A Study of Hay Castle

This guest post was written by Mari Fforde.

Hay Castle, in Hay-on-Wye, is undergoing a major restoration which will result in an exciting visitor destination and a centre for culture and arts. The Heritage Lottery Fund granted nearly £5 million toward the project. So far, a substantial amount of archaeology has been undertaken to help inform planning applications, conservation management plans and structural engineering solutions.

The site, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, embodies an astonishing array of architecture, including a Norman keep, an important medieval gateway, a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion and later Victorian and Edwardian additions. The keep was probably incorporated into a late medieval domestic building and then this was retained within the double-pile mansion built in the first half of the 17th century. The mansion was itself subjected to alterations in the 18th and 19th centuries and twice partly gutted by fire in the 20th century. The gate and curtain wall were retained and appear to have been repaired as garden features.

Fifteen archaeological test pits have enhanced our knowledge of the site in a variety of ways. Digs were undertaken within the derelict mansion to establish where the new lift could be situated. Just below the surface runs a medieval stone structure, at least 3.5 metres wide running along the north face of the mansion. The angle and relationship with the keep suggests that this is the 13th century curtain wall. A glimpse of the underground stonework will remain visible in the restored mansion.

Investigations also revealed that much of the site comprises about two meters of infill. Two boreholes were drilled giving results of approximately 2–3 metres of made up ground, 2–3 metres of sub soil and then at 7 metres the Raglan mudstone bedrock. It is thought that this infill was brought in when the Jacobean mansion was constructed, thus heightening it from the lower medieval ground level.

On the north face of the keep, facing town, a test pit revealed a wall of tufa. Large regular well-cut blocks measuring around 40cm long by 20cm high appeared to extend below the level of excavation. In his report, lead archaeologist Peter Dorling stated: “This finding appears to support the interpretation of the tower as the original castle gateway. The west side of the tufa forms a straight edge, which at this level was perhaps associated with a seating for a bridge/drawbridge”. This is an exciting find as freshly quarried tufa around a gateway arch would have been very striking and certainly would have had a strong visual impact.

Volunteers from the community have helped on a dozen or so of the digs. The Hay History Group and the Young Archaeologists Club have taken part. Further archaeological exploration will be undertaken, mainly in the derelict mansion to establish locations of new footings. In addition, it is hoped that ongoing archaeology will help determine the existence of the earlier gateway within the keep.

Construction is expected to begin in October and will take two years, when Hay Castle will be fully open to the public for the first time in many centuries.

Visit Hay Castle’s website for updates on their upcoming work.

Visiting Dinas Bran

Standing out in the landscape

Every year we organise visits to the projects we’ve supported. These visits are open to our donors and typically involve a guided tour and a sneak peek at the results. In May we journeyed to Castell Dinas Bran near Llangollen in North Wales.

The Welsh built the medieval castle on the site of an Iron Age hillfort and it dominates the surrounding area. It’s a steep climb up, making you appreciate the effort involved to bring in building materials or even everyday supplies. And the higher you get, the stronger the winds are. Now in ruins, it must have been an imposing site visible for miles around in the landscape.

Fiona Gale, County Archaeologist for Denbighshire County Council, lent her expert eye to the guided tour. She explained the important consolidation work over the past few years as well as the recent archaeological fieldwork. The castle is mostly built from slate, and in many places the weathered walls have needed modern intervention to make them safe and prevent further collapse.

The castle might owe its present condition partly to slighting (deliberate partial demolition) and archaeologists noticed patches of scorched stone before ramps were added to mitigate erosion.

The survey at Castell Dinas Bran

With funding from ourselves and CADW, archaeologists could carry out a geophysical survey of the castle, using resistivity and magnetometry to peer beneath the surface. The report is nearly ready, and when signed off will be shared on our website. The results are tantalising, and give us more information about the use of the castle, while leaving some questions which might have to be answered by excavation.

