So, what did happen at Caerlaverock?

Lead research on the Weathering Extremes: Medieval Climate Change at Caerlaverock Castle Dr Richard Tipping outlines what he and the team of researchers found during their research.

After an engrossing year of field and laboratory analyses, the team of researchers from the Universities of Stirling, St Andrews and Coventry, along with Morvern French and Stefan Sagrott of Historic Environment Scotland, try to summarise what happened at Caerlaverock Castle, on the Scottish Solway coast, some 600 years ago.

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The new castle, top left, and the old castle, bottom right © RCAHMS

When it was built in AD1229-30, the older of the castles at Caerlaverock stood close to the coast. Salt marshes probably extended south, worked by salt-panners. But the Solway had been far from tranquil. On the coast, preserved intact for around 1,400 years, was a series of huge, 200m long, 20m wide sand and gravel ridges: barrier beaches created by extreme storm surges. They started to form around 200BC, in the late Iron Age, and probably continued into the 1st millennium AD. There were at least four (we don’t know if each was a single storm) that added 200m to the coast.

The builders of the old castle may not have given these much thought. But around AD1200, we think, extreme storm surges recurred, initially with an enormous event that ripped apart the earlier barrier beaches, eroded archaeological structures and impacted the coastal cliffs: we wrote about this event in our third blog . This had minimum wave heights >4.5m above highest ordinary tides. And these waves were not like those surfers play on; these were like tsunami, swelling and not breaking.

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We think the builders of the old castle added what has been called a harbour on the coast: our fourth blog described us coring its sediments. These went back 6,000 years, formed when the so-called harbour was a tidal creek, and they probably record the storm surges of the 1st millennium AD. The creek was widened and maybe deepened around AD1200, but even so, waves at the highest ordinary tides could not have flooded the harbour: the harbour wasn’t a harbour. But it was the only way freshwater in the moat system could drain to the sea. It was also, of course, the quickest route for storm surges, increasing in frequency if not scale, to force their way inland. But they didn’t. The sediments in the ‘harbour’ from around AD1200 record still-water, low-energy deposition. We have to think that somehow the ‘harbour’ entrance was blocked off by people increasingly scared of the changing climate – not that they understood what was happening


Much of this reconstruction, made in 2004, is now incorrect, but if you ignore the ship, this image shows the relation of the ‘harbour’ to the old castle © Crown Copyright HES

Our first two blogs  described the patient work of understanding sediments trapped in the moat system. Several different types of analysis converge to show that the moat system, inland of the ‘harbour’, was impacted by storm surges, at least twice in the 14th century. How come, when the harbour was blocked? We think the surges skirted round the ‘harbour’, pushing over low cliffs and across parkland to pour into the moat surrounding the old castle. We may not, of course, have recorded the earliest surges, only those after the moat system was dug. We still don’t know whether the storm surges caused the old castle to be abandoned. We think the wave energies were insufficient to undermine the structure. But wave heights will also have rattled the occupants, and we don’t know how big these were: we’ll keep on searching. The salt-panners, by the way, are not recorded after AD1304.

But around AD1277, the old Castle was abandoned and a new one built 200m inland. The final storm surge to impact the long-abandoned old castle was around AD1570, by which time a further six huge barrier beaches had been stacked up. But because its moat had to be filled from the same spring-line that fed the old castle, the new castle could not be located any higher than 7m above contemporary ordinary tides. This, we speculate, created a painful dilemma because this may not have been high enough to escape these medieval and later surges.


This project has demonstrated how our understanding of castles’ construction and landscape can change significantly as new techniques are employed. Also, medieval people were conscious of the effects of extreme natural weather events: a critical topic for the 21st century.

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Historic Environment Scotland is grateful for funding received from the Castle Studies Trust, and for research done by Dr Richard Tipping, Dr Eileen Tisdall, Dr Tim Kinnaird, Dr Aayush Srivastava, Dr Jason Jordan, Busie Gisanrin, Neil McDonald, Carla Ferreira, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre.

