We Don’t Know Our Hogwarts From Our Windsor Castle

Brits’ towering castle confusion - millions think centuries-old castles date from the 1900s, were built from corrugated iron with moats to provide drinking water.

Rochester Castle in Kent

Rochester Castle in Kent

Britain is a nation of castle lovers - but according to our new research, our enthusiasm, appreciation and understanding is more likely to be based on fictional castles from the likes of Harry Potter and Game of Thrones than the real thing.

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The findings for Castles: Britain's Fortified History, reveal that millions of Brits enjoy visiting castles, and millions more would like to live, party or get married in one.

The research found that around a quarter of the 2,000 adults polled said they would like to live in a castle, a similar number would like to get married in a castle, two thirds would like to holiday in a castle, and one in three would like to host their own party in a castle.

Yet many think castles which date from the Middle Ages are as little as one hundred years old and were constructed in part from corrugated iron, invented in the 1820s and built with moats to provide drinking water for inhabitants.

However, Castle Grayskull, from 1980s cartoon Masters of the Universe, is better known than Rochester Castle in Kent, whose 12th Century keep or stone tower is one of the best preserved in England or France. And two thirds thought Castle Black, from TV smash hit Game of Thrones, actually exists.

Meanwhile Hogwarts, the fictional school of magic set in an imposing Scottish castle in the Harry Potter books and films, is more widely recognised than Warwick Castle, which is one of Britain's "Top 10 historic houses and monuments" according to the British Tourist Authority.

Dr Tracy Borman, author, historian and joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, said:

Britain has a rich, vibrant and fascinating range of castles and fortified buildings dating back over 1,000 years, and they have excited, bewitched and enthralled us over the centuries. For most of us, our first understanding and visual interpretation comes as children from books, TV and films, and these often romanticised images stay with us throughout our adult lives. There's clearly a huge fascination with castles for many millions of us, based on both fact and fiction, and finding out and learning more about the subject is something we can all enjoy.

Almost a third of those quizzed believe the Queen's royal residence Windsor Castle was built in the last 300 years - when in fact it was originally constructed around 1000 years ago, in the 11th Century.

A large group walk by Windsor Castle. Engraved by William Gaspey (1812-1888).

A large group walk by Windsor Castle. Engraved by William Gaspey (1812-1888).

While many castles originated in the 9th and 10th centuries, a third of Brits questioned didn't know that castles mainly date from the Middle Ages - classified as from the 5th to the 15th centuries.

Asked how the medieval period received its name, one in 16 claim it's because it was a period when historians believe most people had evil intent, half that number say the medicine of the time involved banishing evil spirits, and one in 28 because 'it was a time when a family called the Medievals ruled Britain'.

And while the generally accepted scholarly definition of a castle is a 'private fortified residence of a lord or noble', the 2,000 adults had varying ideas on what constitutes a castle:

  • Nearly four out of five say it must have turrets,
  • One in 10 say a king or queen must have lived there,
  • A quarter say it must have a moat, and,
  • A similar number say it must be 'over 100 years old.'

Adrian Wills, general manager for Yesterday, added:

Castles are such an important and inspiring part of British history, so it's no surprise that they are the setting for many fictional films and TV shows.  Castles: Britain's Fortified History will let Yesterday viewers see the truth behind the fascinating impact castles have had on our history and culture, and provide a real insight into why and how our ancestors created such remarkable buildings.

Castles: Britain's Fortified History is shown on the Yesterday channel every Thursday at 8pm, and is available to catch up on UKTV Play.