Conserving Tattershall’s Tudor Tilt Yard
Over the past two years, the National Trust team at Tattershall Castle have been undertaking an important programme of conservation work in order to care for the precious historic buildings and archaeology present across the site. One of the more unusual strands of this work has been the repairing of a slightly mysterious feature known on site as the ‘tilt yard wall’.
The ‘tilt yard wall’ is a long brick wall, measuring up to 1.5m in places, located along the south side of the castle moat. It encloses an area roughly rectangular in shape and is marked in red on the historic photograph of Tattershall Castle shown below.
The majority of the castle remains you see on site at Tattershall today are the result of an extensive building campaign in the 1430-40s by Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell and it is thought that this area to the south (which would have been connected to the rest of the castle complex via a now lost bridge over the moat) was also first enclosed by Cromwell in order to form a large rectangular ‘pleasaunce’ – a medieval word for garden.
There are other theories on later uses for this space, however. These include the idea that it was used as a tilt yard by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, during his time at Tattershall in the 1540s. A tilt yard was an enclosed courtyard space used for practicing jousting, a popular pastime for the nobility in the medieval period.
Although this theory has yet to be proved archaeologically, the overall dimensions and proportions of the space, at 180 yards by 80 yards, make it broadly comparable to other known Tudor tilt yards at Whitehall and Greenwich in London. It also lies east-west in the conventional manner, and the recess in the centre of the brick wall’s south side may have accommodated the main viewing stand.
There would have been a special appropriateness of the creation of a tilt yard at Tattershall by Charles Brandon as he was one of Henry VIII’s long-time tilting companions, and also responsible (on the King’s behalf) for organising the tilting at The Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.
So the next time you visit Tattershall Castle why not take the time to explore this area of the site and imagine the sound of horse hooves pounding the ground and the cheer of excited spectators?