In turn, Richard and Eileen would like to thank Historic Environment Scotland, and particularly Morvern French and Stefan Sagrott, for support and assistance in every aspect of the work, and the Trustees of the Castle Studies Trust for their generous financial support and interest. Stefan Sagrott’s LiDAR imagery of Castle Wood was the catalyst to this work. The Caerlaverock Estate provided access to Castle Wood. Grateful thanks for help with fieldwork go to Valerie Bennett, Finn Thompson, Kath Usher, Richard and Laura Bates, Tim Kinnaird, Aayush Srivastava, Morvern French and Steve Farrar. Lisa Brown (HES) facilitated the 14C dating programme and the re-assessment of archaeomagnetic dating at the old castle. The staff at the SUERC 14C Laboratory, University of Glasgow) are thanked for the provision of 14C assays. Carla Ferreira is thanked for assistance with BACON software. Tim Kinnaird and Aayush Srivastava (University of St Andrews) provided more than just OSL age estimates. Jason Jordan (University of Coventry) supervised the diatom analyses in the western moat undertaken by Busie Gisanrin. Neil McDonald undertook particle size analyses from the western moat and the outer ditch. Steve Farrar (then at HES) and Andrew Burnett enthused over the interpretations.

Marlborough Castle: twenty years of restoration and exploration

After two decades of research into Marlborough Castle, the Marlborough Mound Trust has collated all the results of their work in to a new publication. Here, Richard Barber of the Trust looks at what they have found.

Marlborough Mound is one of the least visible of the great monuments of England, and almost unknown except to local historians and specialists. It stands in the middle of Marlborough College in Wiltshire, and even for generations of members of the school, it was no more than a mysterious but familiar presence, largely concealed by trees, and with nothing to explain what it is or why it is there.

In the last twenty years, the curiosity of one Marlburian, Eric Elstob, who set up a trust for its systematic restoration and the exploration of its history, has led to dramatic results. The key moment came when the Marlborough Mound Trust was offered the use of a coring machine by English Heritage, who were investigating the structure of Silbury Hill six miles down the Kennet valley. They wanted to see if the Mound was comparable to their site. As a result, we now know, thanks to the dating that radiocarbon analysis has enabled, that it is the second- largest Neolithic mound in the whole of Europe, broadly contemporary with Silbury Hill, and thus part of the much-vaunted ‘Stonehenge landscape’.

Marlborough Mound Now copyright Marlborough Mound Trust

Subsequent research by Jim Leary has shown that Marlborough is currently the only known example of the reuse of a prehistoric mound as a castle motte. However, only a few traces of the foundations of the medieval castle survive. We have nothing of the keep which once stood on the Mound. So here the question was not of archaeology – several trial pits were unsuccessful – but of historical research. Initially in the hands of the family of William Marshal, (whose family retained a connection with the castle as late as 1297), the records in the National Archives enable us to reconstruct many of the details of the vanished buildings.

However, the use of the castle in the early thirteenth century is a much richer story. To take one example, John sent the queen and his children to Marlborough for safety just before the signing of Magna Carta. For Henry III, it was one of his most favoured residences outside London, and he spent a total of about two years there in the first three decades of his reign. His love for Eleanor of Provence is reflected in the costly refurbishment of the royal chambers in the castle. There is also evidence of ‘herbers’, the small courtyard gardens found in other royal castles of this period.

After Henry III’s death, the castle passed to Eleanor, and thereafter was part of the dowry of English queens until 1548. It began to decay shortly after Eleanor’s death [insert date], when part of the great tower collapsed, and by 1400 the whole castle was more or less deserted. The meagre list of royal property there in the fourteenth century is matched by accusations against the local rector who had surveyed the castle in 1371, which described how he had removed material from the site to build his own houses. By 1541, when John Leland came to Marlborough on his great journey round England recording its antiquities, only the remains of the keep were still prominent.

One other interesting element at Marlborough castle was the fishpond. The ‘king’s great fishpond’ survived unidentified until a year or two ago, when it was filled in (and now appears to be a paddock for polo ponies). It was a major source of supply for freshwater fish such as bream – not to be confused with sea bream – and pike. Henry and Eleanor, however, preferred lampreys, finding all other fish ‘insipid’. The fishponds also supply breeding stock for other castles, shipped in water-filled barrels.

Marlborourgh Castle as in C18 with Summer House on top of the motte

The last stage in the Mound’s history was its adaptation, probably in the decade before the civil war, as a major feature in the garden laid out by Francis Seymour, the owner from 1621 and builder of the first house on the site of the Castle. A spiral path and a grotto were cut into it, possibly in the 1640s. The Mound was well maintained when Marlborough College took over the house in 1843, but later photographs record steady decay and encroaching trees. A water tank was installed on the top early in the seventeenth century, which had become a massive cast iron and concrete structure after the second world war, surrounded by a jungle of undergrowth.

The Mound Trust’s work over the past twenty years has restored something of the impressive aspect of the original mound, and this newly published book presents a fascinating picture of the history of the hidden treasure in the heart of the College.

