People are starting to see the first changes to Oakham Castle as the £2.2m restoration project continues.
The restoration project, which is funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, has meant that the castle, which has been largely hidden from the town for 40 years has been revealed.
The trees that surrounded the castle have been removed as they were growing through the castle banks and the castle’s exterior gates have also been removed, so they can be preserved.
Rutland County council leader Roger Begy (Con) said: “Oakham Castle has long been a hidden gem at the centre of the town and this first stage of the restoration shows just how concealed it’s really been.
“Revealing the walls so they can be seen clearly will greatly enhance the castle’s appearance and stature. We will be planting lots more trees on the site and placing them in carefully selected locations so the castle and curtain walls do not lose their distinctive identity again.”
The restoration is being carried out by conservation specialists Woodhead Heritage, who undertook the work to remove the gates. Each gate is more than 140 years old and weighs around 300kg.
Access to the castle grounds and Great Hall will now be restricted until the restoration is complete in summer 2016.
Richard Savage, site manager for Woodhead Heritage, said: “Projects like this ensure that we are able to preserve important historical buildings for generations to come.
“The work will also mean that Rutland County Council can provide a great asset for the community and guarantee a future for Oakham Castle.”
The castle itself was built around 1180 and grew into a fortified site with walls, a moat and drawbridge.
Over the centuries many parts of the castle have been lost and the moat filled in.
But sections of the defensive curtain wall still surround the site and are included on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.
Head of culture at Rutland County Council Robert Clayton said the removal of the trees was vital as they were becoming “increasingly unstable and damaging what remains of the walls beneath”.
He added: “Specialist ecologists assessed all the trees on site and recommended which ones should be retained and removed. None of the trees were subject to Protection Orders and we will be planting at least 15 new trees on the site over the next 10 years.
“We are also working with Oakham in Bloom which will create a special medieval garden within the Castle Grounds.”
The next step of the project is for expert stonemakers to repair the walls. The castle has been closed since August except for when it temporarily reopened for a day on October 6 for the Justice Service.
To find out more about the restoration visit www.oakhamcastle.wordpress.com