The number of licences is the most ever given, at one time, to a medieval noble or gentry. You can find them all on the Gatehouse castle gazetteer website[i]. However scrutiny here would indicate that there is little to see now or indeed was in the past. Most of the sites would appear to have been not much more than lightly fortified manor houses. Only at Saffron Walden is there what would be commonly described as a castle. However here and elsewhere there is little evidence that any building work was done by Humphrey.
A possible explanation could be the date. In 1348, the Black Death reached England. It was first recorded at Weymouth in June, reaching London by the autumn and was across all southern England by March 1349. It was only in December 1349 that some form of normality returned.
Like our current pandemic there were drastic consequences with an estimated 40 to 60% of the population dying, the greatest loss being amongst the working classes. There was a curtailment of much activity for instance major campaigns in the 100 Years’ War with France were halted until 1355. Post the pandemic there was a shortage of labour with an increase in wages, meaning building projects would have been more expensive.[ii]
In such a situation did Humphrey cease his building plans? Before jumping to this conclusion we need to probe into the impact on castle construction, the nature of licences to crenellate and the life of Humphrey.
Impact on castle building? The consensus view seems to be, certainly in the long term, this was not great. John Goodall, the eminent castle expert suggests it raised the financial threshold of construction and increased the relative importance of royal works. However it did not “deter the very richest—from embarking on splendid building projects”[iii]
Nature of licences to crenellate? It is not unusual to have licences without ensuing building work. The research of the late Charles Coulson and Phil Davies has highlighted that the true nature of such licences was not to control castle building but for the recipients to obtain the prestige, status and legitimacy of having such documents, whilst also generating revenue to the crown.[iv] Many were made after castle building or were given to buildings with minimal fortifications and many seemed to have led to no construction. The number given to Humphrey whilst high was similar to a few Bishops, for instance the bishop of Salisbury received licences for 10 sites in 1377 and the bishop of Chichester for 12 houses in 1448. Similarly to Humphrey, there was little consequently to see.
Life of Humphrey? Born in 1309 a younger son, inheriting in 1336, he served in the Breton campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War with involvement in the victories of Morlaix (1342) and La Roche-Derrien (1347).[v] However I am unaware of any subsequent campaigning and despite being the Lord High Constable of England he was never a favourite of Edward III. He died in 1361 at Pleshey Castle leaving his nephew as heir.
There is not a simple answer to this plethora of licences and missing castles. It is possible some were to underpin his legitimacy to manors where his inheritance might have been disputed, such as Seend and Upavon. Similarly at Saffron Walden, which had been slighted as a castle during the anarchy. Others might have been to emphasis his premier noble status.
Perhaps what was important pre-pandemic was not so afterwards? The impact on his psychological wellbeing is unknown but might be significant as can occur in our pandemic. In 1350 he commissioned the translation of the romance poem ‘Guillaume de Palerme’. He did not seem to have married or had children.
In my view the answer to this mystery is not simply the pandemic but it might have been a factor. I do think more understanding of his life might be the key.
Steven Spencer and Elena Faraoni of the Hoghton Tower Preservation Trust, look at the results of their work, funded by the Castle Studies Trust in 2019, in trying to find out more about Hoghton Tower in Lancashire.
Hoghton Tower sits 650 ft above sea-level in the heart of the Lancashire countryside. The stories of its visitors and family members are documented and shared whether it be in books, portraits, family albums or documents in the Lancashire archives. But there is one story which has always intrigued us and that is: what was the first tower of Hoghton Tower and where was it? It is clear when looking at the building today that this, like many other historic houses, is a ‘patchwork’ of different projects by different generations interlaced and blended…but where did Hoghton Tower start? Where was the original tower?
There are some clues: the ageing of the stone, the position of the well house, family stories passed down the generations, the shape of the windows and a mysterious mound of stones on the north side of the buildings. One of these stones has an intriguing mason’s mark… Spurred on by the interest of a group of our amazing volunteers who had just finished some research into historic graffiti and masons’ marks it was time to do some investigation under the guidance of Dr Mike Nevell and his team at Salford University. We designed a research project based on archaeological digs, building recording, geophysics and archives research based on the key exam question “where was the great keep of the Hoghton Tower hill?”
Thanks to the grant from the Castle Studies Trust, work quickly got underway. Through a series of Salford-led workshops, the team surveyed, recorded and reviewed old photographs and pictures.
Then there was the wonderful five-day archaeological dig.
