King John's Palace

King John's Palace
King John's Palace viewed from the south-east

King John's Palace, King's Clipstone is the remains of a once magnificent medieval royal palace in north-west Nottinghamshire. The name King John's Palace has been used since the 18th century, prior to that the site was known as the "King's Houses". It is not known how or when the building became associated with King John as he only spent a total of 9 days here! The earliest reference to the King's Houses dates back to 1164 during the reign of Henry II (1154–1189). The first period of significant building took place between 1176 and 1180, when Henry ordered £500 to be spent, and also created a deer park at Clipstone. Hunting game was the preserve of the aristocracy and deer parks provided a form of recreation, foodstuffs for feasting and an arena for crucial political and economic deals to be made. In 1194 Richard I arranged a meeting with William, King of Scotland at Clipstone, and in 1290 Edward I convened Parliament here.

The King's Houses were once very well-appointed. The ruins that are visible today are the remains of a Romanesque chamber dating from around 1180. The stone chamber was accessed through a large, buttressed central doorway and had a timber upper floor which allowed views over the deer park from ornately carved windows. However, the chamber was only a small part of a large, multiphased complex of buildings which is known to have existed at Clipstone from documents, geophysical survey and archaeological excavation. These included a gatehouse, tower, individual hall and chambers for the King and Queen, several chapels, kitchens, stables for 200 horses, and lodgings for many royal retainers. There was also a Great Pond which provided 100 pike and 1600 roach during Edward II's visit in December 1315.

Clipstone remained an important royal centre until the late fifteenth century when the English monarchy began to focus on other residences. In 1525 it was said of the King's Houses that "ther is great dekay & ruyne in stone-work tymber lede and plaster". By the mid 18th century the site had been reduced to the ruin that stands today.

King John's Palace was consolidated during 2009 by Paul Mendham Stonemasons during a conservation project funded by English Heritage and Nottinghamshire County Council. The site remains popular with the local community, tourists and academics alike and was recently featured as an episode of Channel 4's Time Team.


Historical Background


Location of King John's Palace, Nottinghamshire

King's Clipstone is a small village in north-west Nottinghamshire. The earliest historical reference to the settlement is in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it is mentioned as "Clipestune".[1] Subsequent written sources use the forms Clipestone, Clippeston, Clipiston. The name Clipstone means "Klyppr's Farm," with the derivation of the first element being from the old Scandinavian personal name Klyppr, and the second element from Anglo-Saxon word for farm or hamlet "tun".[2] Such evidence suggests a pre-Conquest origin, potentially during the period of the Scandinavian settlement of the Midlands. The first citation of King's Clipstone (Clipiston Regis) was in 1290[3] and refers to the visitations by several medieval monarchs to the village and palace complex. The site, now known as Castlefield, lies on the south-eastern slopes of a low hill overlooking the confluence of the River Maun and Vicar Water, amidst gently rolling countryside characterised by the geology of the Sherwood Sandstones with overlying pebble beds. The parish is bounded to the south by the parish of Rufford, to the east by that of Edwinstowe and to the north by the wood of Birklands. To the west the parish is bounded by that of Warsop and to the south-west is the parish of Mansfield Woodhouse.

Pre-historic Period

The earliest dateable material from Clipstone is from the Bronze Age - a spearhead[4] and arrowhead.[5] There is also a suspected ring ditch in the vicinity of New Clipstone which is assumed to be a ploughed out round barrow.[6]

The National Mapping Project data as provided by English Heritage shows a number of cropmarks recorded from aerial photography in the northern quarter of Clipstone parish, representing rectilinear field systems associated with smaller stock enclosures and perhaps domestic sites. Typologically, and from their orientation, it is assumed that these are part of the brick-work plan field system from the late Iron Age which stretches across the Sherwood Sandstones.[7]

Roman Period

Pottery of the period is known from Clipstone from Philip Rahtz's excavation in 1956[8] and Trent & Peak Archaeology's watching brief and fieldwalking in 1991,[9] however the context of the finds has never been understood. There have also been metal detector finds within the parish of two Roman brooches and a small coin hoard[10] and arrowhead.[11] The adjacent parish of Mansield Woodhouse contains a suspected Roman road (Leeming Lane), with an associated marching camp at Roman Bank. Further to the north-west a small villa site was exposed in 1780 by the antiquarian Major Hayman Rooke.[12] The brick-work field systems mentioned above may also relate to the Romano-British community.

Early Medieval Period

Little is understood of Clipstone during this period, despite the fact that the village place name came into being sometime after the Danish incursions into the East Midlands during the mid 9th century. Under the Danelaw, Clipstone was part of the Wapentake of Bassetlaw. Subsequent to the Anglo-Saxon re-conquest of Mercia in 910 it is feasible, but by no means certain, that Clipstone was part of the "Scirwuda" (possibly meaning Shire Wood, now Sherwood) as referred to in 958.[13] The earliest reference to Nottinghamshire occurs in 1016 (although it was certainly a much older land division), the village has always been contained within this county.

Four pieces of late Saxon shelly ware pottery were recorded in 1991[9] during fieldwalking of Castlefield, although it is unlikely that these represent anything more than a background scatter associated with the manuring of the open fields.

Prior to Domesday, the two manors of Clipstone were held by Osbern and Ulsi and the value was set at 60 shillings.[1] Ulsi in particular was a reasonably wealthy landowner and held manors at Greasley, Strelley, Sutton and Hodsock.


