Over the last two decades, the Marlborough Mound Trust has carried out extensive conservation and investigations on the ‘mound’ in the grounds of Marlborough College. The origins of the mound were uncertain until recently. It was known to have been part of Marlborough Castle, but there had been persistent speculation, on the strength of its resemblance to neighbouring Silbury Hill and the discovery of antlers in the early twentieth century (now lost) that it was of prehistoric origin. In 2008, when Silbury Hill was being investigated, the opportunity of taking cores from the mound to obtain comparative dates presented itself. After a precarious operation involving a very large crane, the necessary drilling rig was hoisted to the top of the mound. The resulting cores, as a paper published the following year by Jim Leary and his colleagues showed, supported a date in the second half of the third millennium BC, broadly contemporary with Silbury Hill.
Jim Leary has subsequently carried out a survey of some fifty castle mottes, looking for other sites where prehistoric mounds could have been reused as the base for a castle, and has found only one other rather uncertain case. This means that Marlborough may be unique in being a prehistoric structure recycled into a medieval castle.
But we now know more about the prehistory of the mound than the supposed castle keep. The only possible sighting of masonry on the mound is uncertain in the extreme. H. C. Brentnall, a master at Marlborough College, in one of his many contributions to the Proceedings of the College’s Natural History Society on the the history of the castle, had this to say in 1936:
“Excavations necessitated by building operations at Marlborough College in the course of this summer have revealed several traces of the medieval castle which perished gradually between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. What little remains above ground (if the elevation justifies that expression) is to be seen on the summit of the motte, where a buttress of the keep was laid bare some years ago.“
The note implies that the buttress was visible in 1936, but recent geophysical surveys have not found it.
The problem is further compounded by the subsequent use of the mound. It became a garden feature in the seventeenth century, and a spiral was cut into the side of it to give access to a summerhouse at the top. Stukeley’s engraving of the countess of Hertford’s gardens in 1723 shows only the summerhouse, and no traces of masonry.
About the same time, a water tank was installed to supply the Hertfords’ newly built mansion. This was enlarged by the College after its establishment in 1843, and adapted over the years, until the top of the mound was graced by a large iron tank surrounded by a spoil bank, concrete steps, and substantial pipework. This meant that in effect most of the original top of the mound had been destroyed.
This raises the question of what we are looking for. The earliest mentions of the site, in 1070 and 1110, present the king’s establishment as a place of imprisonment and a site where a royal court was held. In the 1140s, Marlborough castle is first mentioned as such. It is described ‘very defensible’ in The Deeds of King Stephen. It was held by John Marshal, who used it to control the surrounding countryside, and there is no record of it ever being attacked.
The only entry in the plentiful records for the castle under Henry II and Henry III is in the context of payments in 1222 for work designed to create a substantial royal residence there. This is a single sum for the building of a lime kiln ‘for the Great Tower’, which must therefore have been of stone. There is no indication where this tower was sited, and it may well have been part of the lower bailey. It has simply been assumed that it was on the mound.
An inconclusive exploratory dig was carried out by Wessex Archaeology for the Mound Trust in 2019, and at the time of writing, it is still hoped that a follow up to this will be possible in 2020. The present assumption is that the mound was among the hastily erected timber forts from immediately after the Norman conquest, and that this was replaced by a stone keep after 1222. It would be good to be able to find some actual evidence as to the nature and even the existence of the keep at Marlborough.
Richard Barber is a trustee of the Marlborough Mound. He would welcome any comments, particularly on the replacement of timber with stone, and the nature of ‘great towers’: email rwbarberuk at yahoo.co.uk.
In 2018 Historic England commissioned reports to be carried out on Gleaston Castle near Ulverston, where the Castle Studies Trust have previously funded a survey of the site. The reports commissioned by Historic England were led by Chloe Granger of Crosby Granger Architects, and included a condition survey and concept feasibility study. The feasibility study was aimed at reviewing any potential repair and/or development that could allow the site to become sustainable.