Castell Dinas Bran is an important Welsh castle, and one of the better surviving examples. After important steps to preserve the site and keep it open to the public, we have been able to add to our understanding of the castle.

Subscribe to our newsletter for updates from the projects we support.

Castle Studies Trust Awards Five Grants to Advance the Understanding of Castles

The Castle Studies Trust is delighted to announce the award of five grants, totalling £21,000.

Castle Pulverbatch, Shropshire, England

©Shropshire County Council

Geophysical and photogrammetric surveys of this motte and bailey castle. Abandoned by c.1200 this has the potential for us to advance our understanding of early castles along the Welsh border.

Clifford, Herefordshire, England

One of the earliest castles in the UK and one of the most important along the Welsh border the geophysical survey and excavations, along with separately funded building analysis, will help understand the morphology of this little understood site. The CSG visited it as part of the 2016 annual conference. Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.

Dinas Bran, Denbighshire, Wales

Photo by Eva Mostraum, CC-by-NC-SA

Co-funding with Cadw a geophysical survey of the most complete, but little understood, native Welsh built castle to discover what structures lie beneath the surface.

Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, England

Photo by Iain Simpson, CC-by-SA

With almost nothing left above ground the geophysical and earthwork surveys will help shed light on the form of castle with strong royal associations, in particular the C15 palace associated with the House of York and birthplace of Richard III. Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.

Lathom, Lancashire, England

Analysis of castle masonry from the completely destroyed late C15 castle built by Thomas, Lord Stanley either found via excavations or reused in the current building. This will help understand what the castle looked like and early Tudor palaces around London, like Richmond.  Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.

To find out more like our Facebook page and sign up to our quarterly newsletters.

Geophysical survey at Pembroke Castle

Aerial photo of Pembroke Castle from the west, showing parchmarks (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, AP_2013_5162)

New work by Neil Ludlow and Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) has revealed the remains of long-vanished buildings, and other features, at Pembroke Castle. Pembroke is famous for its large round keep, built by earl William Marshal, and a number of stone domestic buildings are preserved in the inner ward. But the large, outer ward has been an empty space since at least the eighteenth century.

In 2013, routine aerial photography, by Toby Driver of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), revealed a number of ‘parchmarks’ in which the outlines of buried walls could be seen, as shorter grass, in the castle. He contacted Neil, who applied to the Castle Studies Trust for a grant to carry out further work at the castle. Thanks to their funding Neil, in partnership with DAT, was able to undertake a full geophysical survey of both the inner and outer wards in May 2016.

Three different methods were applied. Magnetometry, which measures magnetic variation below the ground, was carried out by DAT while Tim Southern undertook resistivity survey, which measures electrical resistance, on DAT’s behalf. Both processes can reveal buried walls and ditches and Ground Penetrating Radar, which can detect features to a depth of over 1.5 metres, was also undertaken in the outer ward, by Tim Fletcher of TF Industries Ltd..

Plans of Pembroke Castle showing the parchmarks and the results of the geophysical survey. Copyright Dyfed Archaeological Trust and TF Industries Ltd.; Crown Copyright RCAHMW.

Survey in the inner ward suggested that two or possibly three previously unknown buildings may lie beneath the grass, but they couldn’t be dated or characterised. At least one of them may, however, be connected with food preparation as neither a kitchen nor bakehouse has yet been conclusively identified at the castle, which would have been necessary to feed the people who made up the earl’s household, his retinue, and the garrison.

The results in the outer ward were outstanding – and surprising. Even allowing for later disturbance, which was slight, the area seems to have been largely empty of buildings during most of the Middle Ages – in contrast to the busy, congested scene that’s normally imagined. This area was enclosed with an impressive curtain wall and towers in the mid-thirteenth century but may always have been envisaged as an open space – for ‘civil’ assembly, for military gatherings, for pageantry and display or for leisure, or perhaps all four; a garden was certainly present by the fifteenth century, and may have been laid out around 1300-20.