The Marlborough Mound: Prehistoric Mound, Medieval Castle, Georgian Garden

Copies are available to followers of the Castles Studies Trust at £25 direct from the publisher, Boydell and Brewer Ltd, on their website (until December 31 2022) at:


https://boydellandbrewer.com/9781783271863/the-marlborough-mound/

Use code  BB072 when completing the order. Normal price is £45.

 ISBN 978 1 78327 186 3, 234 pages, 234 x 156 mm, 54 illustrations.


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Flying High: Project update from Raby Castle

Project lead for our Raby project, Julie Biddesecombe-Brown. Curator at Raby Estates, gives an update on how the building survey and work around it has progressed.

Work has progressed this summer on Raby Castle’s project funded by the Castle Studies Trust to create a digital model of the 14th century Nevill stronghold.

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During July, Durham University Archaeological Services’ drone scanned the castle exterior. Every nook and cranny was covered; from courtyard and tunnels, to rooftops and bartisans, relying on the skill of the pilot to navigate the hardware into some pretty tight spaces. The photographs were taken utilising a 14mm lens and 36 megapixel sensor, supported by RTK GNSS positioning to precisely document every feature of the building. The data captured will then be uploaded and processed through Agisoft Metashape Professional and output as a 3D model utilising AutoCad Map 3D.

As well as creating an outstanding record of the building as it stands today, the software will enable the project team to ‘strip back’ known later additions and ‘rebuild’ known, lost features, such as the Barbican. Throughout the summer, Raby’s dedicated volunteers have continued to research the medieval structure and to collate findings based on evidence in other related sites that will help to build the model and to ensure accuracy as far as possible. The end result will have many uses, not only in building our understanding the medieval castle but also how it intersects with later additions and how it functioned as a building. The findings will be shared with visitors in new interpretation to be introduced as part of the castle’s wider development plans.

There has never been a full archaeological survey of Raby Castle and opportunities for research have been limited in the past. This project reflects the ambitions and vision of Lord and Lady Barnard, the castle’s owners who firmly believe that it is by understanding and sharing the castle’s past that we will secure its future. We look forward to sharing our progress as the model develops.

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For more information about Raby Castle visit www.raby.co.uk

What did they find on top of Shrewsbury’s motte?

Following the finishing of excavations at Shrewsbury Castle, the director of the excavations, Dr Nigel Baker, outlines what they found during the dig.

The third season of excavations at Shrewsbury Castle, funded by the Castle Studies Trust and staffed by experienced local volunteers, supervised by Dai Williams MCIfA, and students of University Centre Shrewsbury (University of Chester) under Dr Morn Capper, has just ended. Having investigated the inner bailey interior and one of its ramparts in previous years, the principal objective of this third season has been to examine the top of the motte – more easily said than done as it is paved by cobbles set in thick cement, which had to be drilled through by the volunteers at the peak of the recent heat-wave. The question was: did any archaeology bearing upon the character and use of early medieval motte-top buildings survive the depredations of Thomas Telford, who is known to have demolished a standing 13th-century tower and the ruined walls of at least one major building up there during his ‘restoration’ of 1786-90.

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The three trenches on Shrewsbury Castle motte. Copyright Dr Nigel Baker

The answer is that buried archaeology does indeed survive, truncated, under Telford’s topsoil (imported to create a motte-top garden) and the 1990s cobbles. Cut into the orange clay top of the motte were post-holes, a post-pad and slots for sleeper-beams of buildings, generally of the period when local unglazed cooking-pots were in use (late 11th to mid-13th-century). In places these features were intercut, showing that the remains represent buildings that had existed over an extended period of time. Remains of the ‘great tower’, the timber tower that collapsed in the third quarter of the 13th century, were not positively identified. Some of the post-holes were packed with a distinctive crumbly green sandstone (Coed-yr-Allt beds) obtained nearby from the River Severn that has recently been identified as the stone used in the first phase of building the curtain walls and converting the Norman earth-and-timber fortress into a stone castle.  

Shrewsbury Castle Excavation opening of the trench outside the curtain wall to investigate possible remains of a bastion. Copyright Dr Nigel Baker

A second trench was also opened outside the north curtain wall to look for evidence of a projecting bastion in that area that is known to have still been standing in the 18th century. The wall itself shows no trace whatever of this, suggesting that its outer face was rebuilt in the mid-19th century. The ground outside the curtain wall was found to have had been stripped down to natural in the 19th century when the wall was indeed rebuilt. Concurrent research by Historic England in its registry files suggests this is not in the least surprising as the curtain walls evidently have a long history of instability and collapse.

