The Castle of Tilburg: A medieval castle in an industrial city

15 minutes to read
Ellis Quaedvlieg

Unlike other cities in North-Brabant, such as Den Bosch and Breda, Tilburg does not have a historical city centre. This paper deals with a historic building formerly in Tilburg that was removed to make space for growing industry.

First, this building and its location will be described in detail. Then the kind of audience interested in visiting the site and how they deal with the presence of an historical site in their living environment will be described. Following that the local, regional, national and European policies regarding intact historical buildings will be described, and further how a sight that does not attract tourists or have monetary value can still be a source of social capital for a community. Finally, some advice will be given on how a piece of heritage that seems to be lost can be preserved for future generations.

A Castle in Tilburg?

In the second half of the 20th century many history buildings in Tilburg were demolished and replaced by factories and the city ring (Joachems, 2016).. One of the buildings demolished in order to make room for growing industry was the Castle of Tilburg (Kasteel van Tilburg). The Castle of Tilburg was most likely built around 1480 and was located on what it is now Van Bijlandtstraat, in the neighbourhood Hasselt. It was owned by “The Gentlemen of Tilburg” (De heren van Tilburg) (Geerts, 2013).

The first “Gentleman of Tilburg” lived in a Castle named “Ter Borch” in the nearby town of Oisterwijk, and owned a farmstead called “De Rijt” in Tilburg. In 1450, the Gentleman of Tilburg bought a “steenen camer” in the area Hasselt. A steenen camer is basically a house made out of stone instead of wood, which was more common building material. One of the gentlemen, Jan van Haestrecht, transformed this house into a castle. However, the castle was not resistant to violence and wars and by 1600, the original castle was replaced with a new one.

This new castle existed until 1755, when it was demolished with only its foundations remaining intact. From 1754 onwards, the castle was owned by the Van Hogendorp family, who built a new building on the grounds. This time it was a rectangular building surrounded by a canal. However, when the masculine lineage of the “Gentlemen of Tilburg” became extinct in 1858, the Van Hogendorp daughters decided to sell the castle to a wine merchant who in turn decided to demolish the castle in 1859.

What did this castle look like?

Despite the fact that we can no longer see the castle with our own eyes, Pierre van Beek described in Het Nieuwsblad van het Zuiden (The Newspaper of the South) what the Castle supposedly looked like. His article describes how the castle was surrounded by a canal and its entrance was accessible by a wooden bridge, which had two towers at its entrance. The castle itself consisted of three floors and an attic with a hipped roof. The interior of the castle consisted of a lobby, several rooms, a baking oven and four marble chimneys.

Outside the castle’s walls there was a vineyard and some fruit trees. The “Gentlemen of Tilburg” did not not only possess the castle itself, they also possessed a considerable amount of land outside the castle’s canal. On these grounds there was a coach house, stables for horses, a house for the gardener, a dovecote and an orangery, which was a building where foreign crops (such as oranges) were stored in winter. Besides these buildings, there was also a forest behind the castle, in this forest was an icehouse which was used to save fruits and a large fishing pond (van Beek, 1970).

What is left of the castle?

After the castle was demolished, manufacturer Pessers decided to build a wool washing and sheep leather factory on the grounds. The factory was eventually closed in 1977 to make space for housing. After the factory was closed and the construction of the houses began, archaeological excavations were done on the grounds. During these excavations, the foundations of the “steenen camer” and the multiple building phases of the castle were found. During these excavations thousands of archaeological objects were found, which give our generation an idea of what life in the castle would have looked like. Some of these objects are pn display at MFA de Poorten, a local community centre in Tilburg. Other objects, such as a map dating back to 1760, are stored in the Regional Archive of Tilburg because they are too vulnerable to display (Stadsmuseum TIlburg, 2013).

The foundations that are left of Tilburg's Castle

After the excavations, houses were built on the former grounds of the castle, and a park (Stenen Kamerpark) now stands on the area of the castle itself.The foundation of the castle has been made visible in the park (Kastelen in Nederland, 2016). This foundation is not the only place in Tilburg where one can see (the remains) of a castle, we can also find a castle on the logo and weapon of the Tilburg municipality (Geerts, 2009).