Formerly, in 2015 the Castle Studies Trust grant-funded preparatory works at Gleaston Castle that included a Conservation Statement, geophysical surveys and 3D imagery, to begin the process of understanding more about the castle and its development. From this initial research, the follow-up condition survey and feasibility study prepared by Chloe and her team sets the scene for future repair works and lays the foundations for a potential sustainable future.
Gleaston Castle, listed Grade I and Scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, is located on the Furness Peninsula, Cumbria in what appears to be a remote location and strange position for a fortified castle. It is an enclosure castle dating to the 14th century, now a ruin, and has been recorded as such since the mid-16th century. The location on the Furness Peninsula would have historically been less remote, as access was via boat or by crossing the sands of the Morecambe Bay estuary at low tide – a mere short walk.
The exact date of construction of Gleaston Castle is not known; it was almost certainly built by John Harrington (knighted in 1306) and marked a move from the earlier coastal manorial residence at Aldingham, which had passed to the Harringtons in 1291, possibly in part prompted by early-14th century Scots raids. A date of c1325 is sometimes quoted although the earliest documentary reference is in the 1350s; several sources suggest that it was never finished. It appears to have been abandoned as a manorial residence after the death of Sir William Harrington in 1457 and c1540 it was recorded by Leland as lying in ruins, although some parts may have been re-occupied in the 17th century.
Gleaston is the probably nearest approach to a ‘quadrangular’ castle of a type more common in the North East, and typical of the earlier 14th century. It is not an exact rectangle in plan – the enclosure, 80 m in length north to south, narrows from 55 m at the north end to 45 m at the south. It has had corner towers, with the north-western, by far the largest, clearly containing the hall and subsidiary apartments.
The ruinous remains of the castle are in private ownership, incorporated into a working farm, which makes access difficult for the visitor. The structures are in a perilous condition, with falling masonry not an uncommon sight. General vegetation and rigorous ivy are the main culprits. The ivy on the south-east tower is known to Historic England as the largest, most substantial and ancient ivy known on a structure in the country. The scale of the issue is enormous. There is no management plan and no funding to enable a comprehensive strategy of repair to be carried out to safeguard the structures.
Through Chloe, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) have become involved and are planning a working party to begin to make a start on rescuing the castle. It is a colossal task, but the aim of the working party will be to raise awareness and put Gleaston castle on the map, which the team hopes will generate support for the cause. The volunteer working party team is hoping to carry out some initial vegetation clearance and some consolidation, with professionals offering their time pro-bono; the first required are an ecologist and an arboriculturalist. The initial working party is planned for September,
If anyone is interested in either contributing time or funds, your support would be greatly appreciated! For more information contact Chloe Granger on chloe at crosbygrangerarchitects dot co dot uk
The results are in, we’ve decided which projects we will be funding for 2020.
But before we get to the announcement, we want to thank all the applicants who proposed projects. It was a difficult decision, with exciting and innovative approaches to a group of fascinating castles. This year marks a milestone for us: we are award £30,000 across the successful projects which is the most we’ve given in a single year.
So without further ado, here are the five projects we will be funding in 2020. We hope you are looking forward to discovering more about them.
The project will develop a reconstruction drawing of the castle, as it would have been in the latter part of the 12th century, founded by William the Conqueror, in the second half of the 11th century.
We will be funding a second year of excavation, following on from 2019, this time to understand the rampart of the inner bailey.
Sowing the Seeds
The aim of the project is to try and understand better everyday life in castles by seeing if there are any surviving plants at four Irish castles that were planted, grown, and cared for by medieval people.
Could the Wirk be a Norse castle? Based on the island of Rousay, this stone tower is situated close to the old parish church and recently discovered Norse Hall. However, no one knows what this tower was used for or even when it was built.
Using various forms of geophysical survey to try and understand the subsurface features for the former caput of the Earls of Northumberland.
Donate regularly for invitation to exclusive site visits
Regular donors will be invited to all exclusive visits to the projects we fund.
Those who are able to donate £500 a year or more (excluding Gift Aid) will also have the opportunity to attend our annual special castle visit to major/privately owned castles. In 2020 this will be at Edinburgh Castle on Saturday 6 June where we will visit parts of the castle not open to the public.