Following three seasons of CST excavations and additional research for a conservation management plan commissioned by Shropshire Council, the site owners – including the first-ever examination of the curtain walls with dense vegetation now removed from their faces – attention is now turning to publication of this long-neglected Marches shire-town fortress.

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Featured image, copyright Dr Nigel Baker

Video updates on two 2022 Castle Studies Grants

Back in May the geophysical of survey took place at Pontefract Castle. Find out what they were surveying and the various techniques they were using to achieve the best results

You can find more about the different geophysical survey techniques in the article we published back in January 2021 by our geophysical survey specialist assessor Kayt Armstrong:

While here is a short taster video of a project yet to properly start – dating the towers of Chalkida in Greece. With permissions having been granted by the Greek government, Dr Andrew Blackler outlines what they will be doing when the fieldwork gets underway in September.

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What is on top of Shrewsbury’s Motte?

Dr Nigel Baker, Excavation Director of the Shrewsbury Castle Excavation 2022 outlines what he hopes him and his team hope to find over the next two weeks with the main focus on the previously unexplored motte.

A third season of excavation funded by the Castle Studies Trust is about to begin at Shrewsbury Castle. In 2019 a trench was excavated across the interior of the inner bailey and in 2020 an inner bailey rampart was sampled. Attention has now turned to the top of the motte, and to the north curtain wall. The excavations, the first ever to take place at the castle are carried out by a team of local archaeological volunteers under the direction of Dr Nigel Baker and David (Dai) Williams together with students of University Centre Shrewsbury (University of Chester) led by Dr Morn Capper.

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The motte top excavation will establish just how much damage Thomas Telford did to the medieval motte when he was modernising the hall and landscaping the castle in 1786-1790. Ruins on the motte top were cleared to make way for a Gothic summerhouse known as Laura’s Tower, with a garden laid out around it. The team will be looking in particular for surviving evidence of the Tower of Shrewsbury, the timber watch-tower, assumed to be of 11th-century origin, that is known to have collapsed in 1269-71.

Vertical view of Shrewsbury Castle Motte (copyright James Brennan Associates)

The irregular plan of the motte top seen in the drone photo (undertaken by James Brennan Associates for the current conservation management plan for Shropshire Council, the site owner) arises from a number of factors. Originally probably oval, the straight line across the bottom of the picture is a pale sandstone wall with red sandstone stripes built, probably by Edward I’s masons, across the damaged side of the motte after a landslip into the river below in the 13th century. Laura’s Tower occupies the bottom left corner, set off-centre on the base of a 13th-century tower demolished by Telford. The lobed shape of the motte on the left of the photo results from at least two phases of medieval building incorporated in the retaining walls: an angled structure with a high chamfered plinth and recessed masonry panels, superimposed over a projecting curving rubble footing. These remains were seen and recorded for the first time this year as part of the ongoing CMP work.

A second trench is to be opened on the north curtain wall. A long stretch of this wall is unusually consistent in its fabric, with small, squared rubble and two offset courses. 18th-century illustrations show however that a projecting bastion formerly stood in this area, of which no trace can be seen in the standing masonry. The suspicion is that a major part of the wall here has been rebuilt, and the trench is designed to explore this question – and to establish the nature of the surrounding stratigraphy.

Part of the north curtain wall of Shrewsbury Castle. The even coursing apparent over this long stretch of masonry is at odds with the complex fabric visible elsewhere in the wall and with 18th and early 19th-century illustrations showing a projecting bastion in this area. Excavation will seek to confirm whether or not this stretch has been rebuilt, and to locate in plan the features seen in the illustrations. Copyright Nigel Baker

In addition to an introductory display to be mounted in the on-site marquee, there will be two further displays in the town running concurrently with the excavations. In Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery in the Square, Dr Capper’s team is assembling a display featuring artefacts found in the first two seasons, while in Castle Gates Library (the former Grammar School buildings) a display is in place that explores the evidence for the former castle outer bailey, within whose perimeter the library stands.

The excavations run from July 18th to 28th. Visitors are welcome every day except those when the castle is closed (Thursday 21st and Thursday 28th).

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Geophysical survey of Kilmacahill deserted settlement complex, County Westmeath: project aims and goals

Vicky McAlister, project lead of the Geophysical Survey of Kilmachill explains the reasons behind the survey.