Giving the castle new life

Despite the castle not being present anymore, there is still a lot of interest in the history of the castle. For instance in January 2018 a lecture about the castle was held in the Regional Archive of Tilburg (Heemkundekring Tilborch, 2018). The castle also drew attention in 2017, the year that King Willem-Alexander visited Tilburg on his birthday (27 April, Kingsday). Under the name “Kasteel013” activities were organised in the Stenen Kamerpark. Kasteel013 was a large local cultural project with the aim of bringing attention to the castle again, despite it not being visible anymore.

Even people that live in the neighbourhood are often not aware of the former castle, despite streets in the neighbourhood named after the inhabitants of the castle (for instance Van Hogendorpstraat), or even carrying the word “kasteel” in the street name (such as Kasteeldreef) (Kasteel013, 2017). On April 21st 2017, a whole day of activities related to the castle took place in the neighbourhood.

During the day a sports day for the local primary school took place in the Stenen Kamerpark and later in the day activities were organised for visitors of all ages. These included a walking-route and storytelling experience in the neighborhood and a visit to the exhibition at MFA De Poorten. The highlight of the day was a theatrical performance on the foundation of the castle in the Stenen Kamerpark (Kasteel013, 2017). The project was realised with the help of the “Buurtcultuurfonds Tilburg” (neighbourhood culture foundation). The aim of this foundation is to facilitate cultural activities in several neigbourhoods in Tilburg (Duindam, sd).

Cultural Heritage and Policy

The municipality of Tilburg's cultural policy states that heritage has an important unifying power. Telling stories about the history of Tilburg gives meaning to the city and increases awareness of cultural identity among inhabitants. When stories about Tilburg are told in the right context, inhabitants get a more accurate view of the urban development of the city. Heritage in the city is good for inhabitants' identity and authenticity. It creates social cohesion and can be an inspiration for education, art, literature, and storytelling (gemeente Tilburg, 2016). This can be seen in the activities organised on Kasteel013 day, as there were opportunities to create paintings and crafts, and stories about the castle and life in the neighbourhood were told in an interactive manner (Kasteel013, 2017).

In the cultural policy document of North-Brabant it becomes clear that heritage is an important part of our living environment. According to the cultural policy calendar, heritage is essential for people’s imagination. In heritage one can find norms and identities of a living environment, it can be a force for innovations and can inspire people. Heritage can be a reason for people to get to know each other better and to come up with creative ideas to keep heritage alive (Meijs-Appels, 2015).

According to a letter posted by the Dutch ministry of Education, Culture, and Science (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, O.C.W.) the majority of the Dutch population finds it important that heritages pieces stay intact, even  when living environments are changing. It is important to secure our heritage, such as unique historical city centres, monuments, and historical landscapes, as these sites can inspire us in the creation of future living environments.

An important challenge is getting all inhabitants involved with heritage. It is important that people are involved with heritage from a young age. One way this can be done is through education (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, 2018). The involvement of education can also be seen in the case of the Kasteel013 project, which involved a local primary school in the activities (Kasteel013, 2017).

The Council of the European Union considers cultural heritage an important issue as well. Cultural heritage pieces are unique features of our living environments that cannot be replaced. Further they encourage citizens’ involvement in the public life. Cultural heritage can give citizens a feeling of being part of a larger community and increase the well-being of individuals and their communities. Also, cultural heritage gives inhabitants the opportunity to develop creatively, such as how the Kasteel013 project gave many inhabitants of the neighbourhood a chance to show their creative skills (Council of the European Union, 2014).

Local inhabitants reconstructing the castle using jerrycans in a theatrical performance

Investing in community

Whether an investment project is small or big, they all impact the society in one way or another, and so the activities on the grounds of the castle also have an impact on society. These effects cannot only be calculated in monetary value but also in social value. Cultural heritage can help to increase how inhabitants identify themselves with their neighbourhoods(Bowitz & Ibenholt, 2008). Many local organisations such as a theatre, a choir and a cookery school were involved in organising the Kasteel013 day, as well as many individuals from the neighbourhood. On the website it is even stated that practically all people involved in the project came from the neighbourhood (Kasteel013, 2017).