The landowner in 1086 was Roger de Busli,[1] one of the great Norman landowners who held 163 estates in Nottinghamshire.[14] The manor was described in Domesday as being worth only 40 shillings, a drop in value that may be related to the Saxon revolts in the Midlands and the north in the years after the Conquest. However, it is apparent that Clipstone was still a reasonably prosperous manor with arable, pasture and woodland and a mill worth 3 shillings. De Busli died c.1099, and by 1102 the manor had been acquired by the Crown.

The King's Houses

Establishment of the Palace and Deer Park

Medieval beast-head discovered in 1956 by Philip Rahtz at King John's Palace, Nottinghamshire

The first mention of the royal connection to the settlement is from 1164 when £20 was spent out of the Honour of Tickhill (formerly owned by de Busli) on works at the King's Houses.[15] It is unclear whether this expenditure reflected the initial establishment of structures at the site, or whether it was on repairs to an existing property. However, it is unlikely that the King's Houses were anything other than timber buildings at this early period due to the low amount of money being spent on them. Prior to 1164, the focus of the monarchy within the region had always been the royal manor at Mansfield where 40s was spent in 1130 to prepare a chamber for Henry I.[16]

The establishment of the King's Houses was linked to Clipstone's location in the heart of the royal forest of Sherwood. In the medieval period a forest was a defined geographic area subject to the forest law brought to England by the Normans. The law protected beasts of the chase, primarily deer, for the king. It also protected the woodland that formed their habitat. Forest law was enforced over the land regardless of who owned it. In the 13th century the forest stretched from the River Trent in the south to the River Meden in the north, and from Wellow in the east to Sutton-in-Ashfield to the west. In the 12th century it may have covered all of Nottinghamshire north and west of the Trent. A reference to the forest in Nottinghamshire made in 1155/6 early in the reign of Henry II (1154–1189) points to there being a forest in the reign of Henry I (1100–1135), however a dispute over the keepership of the forest in the early 13th century suggests a forest in Nottinghamshire dating back to the reign of William I. Sherwood Forest was therefore well established by 1164.[17]

The links between Clipstone and the royal pastime of hunting were made explicit in 1178-80 when a deer park was enclosed with a pale fence at the cost of £89, which was later repaired in 1186-7.[18] The amenities of the King's Houses were developed alongside the park to include a fishpond and a stonebuilt chamber and a chapel during the years 1176-80,[19] in advance of a visit by Henry II in 1181. The total cost of works during this period exceeded £500 and were therefore a very significant investment on the part of the monarchy. Wright[20] is of the opinion that the extant building dates from this phase of construction given that it bears several Romanesque architectural features which were phased out by the end of the 12th century. The structure is likely to have been a chamber at the first floor with an undercroft below and bore a striking resemblance to a contemporary building - St Mary's Guildhall in Lincoln.

The next significant expenditure was an order in 1184 to the keeper, Humphrey de Bussei, to enclose the courtyard at a cost of 60s. This was followed in 1186 by the construction of a new fishpond close to the King's Houses complete with dam, weirs and mill which became known as "the Great Pond of Clipstone".[21] From this point on the King's Houses were continuously repaired, extended and added to.

History of the King's Houses and Clipstone Park

It is apparent that Clipstone became a favoured residence of the monarchy for over 200 years. The historian David Crook lists the following visits: Henry II in 1181 and 1185, Richard I in 1194, John in 1200, 1201, 1205, 1210 and 1215, Henry III in 1244, 1251 and 1255, Edward I in 1279, 1280, 1284, 1290 and 1300, Edward II in 1307, 1315, 1316, 1317, 1318 and 1320, Edward III in 1327, 1328, 1330, 1331, 1332, 1334, 1335, 1345 and 1363, and Richard II in 1387 and 1393[22] Such visits could be brief, such as John's overnight stay on 19 March 1200,[23] or more extensive such as the winter of 1315-16 when the retinue of Edward II (including the Earls of Hereford, Pembroke and Atholl, the Bishop of Bangor and envoys of the King of France) drained the local resources to such an extent (100 pike and 1600 roach were taken from the fishpond in December alone) that horses and carts were sent over the River Trent at Marnham ferry to forage for provisions for the Household in Lincolnshire.[24]

Richard I visited Clipstone on 29 March 1194, and again on 2 April.[25] This second visit was to meet William (the Lion), King of Scotland and demonstrates the fact that the complex of buildings was palatial enough to accommodate and impress on an international scale.

The reign of King John included several sporadic visits to Clipstone, and it is clear that the site was well maintained - £42 was spent on the houses and fishpond in 1208-9.[26] John also endowed the chapel of St Edwin in 1205[27] which lay on the northern edge of the parish and was once a boundary marker of the deer park.[28]

A peculiar piece of social history occurred during John's tenure. In 1200 he accepted 15 marks from the men of Mansfield in return for the resumption of their rights to common pasture within the bounds of Clipstone Park, which they had enjoyed prior to the enclosure by Henry II.[29] The loss of traditional woodland resources by the peasant communities to park enclosure and forest law is a common theme in medieval history. This theme was again repeated during the reigns of Edward II and Edward III when an extension to the park led to petitions lodged by the men of Clipstone, Warsop and Mansfield Woodhouse over their loss of their rights to husbote (timber for building), haybote (timber for hedging), collection of ferns and leaves (for compost and manure) as well as pastureland.[30]

Although there are only 3 recorded visits to the King's Houses by Henry III[22] the palace complex was extensively developed during his reign. The King's Chamber was damaged by fire in 1223 and repaired at cost of 15 marks by the master carpenter Robert de Hotot.[31] Ten years after the chamber was completely rebuilt at the cost of £130,[32] and in 1237-8 the undercroft to the chamber was divided up to make a wardrobe.[33] The presence of an undercroft points to the fact that this chamber also had a first floor room. In 1252 passageways were built to connect the King's Chamber to his hall and chapel. The hall was also furnished with benches.[34] Provision for accommodation for Henry III's consort Eleanor of Provence was made in 1244-5 and took the form of a "large and handsome" timber hall, along with a kitchen and wardrobe costing £134.[35] In 1252 there is reference to the Queen's Chapel and New Chapel (the latter erected in 1246-7) being plain glazed and wainscoted.[36]

