afford in the 1660s ... so the artist mocked up the design as he had almost certainly had never seen one in real life ... then there are dragons, acanthus leaves, and grapes ... the dreams and desires of the nobles.
|The original Norman stone-|
Le Puiset's entrance
The Long Gallery is a mix of 900 year old stone work, reckoned to be one of the finest examples of late Norman stone carving in England ... it has recently been restored ... but is in extremely good condition as it was included within a new Medieval outer wall and so was protected from weathering.
The chevron stones would have been brightly painted giving the archways rich overtones against the grey-tan-brown sandstone of the defensive walls.
Later great Flemish tapestries were hung in the galleries ... these today, together with the maps, are carefully stored away, while the paintings are better left in situ ... this decoration would have served a few purposes – reflecting the medieval art of the day, giving a barrier against the cold stone walls, and reminding all visitors of the Bishopric’s wealth and standing in society.
|Tunstal's Chapel where a revival of|
medieval and renaissance music was being performed
The Long Gallery was built to provide a covered entrance to Tunstal’s Chapel, erected in the 1540s ... this small intimate chapel has been sympathetically altered over the centuries in keeping with its original intent.
There is another chapel ... the Norman Chapel ... which is one of the oldest parts of the Castle, dating from about 1080 ... and over the year has been used as a dump!, crypt and storage ...
... the early-Norman sculpture on the capitals of its six columns is a privilege to see ... some depict foliage, animals, grotesque masks ... including a Mermaid – the earliest known image of this female form ...
The chapel is constructed within the original huge outer wall ... but from inside ‘the defence’ is less secure – and was possibly incorporated in case of need for an escape route ...
|My photo from the guide|
book - showing the capitals
on top of the columns
Remembrance Services are held in this tiny chapel for members and family of the Durham Light Infantry ... the regiment has a revered history ... having served with great valour particularly during the Crimea and the Great War (1914-1918) ... the DLI’s main chapel is now within Durham Cathedral.
From this Chapel there is an entrance to the Keep, which was restored by the architect Anthony Salvin (1799 – 1881), renowned for his knowledge and restoration of medieval buildings. The Keep now retains its outer shell, while the interior has been completely remodelled to accommodate 21st century residential living.
|The Keep - looking from the Palace Green, with|
a 20th red telephone box ... probably also now
historically out of date!
There were parts of the Castle, as the Keep, that we were unable to see – but which the guide book alerts us to ... all similarly and faithfully restored as can best be done in the 21st century.
So this Castle that has ‘morphed’ with the times from a Norman defence, a military fortress, to a lavish palace, as Bishops were wont to call their residences ... before the Bishops moved out to Bishop Auckland, originally their hunting lodge in the magnificent forests and countryside about 12 miles from Durham.
|The entrance to the castle from|
the Green - the Cathedral entrance
is directly across the Palace Green
Once the military significance of the Castle finally vanished in the 17th century ... the ensuing Bishops seemed determined to make the castle a worthy reflection of the high status and enormous wealth of their office.
Repairs were made, porches and buttresses were added, new extensions extended, interiors remodelled, state rooms added, and alterations to the external walls and finally a reconstruction to the Castle Gatehouse ...
By then the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, Victoria came to the throne ... societal norms and expectations were rapidly changing ... the University was established in the 1830s ...
|Looking south from the Keep across Palace|
Green to the Cathedral - the alms houses
are on the left
... the early ambitious plans were to build on the Palace Green ... but in the end thankfully the Green is still a green open space between the Castle and the Cathedral ... surrounded by medieval buildings, but not built upon.
Further refurbishment has occurred in the last 180 years to accommodate the transition from Castle to University ... the University has expanded way beyond the Castle – but this fortress remains the focal point of University life in Durham ...
... and holds some student and teaching staff quarters, and in addition it provides the dining hall, common rooms, library and administrative offices ... while offering a splendid setting for many of the social and official functions of the University.
It is still adapting ... hosting wedding receptions, visiting conferences, Royal visits, as well as those more humbly wanting bed and breakfast as paying guests ...
... however - don’t forget to close and latch the gate of this multi-functional building behind you .... is it too heavy for you??!!
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