[From Castle Rushen, Armitage Rigby, 1927]
ERY few Castles can compare with that of Rushen in the matter of repair. The grey walls of hard limestone, cemented with shell mortar even harder than the stones it holds together, seem to have been built to defy time. The storms of six centuries have left practically no mark on wall or tower. Such injuries as have occurred are chiefly the result of man's handiwork, in the shape of alterations to fit the building to the requirements of various ages and purposes. The alterations so far as they represent attempts to adjust the building to the march of civilisation are not particularly regrettable, as they are in themselves of the greatest interest; but that this noble building should for a period have been a common gaol and lunatic asylum is to be deeply regretted, not only for the indignity thrust upon it, but for the ruthless destruction and alteration of detail necessary to fit so very unsuitable a building to such purposes. Even this act of vandalism, however, has its compensations, for, when it was contemplated, the building had become out of date and useless; it had also arrived at a period (1815) when such obsolete relics were despised, and, had not a use been found for it, there is little doubt that it would have shared the fate of many a fine castle in England* and have been pulled down piecemeal as local builders required stone for the erection of modern villas. We are told that at that time it was in a ruinous condition, and without roof.
Though much hidden on the west side by modern buildings, the castle is a prominent object, not only from the square and quays of the town, but also from the surrounding country which is generally flat. One of the finest views is from the upper harbour bridge. From this point the Castle still seems to dominate the town, though not to the same extent as it would in ancient days, when Castletown probably consisted merely of thatched cottages, with perhaps a few two-storied houses for the government officials. This view must have been particularly fine before the South Quay was made, which now buries about 20 feet of the gate house, and when the tide washed the very walls.
The quay was built about 1820, when a considerable sum was spent in generally improving the harbour. Before that time the entrance to Castletown from the north was by a ford across the river. A portion of the old stepped road from the ford to the town may still be seen near the smithy [fpc this is Water Street - the smithy being the old wash house]; and under a passage between the smithy and the round tower are buried steps which once led down from a garden to the water's edge.
The entrance faces the sea, and was practically on the seashore. It would perhaps be too much to say that this fact proclaims the object for which the castle was built, but there seems little doubt that the purpose it was meant to serve was that of a safe landing place for the lord of the island. It is difficult to suppose that a castle in such a position could have been built for the defence of the island. A coast line of over 100 miles would require many well garrisoned castles for such a purpose. In the long period during which both Castle Rushen and Peel Castle were in existence and well garrisoned, the island was raided and overrun by various invaders and filibusters, and on most of these occasions the Castles were mere onlookers, apparently unable to do more than look after themselves. And it is difficult to imagine what more they could do. The garrison would never be strong enough to take the offensive, and their first duty was to defend the Castle.
But in spite of their inability to prevent invasion, it is not difficult to imagine a very real use for such buildings. If we remember that, after the time of Magnus, the lord was generally an absentee, it seems clear that his chief requirement in the island was a safe landing place and arsenal. He must have a spot where he could gain a footing in case the island had been seized in his absence by an enemy, or if his subjects had revolted.
Given one safe and loyal spot, stored with arms and munitions of war, and covering a landing place, he could disembark there with his forces, and, from a safe and well-equipped base, organise expeditions against the enemy. There may have been reasons in addition to the above for placing the entrance on the shore. One very good reason would be that the ravine which partly surrounded the Castle ended at this point, leaving a causeway of boulder clay connecting the Castle mound and the shore; another, that the entrance so placed was furthest from the most likely point of attack, and was at the same time convenient for taking in provisions, or for escape by sea; indeed, taking everything into consideration, it was undoubtedly the best position that could have been chosen.
The entrance is through an unroofed passage with high side walls, a barbican, not unlike those so common in the 13th and 14th centuries. No part of the Castle has a more venerable appearance than this barbican, and yet it is actually one of the latest additions. It has had two periods of construction, and can be best understood by first considering the approach as it appeared before this building was added.
As mentioned above, the ravine surrounding the castle ended at the point chosen for the entrance, leaving a neck of high land, between the ravine and the river, connecting the castle mound with the mainland. This neck or causeway was used as the road of approach; but, lest it should prove too easy for an enemy, the last ten feet was cut away. The hiatus thus formed was probably spanned by an easily destroyed plank bridge, which landed one on the scarp of the Castle mound. From here the road turned to the right along the outside of the main curtain wall, its outer side being supported by a retaining wall rising from the scarp. As far as the barrier, this wall rose only about 4 feet above the roadway and was embrasured, thus forming the first line of defence. From the barrier to the gatehouse the retaining wall was higher and thicker, having on its top a parapet walk.
