When Normans came to the valley of the Don they swarmed over the countryside. The district around Doncaster was soon a populous Norman settlement. Tickhill is only seven miles away, and a castle was soon raised there,for the lands were given by William the Conqueror to one of his barons named Roger de Busli. And so Tickhill, now a very small market town with a long, straggling main street, comes into our picture as a Norman stronghold.
Nobody today would think that Tickhill had a crowded history. A visitor might pass through it and never even see its castle. Unlike Conisborough, which stands upon a bold and commanding hill seen from every approach, the site of Tickhill Castle is comaratively low and, as it is surrounded by walls and is now in the private grounds of a family residence, it may quite easily be overlooked.
This would be a pity. For not only is the castle of deep interest, but it has something that even Conisborough lacks – it is surrounded, or at least partly surrounded, by a moat or ditch which still contains water. The fact that this moat may be seen by a visitor standing in the street and looking over the boundary wall adds to the novelty of the situation. The idea of a motorist pulling up in little Tickhill and looking over a wall and beholding a moat which, in an instant, carries the mind back to the feudal days of long ago, touches the imagination – linking up the anncient and the modern.
Tickhill Castle was built by Roger de Busli in the first few years of the Norman occupation. It was altered and improved in later years. Henry I added the gatehouse, and Henry II built the keep. The gatehouse still exists, though the mound on which the keep was reared is now without what must have been an imposing structure. There are no remains which are at all to be compared with the castle at Conisborough.
Its history, however, is important. In the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), its owner rebelled and lost his possessions, and Tickhill became the property of the Crown. King Henry II and his Queen Eleanor stayed there, and Eleanor founded a chapel within it, giving it the name of St. Nicholas.
On three occasions the castle was besieged. King John grasped it while Richard I was a prisoner on the continent, and when Richard returned he sent a force to re-take it. In Ivanhoe there is a graphic story of how Richard stormed Torquilstone Castle, and it is not at all unlikely that it was Tickhill Castle which Scott had in his mind at the time.
It was in the reign of Edward II that the castle stood its second siege. The Earl of Lancaster attacked it, but failed to take it; and after he had been defeated at Boroughbridge, he was executed at Pontefract. So that what with Tickhill, Boroughbridge and Pontefract, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, did very badly in Yorkshire. Curiously enough, as though by a turn of the wheel of fortune, the castle that had been so disastrous to one Lancaster, came into the possession of another. John O’Gaunt, “time-honour’d Lancaster”, as Shakespeare calls him, assumed the ownership of Tickhill at the time of Edward III, and it thus became part of the vast estates of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The last siege of all was during the Civil War. Tickhill, naturally, was on the side of the King. When the Roundheads were sweeping all before them in the North, they rode into Tickhill, and the garrison speedily surrendered the castle. The Earl of Manchaster was in command of the Roundheads, or Parliamentarians, and he had stayed in Doncaster before setting out for Tickhill. It is always said that Oliver Cromwell himself was with this section of the Parliamentary army; and if it be so, then the great Oliver had an association with both Doncaster and Tickhill.
The castle was, in the time this piece was written (c. 1920) under the ownership of the Earl of Scarbrough, and his Lordship was as careful to see that no harm befell its relics as he was of the more beautiful Roche Abbey, only a few miles further on.
There is another memorial at Tickhill which links this little town with the past. In the high street there are the remains of a quaint pillared and porticoed building of timber and plaster, which was built as far back as 1470. It is known as St. Leonard’s Hospital. It was founded even earlier than the date given, for there is a document of the time of Henry III (1236), which proves that it was then a hospital for lepers. If any part of the original building does remain, that it should have survived all these centuries, and the more massive castle have disappeared with the exception of its gatehouse, is one of the curious facts of history.
Tickhill people are very proud of their little town. There castle links them with Norman baron and Crusader king; their hospital of St. Leonard carries the mind back to the days when the monks were not only an order of religious men, but were the healers of the sick; and its church, one of the most magnificent in South Yorkshire, has a noble tower which, if the reading of its armorial sculpture be correct, was built between 1373 and 1399 by no less a personage than that same John O’Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who was the Lord of the castle and its manor.
Today there are no signs of the bustle and animation that must have prevailed in those early times. Tickhill is quiet, calm and reserved. It stands in the midst of a beautiful park-like country, with Roche Abbey not far away on one side and the graceful Abbey Church of Blythe on the other. The collieries are being opened out; and a mile or two away is Harworth where a German syndicate was sinking a coal-pit when the Great War broke out in 1914. The men were promptly interned, and the sinking of the pit was stopped; and, later, the site and the workings were acquired by the owners of the Bentley Pit at Doncaster.
So just as Tickhill streets will never again witness the colour and pomp of mediaeval life, so will they never agin resound with the foreign talk of German pit-sinkers sent here on behalf of a company who coolly intended to take our coal from beneath our feet.
Tickhill castle features heavily in the story of Robin Hood. There is a fantastic site created after years of research that tells the story in more detail. Click Here to visit.
For further reading on this subject and other Tickhill related historical items please visit Tickhill and Distict local history society via our ‘Links’ page.