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North-east corner of the square fortfied central enclosure, Folkingham Castle.The square ringwork at the heart of the castle site probably evolved from a pre-conquest fortification and would have been the site of the castle’s principal buildings.





The arrival of the Normans in many ways exacerbated the extant issues regarding Folkingham’s development. The pattern of ownership by a leading baron continued through the post-conquest and later medieval period. Although these tenants-in-chief had their seat at Folkingham, their sphere of interests was wide-ranging - it is clear they were not particularly interested in developing Folkingham as a town.

So Folkingham gradually transformed from a soke centre into an aristocratic seat. An impressive castle was ultimately built on the site of the earlier fortified residence, its tall white-washed tower imposing a sense of lordship. And this would have continued as the place of regional governance, where manorial justice was administered and soke dues rendered. Between the castle and church, which we also know was rebuilt after the conquest, a market place developed, which was later licensed for regular markets and fairs. From this market function trades, retailers and alehouses must have evolved, but of these we now have little evidence. Folkingham’s sphere of interest extended outside the town to the large annual market which developed around the feast day of St Ætheldreda at Stow Green, and the mother house of the Gilbertine order at Sempringham, both of which was closely linked to the tenants-in-chief of the manor.

But while Folkingham developed some of the attributes associated with a town, its single autocratic ownership stifled entrepreneurialism. There was no independent structure of burgesses, such as evolved at Stamford, where leading businessmen established control of the town’s affairs.

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Twelfth-century gold brooch found at Folkingham Castle in the 1860s.
The brooch, in the form of a slender shield, has a beautiful image of a heradic lion, a symbol adopted by the de Gants in this period. It was probably given by Robert de Gant to his wife.


Gilbert de Gant’s possession of the soke of Folkingham heralded a dynasty which lasted for over two hundred years, finally ending in 1298. Although Folkingham was probably their primary residence in England, this does not mean that the family were here on any regular basis. They were an international aristocratic family with interests across the country and on the continent. Barons and attendant knights were expected to pay regular service to the king, travelling and fighting with him on successive campaigns. Another factor to take on board is that the de Gants, and the later Beaumonts, did not own the estate of Folkingham. They were aristocratic tenants-in-chief who held their lands on gift from the king. This gift could be as quickly withdrawn as it could be granted.

As leading aristocrats, the de Gants were involved in national affairs of state. Gilbert’s eldest son, Walter (born 1087) sided with Stephen of Blois’ claim, as the grandson of William the Conqueror, to the throne during the so-called Anarchy of 1135-55, fighting against the rival position of the Empress Matilda. Walter was at Stephen’s Easter court in 1136 and fought at the Battle of the Standard, near Northallerton (Yorkshire), in 1138.

Gilbert III was an important player in the events at the end of King John's reign, surrounding Louis’ invasion attempt, which began with him arriving on English soil in May 1216, and ended at the Battle of Lincoln in May 1217.


Joseph Featherstone’s Plan and Survey of the Castle Hill, Walls and Ditches

of Folkingham in the County of Lincoln, 1765.
Featherstone’s plan of 1765 clearly shows the relationship between the castle and the town, with the castle precincts dominating the settlement.


Folkingham Castle in the post-conquest period can be classed as a higher-status baronial castle - that is one owned by one of the king’s tenants-in-chief, rather than a honourial castle, which is one erected by a tenant of the baron. There were fourteen such baronial castles in Lincolnshire, with the nearest being at Bourne, Castle Bytham and Stainby - Sleaford Castle was uniquely an ecclesiastical property of the Bishops of Lincoln. Of these, nine were founded in manors which had soke status, suggesting that baronial castles were an evolution of existing aristocratic control.

It is likely that Folkingham’s Norman post-conquest castle was developed from the fortified residence of his predecessor, Ulf of Fenisc.

Joseph Featherstone's plan of 1765 affords a good impression of the form of the medieval castle. It clearly shows the fortified oval ringwork surrounding a roughly square platform, some two hundred and forty six feet on each side, on which the main castle buildings would have stood. The Normans would have strengthened its defences, adding a wooden pallisade and developing the surrounding ditch/moat and bank works to the east, while erecting new buildings within. The bailey area, which contained the lesser service buildings, filled the outer area of the ringwork, with a focus on the western entrance which faced into the safety of the settlement.