Plate C shews the entrance as described above, and plate F gives the plan.
At a later period, probably after the introduction of cannon as siege implements, it was considered that this arrangement left the entrance too much exposed. Though there is no record of the alteration, we may reasonably suppose that it took place in the fifteenth century, probably during the Wars of the Roses, when there was a certain amount of activity in the way of adding to the defences of castles. McGibbon and Ross* say: " For some time efforts were made to defend castles against artillery by the erection of outworks, like barbicans, in front of the gates." This suggests that in the early days of cannon, the owners of castles feared that artillery would be used to clear the entrance of defenders, rather than to breach the walls. Judging from the sort of wall they considered sufficient to stop a cannon ball, we may presume that it was built in the early days of those noisy implements.
The barbican was formed by enclosing the plank bridge and part of the approach road or causeway between high parallel walls ending in an arched doorway between a pair of small drum towers, of which, that nearer the river was solid, while the other was hollow (see plan G). The side walls and the hollow tower were freely pierced for hand gun fire. The plank bridge was still retained, and the side walls were carried over the cutaway part of the causeway on arches. The whole of the work strikes one as being amateurish, and suggests that the garrison may have been turned on to it in a moment of panic.
At a later period, the barbican walls and towers were raised several feet. This would seem to have taken place when the ravine was filled up to form the outer gun ward which was enclosed by a glacis to protect the castle walls from cannon fire. By this time cannon had evidently shewn that they could be made sufficiently powerful to breach a thick wall. Cardinal Wolsey, who was guardian to the infant 3rd Earl of Derby, is traditionally credited with the construction of the glacis, and the history of cannon development seems to support the tradition. There is no detail from which it might be architecturally dated, but there is little doubt that it belongs to the first half of the 16th century.
The entrance passage is somewhat quaintly described in " Britannica Curiosa" published in 1776, where we read that " Caftle Rufhen is considered as the chief fortrefs in the Island. . . . Juft at the entrance of the Caftle is a great stone chair for the governor and two leffer for the deemsters. When you are past this little court you enter into a long winding paffage between two high walls (not much unlike what is described of Roiamonds labyrinth at Woodftock). In cafe of an attack ten thousand men might be deftroyed by a very few in attempting to enter. The extremity of it brings you to a room where the keys fit, they are twenty-four in number, they call them the parliament, but in my opinion they refemble more our juries in England, becaufe the bufinefs of their meeting is to adjust differences between the common people." [fpc the 'f's are actually long 's's and should be transliterated as 's' !]
The stone chairs referred to no longer exist. Various writers agree that there were such seats, but assign to them different positions. One would expect to find them within the walls, somewhere in the main ward where litigants would be more under control of the garrison. In these degenerate days the plaintiff usually contents himself with glaring at the defendant from the other side of the Court; but fighting and bloodshed commonly occurred in the law courts of earlier times, and it was not unusual for even the judges to experience rough handling.
The somewhat offensive remarks quoted above in reference to the Keys may be passed over without comment except to notice that their sittings seem to have been held in the gate house (probably the upper room) and not in the inner ward as commonly supposed.
Returning to our description of the passage, a break or set-back in the wall on the right marks the point up to which the wall was originally lower. Also here was the inner barrier, probably a low wall crossing the passage except for a narrow opening wide enough for a horse to enter with care and capable of being rapidly barred. The foundations of this wall, thirty inches thick, remain below the ground.
It will be noticed that a barrier at this point would be a serious obstruction. In front and on both sides, the battlements, capable of holding a large number of archers and slingers, menaced the enemy while held in check by the obstacle, and in rear was a further length of the curtain wall battlements and the roof and loops of the mural tower, from which a deathdealing shower might be expected.