Any new donations by standing order or payroll giving will be matched by a generous supporter for the next two years up to a maximum of £2,000 a year in total.
You can donate regularly via payroll giving or by setting up a standing order. Please return the form to the address on the forms, with the gift aid form if applicable.
deadline for grant applications passed on 30th November. We’re going through
the various projects now. Altogether the 13 projects, coming from England,
Ireland, and Scotland are asking for over £88,000. They cover not only a wide
period of history but also a wide range of topics. In a little more detail,
here are the applications we’ve received:
The main aim is to recover evidence for the base natural topography around the approach to the main gate of the once royal castle, from the area of the medieval village, and explore how this was altered, presented and exploited to create a sense of theatre for visitors to the site.
A geoarchaeological auger survey of the moats that surround this former royal castle and palace of Thomas Becket. The survey aims to answer such questions as what were the moats original profiles, when were the moats filled and how do the two moats compare with each other.
To try and understand the date of the construction of the castle owned by the MacDougall clan through various through buildings and materials analysis including radiocarbon dating and mortar analysis.
Fraoch Eilean, Loch Awe
To try and understand the date of the construction of the former royal castle through various through buildings and materials analysis including radiocarbon dating and mortar analysis.
The aim of the project to continue the work the CST funded in 2019 with excavations and building survey. Further excavations will try and understand the purpose of the structures found in the 2019 excavation season and if they were related to the original great tower.
Holme Pierpont, Nottinghamshire
To build up an understanding of this late medieval great house, never previously researched. The work will include a mixture of desk research, building survey and geophysical survey of the parkland surrounding it. The house is the most complete of the three late medieval brick-built houses in Nottinghamshire.
To develop a reconstruction drawing of the castle as it would have appeared in the second half of the 12th century. Lincoln Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century.
To fund a second year of excavation, this time to understand the rampart of the inner bailey. The geophysical survey carried out in the 2019 suggested there could be remains of buildings there, possibly even a late Saxon church. Shrewsbury was a very important border castle up until the 13th century and frequently used as a base for English raids into Wales.
Sowing the Seeds
The aim of the project is to try and understand better everyday life in castles by seeing if there are any surviving plants at four Irish castles that were planted, grown and cared for by medieval people. The research will involve ecological surveys at each location.
Strongholds of Wessex
The aim of the project is to understand the military organisation of the northern part of Wessex (Wiltshire and West Oxfordshire) from the transition from Saxon to Norman rule between the 9th and 12th centuries. The work will involve documentary research, landscape and place name surveys. Sites examined will include Castle Combe, Cricklade and Silbury Hill.
The Wirk, Orkney
Could the Wirk be a Norse castle? Based on the island of Rousay, this stone tower is situated close to the old parish church and recently discovered Norse Hall. However, no one knows what this tower was used for or even when it was built. The work would involve a geophysical survey of the surrounding area as well as two trial trenches to try and find dating evidence.
Thermal Imaging of Castles
To test how useful thermal imaging could be in understanding castles. The thermal survey using a FLIR camera of two castle facades in different climates. within the UK—Caisteal Uisdein, on the coast of Loch Snizort, and a castle farther south and slightly inland, Castle Rising.
Using various forms of geophysical survey to try and understand the subsurface features for the former caput of the Dukes of Northumberland. The survey will focus on the bailey inside the 12th-century curtain wall as well as the strip of land outside but on the early earthwork castle, the motte and field near the entrance to the castle.
The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. And if you want to know more about how the assessment process works, we have a brief summary.
As it’s September, we are now accepting grant applications for projects to run next in 2020. Grants are for projects which improve the understanding of castle and cover up to £10,000 and applications close on 28 November. Since we started awarding grants in 2014, we have given a total of £100,000 across 24 projects.
If you’re searching for ideas previous grants have supported fieldwork such as excavations at Shrewsbury and geophysical survey at Tibbers, and interpretative projects such digital reconstructions of Holt and Ruthin and a series of videos by Dig It! TV.