As they passed through the perimeter fencing on to the dig site, the usually mild-mannered volunteers underwent personality transformations as pairs of friends and even married couples were ‘pitted’ against one another. Was this the site of a 14th century Pele Tower, a 1643 victim of the First Civil War, who would make the crucial find?
Under the patient guidance and control of the Salford team, the test pits were marked out and the excavations began, to many this was the chance of a lifetime and was eagerly embraced. Each find was announced with enthusiastic shouting from the discoverer and muted derision from those yet to make a meaningful contribution.
As the week progressed, 14th to 19th century finds were unearthed, thankfully shared out between the eight test pits. Clay pipe bowls (1640 to 1680), a musket ball, heat affected glass, sherds of medieval pottery and fragments of medieval roof tiles. Below a stone rubble layer, evidence of a stone-built structure was revealed in the form of large dressed stone blocks, together with walls and a stone flagged floor.
Spurred on by the whole experience, and encouraged by the de Hoghton family, the volunteers have produced and presented an ‘Outdoor History’ tour which aims to share the latest thoughts and discoveries.
Was this the site of the Hoghton Tower? Did we find anything categorical? Well yes and no. The archaeology revealed previously unrecorded stone structures. These together with the artefactual evidence were able to confirm that this part of the hilltop was occupied during the late medieval/early post-medieval periods. The geophysics also gave us other areas that warrant more digging and researching. So, some confirmation but also a lot more to understand and discover on this windswept hill!
Hello! A personal introduction before we get down to the geophysics. I’m Kayt Armstrong, and I am an advisor to the Castle Studies Trust as a specialist in the use of geophysics in archaeology. I am also a member of the board of the International Society for Archaeological Prospection, and I represent the UK on a European research network about soils and geophysics in archaeology. I obtained my PhD in Archaeological Geophysics from Bournemouth University in 2010. I have worked in the UK and Europe (Greece and Italy) since that time, conducting archaeological geophysics in a variety of research and developer-led contexts. I help the CST evaluate funding applications that have geophysical elements, and also comment on the reports from any resulting work.
If you were a Time Team enthusiast, you probably already know the answer to this one!
Geophysics is the study of the physical properties of the earth (or other planets – you can do astrogeophysics!). It is an extensive term that encompasses whole planets, right down to understanding the microstructures of stone. Archaeological geophysics falls into ‘near-surface geophysics’, which studies the first 30m or so of the ground. In fact, commonly, archaeological geophysics is only really concerned with the top 2m or so; material in the topsoil, rather than the bedrock.
Geophysicists use a variety of methods and instruments to get information about the physical properties of the ground, such as its ability to conduct electricity, or its magnetic properties. Small variations in those properties can then be mapped. Buried archaeological material causes variations in the properties in predictable ways. This means we can map buried archaeology using these methods, without having to dig everything up.
When it comes to Castles, there are three main geophysical methods: earth resistance (‘resistivity’), magnetometry, and ground-penetrating radar (GPR). All three techniques look at slightly different aspects of the sub-surface, and all three have benefits and weaknesses. It is really best to combine methods to get as complete a picture as possible, as they will all tell you slightly different things.
Magnetometry is probably the most commonly used technique in archaeology. It uses sensors to look at small variations in the strength of the earth’s magnetic field, to look for changes caused by buried material. The soil on sites where humans live becomes more magnetic over time, due to things like fires for cooking and warmth and the fermentation of waste material. This material becomes the fills of cut features like pits and ditches. These end up more magnetic than the soil they are cut into.
Structures used for processes involving heating, such as kilns, furnaces and ovens, become even more strongly magnetised and have a very characteristic appearance in the data. Similarly, fired ceramic building materials like brick or tile have a distinctive signal, as do igneous or metamorphic rocks (those modified by heating during their formation).
Magnetometry is very fast, covering upwards of 10ha a day if using the latest equipment. It is also relatively easy for community groups to employ. However, the pace will be somewhat slower using hand-carried single sensors. The plus-sides are the speed of survey and the wide variety of archaeological features that can be detected and mapped. The downsides are that this method is strongly disrupted by ferrous material in the survey environment, and has problems on igneous and metamorphic geologies as happened with the survey of Tibbers in 2014. It is also not very useful for mapping stone remains that are not strongly magnetic (such as some sandstones and most limestones). Modern infrastructure within or adjacent to the survey area has a far greater impact on the results than any buried archaeology (as happened in the Wressle survey of 2019), masking it from detection. It is practically not possible to use this method in urban areas. This method cannot detect smaller structures if they are buried more than about 2m below the ground surface. Features in the first 2m can usually be detected but the size of the anomalies that can be distinguished depends on the resolution of the readings taken. However, this method doesn’t let you understand the depths of the anomalies, and so isn’t as helpful on multi-period sites.