An old undated plan of the Castle, found among the papers of the Rolls Office, marks this spot as " old barrier," and such it undoubtedly was but it should be noted that the main barrier was usually an advanced work altogether without the Castle. The following extract from Froissart (Johnes edition p. 89) relating to the siege of the Castle of Brest, suggests that the barrier of that Castle was a considerable distance from the gate and it is known that warlike sports were commonly held in the space between the gate and the barrier: " The governor . . . armed all the garrison, who were full 300 good fighting men, and sent every one to the post he had assigned them, taking with him about 40 of the bravest, and advanced out of the Castle, as far as the barriers. The assailants came there to make their attack, which was very sharp . . . and each exerted himself so much that at last the barriers were won, and the defenders of them forced to retire towards the Castle with great loss. ... The governor, however, comforted them as well as he could, and conducted them in safety to the chief gate. When those who kept the ward of the gate perceived the defeat of the governor's party, they were afraid of losing the Castle, and let fall the portcullis, which shut them out; the knight, however, defended himself valiantly, though most of his party were killed or wounded. . . . Those within the Castle exerted themselves with their crossbows; and, by throwing large stones upon the assailants, forced them to retire and gave an opportunity of raising a little of the portcullis, so that the knight and the remainder of his detachment entered. . ."
It was at the inner barrier that the very unpleasant operation of fishing for the enemy was usually practised. The method was to throw among the enemy either by hand or from a catapult, a hook of several points to which a rope was attached. As soon as discharged, the defenders hauled on the rope, and, with luck, dragged into the Castle a most profitable fish in the shape of a knight whom they could hold to ransom. At the siege of Stirling Castle " the chevalier Thomas Grey was struck through the head below the eyes by the bolt of a springald, and fell to the ground for dead under the barrier of the castle, just as he had rescued his master, Henry de Beaumont, who had been caught at the said barriers by a hook thrown from a machine, and was only just outside the barriers when the said Thomas dragged him out of danger".*
Just beyond the barrier a large window has been inserted in the curtain wall, which is here nine feet in thickness. It was probably done by one of the Governors who lived in the Derby House in the 18th century, and lights the principal room of that house, also giving a delightful view of the harbour mouth. In order to secure this view, part of the mask wall opposite was lowered, and its parapet walk destroyed.
The passage next turns to the left, and we find ourselves facing the gatehouse doorway, which is on the first floor of the gatehouse tower. Though apparently on solid ground, one is standing at this point on the vaulted roof of a deep chamber, the floor of which is about the level of high-water mark. Originally a draw bridge spanned this space. It was merely a pit, forming, when the draw bridge was raised, a hiatus in the roadway, and consequently a very serious bar to the progress of an enemy who had succeeded in passing the barrier. While faced with this new problem the warrior would be receiving the full attention of bowmen and stone droppers, for on every side were parapets just high enough for a goodsized stone to be thoroughly effective, and yet not high enough to give much time for dodging.
The parapet over the doorway has in later years been built up and converted into a passage in connection with the Courtroom over the gate house. This applies also to a portion of that on the left and the whole of that on the right.
The pit was divided into two parts by a cross wall, and the draw bridge was pivot-hung like that of the inner ward. There is, however, no indication remaining of appliances for lowering this bridge. They may have been on the upper floor.
Having no record as to the discarding of the draw bridges, we may assume that they were done away with in the 17th century when the 7th Earl built the Derby House in the main ward and carried out considerable alterations to the structure generally.
That the trouble was taken to preserve this pit by vaulting it over instead of filling it up with rubbish is rather surprising, as there does not seem to have been any intention of using it at the time. A door was afterwards broken through from the quay, and the chamber was let as a coal store for some time. But probably it was merely a sealed chamber for many years; and that no access to it from below was contemplated at the time of vaulting seems clear from the fact that the vaulting stops two feet from the outer end of the chamber apparently to leave room for taking out the timber centreing on which the vault was constructed. This portion was then closed up with flags.
The entrance to the gate house is fairly effective, but as before mentioned the part above the arch has been modernised. The original oak portcullis grille is still in position. Unfortunately the bottom rail and spikes are missing, having been sawn off some years ago in order to allow a loaded cart to pass.
The passage through the gate house has the unusual feature of a right angle turn, which however strikes one as good defensive planning. There is a large vaulted chamber below, which seems to have been a tidal mill, to which there was access by a trap door* in the Gate House floor for lowering corn and other stores, as well as by a staircase from the main ward. The upper chamber, as mentioned above, was probably used for meetings of the House of Keys, whose business until comparatively recently was more judicial than political, and this room is still used for Deemster's and other Courts, so that it has preserved its judicial traditions.* Access to the upper floor was by a spiral staircase, the entrance to which is on the left of the passage. Most of the stone steps have been broken away and replaced by wooden steps connecting the first floor of Lord Derby's house with that of the Gate House as they are used in combination for Court purposes, the principal rooms in the Derby House being converted into Judges' and barristers' robing rooms.
