Scarborough Castle covers a large acreage, including the entire top of the headland and stretching beyond in the form of a barbican. The headland is a naturally defensible place: high cliffs drop into the sea all the way from the north-north-west around the east and to the south; on the northwest and southwest is a steep hill; and also there is a natural freshwater spring near the eastern edge. (See map below.) By the early 13th century, man-made fortifications had made this headland almost impenetrable, until the invention of powerful cannons.
The seaward-facing eastern and northern edges of the headland may well have had fortifications, but they were probably simple - maybe originally a timber palisade and later a low stone wall. More elaborate defenses were not needed, because the rather loose but nearly vertical cliff would be extremely difficult to climb and anyone pushed away at the top would fall to his death. What eastern walls existed, however, have long since fallen into the ocean as the cliffside is slowly crumbled back by wind and water.
At the extreme western end of the castle the current barbican, rebuilt in the 14th century, is the most recent large addition to the castle defenses. It is toward the town, and on the northwest end, of the castle dike. The barbican, or first ward, is the first level of defense. Castle Road, running up from the town, ends at the main gate which is flanked by two massive half-round towers.
The main barbican entrance to Scarborough Castle.
There are two smaller half- round towers to the left of the gate. The back side of the barbican has no towers, for it faces over a grassy cliff, though there was a small postern door in the wall (now filled in). The barbican hill is almost at the same elevation as the keep, which is probably one reason why it was included in the castle fortifications. From that hill an attacker would have a much easier time of bombarding the castle, than from in front of the dikes far below. Behind the barbican the hill drops steeply down to the level of the dykes (which are a deep dry trench stretching across the neck of the headland).
The barbican bridge from below and southeast.
The barbican is connected to the castle proper with a double draw bridge, divided with another gatehouse and towers. Beyond is the second ward, which climbs up to the foot of the keep and the wall surrounding the inner bailey. This wall is pierced with a third gatehouse at the left, northernmost, corner of the keep. Behind that third gate, to the east, lies the small third ward. The third ward was pierced by two more gates, the first opening east to the level, grassy field which comprises the bulk of the headland, the second opening south, at the easternmost corner of the keep and leading to the inner bailey (or fourth ward). The eastern wall is raised up on a mound of dirt; this wall is further strengthened by a ditch running outside it on the east. The sixth gatehouse is at the townward end of the eastern inner bailey wall. This last gate leads out over a bridge, across the ditch, to the grassy field. Not far beyond this is the Great hall and the King's Chambers built by King John in 1207-1212.
The curtain wall, crowning the long southwestern edge of the headland, is the most heavily fortified. It stretches from the southern edge of the second ward, south across the neck of the headland and then along the headland's southern edge to the sea. This wall has half-round towers at fairly regular intervals along it and the King's Chambers are also built against the inside of it, just past the end of the inner bailey. The hillside beneath this wall is less steep than the cliffs, and has been enhanced by the dike dug below it.
Most of the actual living space of Scarborough Castle was in the inner bailey. This is where the keep entrance is located (facing the southwest); there was a deep well, and a number of buildings. These buildings would have included storage-sheds, a brewery, bake house, kitchen, smithy, stables, maybe even rude cottages, and other such service buildings.
From a drawing by Ivan Lapper of how Scarborough Castle might have looked around 1350. 1
The keep itself was the final place of defense. It had three or four stories and was nearly 100 feet tall, crowned with four towers and battlements. (To see a 3D rendering of the Keep.) A-pitched roof for the keep may have been countersunk lower than the top of the walls, where a fourth story could have been; 2 however, other sources infer that the roof was flat and covered a fourth-story open room. 3 The entrance to the keep was on the second floor, reached by an outer staircase that passed through a projecting entryway, turned, and then climbed more steps to the main hall of the keep.
The keep from the south, showing the entry stairs and missing forebuilding.
The main hall was divided in half (north to south) by a long arch. Below this, and reached by a spiral stair in the now ruined west wall, was a basement used for storage. The privies would also have been in the thicker west wall. Above the small entry hall was a small chapel for the personal devotions of the lord (the governor) of the castle. The third floor was also divided by arches. It was the castle governor's living space and semiprivate audience hall. The governor and his lady probably would have had their own chamber, but servants and children would have slept in the same room or right outside (guards and normal servants would have slept and eaten in the main hall of the keep).