Lord Leicester's Stables, Kenilworth Castle

Description of this historic site

The present building of Lord Leicester's Stables is a 16th century structure with a timber frame on three sides, the fourth side being the Castle curtain wall. There is a large central porch.

Notes about this historic site

1 A stable building was built against the curtain wall in the 14th or 15th century. It was shorter and less wide than the surviving structure.
2 Tree ring analysis could suggest construction of the present roof structure in, or soon after AD 1659-84, using timbers from the original roof (AD 1543-68), and also giving evidence of modification/repair in AD 1613-38 and AD 1623-48. At least one timber of late 17th/early 18th century has also been identified within the roof timbers, possibly representing a later repair.
3 Further report on tree ring dating. Forty unprovenanced timbers removed from the stables in the early 1980s were assessed for dendrochronological potential. Six datable samples were taken. At least two phases of construction were indentified, the earliest consisting of three trees producing termini post quem dates of after AD1479, after AD1531 and after AD1539. These may date to the assumed date of construction of the stables by Lord Leicester in AD 1571. The second phase is represented by two timbers producing a felling date range of AD 1675-1707, and a possible felling date range of AD 1654-86. It is possible that these may relate to repairs to the stables resulting from damage sustained during the Civil War.
4 The stables are built against the eastern curtain wall of the castle that dates from the reign of King John (1199-1216), but with later alterations and rebuilding. Stables are first mentioned in accounts of 153-2 and again in a list of 1539-40, but the location is not stated. The construction of the stabhles has, until recently, been attributed to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, builder of the nearby Leicester’s buildings and the northern gatehouse. However, a survey of the castle of c.1563, known as the Chirk Survey states that the stables were built by the Duke of Northumberland, the father of Robert Dudley and owner of the castle between 1549 and 1553. This is supported by the tree-ring dating referred to in 2 and 3. The Chirk survey gives measurements that are 4.9m shorter than both the length of the stables today and that shown on a map of 1656. It has been suggested that, perhaps during work by Leicester on the stables, the northern end was reduced in length. The survey also suggests a hay-loft.
5 Work carried out in and around the former stable block, recorded numerous archaeological features and layers both inside and outside the building. The offset foundations of the porch were exposed and may suggest that this is an addition to the main building, perhaps part of the Earl of Leicester’s work carried out on the castle during the 1570s. The foundation for the main stable wall was also exposed and contained occasional fragments of probable ecclesiastical masonry, including part of a large semi-circular step.

Within the southern end of the stables the lowering of floor levels revealed several features. This included the offset foundation of the 13-century curtain wall (which forms the eastern wall of the stables) and the internal offset foundations of the stable block. Two stone-lined drains, which ran parallel to the main axis of the building, were also uncovered in several places along with the remains of stone floors. The drains contained occasional fragments of re-used window tracery, which either came from the ruins of Kenilworth Abbey or, perhaps more likely, from the chapel which lies immediately outside the stables. Some of the features had been exposed during the large-scale excavations which had been carried out within the stables between 1976 and 1984. Elements of the same features were also exposed which had not been recorded during the earlier excavations. Adjacent to the east wall two roughly square stone foundations seemed likely to be 17th- century or later, but their function remains uncertain. Occasional residual sherds of 13th- to 16th- century pottery were found, but the largest group dated to the first half of the 17th century and may attest to the Civil War garrisoning of the castle. A pistol ball found within a later fill of the eastern stone drain is likely to belong to the same period. Large fragments of plaster with lath marks on their rear surfaces might suggest internal partitions at the southern end of the stables, most likely on a now vanished upper floor. Finds also included a bone tuning peg from a stringed musical instrument of probable 14th- to 17th- century date.

At the north end of the building a service trench revealed evidence for the refacing of the interior of the curtain wall, possibly occurring when the current stables were built. The two stone drains were again exposed along with part of the stone moulding around the existing doorway.

The lower portion of the internal face of the stable walls, that which was likely to be covered over by the construction of new floors, was also drawn. No major discoveries were made but it did seem likely that the main western wall of the stables had not been substantially altered since it was built. Occasional mason’s marks were noted.

Outside of the building several small sections of service trench were dug. One of these uncovered a sandstone foundation of probable medieval date. It did not appear to be part of either the medieval chapel or the stables and probably pre–dates both. Just to the east of this wall a brick-lined well or cistern was uncovered. This still held water and seemed most likely to date from the later 18th century.

A gas pipe trench was also excavated from the northern boundary wall of the castle, past Leicester’s gatehouse and across the Outer Court to the northern end of the stables. To the north of the line of the curtain wall little significant archaeology was exposed, two small sandstone features possibly being the remains of a post-medieval farm building associated with the former Castle Farm. The curtain wall was exposed at two places on its expected alignment and at a very shallow depth below the current ground surface. A short distance south of this another wall was exposed, almost certainly part of a medieval building backing on to the curtain wall. It is just possible that this could be part of the ‘constabulls lodging’, referred to in a survey of circa 1563. A further sandstone feature, possibly a drain, just to the south of this wall is likely to be associated with it. To the south of this the trench exposed a layer containing occasional medieval pottery, tile and carved stone and another layer which contained 13 sherds of medieval pottery and may well have been the fill of a ditch or pit. Immediately to the south of this a further sandstone feature was possibly yet another medieval wall from another previously unseen building.

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