Earth resistance examines how easy it is to pass an electrical current through the ground. The resistivity of the subsurface varies in relation to several properties. Still, the most substantial effect is caused by variations in moisture content. The fills of cut features like pits and ditches (as witnessed in the 2018 survey at Laughton which showed a possible ditch, confirmed in the 2019 excavation and of Tibbers which lead to the discovery of a new inner bailey) tend to have a more open texture than natural soil. They usually also contain more organic matter. This means they are generally wetter than the ground they are dug into. Conversely, buried structures like walls and floors, are usually much drier than the material surrounding them, because they can’t absorb as much water.
This technique can be applied in two ways. You can collect a grid of readings over a flat area to examine the first 2m or so, producing a plan view. You can also collect long lines of readings with increasingly wide measurement points. This is called ‘Electrical Resistance Tomography’ or ERT, and produces vertical pseudo-sections through the ground, and can reach greater depths, typically in archaeology 8-10m.
The plan-view method typically involves 2 probes on a mobile frame, and two remote probes connected by a cable. 2 of the probes inject a current, and two measure the resistance to it. It is especially useful for mapping buried stone structures. It is therefore handy on ‘Castle’ sites where multiple building phases can be expected. It is relatively slow, however, and relies on being able to insert probes into the ground to get the readings. This is fine on a lawn or field, and it can work on paths and gravel, but the results get very noisy, and it isn’t possible over flagstones or tarmac or concrete. You also need to be able to manoeuvre the cables and place the remote probes at an appropriate distance. This method also doesn’t let you understand the relative depths of various anomalies.
ERT is less commonly used in archaeology, but it has some specific applications in the study of large defended sites. Because it can resolve structures at a greater depth than the plan-mode, it can be used to examine the construction of large structures. This includes moats, earthen banks and buried fortification walls, and other such features. If multiple adjacent profiles are collected, the data can be combined into a 3D model of the subsurface, which can help resolve questions about the construction sequence of a site.
Twin-probe (plan-view) resistivity survey is relatively straightforward to carry out. It doesn’t require as much skill on behalf of the instrument operator as magnetometry does. It is however, slow and laborious. The equipment is relatively cheap, and data processing and visualisation are relatively simple. This method is rarely used in the commercial sector these days but is an ideal research tool. Community groups have produced excellent research using this technique. The ERT method requires specialised equipment and a trained collector. The background knowledge needed to correctly process and interpret the data is also high.
Ground Penetrating Radar
GPR only made the odd appearance on Time Team, but in the last decade or so advances in computing (mostly increasing miniaturisation of components, and improvements in battery life) have led to a new generation of GPR kit that is more flexible and affordable.
GPR works a lot like sonar or the sort of radar employed by aircraft. A transmitting antenna sends out radio waves focused into the ground. These propagate downwards and are reflected by abrupt changes in the material of the subsurface. For example, when the waves leave a stone ceiling and move into the vault, some of the waves will be reflected back up. Some will continue on, to encounter the floor of the vault, and anything below it. The reflected waves are collected by a receiving antenna (usually in the same ‘box’ as the transmitter, a fixed distance apart). The strength of the returned waves, along with the time (in nanoseconds!) it takes for them to return is logged and plotted. This is a single trace.
The antenna is dragged along a line, and a series of traces are collected at a small interval (usually every 5cm or 2cm), which are combined together to make a profile. This is effectively a vertical slice through the ground. These are a bit difficult to read because the radio waves emit in a curved shape, so they actually travel in front of and behind the antenna, not just directly under it. This creates distinctive hyperbolas in the data. The depth of signal penetration and the size of the objects you can detect varies with antenna frequency. Depending on the frequency of the antenna, you can look very shallowly and resolve things that are a centimetre (or less) across. Very high-frequency antennas are used to assess the structure of concrete in civil engineering or to image different layers in mosaics and floor coverings. Lower frequency antennas cannot resolve smaller anomalies but can penetrate 10m+ to resolve much larger objects, such as former river beds, large walls or banks and ditches.