Repairs to the King's Houses continued throughout Henry's reign, although he did not visit again after 1255. Edward I further altered the layout and nature of the palace. In advance of his visit in 1280 new chambers with chapels for king and queen were constructed costing £435 12s 6 1/2d.[37] Philip Rahtz attributes the standing ruin to this phase of building,[8] however the presence of Romanesque features associated with the extant structure which have been identified subsequent to Rahtz's fieldwork may push back the dating to Henry II's construction of 1176-80.[38]

In 1282 Edward I ordered the construction of a stable at the enormous cost of £104 8s 5d.[37] This stable was capable of accommodating 200 horses, and John Steane is of the opinion that it was intended to provide for the entire entourage of the Household, or possibly even act as a royal stud.[39]

The vast stable block would have come into its own in 1290 when Edward chose Clipstone as the venue for his Michaelmas Parliament of 1290. Such were the numbers of present at the gathering that the accommodation at the King's Houses was overstretched and the clerks of the Chancery lodged at Warsop.[40] 251 pleas were heard at the Parliament, there were discussions over the doubtful succession to the Scottish throne, and Edward's tax on moveable goods was imposed (the first non-feudal tax).[41]

The site of Clipstone Peel

Edward II was the most frequent royal visitor to the King's Houses, and although he does not seem to have in anyway significantly altered the layout of the complex he is noted for having extended the park. During the winter of 1316-17 Edward ordered 200 acres of land to the south-west of the park to be enclosed and a peel to be established.[42] The peel was undoubtedly a fortified structure and documents refer to buildings including a great gate, 2 windlasses for a drawbridge, a ditch, hall, royal chamber, chapel, bakehouse, kitchen, barn and sheds for cattle, oxen and sheep.[42] The peel community has been viewed by Crook in the light of the pressures on the need for more agricultural land during the early 14th century coupled with the political background of Edward I's problems with Scotland and internally with Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster.[30] The peel was eventually decommissioned in January 1328 when Edward III ordered Robert de Clipstone to dismantle the buildings of the peel and re-erect them at the King's Houses, except the "greater gate of the pele, and the house built over it" which remained.[43]

The early years of Edward III's reign saw a number of visits to the palace and the subsequent petitions by the local communities led to the reversal of most of Edward II's changes to the park.[44] Edward III also maintained the administration of the deer park. In 1340 Robert de Mauley was granted custody of the manor and park.[45] In 1341 the men of Clipstone and Warsop were granted permission to utilise the woodland resources within the park.[46] In 1345 money was spent on hinges, hooks and plates for gates in the pale fence.[47]

Our knowledge of the palace complex is greatly increased during the years 1348-9[48] and 1360-3[49] when sources from the Patent Rolls illustrate the great number of buildings that existed at the King's Houses. Colvin describes this:

Monument to Edward III of England in Westminster Abbey

"Works carried out in 1348-9 included the rebuilding of the knight's chamber and the repair of the great hall, the king's kitchen, the queen's hall, the king's kitchen, the queen's kitchen, the great chamber, Rosamund's Chamber, Robert de Mauley's Chamber, the treasurer's chamber, the chamber of Lionel the king's son, the great chapel, the chapel next to the king's chamber, the king's long stable, and the great gateway. The knight's chamber was a timber-framed building standing on a 'groundwall' of stone, but the more important buildings were of stone. The roofing material was Mansfield slate. In 1360-3 over £140 were spent on general repairs to the hall, king's chamber, Earl of March's chamber, pantry, buttery, gateway and other buildings, including the chapel of St. Edwin at Birkland which was served by the chaplain of Clipstone. Further considerable repairs were carried out between 1367 and 1375 by William Elmeley, who in 1360 had been appointed clerk of the works at the manor of Clipstone and the lodge of Bestwood."[50]

It is apparent that by the mid 14th century the King's Houses at Clipstone was a sprawling palace complex of many buildings serving a variety of functions. The dating sequence of these structures is not clear as this is clearly an extensive programme of repairs to existing fabric, and it is apparent from previously noted structures that many of these buildings mentioned in the mid 14th century were already ancient. However, what is very clear is that the complex was comparable to other great palaces linked to forest resources such as that at Clarendon in Wiltshire.

The Patent Rolls of this period also help to populate the King's Houses with recognisable historical characters. Robert de Mauley is almost certainly Robert de Morley, 2nd Baron Rodyn, who fought at the battles of Boroughbridge, Halidon Hill, Sluys (where he was captain of the English flagship) and Crecy. De Morley finished his career as Constable of the Tower of London between 1355-9.[51] The Treasurer at the time of the repairs to his chamber in 1348-9 was William Edington, Bishop of Winchester, who effected many reforms to the Exchequer and by carefully budgeting all revenues and expenses brought about an end to the crippling debts that Edward suffered in the earlier part of his reign. Lionel of Antwerp was the third son of Edward III and was only 10 years of age at the time of the work on his chamber. He was later named as the 1st Duke of Clarence, but died at the relatively early age of 29 in 1368. The Earl of March in 1360-3 was Roger Mortimer (nephew of the traitor) who also fought at Crecy and was later named one of the founders of the Knights of the Garter.

