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Sandal Magna 19th C.
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Battle of Wakefield
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In Norman times, Wakefield was held by the Click to enlarge de Warennes, the Earls of Surrey. However, by 1157, they had moved to a stronger position overlooking the River Calder, two miles (about 3km) further south at Sandal Magna. The original wooden motte and bailey at Sandal Castle were replaced by a major stone castle during three generations of the de Warennes from the late 12th century onwards. Construction work continued for the next hundred years.

Now only a few stones and earthworks remain, but, in past times the castle was an impressive site - although much smaller than the castle at Pontefract. The expansion and rebuilding of the castle in stone were carried out by John, the 7th Earl de Warenne from 1240.

His son, also named John, had a disagreement with the Earl of Lancaster which led to Lancaster laying siege to Sandal Castle in 1317 and razing it to the ground. Lancaster was executed in 1322 following his capture at Boroughbridge during the revolt of the barons. One of his judges being John de Warenne to whom the Crown returned the site of Sandal Castle. De Warenne immediately set about building a new castle, this time in stone, and it is the ruins of this which remain visible today. Following de Warenne's death in 1361 the castle reverted to the Crown and into the hands of Edward III.

In the reign of Edward III, Edward Baliol resided here, while an army was raised to establish him on the throne of Scotland.

Edward III granted the Manor of Wakefield, including the castle, to his fourth son Edmund of Langley, Earl of Cambridge. Later, when Edward III's grandson was king (Richard II), Edmund played an important role in the affairs of state. For his services, Richard II created him Duke of York in 1385. Edmund, Duke of York died in 1402 but the Manor of Wakefield remained in the House of York and Richard Plantagenet inherited it in 1415.

The Battle of Wakefield in 1460 took place on Wakefield Green between the castle and Wakefield Bridge. The castle was not damaged in the battle.

No major work seems to have taken place between 1361 until 1484/5 when Richard III ordered work to commence to make the castle suitable for use as a royal base in the North. After the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field in 1485, its importance began to diminish and it ceased to be a royal residence.

Until the reign of Henry VIII it was still an administrative centre but this ceased when the administration of the Manor of Wakefield was moved to Moot Hall.

Click to enlargeThe castle was leased to a number of tenants until it ended up with Sir JohnSavile in 1586. In 1619 the lease passed to Sir Thomas Savile. In 1636, the Crown sold the castle to Frances Nevile. From 1600 to 1645 the castle was seemingly unoccupied - not even by a resident constable.

By 1564 the castle was already in a poor state of repair and was well into decline before the Civil War once again brought it into service.

This drawing was made circa 1560. [1]

The last siege it sustained was in the Civil War when Colonel Bonivant held it for King Charles I, and surrendered to the Parliamentary forces on 1st October, 1645, after a few months of occupancy. In keeping with the hard line adopted by Parliament, it was dismantled in 1646 and has remained a sad ruin to this day.

In 1765 the castle passed from the Nevile family to the Pilkingtons - a local family - when Sir Lionel Pilkington bought the Chevet Estate. The estate included a chapel in the Church of St Helen in Sandal Magna.

The Pilkingtons became involved with the Watertons in the nineteenth century when, together, they fought a legal battle against the pollution caused by Simpson's Soap House in Walton.

In 1912, the castle was leased to Wakefield Corporation and was subsequently bought by the City in 1954.

Click to enlargeThe overgrown ruins were excavated between 1964 and 1973 to Visitor centre signreveal that, although still a ruin, there was a lot hidden underneath the rubble and soil.

In April 2001, it was announced that a visitor centre would be built and improvements to the castle site made. The castle and the Battle of Wakefield could become a significant tourist attraction for Wakefield. Click here to read the newspaper cutting. To find out more about Sandal Castle, visit the official website of the City of Wakefield (search for 'sandal').

1. Extract from Sandal Castle, National Archives, MPC 97 (ex. DL 31/116).
2. Other sources: Sandal Magna, a Yorkshire Parish and its People, Mary Ingham and Barbara Andrassy, 1978.
The Battle of Wakefield 30th December 1460, P.A. Haigh, Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1996.
City of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, Education, Libraries and Museums Department.

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