Some buildings were however present. A large rectangular building M against the southwest curtain wall, and a possible smaller lean-to N against the southern curtain, are both probably medieval; was the large building for storage, or was it domestic? To account for the apparent absence of a well in the castle, a number of local stories had developed including one which involved a system of water-pipes; the discovery of a possible well, O, may solve the mystery. Most exciting of all was the confirmation that an arrangement of parchmarks G, recorded in 2013, belong to a free-standing, winged mansion-house. Its form suggests that it’s from the late fifteenth century, and it may have been the building within which King Henry VII was born, which is known to have stood in the outer ward.

A ditch formerly separated the outer ward from the inner ward, and a buried masonry structure K, opposite the inner gate, may be a bridge abutment. This ditch was possibly infilled to improve the setting of the fifteenth-century mansion, and garden. Alternatively, the infill may belong to the Civil War period (1642-48) when the castle was held against the Crown, and then against Cromwell. Two former buildings A and B, which overlay the infilled ditch, may date to the Civil War; one of them was associated with a below-ground ‘passage’ that may be a gunpowder magazine. The castle again saw military use during the Second World War, when five ‘Hall-huts’ C were built to house troops based at the castle.

While a number of the other features denote modern service trenches, some may belong to early use of the castle site. A linear feature J may represent the boundary of a burgage plot, perhaps confirming that the outer ward was laid out over part of the town; if so, some of the patchwork of smaller, formless features may also be urban in origin. Others may be hints of prehistoric occupation.

While the results show what can be achieved through geophysics – and generous grant-aid – more work is required before they can be fully understood. In particular, even limited excavation in the mansion may confirm its date and form, and suggest how the outer ward was used during the fifteenth century. The mansion seems to have contained a latrine, so with luck some good palaeoenvironmental evidence has been preserved. Pembroke is a castle of national significance, both architecturally and as a setting for major historic events: it will repay close study.

2017 grants: who has applied?

The deadline for grant applications passed on 15th December and we’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 11 projects, coming from all parts of the British Isles and Italy, are asking for over £50,000. They cover a wide period of history and types of research. For a little more detail, here are the applications we’ve received:

  • Abergavenny Castle, Wales – a geophysical survey of the whole site. The castle was an important baronial site and saw a lot of military action from when it was first built in the 11th century up until it was slighted (partially demolished) in the Civil War.
  • Bamburgh, England – assess and conserve a large collection of medieval metal work dating from the 8th to the 11th century discovered in the west ward. Bamburgh was a major elite fortress from the early medieval period so the project should help potentially understand how the site changed over the centuries.
  • Caldicot Castle, Wales – geophysical of the whole scheduled area. Building on the previous resistivity survey in the project will use all three types of survey technique to get the best understanding of any below ground remains of this major baronial site.
  • Castle Pulverbatch, England – geophysical and photogrammetric surveys of the site, one of the finest examples of a Norman motte-and-bailey castle in Shropshire.
  • Clifford Castle, England – geophysical survey and excavations to help understand the morphology of one of the earliest castle sites in the UK, and one of the principal castles on the Anglo-Welsh border. Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.
  • Dinas Bran, Wales – geophysical survey of the most extensive and complete Welsh-built castle to understand what structures lie beneath the surface.
  • Edinburgh Castle, Scotland – mapping and categorising suspected conflict damage at this iconic castle.
  • Fotheringhay, England – understanding the morphology of the caput of the honor of Huntingdon and 15th-century palace associated with the House of York and birthplace of Richard III, using ground penetrating radar and small unmanned aircraft. Please note this is a privately owned site and not accessible to the general public.
  • Lathom House, England – analysis of masonry dating from the late 15th-century castle built by Thomas, Lord Stanley either found via excavations or potential reused in the current building.
  • Lecce, Italy – to help with the publication of a history of the castle of Lecce which was founded by the Normans.
  • Lough Key, Ireland – to improve understanding of the medieval MacDermot lordship of Moylurg and its relationship with the Rock of Lough Key.