Richard II was the last monarch to spend time at the King's Houses, and his successor Henry IV granted the manor of Clipstone for life to George Dunbar, Earl of March (1338–1420) in compensation for the loss of his Scottish lands by joining the English.[52] It is doubtful whether he obtained possession, and the manor reverted to the crown.

A map of Sherwood Forest dating to c.1400 survives in the archive at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire and shows Clipstone Park as a clearly defined emparked area circled by a pale fence. There are several place names marked relating to the medieval infrastructure such as "ye pele" (Clipston Peel), "Clipston ye dam" (the dam at the head of the Great Pond) and Clipston Parke; and the River Maun is shown flowing through the park.[53]

In 1434 Henry VI's Council authorised £200 worth of repairs to the palace,[54] and accounts dating to 1435-46[55] refer to over £650 spent on repairs to the King's Houses and on "making a certain new tower" by William Clerk deputy to Clerk of the Works, William Ardene. In 1453 the manor was granted to the king's half-brothers - the Earls of Richmond and Pembroke.[56] However, on the accession of Edward IV they were deprived[57] and the manor passed to George, Duke of Clarence until his exacution in 1478 when once again Clipstone reverted to the crown.[58]


South-west elevation of King Johns Palace, Nottinghamshire displaying the Romanesque recessed arch

The decline of royal interest in the King's Houses throughout the 15th century fits an overall national pattern. Steane has pointed out that the residences of the monarchy in the later Middle Ages focussed on south-east England. Additionally the numbers of palaces and castles under direct royal control dwindled, and as the size of the Household increased from c.120 in the reign of Henry I to 800 under Henry VI fewer but more grandiose palaces were the preference.[59]

A survey of "the dekayes of the manner of Clippeston" dated to 1525 records that:

"First the southest end of the hie Chamber ther is in great dekay & ruyne in stonework tymber lede and plaster & the gavell ende of the same is flede outwarde so that a part of the rove and of flour of the said Chymber is fallen doune. Also ther was sume tyme begone a stone grees & yet is not fynyshed the which hath been the cause of the Ruyne of the said Chambre. Also the Chappell ther is in dekay and hath no cuverying upon it. Also the kechyn ther was new plasterid and the rof therof wantith poyntyng and amedyng of the slate, also on the said kechyn were ij chymnays begon and not fynishyd.[60]"

Crucially the survey only lists 3 structures: a chamber, a chapel and a kitchen. It is impossible to be certain whether or not this represented the only extant above ground buildings by 1525 (if so this is a remarkable decline and demolition over only 150 years since Edward III's repairs), or whether these were the most decayed and dangerous buildings with the rest of the complex being essentially sound. A land grant of March 1568 refers to the "site of the late castle", and it seems clear that substantial clearance of the ruins had occurred by this date.[61]

The Post-Medieval Period

Sale of the Estate

The manor and park of Clipstone finally passed out of royal ownership for the last time in on 11 October 1603 when James I granted it to Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy. This was promptly sold on to Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury the following year.[62] 4 maps of the northern boundaries of Clipstone parish date to this period[63] and refer to several place names pertaining to the survival of medieval landscape features associated with Clipstone Park such as St Edwin's Chapel, the "leaping place" (i.e. a deer leap) and "the oulde dike" (which may be a deer leap, road or park boundary).

William Cavendish

Portrait of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle 1592-1676

William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle purchased the estate in 1630[62] and immediately commissioned William Senior "professor of arithmetique, geometrie, astronomie, navigation and dialing" to make a map of his new possession. This map survives as a full colour double folio in the collection of the Welbeck Estate.[64] The map demonstrates a manor in the crucial stages between the late medieval period and the land enclosures, industrial and agricultural reforms of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Clipstone Park is shown surrounded by its pale fence and contains some 1457 acres of mainly woodland. The sites of Clipstone Peel and St Edwin's Chapel are marked, as are the gates into the park. The village of Clipstone is drawn as a linear strip village to the north of the former palace complex, and the tofts of the community stretch down to the resource of the River Maun. The Great Pond survives as a large feature held back by a dam which serves a leat system providing water power to a series of mills which are presumably the descendants of the documented medieval mills. The open field system survives to a certain extent in the form of Waterfield, The Millfield and Crossfield, however enclosure has already encroached on the agricultural resources of the village. Much of the surrounding landscape is woodland described as "The Shroges" and "fless-greave wood", interspersed with "Launds" which Gaunt[65] has identified as the survival of an ornamental landscape from the medieval period.

The site of the King's Houses is named "manorgarth" on the 1630 map and seems to be an agricultural field much like the other surrounding enclosures. Gaunt[65] has pointed out that the south-western field boundary may represent a survival of the boundary of the King's Houses based on a strong geophysical anomaly, which was tested by archaeological evaluation in 2011. A gabled and possibly roofless building was surveyed by Senior in the centre of the Manorgarth, and it is interpreted that this is the ruin that stands today. The other buildings recorded in the survey of decays a century before had evidently been cleared by this period. The current morphology of the site has therefore not altered dramatically since the early 17th century.

The only other buildings represented on the site are a house to the north-west of the ruin, and a rectangular enclosure to the north. This latter structure may represent the ruined foundations of the gateway to the palace as it sits in the same location as the modern Brammer Farm House and Maun Cottage both of which contain substantial stone walls over a metre in thickness and of similar make-up to the ruin of King John's Palace. Brammer Farm House was also once a tavern called "the Gate Inn" during the mid 18th century.[66]

Clipstone Park was virtually destroyed during the period of the English Civil War and Protectorate. Cavendish supported the Royalist cause and went into exile as early as 1642, and during his absence the pale fence and trees were used to fuel the Parliamentary war-effort and the deer stocks depleted. On returning from exile in France Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle estimated the losses at £20,000 and described the scene as she witnessed it in 1665:

"The fences torn down and used in the production of charcoal whilst the park denuded of its great oaks, leaving the deer and other animals no food or shade, so causing their demise.[67]"

Thoroton and the Early Antiquarians

King John's Palace illustrated by Francis Grose in 1772. The site is viewed facing north-east.