“Can we use drone (UAV) gathered imagery to see how spaces around castles were being used?” This was the question that spurred the addition of geophysical survey to a wider study of the landscape surrounding the deserted medieval settlement complex at Kilmacahill, County Westmeath. The data will then be delivered to the Human-Environmental Exchanges in the Landscape (HELM) project team for analysis to detect possible subsurface archaeological remains. HELM is led by project co-Principal Investigators Dr. Vicky McAlister and Dr. Jenny Immich, with Target Archaeological Geophysical GVC commissioned to undertake the survey.

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Kilmacahill was selected for this interrogation because of its layered landscape history and good above surface archaeological remains. The vernacular settlement site of Kilmacahill is adjacent to a Franciscan Third Order Regular monastery and within visual range (c. 1km) of Joanstown motte and bailey, located to the west of the site. The work at Kilmacahill already undertaken includes UAV collected aerial photographs and topographic data over the deserted settlement complex for analysis in geographic information systems (GIS) software.

Geophysical Area 1

In its first project phase (2019-2021) HELM addressed the theory that Anglo-Norman medieval vernacular settlements could be found in close physical proximity to elite secular and religious sites. More specifically, we hypothesised that peasant settlement could be found clustered around castle sites, parish churches, and monastic sites. To test this theory, HELM analysed UAV-gathered data for four castle sites in counties Limerick and Tipperary. At three of these four sites we found what we interpreted to be burgage plots clustered in the area between the castle and parish church. One of them, Glenogra in County Limerick, looked to have a deserted medieval village showing different areas and types of house plot compared to the very planned and regular appearance of such plots at the other sites. We wondered if this indicated that both Anglo-Norman settlers and Gaelic Irish tenants were living in this settlement.

Geophysical Area 2

This led the HELM team to begin phase two of the study, which is looking at three potential deserted medieval settlement sites in County Westmeath: Fore, Kilbixy, and Kilmacahill. Westmeath was the contact zone or frontier between the Anglo-Normans and Gaelic Irish for an extended period of time. This duration made us interested in what the medieval settlements associated with castles there looked like morphologically: more like Glenogra and haphazard, or something else entirely?

In late 2021, thanks to funding from the American Philosophical Society, Dr. Paul Naessens of Western Aerial Survey collected data from UAV flights at these three sites. At one of them – Kilmacahill – he also tested a new addition to the arsenal of digital archaeologists: UAV-mounted multispectral cameras. Multispectral data is traditionally used by scientists as an effective tool to examine soil productivity and plant health. In archaeological contexts, multispectral imagery can be analysed to reflect relative differences in vegetation health as a proxy to indicate near-surface or subsurface anthropogenic features – such as field boundaries made of stone, pits with charcoal in them, crushed gravel pathways, or other architectural features. The vegetation above these man-made features appears not as healthy as that above natural ground in the data analysis. The UAV-gathered photogrammetry data showed some interesting house plots, but also details of a complex circular enclosure not listed on the Sites and Monuments Record.

Geophysical Area 3

The HELM team agreed that concentrating our resources on one site would help to test our methodology and thus we applied to the Castle Studies Trust for funding for geophysical survey. We hope that the combination of three methods will tell us the most about vernacular settlement located between the Franciscan house at Kilmacahill and the motte castle at Joanstown. We will also be able to test the robustness of our UAV-based methodology against geophysics, which is much more expensive but is standard practice for identifying low-lying archaeological features. Geophysics currently costs up to ten times the amount of flying a site with a drone, so if we are successful in using UAV data to identify castle features, then this will be good news for everyone seeking to know what’s going on around their sites!

The data produced by the three collection methods (UAV photogrammetry, multispectral, geophysics) will be incorporated in GIS software to create a visual of the immediate subsurface archaeological remains of the DMV and will uncover finer features of the site as a whole. The HELM team should have the exciting results of the surveyed area by Autumn 2022.

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Revealing the hidden stories of Pontefract Castle

Ian Downes from Wakefield Council looks at the geophysical survey being carried out week commencing 9 May 2022 on parts of Pontefract Castle yet to be explored archaeologically. The work, funded by the Trust is being carried out by Wessex Archaeology.

Pontefract Castle in West Yorkshire is a Norman motte and bailey castle, built upon a Saxon royal palace, and used extensively during the English Civil Wars, when it suffered three prolonged sieges.  In that time, it went from being the property of a Norman Baron, to a powerful Dukedom, to the principal royal castle of the North of England.

