Tattershall Castle is a designer castle – practically capable of being defended but primarily intended to make a statement.
It was built by Ralph, Lord Cromwell (1403-1455) who did very well out of the post of Treasurer of England under King Henry VI. His badge of office was the tasselled purse and crossed money-bags. Tattershall was one of his five residences.
He was described by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as “a tenacious man with a great gift for administration, a tidy mind, a faith in accurate records, and an ability to steer a safe course amid the intrigues of the age of Henry VI.” He built the huge brick Great Tower within the inner bailey of an earlier castle, and established a college of clergy – the customary medieval insurance against damnation – to worship in the adjacent parish church. In his will he asked his executors to restore to their previous owners lands worth almost £5,000 “for conscience’s sake”.
The Great Tower is a series of splendid state apartments, stacked one on top of the other rather than laid out in a line. From the roof it’s possible not only to drop missiles on unwelcome visitors, but to see the towers of Lincoln Cathedral and Boston Stump.
This medieval skyscraper was characterised by the guide-book writer Dr M W Thompson as reminiscent of “the self-dramatisation so characteristic of fifteenth-century life”. The finished building would have been startling to contemporary eyes, just as its surviving remains are impressive to ours. It was designed for someone who had a clear idea of the effect he wished to create.
It’s possible that the whole tower was originally rouged with ochre. It’s not so much a masculine building as a butch one.
We owe its survival to a particularly quirky personality in early twentieth-century politics, the Viceroy, Lord Curzon (1859-1925), who went through life, poor man, encumbered with the anonymous undergraduate ditty –
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My face is pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim once a week.
This much derided, stiff, unhappy man, when he wasn’t working incredibly hard in the “Great Game” of British politics in which he rose to be Viceroy of India (1898-1905) and Foreign Secretary (1919-24), purchased the derelict site of Tattershall Castle in 1911, renovated the Great Tower, restored the moats and reinstated the original fireplaces which had been crated up ready for sale to the USA. His action provoked the passing of the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913. He bequeathed Tattershall to the National Trust, along with Bodiam Castle in Kent which he bought in 1916.
Tattershall Castle is open to the public throughout the year, but not every day: see http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-tattershallcastle for up-to-date details. The ladies of the parish serve excellent tea and cakes in the collegiate church of the Holy Trinity most days between Easter and the end of September: check at http://www.httf.org/heritage.html.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.