When is a castle not a castle? For many visitors, Nottingham Castle comes as a surprise, because it doesn’t have battlements or a drawbridge. It did, of course, at one time, but the medieval fortress that guarded the crossing of the River Trent that is now a famous cricket ground disappeared after the English Civil War.
Nottingham was the place where King Charles I first raised his standard, signalling his military opposition to the forces of Parliament and triggering the conflict that led to his execution. The old castle was “slighted”, that is, rendered indefensible, by order of Parliament in 1651, and its ruins and the park around it were bought after the Restoration by William Cavendish, a prominent Royalist and the first Duke of Newcastle.
He swept away the remains of the old castle and – well into his eighties – began a completely new, extremely modern classical palace that was completed, three years after his death, in 1679. It cost £14,000. (Curiously, the 8th Earl of Rutland, a Roundhead, had built a similarly splendid baroque palace in place of his slighted castle, beginning in 1654. All that remains of this is a model, now displayed in the nineteenth-century replacement Belvoir Castle [http://www.belvoircastle.com].)
The seventeenth-century Nottingham Castle was little used in the decades that followed, and was virtually empty when in 1832 it was set alight by Reform Bill rioters. Its then owner, the 4th Duke of Newcastle, was anything but popular: in an election in 1830 he had evicted tenants who wouldn’t vote as he wished, saying, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I please with my own?”
Eventually, in 1876, Nottingham Corporation bought the Castle from the 6th Duke and commissioned the local architect Thomas Chambers Hine to rebuild the interior as the first municipal museum of art in England.
Now it is the Castle Museum [http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1036], centrepiece of a cultural quarter that also includes a fascinating series of caves, including Mortimer’s Hole, and, at the foot of the cliff on which the Castle stands, the Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard.
It may not look like a castle, but you can spend an entire day in and under it without getting bored.