When the Derby House was the Governor's residence, access from the house to the Courtroom was by a gallery supported on pillars on the outside of the south wall of the Court, the entrance to the Court being through a large doorway since made into a window. The sandstone jambs of this door are still partly visible on the outside face of the wall.
The accommodation for the Gate House guard was very complete, consisting of an unusually large guard room and a kitchen. The kitchen has a corner fireplace and a sink, and a buttery hatch for serving meals into the guard room. These details were to some extent destroyed when the Gate House was turned into a dwelling, but enough was left to ensure a fairly accurate restoration.
Before leaving the Gate House it is interesting to notice the marks scored on the sandstone door jambs by the porters who spent some of their weary hours of duty in sharpening sword and pike. 'the following rule appears in the " Book of Orders made by the Commissioners, Anno Domini 1561 at the Castle of Rushen in the Isle of Mann, the 16th Day of July, in the yeare afforesaid, by Sir Richd. Sherbourne, Knight, Gilbert Parr, Hugh Diconson, Willm. Stopforth and Alexand. Rigby, Commissioners to Edward, Earle of Derby, Lord Stanley, Lord of Mann and the Isles and of the most noble order of the Garter Knight: Item. That the porters or one of them keep the gates and make no Deputy upon Pain of forfeiting of their office, except they have Lycence from the Captaine or the Constable, and to lye in the Porter's Ward the one of them every Night." (Par. 14.)
In 1610, among regulations for the garrison we note: " All the antient orders, customes, and dutys to be performed in the said Castles are extant in the rowles, and enrolled in the books of the statutes of this Isle, and these which we doe add hereafter are and have beene customarie and usual.... Item. It bath beene accustomed that night bell should be runge a little after the sun settinge, and that by the porter, and the nonstable with his deputie with a sufficient guard to be in the Castle, for the saute keepinge and defense of the same.... Item. It bath beene accustomed that at either Castle there bath beene two standinge porters, who have by course every other weeke held the staff, and given attendance at the gate duringe one whole yeare, beginninge at Michallmas; the said porters to be nominated by the constable, and then allowed by the lieutenant and governor, and two standinge watchmen in like manner for the nightlie watchinge upon the walls; and every officer, souldier, and servant, is to doe his 'pettie watch from May till Michallmas. Item. It hath beene accustomed, that the Castle gates should not be opened by any man after lockinge at night (the governor onlie excepted) until the watchman ring the day bell, which was to be done so soon as the watchman could pfectli discover the land markes bounded within a mile and a half of either Castle."*
The basement chamber of the Gate House is very interesting. It is entered from the outer ward by a flight of steps which appears to be original though the entrance doorway has been slightly altered. The chamber is very lofty with plain vaulted roof slightly pointed. The floor is below spring tide level, and in spite of the South Quay, built between it and the harbour, still floods by percolation in very high tides.
At the bottom of the entrance steps is a long winding chamber leading into the interior of the curtain wall and ending in a garderobe. In the opposite wall a passage was lately broken through" to the pit of the Gate House draw bridge previously described. There are two narrow loops with wide internal recesses for bowmen, and above these some holes in the wall, evidently for the ends of beams.
The most interesting feature, however, is a trench across the outer end of the room, the purpose of which has led to much conjecture. There are openings through the wall, 3 feet high by 2 feet wide, at the ends of the trench, and the openings are provided with grooved stone jambs for the insertion either of a 1-inch thick wooden door or an iron grille. The floor of the trench falls about one foot from left to right, and is paved with flags. There is no doubt that it is a passage for water; and that, if unchecked by sluice doors, the high tide would always find its way into the trench.
Various theories have been propounded by antiquaries as to the use of this trench. Perhaps the most popular is that it was sanitary, but this is somewhat discounted by the existence of a garderobe opening from the same chamber. Another suggests a bath, but one may have grave doubts as to whether such elaborate structural arrangements were made for bathing at the period. One of the most interesting ideas is that it was a method of emptying the moat, but unfortunately the theory imposes conditions of which there are no signs.