The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. You can see how the assessment process works from our blog back in January 2016.

4 more castles to visit this month

Every September thousands of historic sites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are opened. It is a chance to visit some sites which are closed the rest of the year. You can find out more details online. Here are four places to get you started.

Broughty

"Sunset over the Castle" by Neil Williamson, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.
Sunset over the Castle” by Neil Williamson, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

Sat on the banks of the River Tay, Broughty Castle in Scotland was built in 1496. It was involved in several sieges including during ‘the Rough Wooing’ and the War of the Three Kingdoms. The castle has been open as a museum since 1969.

Broughty Castle is open from 1pm to 3pm on Sunday 18th September.

Pleshey

Pleshey Castle” by Richard Nevell, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

Pleshey Castle in England was built by William de Mandeville, one of the richest men in 12th-century England. It was confiscated by the king, slighted, restored, and used for centuries afterwards. The castle was even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Richard II.

The motte-and-bailey castle survives as some impressive earthworks. Excavations were carried out between 1972 and 1981 but never published. In 2015 the Trust funded part of the publication of the work from this important site.

Pleshey Castle is open on Sunday 11th September with tours at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm. Advanced booking is required.

Moyry

"Moyry Castle" by IrishFireside, licensed CC BY 2.0.
Moyry Castle” by IrishFireside, licensed CC BY 2.0.

Built in 1601, Moyry Castle is being included in Northern Ireland’s heritage open days for the first time. Three-stories high and perched on top of a rocky hill the castle has a good view of the surrounding area.

Moyry Castle is open from 9am to 8pm on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th September and is free to visit.

Holt

"Holt Castle" by Richard Nevell, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.
Holt Castle” by Richard Nevell, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

Constructed in the 13th century, Holt Castle was amongst the fortifications built by the English in north Wales. The red sandstone makes the castle stand out, as does its unusual pentagonal design. It was used by Richard II as a treasure house and slighted after the English Civil War.

You might recognise Holt as one of the very first projects the Trust worked on: Rick Turner and Chris Jones-Jenkins created a reconstruction of the castle as it would have appeared c1495. The 17th century was not kind to the castle, so the reconstruction is worth watching to get an impression of how it looked.

Holt Castle is open from 10am to 4pm on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th September and is free to visit.

Pioneering geophysical techniques

Some of the Castle Studies Trust’s projects have made innovative use of cutting edge technology. Nick Tarr explains how a new survey technique was used this year at Pembroke Castle.

Geophysical Survey Technologies (GST) was formed to improve survey equipment for archaeologists to use in all environments including equipment suitable for use in woodlands. The equipment, ideally, should be within the financial reach of amateur groups.

The prototype survey frame resulted from research into voltage surveys (commonly called resistance surveys) where geology or other conditions are unfavourable for conventional methodology. The frame uses a commercially available data logger and power supply but has all four electrodes on a compact mobile frame which is collapsible to fit in boot of a car.

Photo ©Nick Tarr
The prototype frame in use. Photo ©Nick Tarr.

The version used at Pembroke Castle was aimed at keeping the energy from the power supply within the archaeological layers so maximising any opportunity of detecting any archaeology present. A comparison with the conventional twin array in both parallel and zig-zag walking modes was made over a single grid which contained part of a building and a track. The existing twin array frame gave no clear signal for the building, the track was the only major feature seen.

The metal prototype frame. © Nick Tarr.
The metal prototype frame. © Nick Tarr.

The prototype frame gave much better results. A further test across a monastic site in west Wales has also shown improved results over the conventional twin array methodology. Development work continues.

Art as history

Recently a re-examination of an 18th-century painting of Caus Castle in Shropshire helped piece together some of the castle’s history. It was prompted by mentioning the ongoing work at Caus on social media which shows how valuable it can be and how people can get involved.