The antiquarian Robert Thoroton described a similar scene in 1677, coupled with some architectural detail on the King's Houses:

"There is scarcely any ruins left at all of the king's old house, except a piece of thick Stone Wall, and the Park is also cleared of the Gallant Oaks wherewith it was well furnished before the late Rebellion."[68]

Thoroton's description backs up in words what Senior hints at in his depiction of the King's Houses – that there was only a single structure left on the site by the 17th century. Much of the fabric of the palace complex would have been robbed piecemeal for building projects within the village and wider estate such as Clipstone Hall (founded prior to 1609).[69] Clipstone passed into the ownership of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland in 1734 on his marriage to Lady Margaret Cavendish-Harley.[70]

Four late 18th century antiquarian images exist of the extant ruins of the King's Houses by Francis Grose (1772),[71] Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1773),[72] Major Hayman Rooke (1790) and John Throsby (1790).[73] All show the ruin in a startlingly similar form to the monument that exists to this day. All show the jagged profile of the upper walls (suspected to be indicative of former window reveals), the multiple openings in the long profile of the building at ground level, and Grose, Grimm and Throsby confirm the recessed niche on the south-western elevation. Grose and Grimm both articulate the shallow buttreses either side of the central opening. Intriguingly, Grose also illustrates a round headed voussoired arch above the opening at the south-west end of the long elevation, potentially a confirmation that the ruin is in fact a Romanesque structure.

The site appears on John Chapman's Map of Nottinghamshire (1774) and is identified as "King John's Palace" for the first time.[74] It is not clear when or how the site became associated with King John as opposed to any of the other monarchs who invested more time and money there - John only visited the King's Houses seven times, and never stayed longer than two nights.[75]

Duke of Portland's Flood Meadows

William Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland instigated an irrigation scheme of flood meadows for 7 ½ miles along the course of the River Maun between Carr Bank Wood, Mansfield and the parish boundary between Edwinstowe and Ollerton. The flood meadows were intended to increase the yield of hay to feed flocks of sheep during the winter. The scheme cost almost £40,000 and was notable by the philanthropic nature of the high wages that the Duke offered to pay the construction labourers in a time of high unemployment created by the mechanisation of industry and the recent wars against Napoleon. The flood meadows passed through the heart of Clipstone Park, and the construction of them seems to have taken its toll on the preservation of the King's Houses.[76] Shortly after the completion of the scheme in 1844, White's Trade Directory described the ruins:

"The only part of the palace now remaining stands in a large field close to the village and seems to have been the hall. The foundations have been formerly extensive, with several large vaults, but in 1816 a great part of these were dug up, to be employed in draining, which the Duke of Portland then commenced upon his estate here; and it appears much spoliation was made on the venerable walls, though it is said his Grace had given strict orders to the contrary.[77]"

It is therefore anticipated that the archaeological preservation of the subsurface foundations may be varied due to the recorded robbing during the 19th century irrigation scheme which was additional to the more piecemeal stone removal during the late medieval and early post-medieval periods, and both archaeological evaluations in 1956[78] and 2011 back up this notion.

The 20th and 21st Centuries

View of King John's Palace, Nottinghamshire facing south-west during conservation work in 2009

The site continued in use as an arable field with a preserved ruin and was known as Castle Field during the 20th century. It remained in the ownership of the Welbeck Estate until November 1945 when it was purchased by local farmers Fred and Molly Bradley. It has remained in the Bradley family as an arable field (and lately pasture) to the present day.[79]

Conservation work took place on the ruin in 1991 and 2009. A section of the structure was in imminent danger of collapse and was therefore underpinned by pre-cast masonry on a concrete lintel in 1991. The archaeological work prior to underpinning was carried out by Trent and Peak Archaeology; and the construction work was completed by Cranes, West Bridgford, Nottingham. Both sections of the project were overseen by Nottinghamshire County Council.[9]

In 2009 Paul Mendham Stonemasons were instructed by the architect Peter Rogan to complete a full scale consolidation scheme including pointing, grouting, pinning back, under-building and soft-capping the ruin. The decisions for the scheme of conservation were based on two condition surveys of the ruin by Wright (2005)[80] and Rogan(2008).[81] The work was paid for and overseen jointly by English Heritage and Nottinghamshire County Council.

Archaeological Background


Broadly there have been three distinct levels of archaeological research into the site.

1) Evaluation excavations were conducted by Philip Rahtz (1956), Trent & Peak Archaeology (1991) and Time Team (2011).

2) Geophysical survey took place under Masters (2004) and Gaunt (2010). Masters surveyed limited sections of the site using both magnetometry and resistivity, Gaunt surveyed the entirety of Castlefield using resitivity.

3) The built environment was analysed by Wright in 2004, 2005 and 2007 in the form of a condition survey of the extant ruin and a survey of stonework in a number of properties in the parish. Rogan also produced a second condition survey archive for the ruin in 2008.

Archaeological evaluation, 1956, Philip Rahtz

The work of Philip Rahtz has informed much of what we know about the subsurface archaeology and was part of the project which became Howard Colvin's History of the King's Works (1963). It is summarised below in an excerpt from:

• Rahtz, P., (1960) 'King John's Palace, Clipstone, Notts.' in Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire Vol. 64

"The object of excavation was to find the extent and date of the medieval buildings known as King John's Palace; of these all that remain today are three walls standing to a height of about ten feet above ground level, enclosing an area of some seventy-five by thirty-five feet.