There seems to be little doubt that we have here an instance of a tidal mill.* The trench is the mill race, into which an undershot wheel was fitted. The beam holes in the walls were for framing to support the grinding machinery, and the trap door in the vault was for delivery of corn. A mill was an almost necessary adjunct of a castle, and though it was usually without the walls, experience shews that the architects of the middle ages were not slavishly tied down to rule in matters of this sort.1 In the time of Henry VIII, certain engineers who were instructed to report on the condition of the defences of the town and Castle of Berwick on Tweed, evidently considered that there should be a mill within the walls of a castle, for after reporting on the walls in detail they go on to say: " And forsomuch as ther is not within the said castell neither brewhouse, myln, garners for keepinge of store come, no house to keep any ordinance, so as yf any haisty danger shold come unto the same castell, or that the town should be woon, as Gode forbed, or yf th' inhabitanttes should rebell against the capetaign, all the Kinges ordinance, saving such as are standinge upon the wawlles of the castell, should so be in ennemyee handes, the mylnes and brewhows barred from the castell, and the captane his stove of come beinge in garners within the town, to the great danger of the same and the strength of the ennemyes. For the avoiding of all which dangers it wer verray necessary and expedient that a myln, with a brewhowse, a garner, and a howse for the kepinge of the ordinance wer mayd and set upe within the said castell."§
Another point in favour of the mill theory is the difficulty of imagining any other reason for flooring this chamber so low as to be flooded by the tide. Had the openings been large enough to admit a boat, one might have considered it as a means of victualling the castle, but this seems impossible, and the rapid fall in the trench would have no meaning.
The slots for doors or grilles were, of course, an absolute necessity, whatever use may be assigned to the trench as the openings, though parrow, would permit of the entrance of an enemy of moderate proportions.!! When first discovered in 190S, the opening on the west side (being buried externally) was popularly supposed to be the entrance to an underground passage to Rushen Abbey, two miles away. That there was such a passage has been for centuries a popular belief, and the idea still has a powerful hold on the local mind.
The belief in a connection between castles and neighbouring monasteries is so general as to deserve more notice than has been given to it. We have little hesitation in saying that in this case such a passage is practically impossible. The intervening marshy land presents enormous engineering difficulties.
The idea of such passages has, however, become firmly rooted in the popular imagination, and is grimly adhered to in spite of insuperable difficulties and improbabilities. At a well-known Castle in the North of England a garderobe shoot in the top room of the highest tower is still pointed out as the entrance to an underground passage to a monastery 11 miles distant in a valley some hundreds of feet lower than the Castle and at the other side of a considerable river, and the surprise of the visitor that the entrance to such a passage should be at the top of the highest tower is only met with chilling remarks about his intellectual capacity.
At Trim Castle I have been taken into a chamber which appears to be underground because the upper stories have fallen in, and the floor above has become covered with grass and weeds; and there I have been assured that I was under the middle of the river Boyne on the way to St. Mary's Abbey, in spite of the fact that the Boyne was perfectly visible smiling in the sunlight fifty yards away, and twenty feet below us; and remonstrance only elicited an admission that it was curious to be able to see the river when we were certainly below it.
Such experiences do not tend to the development of respect for theories about underground passages, but suggest that either the owners of Castles or the Monks invented and fostered such ideas for purposes of intimidation, and that these ideas have been handed down from generation to generation until they have become more certain than facts.
That there are cases of such passages is not denied, but they are too rare to account for such a tradition obtaining in respect to almost every Castle in England.
* Raglan Castle, for example, stones from which may be found in walls and cottages for miles round. *" Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland."
* Scalacronica. Sir H. Maxwell's translation.
* The trap door and windlass have been recently (1910) restored, conjecturally as regards the windlass, and partly so as regards the recess in which it is placed.
* Though Douglas is now the seat of the Insular Government, the Lieutenant Governors are still sworn in at the Court House in Castle Rushen.
t The late Sir Jas. Gell told me that he remembered the gallery being taken down.
# Lex Scripta. Orders and Dutys from the Exchequer Book, 1610, No. 45, Pars 2 to 5.
It this is said to have been done by an exploring party under Sir Henry, afterwards 1st Lord Loch.
* Viollet le Duc says there was a tidal mill at Calais in the 13th century. (Dictionaire.)
+ Clarke's plan of Caerphilly shews a mill within the Castle.
§ The booke of the circuyte and particular decayes of the town and Castell of Barwicke. Archaeologia Alliana, new series, Part II.
ll The theory of a tidal mill perfectly accounts for these doors, which would be a necessity for such a mill.