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At the end of the Civil Wars the castle was pulled down by the people of Pontefract by order of Parliament.  The site was initially used as a market garden before it was leased by the Dunhill family for the cultivation of liquorice. Finally, it was converted into a park in 1880.  To this day the site remains a park and major tourist attraction in the town.

Now managed by Wakefield Council on behalf of the Duchy of Lancaster the castle has recently undergone a thorough restoration project seeing the ruins conserved and new visitor facilities created.

Parts of the site were excavated in the 1880s and again in the 1980s.  More recently, work commencing in 2017 to restore the site saw new areas excavated including the Gatehouse.

The Keep of Pontefract Castle courtesy of Wakefield Council.

As the Victorian excavations weren’t fully recorded or published, and more recent archaeology has been focused on areas where construction and conservation has taken place, this has left many parts of the site relatively unexplored.

The two areas we will be looking at as part of this project are the area from the Kitchens through to the Royal Apartments within the Bailey; and the northern ramparts below the royal apartments.

The first of those two is where a series of “service buildings” were sited according to historic maintenance records for the castle.  We know little more, but it was probably also the site of a gatehouse leading to a walkway to the Swillington Tower.  We hope this project will find some evidence of the footprint of the buildings, possible locations of fireplaces and to get an indication of how much survives below ground. 

Area occupied by the service buildings between the kitchens and Royal Apartments. courtesy of Wakefield Council

The second area to be investigated is an area outside of the curtain wall, which was subjected to heavy bombardment during the three sieges.  This may also be the location of a medieval garden, again mentioned in historical records, and Victorian walkways and paths. 

This area should include the bottom section of the walkway from the bailey down to the Swillington Tower. We hope to answer questions such as whether the earth mound at the side of the tower covers the remains of this walkway and how much of it survives under the start of the ramparts.

The site has seen little activity since the Victorian paths were laid, with that area falling into disuse relatively quickly.  This lack of later use raises the potential for evidence of all these things, but most excitingly the possibility of pinpointing further evidence of Civil War activity.

The outer ramparts looking from the Queens Tower back towards the Swillington Tower.

The project will see specialists from Wessex Archaeology conduct various forms of geophysics on the two areas including resistivity, magnetometry and ground penetrating radar.  The use of multiple techniques has been chosen to maximise the potential for making discoveries with the potential for quite complex buried remains being high.

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Plan of Pontefract Castle with hashed area the areas being surveyed, courtesy of Wakefield Council

Exploring Raby’s Medieval Past

The team at Raby Castle were delighted to hear that their application to the Castle Studies Trust for funding to support the creation of a digital model of the 14th century Nevill stronghold. The acual survey to create the model will not take place until May, but preparation is well underway including extensive documentary research by volunteeers. Their curator, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown who will oversee the project during 2022 reflects here on what the project will entail and what they hope to achieve.

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Raby Castle is one of the most impressive intact castles in the North of England. Built in the 14th century by the powerful Nevill family, it has a fascinating history. The castle was seized by the Crown in 1569 after the failed ‘Rising of the North’. In 1626 the castle was purchased by courtier Henry Vane the Elder and has remained in the family ever since. Over the last 300 years, successive generations have altered, updated and modernised parts of the building and although from the exterior, the 14th-century core is still evident, internal reworkings of the spaces mean that it is sometimes difficult to imagine and interpret the castle’s medieval past.

West Side of Raby Castle copyright Graeme Peacock, Raby Castle

In 2016, the castle was inherited by Harry Vane, Twelfth Baron Barnard. Under his stewardship, ambitious development plans were passed to enhance the visitor journey at Raby Castle, Park and Gardens. The dynamic scheme known as The Rising will restore and preserve historic buildings which have been without purpose for decades, providing contemporary event and exhibition spaces, retail and dining experiences and a visitor’s hub.  The transformation of the visitor offer at the castle, park and gardens include improved interpretation of the castle building. An important part of this for the Raby team is increasing our understanding of how the castle functioned during it medieval heyday. In 1378 Bishop Hatfield granted John Nevill a licence to crenellate reflecting a building that was changing from a fortified manor house to the castle we see today. Less than 50 years later, John’s son Ralph arranged the betrothal of his daughter Cecily to his young ward, Richard Duke of York; a marriage that would play a central role in the Wars of the Roses and ultimately in shaping British history. 

View from the inner-courtyard, showing The Keep and Clifford’s Tower ©Daniel Casson

With no significant collections in the castle to reflect this period, Raby’s greatest medieval asset is  the castle itself. Alterations over the past 400 years have reshaped the  building, modernising it for residents as tastes and technologies changed. Whilst it is still medieval in appearance, key features of the 14th century building have been lost. In order to explore how the castle may have looked before these alterations, our 2022 project will create a digital model of the castle that allows visitors then to view the castle’s past appearance based on our ongoing research. 

