Oakham Castle

This article is about the castle in Rutland. For the Royal Navy corvette, see HMS Oakham Castle.
The Great Hall of Oakham Castle 2014

Oakham Castle, in Oakham, Rutland, was constructed between 1180 and 1190 for Walchelin de Ferriers, Lord of the Manor of Oakham. The Castle is known for its collection of massive horseshoes and is also recognised as one of the best examples of domestic Norman architecture in England.[1]

Admission to the castle is free. Owned and managed by the Rutland County Council, Oakham Castle is licensed for civil ceremonies. The Castle was temporarily closed for an extensive restoration of the Castle, including the curtain wall. Oakham Castle was awarded a £2.165 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014 following a joint bid by Rutland County Council, Oakham Town Council and the Friends of Rutland County Museum.[2] The castle reopened on 30 May 2016.[3]

General Information

Castle Lane leading from the Market Place to the castle

Due to its small size, Oakham Castle does not represent the traditional image of a castle. However, what is now called Oakham Castle was originally the Great Hall of a much larger fortified manor house. This had many of the traditional features of a castle such as a curtain wall, a gatehouse and a drawbridge with iron chains. There is also historical and archaeological evidence to suggest that Oakham Castle possessed towers at strategic points along the walls as well as a moat. An illustration in Mediaeval England edited by H. W. C. Davis suggests that the doorway shown to be in the centre of the wall was originally where the window at the end on the right now is. Also, there are no dormer windows in the illustration.[4]

The Great Hall comprises a nave and two arcaded aisles, each with three large stone columns. There are a number of 12th century sculptures decorating the Hall including six musicians that are supported by the columns. The sculptures are carved from local stone quarried at Clipsham and are believed to have been made by masons who had also worked at Canterbury Cathedral. It is thought to have been built by Walchelin de Ferriers circa 1180-90.[1]

Oakham Castle is the longest-running seat of justice in England; the first record of an assize is in 1229 and a crown court is held in the castle every two years. The early 19th-century courtroom remains in the Great Hall.

The present gateway into the market place closely resembles the gateways at Burley-on-the-Hill, and is thought to have been erected by the first Duke of Buckingham.[5]

Time Team, the Channel 4 archaeology series, filmed at Oakham Castle 26-28 June 2012; the programme was shown on 10 February 2013.[6]

The Horseshoes

Horseshoes on the east wall

There remains a unique tradition that peers of the realm should forfeit a horseshoe to the Lord of the Manor of Oakham on their first visit to the town. Two hundred and thirty horseshoes currently decorate the walls of Oakham Castle. It is thought that this tradition is linked to the de Ferrers' family name; Ferrier was the Norman French word for farrier and the horseshoe has been a symbol of the de Ferrers family since Henry de Ferrers arrived in England in 1066. A horseshoe is used as a symbol of the county of Rutland and appears on the arms of the county council.

The oldest surviving horseshoe in the collection is one that was presented by Edward IV in 1470 after his victory at the Battle of Losecoat Field. Recent additions to the collection are horseshoes presented by the Princess Royal in 1999, the Prince of Wales in 2003, Princess Alexandra in 2005 and the Duchess of Cornwall in 2014.


  1. 1 2 Historic England. "Oakham Castle  (Grade I) (1073277)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 Jun 2013.
  2. "Oakham Castle Closed For Restoration Work" Rutland County Council 1 September 2015
  3. "Oakham Castle in Rutland reopens after £2m restoration" BBC News 30 May 2016
  4. Mediaeval England. A new edition of Barnard's Companion to English History. HWC Davis Ed. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1924. p.55
  5. Historic England. "Gateway to Oakham Castle  (Grade I) (1361781)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 Jun 2013.
  6. "Tony Robinson and Time Team uncover horseshoe at Oakham Castle". Rutland Mercury. 29 June 2012.
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Coordinates: Maps 52°40′15″N 0°43′39″W / 52.670957°N 0.727449°W / 52.670957; -0.727449

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