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Thirteenth-century window, south side of chancel, St Andrew’s Church, Folkingham.This window forms part of the rebuilding of the chancel in the mid-late thirteenth century. The style is still Early English, with two pointed lights surmounted by a trefoiled roundel. The hood mould has heads for label stops.


The development of Sempringham Priory into a major monastic house has eclipsed its origins, which were closely tied to Folkingham. It was common for Norman barons in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to support, or initiate, the foundation of priories in the vicinity of their castles, to act as houses of intercessionary prayers and as mausoleums. Sempringham fits this pattern perfectly, with the de Gant family providing the lands and funding to formally establish the house in the mid-twelfth century.

In 1130, Gilbert of Sempringham succeeded his father and built a dwelling and cloister for nuns to the north of the parish church of St Andrew. He subsequently introduced lay brothers, whose role was carry out manual labour. Key to the future of Gilbert’s growing community, was the gift made in 1139 by Gilbert de Gant II of three carucates of land for a nunnery in the valley of the Marse Dyke in Sempringham. Three carucates would equate to approximately 360 acres. This land, which was part of the Folkingham manorial estate, gave Gilbert the site he needed to establish a formal monastic house. It also came with the rights to two mills in Folkingham.

It is said that Gilbert’s influence on Sempringham was so powerful that the ‘village entered the monastery, men and women, and the village disappeared’. While probably an exaggeration, it goes some way to explaining the absence of any village settlement there today.



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Folkingham’s entry in the Domesday Book, 1086.
All entries in the Great Survey were compiled in abbreviated Latin. This is the earliest instance of the place name being recorded - the spelling is Folchingeham meaning “Homestead belonging to Folc(a)”. Source: Open Domesday.



The Domesday Book, or Great Survey, completed in 1086, provides a unique record of land and property ownership and taxable income in England in the eleventh century. Lincolnshire was important in that it had the second-largest population of any county, with a high proportion of freemen who paid tax. Further, Lincoln was one of the largest cities in the country, alongside London, Norwich and York.
   The entry for Folkingham records:


  • A total population of thirty-eight households consisting of twenty-four villagers, nine smallholders and five soke or free men. Sleaford had fifty households and Bourne fifty-four. Billingborough as a comparision had nineteen households. However, many dependent soke settlements were bigger, such as Walcot with fifty-one families, which is now just a hamlet.

  • Total tax assessed: twelve geld units - this was the same tax as Sleaford and Spalding, but much more than Bourne which was assessed at five and a half.

  • Twelve ploughlands: five lord’s plough teams and seven men’s plough teams.

  • One hundred acres of meadow and eighty acres of coppice woodland.

  • One mill, valued at ten shillings and eight pence, and one church.

  • The lord in 1066 was Ulf Fenisc, while the lord in 1086 was Gilbert de Gant.


Twelfth-century beaded scalloped capitals, St Andrew’s Church, Folkingham.
These multi-scalloped capitals, shafts and arch are all that survives of the post-conquest rebuilding of St Andrew’s.


St Andrew’s Church occupies a dramatic position at the highest point of the valley ridge, its tower commanding views across the rolling landscape. Instead of being located adjacent to the castle, as is common in many settlements, the church is situated at the opposite side of the market place, right at its northern extremity. We have already seen that this was probably a legacy of the layout of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, which developed around an early minster church.  

In the post-conquest period, the new Norman overlords were keen to express their status through both military and religious architecture. Of this church, there is now only a tantalising glimpse, in the form of what is either a re-set chancel arch, or an in-situ transept arch, now tucked away next to the organ. This dates from c.1180, so just after Sempringham, and has a pointed double-chamfered head, a western jamb of three rolls with beaded scalloped capitals and a semi-circular eastern jamb with fillet and a moulded capital. Given the form of Sempringham, could this have been part of a crossing tower with transepts which for some reason failed to survive? The date would mean that it was erected during the time of Robert de Gant’s lordship.

The earliest substantial part of Folkingham church to survive is the late thirteenth-century ironstone chancel. This is out of alignment with the later nave and probably follows the orientation of the earlier church.

Plan of Sempringham Priory, Lincolnshire.
No physical fabric from the medieval priory survives above ground, but the conventual buildings have been extensively excavated, allowing for plans of their layout to be drawn up. Source: British Archaeological Association, 1939.

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