The ruin was shown to be part of a large complex of buildings of several periods which were used as a royal hunting lodge in Sherwood Forest. They spread over at least two acres, and there is also a large fish-pond. Apart from a scatter of Roman finds, the earliest building was of the late 12th century, of stone, with Romanesque decoration, surrounded by a ditch. The ruin which survives today was dated to the later part of the 13th century and is probably one of the buildings constructed by Edward I in 1279-80, at a cost of £400. It consists of an undercroft with an upper floor level shown by joist holes in the surviving masonry. There are also traces of later buildings of the 14th and 15th century date. The walls were extensively robbed in the 19th century, and cultivation has destroyed many of the floor levels outside the ruin. Finds were few, but included some pottery and a Romanesque animal-head."

"The method of excavation was to section the ruin in each direction and to extend these trenches to determine the limits of the site. In addition to these long trenches, cuttings were made inside and around the ruin to settle doubtful points, and additional cuts made to trace the course of the enclosure ditch; a total of over 700 feet of trench was cut."

"...the site has been repeatedly ploughed; the subsoil being sand, this has caused some erosion down the slope, and present ground level is in places below that of the later medieval floor –level. Consequently there are few sealed levels and dating evidence is scarce. The trenches were remarkably deficient in occupation debris; only a few hundred sherds were found.

The limits of the main part of the site were found to lie within an area of about two acres, but the buildings that lie around the ruin are not necessarily the only group in the field. There may well be other buildings at some distance from the main complex and quite separate from it, which have not been discovered."

Rahtz somewhat downplays his discoveries. Although he showed that floor levels and walls had been eroded and robbed, he also demonstrated in his text and illustrations that there are also some survivals – within the ruin he excavated six successive floor layers. He also seems disappointed that he only recovered around five hundred sherds of pottery, which given the itinerant nature of royal visitations seems quite a good haul. There is additionally a question over his identification of the extant ruin as dating to the late 13th century, given that there have been many associated discoveries of late 12th century material relating to the structure.

Archaeological watching brief, 1991, Trent & Peak Archaeology

Trent & Peak Archaeology's watching brief in advance of underpinning of the ruin in 1991 did not yield a full report but survives in the form of the site archive. There is nothing within this archive which radically disagrees with Rahtz's findings, however it must be stated that trenching was limited to a very small area. Fieldwalking data demonstrated the presence of late Saxon shelly ware pottery.[9]

Geophysical survey, 2004, Pre-Construct Geophysics

Resistivity survey at King John's Palace, Nottinghamshire being carried out in 2004. Photograph is taken looking north-west.

The first geophysical surveys on the site are summarised from:

• Masters, P., (2004) Fluxgate Gradiometer and Resistivity Surveys: King John's Palace, Clipstone, Nottinghamshire (Unpublished Report – Pre-Construct Geophysics, Lincoln)

"Both surveys appear to have identified buried features that relate to the monument, such as in situ wall foundations, robber trenches and ditches. In particular the resistance survey may have defined a rectangular enclosure that formerly surrounded the hunting lodge."

Geophysical survey, 2010, Andy Gaunt

High pass resistivity geophysical survey by Andy Gaunt, 2010

Gaunt's resistivity survey widened the area selected by Masters to incorporate the entirety of Castlefield and proved many of Masters' findings as well as adding new anomalies to the data-set. Gaunt's work discovered the following anomalies and is summarised from:

• Gaunt, A. 2010. The King's Houses. A geophysical Resistance survey of King John's Palace, Clipstone, Nottinghamshire. NCA-018. Unpublished archaeological report.

1) A large rectangular area and surrounding the monument appears to be a courtyard area, with a number of buildings around the perimeter and a wall or palisade surrounding the possible courtyard.

2) A large high resistance linear anomaly is interpreted as probably a ditch filled with rubble or the remains of a wall, and probably represents the edge of the manorial complex this is corroborated by 17th century mapping evidence which shows the 'Manor Garth' (manor enclosure) being separated at this location from the 'water field' to the west.

3)A large sub-rectangular area probably representing the rubble spread from a substantial building.

4) The location of a road. with drainage ditches either side of a metalled higher resistance surface. One suggestion is that there was a gateway to the site from the road side to the north, which would fit in with this interpretation.

5) Potential robbed out wall foundations perhaps providing a defensive element, or to define the edge of the site to the northeast."

Condition survey, 2005, Nottinghamshire County Council

Condition survey of the ruins

A full condition survey was undertaken in 2004-5 by Nottinghamshire County Council and again in 2008 by Peter Rogan.[81] The findings of these surveys are summarised from:

• Wright, J., (2004) 'A Survey of King John's Palace, King's Clipstone, Nottinghamshire' in Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire Vol. 108

"The building consists of a rubble core wall at least two storeys high (Wall 2) with two fragmentary rubble core walls returning to the south-east (Wall 1 to the south-easterly, Wall 3 to the north-easterly).

Wall 1 has a segmental arched niche within the thickness of the wall. Given that there is very little in the way of facing stone remaining, let alone characteristic moulded masonry, it is difficult to extrapolate what the ruin represents. The ghost of ashlar coursing survives as riser courses; this is visible as galletting (clear horizons of stone fragments within the mortar) within the rubble masonry. Wall 2 has three openings at ground level, one of which was filled with pre-cast masonry in 1991 due to structural concerns. Hooper's [i.e. Grose, 1772] print of 1784 reveals the building to have been in similar condition since at least the late-18th century.

