Clipstone Palace – a Forgotten Medieval Site


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Little more than a small sad and almost forgotten ruin today, Clipstone hunting lodge (also known as King John’s Palace) in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, was once one a favourite royal residence.

Carved masonry found at Clipstone palace

Carved masonry found at Clipstone palace

Although it had been a manor from the days following the Conquest, it was first recorded as a royal residence during the reign of Henry II. He carried out quite a bit of building work and added a deer park. From then, it seems to have become a convenient and pleasurable stop during the interminable travels of the court between London and York. In particular, Edward II visited it frequently, staying there for protracted periods, combining both kingly duties and pleasure in the hunting grounds of the royal forest of Sherwood.

During the latter days of the Plantagenets, the palace seemed to fall out of favour, most likely because of the civil strife of the Wars of the Roses when only a strongly fortified castle was deemed to be safe. Throughout the Tudor period and beyond it slowly decayed and was robbed out for stone during the 16th century. More robbing occurred during the Duke of Portland’s irrigation scheme in the 1800s, leaving it in the sorry state it is today.

clipstone geophysical survey 2004In 2006, the King’s Clipstone project was set up to get the site better known and to try and get funding to preserve it against further decline. English Heritage stepped in in 2009 and provided 80% of the funding needed to stabilise the badly crimbling stonework. The other 20% was given by Nottinghamshire County Council. Geophysical surveys were carried out in 2004 and 2010. These formed the basis of a televised dig by Time Team in 2011.

Of course, the site has importance not just for medieval historians but also fans of Robin Hood, as Clipstone Palace sits close to the centre of Sherwood, Hood’s supposed stomping ground. There are a couple of Robin Hood legends that are attached to the palace: one has Robin and his men rescuing pheasants from the palace undercroft (yes, I’ma bit puzzled by that one!) and also either proposing to, or rescuing Maid Marion through an upstairs window. With other sites of the legend, such as the Major Oak and Robin Hood’s Larder not far away, it has become part of cycling/walking routes for those who wish to visit the places they heard about in childhood.

In 2010 I took the opportunity to visit the ruins, in the company of local man and enthusiast Steve Parkhouse, and took some photos and video as to what remained of this once great site. I was quite struck by the little that was left, as well as some horrible concrete brickwork in one of the walls. By all accounts this was an emergency measure to stop the wall falling down in 1991. I’m not sure such ‘preservation’ methods would be used today.

I’ve put together a short video of Clipstone Palace and its history. Please bear in mind that this was one of my first attempts at filming and so is a bit wobbly/panny (is that even a word?). Therefore please forgive me any mistakes (as I’m only just learning editing in iMovie too!). By the way, I forgot to mention in the clip that although the ruins are part of the great hall complex, the hall itself was upstairs.

Clipstone from Jules Frusher on Vimeo.

(Since originally posting this, I have discovered the names of those responsible for the wonderful information boards at the site, without which it would be hard to imagine how the place looked, or to know its history). So a big thankyou must go to James Wright for the design, historical advice and technical details and to Ray Straw for the marvellous artwork of the reconstructions. James also took the photo of the carved masonry (which I found on Wikipedia). More info from James can be seen on the Facebook page listed below.)

If you want to know any more about this place, have a look at these wonderfully informative sites:

http://kingsclipstone.wordpress.com/

http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/monographs/clipstone1890/clipstone1.htm

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/time-team/videos/all/finds-from-2000-years-at-clipstone

https://www.facebook.com/ArchaeologyHistoryKingsClipstone

Also, please refer to the comment below by Andy Gaunt as it contains other useful links. Thanks Andy!

 

The music being played in the video is called La Sexte Estampie Real and is by Hesperion XXI and Jordi Savall from the album Estampies and Danses Royales. You can get the album here:

Estampies & Danses Royales (Hesperion XXI, Jordi Savall)

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6 Responses to Clipstone Palace – a Forgotten Medieval Site

  1. Tony Wait says:

    I am so pleased to know that investigation work is taking place at King John’s Palace. I do hope that in the future we will get a glimpse of what the site looked like during the medieval period.

  2. Julie Frusher says:

    Thanks for that James – brilliant resources 🙂

  3. Andy Gaunt says:

    Hi, I just came across this page and saw the information contained here and wondered if you might like to update the page with the most recent research.
    A great source for the recent work on the site can be seen on the Mercian Archaeological Services CIC website http://mercian-as.co.uk/kjp_sfap.html . This page includes timelines of fieldwork and research at the Palace. Work has been undertaken at King John’s Palace in the last three years as part of the Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project, by Mercian. There has been much work on the site over the years.. Thirteen projects have been done by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC including open area excavation, geophysical magnetometer surveys, Ground Penetrating radar, Test-pitting, fieldwalking, topographic survey, shovel-pitting (during 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), Wessex Archaeology undertook excavation for Time Team (2011), Trent and Peak Archaeology Watching Brief (1991), and 2 trial trenches by Andy Gaunt, Sean Crossley, David Budge (now Mercian) and James Wright (2012). Geophysical Surveys by Gaunt (2010), Masters (2004). Some building surveys were undertaken by James Wright (2004) Condition Survey, Building survey (2012, 2014). Phillip Rahtz excavated there first in 1956.

    A good online resource via Facebook is the Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project website at http://www.facebook.com/sherwoodforesthistory.

    Please come and have a look or contact us via the website for more information regarding archaeology in Clipstone.

    • Julie Frusher says:

      Thank you Andy – those links are much appreciated. I will edit the post to help anyone interested to find them 🙂

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