Volunteers Head Down Into The Basement At Conisbrough Castle

27th July 2016

There's only one way into the basement of Conisbrough Castle's keep and that's down through the floor above.

The basement of the keep houses a well and the only entrance is down through the hole through which the inhabitants of the castle used to draw water. The organisation that are doing the work are more used to evacuating people from mines but today they are venturing into the keep with a team of English Heritage volunteers into an area of the castle not normally accessible. Conisbrough Castle, one of South Yorkshires most iconic landmarks, was once the centre of a great Norman lordship, given by William the Conqueror to William de Warenne. It is thought that the keep was built in the 1170s or 1180s. It managed to escape the damage in the Civil War and became a picturesque ruin in the 18th or 19th centuries and was inspired by Sir Walter Scott's most famous novel, Ivanhoe, published in 1819. This part of the castle is accessed through the first floor entrance chamber. Unusually for an English great tower, the entrance chamber of the first floor has no natural light. With the door closed, and without lamps or torches, the room is plunged into pitch darkness. It is likely that this space will have been used for storage. The ground-floor chamber beneath this entrance chamber is also without windows and has no door. The only access would have been via a ladder through the hole in the centre of its vaulted ceiling. Through this opening, a bucket would have been lowered to draw fresh water from the well immediately below. It's this section of the castle that the volunteers will be accessing. This part of the castle is estimated to be about 25 30 feet deep and there is very little record of previous visits down in to the basement before today. Helen Keighley, Community Projects Manager at English Heritage said -It's fabulous to be able to offer our volunteers something people can't normally do. Our volunteers are extremely committed, they help out with schools, family activities and furthering our understanding of the castle and going down into the basement means we can complete our hunt for stone mason marks. It's also a real treat for all the time and hard work our volunteers give us. We couldn't get down there without some experts and MRS Training and Rescue have made it safe and easy for everyone to get down as long as you don't mind a very, very, long ladder connected to an MRS winch! Billy Gundry, Operations Manager at MRS Training & Rescue's Yorkshire centre said -it is great to be able to support English Heritage in this way. When we were approached to assist, we quickly understood the hazards and risks from our mining and confined space experience, and were happy to help. We are the obvious choice due to our history and expertise in this area. Our roots are firmly in this region as our first station was established in Tankersley in 1902. We are delighted to be able to give something back to this area and helping the volunteers access the well in a safe manner.

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