21. Inside Caesar's Tower
The North East turret of Caesar’s Tower contains a stone spiral staircase providing access to the upper floors. The well in the South East turret was investigated and drained in 1819 and found to be lined with stone 60 feet down from ground floor level, then extending a further 10 feet into the bedrock of red sandstone, from which a strong spring of water issued from fissures. It is also accessible 20 feet higher, from a small chamber on this floor. The North West turret is a latrine block serving the lower floors, and notably has no visible means of drainage or emptying – such as the external access still evident at the base of John of Gaunt’s Tower.
It would be unusual, as a Norman keep, not to have had a dungeon. Permission to establish a gaol at Kenilworth was granted in 1155, for which 100 shillings was allowed in 1173, and since when it was periodically repaired. A 17 feet deep excavation of the ground floor was made in 1838 in a vain search for such an underground prison. However, although the ‘keep’, ‘donjon’, and even ‘le dungeon’, were recorded medieval references to the whole tower, the Chirk Survey of 1563 does refer to a ‘mervelous depe dungeon’ still existing at the time. The dungeon was therefore in the South West turret, before its base was excavated down to ground level to enable the installation of the timber staircase.
In 1264 many prisoners were brought to Kenilworth after the battle of Lewes. Eleanor Cobham, wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason and witchcraft, and was interned here from 1441 until 1447. High status prisoners would usually have been relatively comfortable elsewhere within the castle, with merely their liberty being restricted. Prisons mainly held civil law offenders, such as debtors, since criminals typically suffered more immediate and brutal punishment. Later, in 1642, some royalist prisoners were confined here having been captured at the battle of Edgehill.
The timber staircase provided a more impressive passage through the Tower down to the new garden. At the top of the staircase is a small chamber, thought to have been a private chapel. Near the top of this tower are offset corbels (still evident today) which imply that the beams supporting the floor of the top chamber curiously spanned diagonally.
The North room above the Loggia was probably a bed chamber, with access via steps down to its own garderobe or latrine.