The architecture of Durham Castle has been influenced not only by the events of British history, but also by the architectural tastes and fashions of the last 1000 years. Layers and layers are history are built on top of each other. With a single glance, you can travel from the 13th century to the 1930s and then back to the 18th century.
The Normans built the castle in 1072 to defend northern England from the Scots and to control the local population. It was designed to be a symbol of Norman power and authority. The castle was a typical motte and bailey castle, and had a distinctive motte (mound) and a bailey (fenced or walled area) down below. On top of the motte is the Keep, a typical Norman and Medieval feature which acted as a defensive structure.However, while the Keep may look medieval, it is not as old as you may think.
It is in fact one of the most recent additions to the castle, rebuilt in the 1840s by the architect Anthony Salvin as purpose-built student accommodation. People frequently ask to visit the Keep, as it looks it looks very impressive from the outside. Access is however restricted and, having climbed 128 steps, a visitor would be disappointed to find themselves faced with blank Victorian Walls and doors.
Durham Castle was built as an imposing Norman fortress, but it was soon transformed into a ceremonial palace and the seat of power for the Prince Bishops, who were among the most powerful and wealthy men in the country. These Bishops often left a personal mark on the Castle through displaying their coat of arms on the building. Today, visitors can see the arms of Bishop Tunstall who built the Tunstall Gallery and Tunstall Chapel, or Bishop Cosin who built the Black Stairs. Other influential, such as various Masters of University College, have also added to their own coats of arms to the fabric of the building.
The eclectic mix of architecture and building features, both externally and internally, makes Durham Castle unique. They chart the history of the building and the impact of historical events, ranging from the building of the Great Hall in the 13th century for the visit of Edward I, to the addition of armorial drainpipes, some of which are now over 450-years-old.
Photograph of Durham Castle taken from the Keep looking towards the Great Hall and the Gatehouse.
An ornate drainpipe on the Tunstall Chapel. The date 1699 can be seen as well as the coat of arms of the Bishop of Durham.
Above the entrance to the Great Hall. At the front is a crowned angel with the coat of arms of Bishop Cosin, with other coats of arms behind.