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Castles as Past Culture: Adaptation and Identity in the Post-Life of Castles

Castles as Past Culture: Adaptation and Identity in the Post-Life of Castles

Castles as Past Culture: Adaptation and Identity in the Post-Life of Castles

By Sarah Spreight

The Castle Studies Group Journal, No 21 (2007-8)

Introduction: This paper builds upon a theme explored at the 2006 Château Gaillard Colloquium in Belgium and upon two particular issues, adaptation and identity, discussed in a lecture to the British Archaeological Association in 2008. The starting premise is that historians and archaeologists have been narrow-minded in their definition of the scope of castle studies and that there is a need to explore and value castles as sites of community memory and non-elite activity. David Austen has taken this approach in his personalised account of the excavations at Barnard Castle between 1974 and 1981. He regrets the breaking of ties between local people and the castle occasioned by guardianship:

‘What had also been removed, and perhaps this is far more important, was the direct relationship between the local community and their monument. In very many cases the ruins had become sources of local memory, story and intimate relationship, most of which was sacrificed to sanitise and capture the walls as discrete objects of professional architectural history’.

The process of consolidation and display at Barnard had taken precedence over, and had removed the post-medieval purpose of the castle to provide a site of local leisure, a site of private and public gardens, a venue for romantic trysts and a picturesque backdrop for early photographs. Archaeologists had failed to value adaptation, the process whereby the castle had become part of a changed environment. By this failure, they had ‘severed the linkages’ that justified the castle’s existence.


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