Groups of profiles collected in parallel lines can be combined together to make a 3D block of data. This can be processed in a way that allows different horizontal depth slices to be examined (as done at Fotheringhays; see time slice). A new generation of GPR system uses lots of antennas in an array to collect very high- resolution datasets (8cm in all directions), or arrays of different frequencies to quickly collect data with good resolution at multiple depths.
GPR requires a skilled operator to plan the work, collect the data and the process and analyse the results, but it is arguably the best technique for investigating Castle sites. This is because it tends to be good at detecting the sorts of things we would expect to be looking for, for example, voids, buried walls, culverts and surfaces. It can also be deployed inside standing buildings, to look underneath floors or behind walls. It can be used over tarmac and concrete (providing the concrete is not re-inforced!) and does well on most geologies, except for certain kinds of clays, and saline environments like estuaries.
The other advantage of GPR is that the data is relatively fast to collect, compared to earth resistance, and a broader range of features can be detected with it. It is also an inherently 3D method and allows complicated below-ground sequences to be visualised and interpreted. I have seen examples of staircases being visible in the data from 3D GPR, for instance. This technique has made the headlines recently, with the publication of a study of an entire Roman city, Falerii Novi, just north of Rome, by colleagues of mine from Ghent University and Cambridge University.
Geophysics and the Castle Studies Trust
Geophysical approaches form an increasing component of research proposals put to the trust, which is excellent to see! Geophysics can help to answer both broad and specific questions about castle-sites, without the potentially destructive process of excavation. Geophysics also has applications for the conservation of sites and planning for their future management. For example, in mapping the integrity of standing walls using GPR, or understanding the soils and material within earthworks to protect them from erosion in extreme weather events. They can help site managers decide whether an intervention is necessary, and can inform the design of any needed work. Geophysics can also play an essential role in the continuing life of these sites as homes or places of historical interest by mapping areas where conservation or building work is planned to ensure nothing is damaged by the work.
To help keep you entertained during this strange and hopefully unique Christmas the Castle Studies Trust has prepared a Christmas quiz. Can you name the castles these pictures are or images are taken from either our projects from all years or blog posts during the year?
Malcolm Hislop, researcher and author, writes about some of the themes of his most recent book.
Often thought as a highpoint of English military architecture, the castles of Edward I and his followers in north Wales hold a special place in hearts and minds of many in this country and abroad. Scholars have spent much time and effort on researching this (relatively brief) episode of intensive castle construction. We feel we know these buildings so well, and yet, notwithstanding the many accounts of individual castles, it is strange to relate that no lengthy general survey of the architecture (as opposed to the building history) has ever been published. Nor, despite presenting an obvious opportunity for furthering our understanding of the manner in which architectural style was formulated and disseminated in the late thirteenth century, have the influences on and of the Edwardian castle been widely discussed.
Edward’s Welsh castles are inextricably linked to the technical mastermind behind the project, the Savoyard mason, James of St George. Castle builders (in the practical sense) tend to be less well known than their patrons. The ones who can be identified are far outweighed by those who remain anonymous. Moreover, a master builder whose career can be reliably reconstructed to a significant degree is a rarity to be cherished. Master James is one such exception, his reputation as an architect of international repute being established in one of the great historical detective stories of the later twentieth century, which did much to personalise the often anonymous process of medieval construction.
Master James’ star has not ridden quite so high in recent years. His architectural role questioned, his artistic contribution doubted, James now seems a slightly diminished figure, with only his organisational and planning abilities remaining unchallenged. There were certainly other master builders employed on the royal works who exercised a degree of independence; it is clear too that there were other influences on the royal works in Wales than can be accounted for by Master James’ accumulated experience in Savoy. In particular, what was the part played by Walter of Hereford, the technical and artistic master mind behind Vale Royal Abbey, and resident master at Caernarfon from 1295? These are interesting issues requiring a greater depth of enquiry, but the initial conclusions of a broader than usual sweep of the architecture are that in addition to his organisational and technical responsibilities Master James also exercised a significant creative role.
Edward’s crushing of all resistance in north Wales was swiftly followed by an attempt to subjugate Scotland. Building work in Wales was mothballed and James of St George and Walter of Hereford were redirected northwards. The impact of Edward’s invasion of Scotland on castle building in the northern kingdom tends to receive little attention. Most of the royal works were in timber, little survives above ground level, and archaeology has not yet revealed much that can enlighten the subject. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a good deal more to say about the contemporary building works of his supporters, that survival of which is much greater, and that in a number of instances there was an English contribution to design and construction. The story of Edwardian castle building in Scotland is only just beginning to take shape.