Condition survey plan of the ruins

The 1784 image shows the south-east opening in Wall 2 as a Romanesque doorway complete with voussoirs. it is clear from a carved stone animal head discovered in 1956 and a chevron ornamented voussoir recently uncovered by the landowner that substantial Romanesque stonework was present on the site.

The central opening of Wall 2 was spanned as late as the 1950s. This appears to be a medieval opening given that, on the north-west elevation, it is framed by the remains of two return ends [i.e. buttresses].

Approximately 2.4 metres up the elevation of Wall 2 there are fragmentary remains of a ledge associated with 10 sub-rectangular niches 300 x 400mm and up to 430mm deep. These are clearly the remains of beam slots to carry an upper floor. This floor level is also represented by a ledge let into the profile of Wall 3. The narrowed profile of Wall 3 also matches up with 4 coursed ashlar stones, one of a handful of indicators of the original face. The profile of the wall-head may reflect a line of first floor windows, the ledges of which are approximately 3.5 metres above ground.

At the junction of Wall 2 and Wall 3 there is a chamfer in the rubble core from the first floor to the wall head. This may be interpreted either as a doorway leading to an external gallery or staircase, or more plausibly the trace of a window reveal."

Masonry survey, 2007, Nottinghamshire County Council

Carved masonry discovered in 2007

Wright also undertook a stone survey in 2007 of a sample of properties within the parish. This is unpublished with the archive held by Nottinghamshire County Council. It revealed the survival of stone fragments of both medieval and post medieval date, with notable high status examples of carved and chamfered material visible in the garden of Maun Cottage in particular and potentially relating to the gateway of the palace complex. Many of the properties have stone foundations, cellars and walls which may be the result of robbing from the palace.[82]

Archaeological evaluation, 2011, Time Team

Time Team's trench based on Andy Gaunt's geophysics which identified the southern limit of the site

In April 2011 Channel 4's Time Team filmed an episode of the long running archaeological television programme at King John's Palace. A number of evaluation trenches and areas were opened to test anomalies identified by Gaunt[65] in 2010. The excavation was directed by Professor Mick Aston. On site experts included Paul Blinkhorn and David Budge (pottery), Andy Gaunt (landscape archaeology), David Crook (historian), Dr Naomi Sykes (zooarchaeology), Alex Rowson (researcher), James Wright (buildings) and regular members of Time Team. The episode is due to air during February 2012. The project design[83] for the programme was written by Jim Mower and James Wright and forms much of this Wikipedia article. A forthcoming report will be prepared by Wessex Archaeology, a summary of which will be available on the OASIS online index.

Visiting King John's Palace

The palace site is a Grade II listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument standing on private land. However, the site is open to visitors subject to advance application to the Bradley family (landowners) of Waterfield Farm, King's Clipstone.

In the summer of 2009 a permanent interpretation panel was unveiled during an open day at the palace. The panel was written and designed by James Wright and features a reconstruction drawing, by local artist Ray Straw, of the palace complex as it may have appeared in the mid-14th century. The panel is fixed to the 1991 pre-cast masonry wall on the north-east elevation of the ruin.

There is also an annual open day in July at the site known as the "Picnic at the Palace". Details of this are usually logged with the Council For British Archaeology's 'Festival of British Archaeology' webpage.