The creation of the digital model will be carried out by Durham University’s Archaeological Services, using a DJI S900 drone or equivalent. Photographs will be taken utilising a 14mm lens and 36 megapixel sensor, supported by RTK GNSS positioning. The data captured will then be uploaded and processed through Agisoft Metashape Professional and output as a 3D model utilising AutoCad Map 3D and giving the team the opportunity to ‘strip back’ known later additions and ‘rebuild’ known, lost features, such as the Barbican. The resulting model will be used in new interpretation at the castle, sharing our findings with our visitors.

View through the Nevill Gateway to the inner-courtyard and door to the Entrance Hall ©Raby Estates

Instrumental to the success of this project will be a team of Raby’s dedicated volunteers. A group of the castle’s regular volunteers formed a research group to work with the curator to pull together all known sources for the castle’s architectural changes to support this project. They have researched documentary sources including primary and secondary accounts, topographical pictures, maps and plans and in advance of the project will be surveying the castle walls. Their findings will be brought together in a portfolio of evidence which can then be reviewed by specialists from Durham University Archaeological Services who will be carrying out further research and eventually creating the model itself.

There has never been a full archaeological survey of Raby Castle and opportunities for research have been limited in the past. This project reflects the ambitions and vision of Lord and Lady Barnard, the castle’s owners who firmly believe that it is by understanding and sharing the castle’s past that we will secure its future. This project is part of that important story.

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Feature image: Raby Castle from a drone copyright Daniel Casson

A story half-told: Caister Castle

Castle Studies Trust patron John Goodall explains the reason behind his latest book The Castle (Yale University Press) using the intriguing example of what happened to Caister Castle after the death of Sir John Fastolf, the castle’s owner.

Those who have seen a copy of The English Castle (2011), which I published more than a decade ago, may be surprised to learn that it was originally intended to be a short book. The attempt to tell the story of the architectural development of the castle from the Norman Conquest of 1066 to the Civil Wars of the 1640s, however, inexorably and necessarily transformed it into a long and richly illustrated one. So long and so richly illustrated that, when it was completed, I never thought I would wish to return to the subject.

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Several friends and at least one reviewer, however, observed that the story it told about the history of the castle was incomplete. If the castle was—by my own definition—the residence of a noble made magnificent by the trappings of fortification, then what was there to say about such buildings in later centuries? They were right, of course, and this new book The Castle. A History is an attempt to complete a story that my previous book—for all its length and scale—only partially told.

Caister Castle Bailey from the Great Tower copyright John Goodall

Rather than continue the narrative in the same form, however, and produce another door-stopping volume, I thought I would try and condense the whole story of the castle from beginning to end in a single and much shorter volume. In this sense, this second book on the subject of castles is actually cast in the intended form of the first that I planned more than a decade ago. To make this possible I also decided to approach the subject in a way that I hope will strike readers as both unexpected and engaging.

Presented here are effectively a series of anecdotes organised in a huge chronological span of two millennia and drawn from every kind of source, from chronicles to sermons, poetry to building accounts, and novels to correspondence. All of them are about castles or take place within the context of these buildings. There are also some images that are treated in the same way. The result is a story presented through many different modes and voices across a span of over two millennia.

Part of the joy of this approach is that the book can be read in many different ways, either as a volume that the reader can dip into casually at any point or as an overarching narrative. More importantly, however, it allows for the exploration of specific detail in a way that is impossible in a conventional narrative history. In the process, the human dimension of the past is also brought to the fore. As an added benefit it allows for the exploration of small episodes and the specifics surrounding them that would be impossible in a conventional narrative history.

What could be better as a taster for the volume, therefore, than take a relatively well known anecdote about a siege that didn’t make the final cut for reasons of length and present it in the formula adopted in the book.

Caister Castle Great Tower from the Bailey copyright John Goodall

In the autumn of 1459 the childless Sir John Fastolf, a wealthy veteran of the French wars, tried from his deathbed to finalise the details of a long-discussed proposal to turn his seat at Caister—variously described as a ‘great mansion’, ‘castle’, ‘manor’ and ‘fortress’—into a Benedictine Priory and almshouse. When he died on November 5, his trusted administrator John Paston announced that Sir John had issued a final will by word of mouth. This nuncipative will gave Paston control of all Sir John’s property and tasked him with founding the priory. We will never know the truth of Paston’s assertion. Given the value of what was at stake, however, not to mention England’s descent into the Wars of the Roses, it was never going to go unchallenged.