Another under-researched theme is the effect of the Edwardian castles in Wales on the architecture of England. There has been an understandable tendency to view the years immediately following the Edwardian conquest of Gwynedd as an anti-climax in English castle building, and that there is little continuity from the Welsh project. Yet the craftsmen dispersed, and building went on, not in such concentrated or dramatic fashion, but often in small quiet ways that escape the notice of the wider world. The full extent of this influence on fourteenth-century castle design is yet to be recognised, but it includes both the broader aspects and the smaller details and represents the final chapter in the story of the Edwardian castle.
The deadline for grant applications passed on 1 December. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 14 projects, coming from all parts of Britain, one from Ireland, are asking for £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:
Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire: The aim is to understand the chronology and geography of extreme weather events in the high medieval period, and the effects they wrought on archaeological features that led to the abandonment of the old castle in favour of the new.
Georgian Castles: This project explores two castles in County Durham—Brancepeth and Raby—that were fundamentally reshaped and transformed in the eighteenth century to become notable homes in the area, and it advances not only our understanding of these two buildings in the period, but also the afterlife the castles in the area and the layers of history that they record.
Greasley, Nottinghamshire: The production of an interpretative phased floor plan for Greasley Castle in Nottinghamshire. The castle, built in the 1340s, has an obscure history and the understanding of its architectural phasing is at best very cloudy.
Laughton-en-le-Morthen, South Yorkshire: To provide professional illustration and reconstruction which will also be integrated into the co-authored academic article. Part of the monies will be used to produce phase plans of Laughton during key stages of its development, and a small percentage will pay for a line drawing of the grave cover.
Lost medieval landscapes, Ireland: To develop a low cost method, using drone and geophysical survey to identify native Irish (also termed Gaelic Irish) medieval landscapes and deserted settlements.
Mold, Flintshire, post excavation analysis: Post-excavation analysis from excavation on Bailey Hill of the castle
Mold, Flintshire, digital reconstruction: Visual CGI reconstruction of Mold Castle using the new-found evidence of further masonry on the inner bailey structure and using information gathered by the Bailey Hill Research Volunteers, showcasing the many changes that have happened on this site from a Motte and Bailey Castle to present time as a public park.
Old Wick, Caithness: Dendrochronological assessment of timber at the Castle of Old Wick, Caithness thought to be one of the earliest stone castles in Scotland.
Orford, Suffolk: recording the graffiti at the castle through a detailed photographic and RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) survey will add to our understanding of how the building was constructed and the ways the building was used over time, particularly 1336-1805, during which the documentary history of the castle provides little evidence of how the site developed.
Pembroke, Pembrokeshire: A second season of trial-trench evaluation of the suggested late-medieval, double-winged hall-house in the outer ward at Pembroke Castle, which is of national significance. The evaluation builds on the results of the works undertaken through previous CST grants: geophysical survey (2016) and 2018 whereby two trenches were excavated across the possible mansion site. The evaluation will again establish the extent of stratified archaeological deposits that remain within the building, which was excavated during the 1930s.
Pevensey, East Sussex: GPR survey of the outer bailey and immediate extramural area and UAV (aerial) survey of the castle to build up a 3-D model of the site.
Richmond, North Yorkshire: Co-funding a 3 week excavation of Richmond Castle, one of the best preserved and least understood Norman castles in the UK. The aim is to understand better the remains of building and structures along the western side of the bailey.
Shootinglee Bastle, Peeblesshire: Funding post-excavation work from the 2019-20 excavation season in particular some charcoal deposits from a C16 burning event.
Warkworth, Northumberland: Geophysical survey to explore evidence for subsurface features in and around the field called St John’s Close in a field adjacent to the castle.
Project leads, Drs Sarah Jane Gibbon and Dan Lee reveal the results of the geophysical survey part of their project on The Wirk funded by the Castle Studies Trust.
Thanks to a grant from the Castle Studies Trust, ateam from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology undertook geophysical survey at The Wirk, Westside, on the island of Rousay, Orkney in September, despite the challenges. Long grass was cleared from the site and a grid was established to the north, east and west of the stone-built tower. Two techniques were used: magnetometer survey (good for identifying magnetically enhanced material from burning and settlement activity) and earth resistance (good for locating walls and structures).
The aim is to better understand the nature and date of the tower which has variously been interpreted as a 12th century Norse Castle, a hall-house tower, a defensive church tower and a 16th century tower and range. Previous excavations by J. Storer Clouston in the 1920s cleared the stone tower and exposed a large range to the east, although phasing of the buildings remains unclear. The tower was left exposed but the area to the east was backfilled. A scale plan was made but recording and description of the built remains was minimal.