Paintings and drawings are a useful resource, and while they are typically not meant as a pinpoint accurate record of what they depict, they can offer a guide. When used carefully they can be a very useful resource. There are wonderful medieval miniatures, including details of the siege of Bedford Castle in 1224 and this 14th-century image of a siege.

Some of my favourite images are by the Buck Brothers, engravers working in the mid-18th century. Their images are just wrong enough to remind you that these are not infallible records, but good enough to show how these buildings looked more than 250 years ago.

The National Library of Wales has digitised some of their collection and made it freely available online. With that in mind, here are a few historic images of Holt and Pembroke Castle, all of which are in the public domain.

Announcing our grants for 2016

The Castle Studies Trust is delighted to announce the award of two grants for 2016:Pembroke Castle keep

  • Pembroke Castle – geophysical survey of the castle’s interior. Best known for its massive round keep built by William Marshal, the greatest knight of his age, little else is known about what exactly was in the castle’s interior. Dyfed Archaeological Trust with the guidance of well-known castle expert Neil Ludlow will use the latest geophysical techniques including ground penetrating radar to try and reveal some of the secrets.
  • Caus Castle – earthwork, geophysical and photogrammetric survey of the castle. Frequently referenced in medieval research as an example of a Marcher castle and associated failed borough on the Welsh borders, nobody has done any proper analysis of one of the most important medieval sites on the Anglo/Welsh border. This first detailed archaeological analysis will be carried out by Dr Michael Fradley who has previously undertaken ground breaking surveys of castles at Wallingford (Oxon), Sudeley (Glos), and Newhall (Ches) and Giles Carey. The focus of the project will be on the outer bailey where the medieval borough was situated.

Donate to Have Opportunity to Visit the Selected Projects 

Within the next year the Trust will be organising exclusive visits the selected projects during the initial research stages or at completion of them. These visits are only open to those supporters who have donated to the Trust.

If you would like to be invited to a site visit you can donate in a variety of different ways:

Not only will you have the chance to visit the sites you will also be increasing the amount we can give away to more exciting projects like the ones above next year.

2016 grants: who has applied?

The deadline for grant applications passed on 15th December. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the nine projects are asking for £38,000. If you have been following us on social media you will have seen which sites have been proposed. For a little more detail, here are the applications we’ve received:

  • Pembroke Castle, Wales – a geophysical survey of the wards. The castle was once owned by William Marshall, one of the most famous knights of his time.
  • Lochore Castle, Scotland – post-excavation analysis of finds. The site was excavated in 2015, but the team need funding for specialist work on their finds.
  • Lancaster Castle, England (1) – wall penetrating radar of the walls of the castle’s Norman keep. The castle was used as a prison until 2011, so until recently there has been little opportunity for investigation of this sort.
  • Lancaster Castle, England (2) – creating drawings and 3D models to help present the site to the wider public.
  • Caus Castle, England – geophysical and photogrammetic survey of the earthworks of this motte and bailey castle. Caus was one of many such castles while can be found in the Marches of the border between England and Wales.
  • Laughton en le Morthen, England – geophysical survey of the earthworks of a motte and bailey castle. This castle may have been built on top of an earlier Saxon hall.
  • Wressle Castle, England – an examination of the evidence for the slighting of the castle in the 17th century and comparing it to other slighted castles in Yorkshire.
  • Codnor Castle, England – create a virtual reality tour of the castle showing how it once would have appeared.
  • Dunamase, Ireland – remote sensing and landscape survey. Like Pembroke was also owned by William Marshall at one point.

The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. In January the blog will have more information on the assessment process, so be sure to visit again.

However there is not enough money to fund them all and so if you would like to donate to help us fund more and gain a chance for an exclusive visit to the chosen projects go here: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/castlestudiestrust