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  2. ^ English Placenames Society (1940) Placenames of Nottinghamshire
  3. ^ Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1281-92, p.394
  4. ^ Nottinghamshire Historic Environment Record, 5965
  5. ^ Nottinghamshire Historic Environment Record, 5909
  6. ^ Nottinghamshire Historic Environment Record, 6819
  7. ^ [1] Pastscape MONUMENT NO. 1430560
  8. ^ a b Rahtz (1960), p. 29.
  9. ^ a b c d Sheppard, R., (1991) Unpublished archive of archaeological watching brief prior to monument underpinning (Held by Nottinghamshire County Council)
  10. ^ Nottinghamshire Historic Environment Record, 5965
  11. ^ Nottinghamshire Historic Environment Record, 5966 & 5977
  12. ^ Thoroton (1972), pp. 308–320.
  13. ^ York Minster Library, Magnum Resistrum Album, Ms.
  14. ^ Wright, J. (2008) Castles of Nottinghamshire
  15. ^ Pipe Poll 11 Henry II, 53
  16. ^ Pipe Poll 31 Henry II, 10
  17. ^ Gaunt, A. (2011) Clipstone Park and the King's Houses: Reconstructing and interpreting a medieval landscape through non-invasive techniques
  18. ^ Pipe Roll 25 Henry II, 80-1,84; 26 Henry II, 137; 33 Henry II, 166
  19. ^ Pipe Roll 23 Henry II, 57-8; 24 Henry II 86; 25 Henry II, 80-1,84, 26 Henry II, 137; 27 Henry II, 19
  20. ^ Mower, J. & Wright, J., (2011) Proposed Archaeological Evaluation - Clipstone, Nottinghamshire
  21. ^ Pipe Roll33 Henry II, 166
  22. ^ a b Crook (1976), p. 44.
  23. ^ The Itinerary of King John Project
  24. ^ National Archives E 101/376/26
  25. ^ Chronicla Rogeri de Houdene (Rolls Series) iii, 240, 243
  26. ^ Pipe Rolls 11, 12 John
  27. ^ The Sherwood Forest Book, ed. H. E. Boulton, Thoroton Society Record Series xxiii (1964), 57
  28. ^ Nottinghamshire Archives WP/5/S
  29. ^ Pipe Roll 2 John. 18-9
  30. ^ a b Crook (2005)
  31. ^ Pipe Roll 9 Henry III
  32. ^ Pipe Roll 19 Henry III
  33. ^ Pipe Roll 22 Henry III
  34. ^ Pipe Roll 37, 38 Henry III, Calendar Liberate Rolls 1251-60, Close Rolls 1251-3
  35. ^ Pipe Roll 29 Henry III, Close Rolls 1242-7
  36. ^ Pipe Roll 37, 38 Henry III, Calendar Liberate Rolls 1251-60, Close Rolls 1251-3
  37. ^ a b Pipe Roll 12 Edward I
  38. ^ Wright, J., (2004) 'A Survey of King John's Palace, King's Clipstone, Nottinghamshire' in Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire Vol. 108, 109
  39. ^ Steane, J. M., (1999) The Archaeology Of Power, 269
  40. ^ Calendar of Patent Rolls 1281-92, 394
  41. ^ Edward I: Michaelmas 1290', Parliament Rolls of Medieval England
  42. ^ a b Pipe Roll 11 Edward II
  43. ^ Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-30, 194; National Archives E 372/172, rot. 47d, m.1; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1327-37, 75
  44. ^ Crook (1976), pp. 41–43.
  45. ^ Stapleton, A., (1890) A History of the Lordship of King's Clipstone or Clipstone in Sherwood, Nottinghamshire
  46. ^ Crook (1976), p.
  47. ^ National Archives E 101/135/20
  48. ^ National Archives Accounts Various E 101/460/18-19; Cal. Pat. Rolls 1348-50
  49. ^ National Archives Accounts Various E 101/460/18-19; Cal. Close Rolls 1327-30
  50. ^ Colvin (1963), p. 920
  51. ^ Sir Robert DE MORLEY 2nd Baron Morley of Roydon
  52. ^ Cal. Pat. Rolls 1399-1401
  53. ^ Barley, M. W. 'Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire', in Skelton, R. A. and Harvey, P. D. A., eds., Local Maps and Plans from Medieval England (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1986), 131-139
  54. ^ PRO Warrants for Issues E 404/51/128; cf Cal. Pat. Rolls 1429-36
  55. ^ Foreign Accounts E 364/77, rot. B; E 364/81, rot. D
  56. ^ Cal. Pat. Rolls 1452-61
  57. ^ Cal. Pat. Rolls 1461-7
  58. ^ Colvin (1963), p. 921.
  59. ^ Steane, J. M., (2001) The Archaeology Of Power, 43
  60. ^ National Archives E 178/4394
  61. ^ SC6 Philip & Mary/505(Notts
  62. ^ a b Crook (1976), pp. 41–42.
  63. ^ Nottinghamshire Archives DD/2106/5/9/15 (i); DD2106/5/9/15 (ii); DD/2106/5/9/16 (i); DD/2106/5/9/16 (ii)
  64. ^ Senior, W., (1630) Clipston in the county of Nottingham. Belonging to the Right HonourableWilliam, Earl of Newcastle
  65. ^ a b c Gaunt, A. 2010. The King's Houses. A geophysical Resistance survey of King John's Palace, Clipstone, Nottinghamshire. NCA-018. Unpublished archaeological report
  66. ^ Nottingham University Archives P1 E12/6/8/3/3
  67. ^ Firth, J.B., (1924) Highways and Byways in Nottinghamshire, 247
  68. ^ Thoroton (1971), p. 173.
  69. ^ Bealby et al. (2001), p. 67.
  70. ^ Bealby et al. (2001), p. 73.
  71. ^ Grose, F., (1772) The Antiquities of England and Wales
  72. ^ British Library Additional MS 15543 f.166
  73. ^ Thoroton (1972)
  74. ^ Chapman, J., (1774) Map of Nottinghamshire
  75. ^ The Itinerary of King John Project
  76. ^ Bealby et al. (2001), pp. 104–116.
  77. ^ White, F., (1844) History, gazetteer & directory of the county of Nottinghamshire, 626
  78. ^ Rahtz (1960)
  79. ^ Bealby et al. (2001), p. 134.
  80. ^ Wright, J., (2005) A Condition Survey of King John's Palace, King's Clipstone, Nottinghamshire
  81. ^ a b Rogan, P., (2008) Unpublished archive including condition survey, schedule of works and correspondence (Held by Nottinghamshire County Council)
  82. ^ Wright, J., (2007) Unpublished archive of King's Clipstone masonry survey (Held by Nottinghamshire County Council)
  83. ^ Mower, J. & Wright, J., (2011) Proposed Archaeological Evaluation - Clipstone, Nottinghamshire


  • Jane Bealby et al. (2001). A Celebration of King's Clipstone – 1000 Years of History. 
  • H. M. Colvin (1963). The History of the King's Works Volume II: The Middle Ages. 
  • David Crook (1976). "Clipstone Park and Peel". Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire 80. 
  • David Crook (2005). "Clipstone Peel: Fortification and Politics From Bannockburn to the Treaty of Leake 1314–1318". In Michael Prestwich, Richard Britnell & Robin Frame. Thirteenth Century England 10 – Proceedings of the Durham Conference 2003. Thirteenth Century England. 10. Boydell Press. pp. 187–195. ISBN 9781843831228. 
  • P. Rahtz (1960). "King John's Palace, Clipstone, Notts.". Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire 64. 
  • R. Thoroton (1972), J. Throsby, ed., The Antiquities of Nottinghamshire 

External links

Source Material

Time Team at Clipstone

Building Consolidation & Conservation

Local History Websites

Historic Buildings Websites


Coordinates: 53°10′36″N 1°05′55″W / 53.1766°N 1.0987°W / 53.1766; -1.0987

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