Despite its nationally significant architectural importance, Tattershall has remained a largely under-studied resource. The castle was excavated and conserved between 1911-14 under Lord Curzon, and it is one of the earliest examples of a sensitive and informed approach to modern building conservation. However, there has never been detailed research into the property using the full range of techniques available to the modern buildings archaeologist. The current work includes comprehensive standing building survey, historic graffiti survey, dendrochronology, analyses of the wider landscape of lordship, biographical examination of significant characters in the history of the building plus field research on the structures which both influenced the design and were in turn inspired by Tattershall.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the current project is a collaborative doctoral award between the National Trust and University of Nottingham. The work is being led by James Wright, formerly of the Museum of London Archaeology, who has previously researched a number of other National Trust buildings including Knole (Kent), Winchester City Mill (Hampshire) and Merton Priory (London). James is being supervised by Dr Chris King, a specialist in medieval buildings, at the University of Nottingham and by Rachael Hall, Consultancy Manager and Archaeologist, at the National Trust.
The new insights generated by the project include a close re-examination of the thirteenth century castle which has demonstrated its close comparisons to castles as far flung as Cheshire, Normandy and the Holy Land. The later medieval architectural influences on Ralph Lord Cromwell and his master builders have been studied alongside the important legacy of the castle - which lasted well into the mid-sixteenth century.
As major stakeholders in the conservation of both buildings and landscapes, the National Trust are keen to make full use of the research to help inform and develop a future management plan for the site. A more detailed picture of the archaeology and significance of the castle will enable a careful balance to be maintained between the varied demands of ecology, arboriculture, commercial activity, events, heritage presentation, below-ground archaeology and the built fabric.
Additionally, the study will become the springboard for new interpretation schemes presented to the general public as visual and written content for new display materials both on and off site. The project has already yielded broader and deeper information which is being relayed via a number of media channels.
One aspect of this is a volunteer project – the Tattershall Historic Graffiti Survey – which was set up in 2017 to record every single instance of graffiti in both the castle and adjacent parish church. The dates, names and symbols scratched into the stone and brick walls covers the entire period of the castle’s history – from medieval builders, to Civil War soldiers, eighteenth-century farm workers and early twentieth century tourists. A team of more than 30 volunteers was enlisted from across Lincolnshire and the midlands were kept busy for many months recording literally thousands of images and inscriptions for posterity. It is an entrancing reminder of how important the site has been for local inhabitants and visitors ever since it first rose from the surrounding Lincolnshire fenland.
- Diaper patterns forming an M and a double VV on the Great Tower at Tattershall