After the Battle of Edgecote on July 26, 1469, Edward IV was briefly imprisoned and royal authority collapsed. A wave of violence broke as individuals across the kingdom took the opportunity to settle scores. Among them was the Duke of Norfolk, who decided to seize Caister by force. The ensuing siege lasted about three weeks and details of it are recorded in the writings of a former secretary of Sir John Fastolph, the scholar, historian and topographer, William Worcestre. He was an excluded executor of Sir John’s will:

Memorandum that at the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary [15 August] 9 years ago was the siege of Caister; Saint Bartholomew’s [Day, August 24] was a cruel day with guns fired at the castle [castrum]; the siege lasted for five weeks and three days.

Here follow the names of the men at arms besieging the castle and fortalice [castellum et fortalicium] of Caister Fastolf, beginning on Monday, [August 21] before the feast of Saint Bartholomew in the ninth year of King Edward IV, the King being at Coventry; and the siege lasted until September 27.

John, Duke of Norfolk… [followed by a list of 37 other knights and squires].

The names of certain defenders of the siege against the Duke:

John Paston junior, esquire, defending the siege in place of John Paston knight his brother, during his absence, being with:

Dawbeney esq slain with a quarrel

Osbern Bernay esq

Valets: Osbern of Caister valet; Sander Cokby of Maltby valet; Richard Tolle valet; Mundynet, born in France; Thomas Salern of Caister; servants of John Paston junior John Vincent; W. Vincent; W. Wod; N, Bylys; Robert Owmond of Maltby. Davy Coke, servant of John Fastolf; John Roos of Filby; John Osbern of Filby; John Norwood; Raulyns, a stranger; William Peny, a soldier from Calais; John Loe of Calais; Mathew, a Dutchman; Thomas Stompys, handless, and wished to shoot for a noble; John Pampyng of Norwich; John Chapman, soldier of the Duke of Somerset; J. Jaksone of Lancashire; J. Sparke of Marsham

And first the said Duke John, before laying siege to the said castle, a week beforehand, sent Sir John Heveningham, knight, a cousin of Sir John Fastolf, to John Paston, junior Esquire, lieutenant of his brother, John Paston knight, for the safekeeping of the said castle for the use of his brother during his absence on service and on business…. The Duke said that he had bought the castle from a certain accursed William Yelverton Justitiar of Norfolk named one of the executors of Sir John Fastolf knight and lord of the castle, although it was against his will and testament that it should be sold, for he had ordained in his testament that it was to be a house of prayer and for poor people, to be founded to pray for ever for his soul and those of his parents. The said lieutenant of Caister refused to deliver up the castle, for that he had not taken custody of it from the Duke, but only from John Paston his brother. Afterwards, within ten days, that is on the said Monday, the Duke himself with his army to the number of 3,000 armed med laid siege to the castle. Three parts of it were under fire from arms called in English guns and culverins [gonnys culveryns] and other pieces of ordnance of artillery, with archers etc.

William of Worcestre, Itineraries (trans. J. Harvey)

The list of the garrison is curious because it shows that besides a force of locals and servants (including the handless Stompys, who ambiguously wished to ‘shoot for a noble’ or gold coin) there was a smaller group of mercenaries, many of them with experience in Calais, then an English frontier town in France. The latter appear to have been given command of sections of the fortifications and in the months before the siege helped train the former. The fighting seems to have been restricted to bombardment followed by negotiation, at the end of which the castle capitulated. Beside the unfortunate Daubeney, whose brass survives at nearby Sharrington Church, two of the besiegers were also killed by a single cannon shot. The Duke issued terms of surrender on September 26 that:

John Paston and his said fellowship being in the said manor shall depart and go out of the said manor without delay, and make thereof deliverance to such persons as we will assign, the said fellowship having their lives and goods, horses and harness, and other goods being in the keeping of the said John Paston, except guns, crossbows, and quarrels, and all of the hostelments to the said manor annexed and belonging…

September 26, 1469, passport to the besieged

The siege was one episode in a long battle over Fastolf’s will but Caister never became a monastery (a 20th-century equivalent would be the donation of a house to the National Trust). Instead, much of his land was used to endow Magdalen College, Oxford.

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The Castle by John Goodall is published by Yale University Press and available via all good bookshops.

Featured Image: Caister Castle Great Tower, copyright John Goodall