Ruijgrok (2006) states that the economic value of a piece of cultural heritage can produce a certain amount of welfare for the community, and that this welfare might be even more valuable than the financial benefits of a historical site (Ruijgrok, 2006). In the case of the castle of Tilburg, where there is not much left of the original, this community involvement is very important in keeping the story alive.

According to Murzyn-Kupisz (2013), when new attention is paid to a sight, new visitors can be attracted but this may discourage old visitors from coming back to the sight. As described earlier, Tilburg does not have many historic buildings that can attract new visitors, therefore it is not necessary to differentiate old and new visitors to a site such as the castle of Tilburg. But when a “new” heritage-related service becomes available, and this service can be related to both cultural and recreational service, it may become a reason for local residents to pay attention to the heritage piece since they no longer have to leave their neighbourhood to access it.

Additionally, the projects related to the Castle of Tilburg are focused on the local community. Although a project like Kasteel013 could be visited by anyone, it was mainly people living in the neighbourhood that visited the project and felt proud that they are living on the grounds where a castle once stood. Events like these generate economic value by selling food and drinks, but they also have the potential to support the knowledge economy and the creative sector.

During the Kasteel013 event visitors learned a lot about the castle while at the same time doing something creative such as painting or watching a creative performance by a local theatre ensemble or choir (Kasteel013, 2017). A heritage sight in the neighbourhood can also be an important indicator for local identity. A heritage sight can make inhabitants feel proud of their neighbourhood, it can give them a sense of belonging and pride and can be facilitate intra-generational communication and develop social capital (Murzyn-Kupisz, 2012).

Intra-generational communication was also seen during the Kasteel013 project since all generations living in the neighbourhood were involved in the project,. There were both activities especially aimed at children through the local primary school, but other activities that could be visited by people of all ages (Kasteel013, 2017). People not only feel proud during community activities, but also on social media.

OnFacebook people talk about how proud they were of the castle that was once a part of their living environment. On Facebook there are several groups especially for inhabitants of Tilburg, one of these groups is called “Alle Tilburgse Herinneringen In Een Group” (All Memories of Tilburg In One Group”), in this group inhabitants can share historic pictures or stories about the city and other inhabitants can react to them. A picture of the castle was posted in the group. The user that posted the photo gave a bit of information about the castle and the street where it was located. Other users showed their pride in the castle through their reactions to the post. One user commented : “Unbelievable, I have been living in Tilburg for my entire life, the photos that I see in this group keep surprising me. How things have changed. How beautiful it used to be!” Another user said: “My parents told me last year that I am living on the former grounds of the castle … quite cool” (Facebook, 2014).

Layered history, layered opportunity

Despite peoples' pride in living on the grounds of a former castle, the fact remains that the castle was removed in order to make space for growing industry, something the inhabitants are also now proud of, as it is an important asset for the city's future (Luycks, nd). In Eindhoven, another city characterised by its industrial past, the traces of history before the industrial revolution are no longer visible. During the National Archaeology Days in 2018, city guides gave tours through the city of Eindhoven explaining what life in the city used to be like, and talked about the history of buildings that have disappeared from Eindhoven (van Elten, 2018).

During the National Archaeology Days in 2018, Tilburg participated with a programme focused on the Roman past of the city, but also with a little bit about Tilburg during Medieval times and the Castle of Tilburg (Nationale Archeologie Dagen, 2018). This year the National Archaeology Days will take place again on the 11th, and 12th and 13th of October 2019. The programme of this year has not been announced yet, but it would be a nice opportunity to show the history of Tilburg to the public. In Eindhoven they have created 3D-glasses that visitors can wear during a city tour in Eindhoven and through the glasses they can see what the city used to look like (van Elten, 2018). I suggest to do something similar in Tilburg. Combining technology with history is something that can attract many layers of the population, especially those who are interested in seeing how 3D technology works and those who are interested in the history of their own city. Being able to see with your own eyes how a city used to look like may result in people being able to see the hidden beauty of Tilburg again.


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