It is always exciting to see the applications come in and learn what people have in mind. Our website has more information on our grants, including the criteria projects are assessed on and the application form. If you have questions about grants or want feedback, please contact Jeremy Cunnington (our Chair) at email@example.com
We have the results of the survey at Fotheringhay Castle. You can find out more about what we found in Steve Parry’s excellent blogpost, complete with the earliest depiction of the castle.
The castle is most famous as the place where Mary Queen of Scots was tried and executed. It was thoroughly dismantled in the first half of the 17th century, leaving the motte intact but little else above ground. Thanks to work by the Museum of London Archaeology and funded by the Castle Studies Trust, we now have a better idea of how the castle was arranged.
The investigations funded by the Castle Studies Trust at Shrewsbury Castle, one of the most important castles along the Anglo-Welsh border have now finished. Dr Nigel Baker reveals the preliminary findings of those investigations.
Before the dig began two weeks ago, our geophysics survey showed (with complete accuracy as it turned out) a spread of hard material just under the grass directly opposite the castle hall – possibly the remains of demolished buildings. Almost immediately the turf was off it became apparent that the hard material was not rubble but a low ridge of gravel, curving slightly as it headed south towards the main gate. Cut into this road surface (as we took it to be) were round, flat-bottomed topsoil-filled cuts, probably Victorian and later flower beds.
through the gravel immediately revealed further, cleaner gravel, that appeared
to be of natural/geological origin; further testing demonstrated that all the
gravel was natural – the natural/geological top of the hill. It had been
levelled, planed-off horizontally, in the fairly recent past, possibly in 1925-6
when the castle was restored, and any archaeological layers or building remains
above the gravel would have been removed.
However, at the east end of the trench the gravel was found dug away at a 45-degree angle by a single, massive cut, with medieval pottery in the soil within it. The cut was recognised as the edge of the great defensive ditch that formerly encircled the base of the Norman motte. This would have been about 12 metres wide; the geophysics suggests there was probably a bridge over it, just north of the excavation, opposite the present hall entrance. The objects found in the ditch include pottery – cooking pots and glazed jugs – from the period roughly 1100-1400, and a large quantity of animal bone from food waste. There were also two arrow heads or crossbow-bolt heads, both of the ‘bodkin’ type: sharp, square-edged heavy points designed to penetrate armour and clearly for military use rather than hunting.
The principal conclusion of the excavation was that, when the castle was first built by the Normans in or just before 1069, the motte, with its defensive ditch, was enormous, and the inner bailey was tiny – it was little more than an extra layer of fortification wrapped around the approach up to the motte.
We are excited to announce five grants totalling a record £27,000 that will advance our understanding of castles. These awards mean we have reached the landmark of giving away £100,000 in grants. It has taken six years for us to do that during which time the Trust has doubled the maximum amount we can award to £10,000.
Druminnor, Aberdeenshire – Using GPR for an investigation of the 15th century core of the castle – presently under a hardcore car park. This was the original caput of the lords of Forbes. During the 15th century they were amongst the most powerful families in the North-east of Scotland.
Hoghton Tower, Lancashire – This project aims to form an axis of research into Hoghton Tower’s unique physical history. The main focus will be to investigate and advance the knowledge of the pre-1560 site and specifically try to test the hypothesis that the north side building may form part of the ‘original’ Hoghton Tower.
Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire – Excavation to try to confirm the findings of the geophysical surveys the CST funded in 2018. These indicated that the castle was placed right on the top of a high status Saxon dwelling.
Shrewsbury, Shropshire – Geophysical survey and excavation to determine how the castle buildings were laid out in the bailey. This will be the first time the well preserved motte-and-bailey castle has been excavated. First mentioned in 1069, Shrewsbury Castle was a key point along the Anglo-Welsh border and fell into ruin following the conquest of Wales.
Wressle, East Yorkshire – A geophysical survey of the area to the south of the castle ruins which had been covered by the previous earthwork survey funded by the CST, to get more information about the various garden structures there, as well as other details regarding the deserted village, moat and fishponds. The 14th century castle was one of the most important castles owned by the Earls of Northumberland.
Be sure to follow us on social media where we’ll be bringing you updates from the field, with work starting this month. In the meantime, here are some of our supporters discussing our work. we hope you’re looking forward to this year’s projects as much as we are!