High-resolution magnetometer survey and targeted high-resolution earth resistance survey was undertaken across the site in order to characterise the buried structures, put the tower and hall in context and inform trench location. Clear anomalies were identified in both surveys at the site of the hall, with potential wall lines (high resistance) matching the main part of the building in Clouston’s plan to the east of the tower. This suggests that wall footings are likely to survive just below the ground surface. Other high resistance anomalies to the south of the hall could indicate the presence of additional structures. Results from the magnetometer survey showed strong positive and negative anomalies within the footprint of the hall and confirmed the presence of a possible enclosure to the south. A curvilinear positive anomaly to the north-west of the tower, beyond the apron, could indicate the presence of another small enclosure.
Overall, the geophysical survey has demonstrated that the footings of the hall survive to the east of the tower, accompanied by newly discovered enclosures with possible structural elements to the south and north-west. The extent of the site appears to extend beyond the visible remains with anomalies continuing into the kirkyard.
Dr Edward Impey, one of the UK’s leading castle experts and patron of the CST examines some C13 graffito can boost our understanding of castles.
As every castle book reminds us, the defences of most castles before the mid-13th century, and the buildings within them, were built of earth and timber. The perishable nature at least of the timber parts, and their replacement in many cases in stone (obviously) makes their structural detail hard to understand, although Robert Higham and Philip Barker’s Timber Castles of 1992, and their publication of Hen Domen (Montgomery) in 2000 achieve a great deal in this direction. As most evidence is archaeological, however, it tends to be confined to plans and layout. Herein lies the importance of this graffito, scratched into a re-used ashlar in the early 13th century and found during the excavation of the long-demolished donjon in the castle at Caen in 1966: it shows, in elevation, what is unquestionably a timber-framed castle, or part of one – either a ringwork or a motte.
To begin our description with the mound on which the buildings stand, this is marked with a series of lines inclining inwards towards the top, which may be the draughtsman’s device to give it substance, or, possibly, represent baulks of timber covering the slope – a variant of the arrangement found for example at South Mimms (Hertfordshire) and elsewhere. To the extreme right, similarly striated, is what must be the counterscarp of the ditch, and springing from it, possibly propped by two trestle-like structures, is the bridge across it: this is of the so-called ‘flying form’ shown in the Bayeux Tapestry and found archaeologically at Hen Domen. At its top end the bridge abuts a tower, necessarily a gate tower, its side scored with the diagonal intersecting lines, probably representing cross-bracing of the form found in the bell towers at St Leonard’s, Yarpole (1195-6) and St Mary’s, Pembridge, of 1207-23 (both Herefordshire); variants are known in France and over forty post-medieval examples in central Europe. The arrangement is also shown in a carving at Modena cathedral, and in numerous 12th -and 13th– century bestiary illuminations of timber towers on the backs of elephants, prompted either by Pliny the Elder’s or the Books of the Maccabees. Siege towers could be similarly constructed, hence the French term beffroi.
Abutting the tower is the battlemented wall or palisade, composed of edge-to-edge vertical timbers, reinforced by a horizontal rail at top and bottom and by massive diagonal or ‘X’ braces, face-nailed to the uprights.
Inside the enclosure, our draughtsman has shown at least three buildings. The most prominent has a pitched roof terminating in finials, with a row of four round-headed windows under the eaves. Conceivably this was intended as a chapel, but the windows more probably belong to the clerestory of an aisled hall, as survive in the single-aisled hall of c.1160 in the castle at Creully, seventeen kilometres north of Caen, and has been inferred in the 12th-century timber examples at Leicester castle and the Bishop’s Palace at Hereford. In front are two lower buildings with pitched roofs, one carrying a finial.
To the left of the hall is a structure consisting of a vertical pole, a cross-bar at the top, propped by diagonal braces. At first sight rather puzzling, this is clearly identifiable as a crane or hoist, thanks to the dozens of near-identical examples in medieval images, conveniently gathered together by Günther Binding’s compendium of 2001. To the right of the pole hangs a rope, taut as if being pulled or winched downwards, and which is carried over the cross-bar and two faintly-indicated pulley wheels, beyond which it hangs down again and appears to be in the act of hauling a large timber into the air.
The value of the depiction can be summarised as follows. First, it may be the only contemporary representation of a timber-built motte-top or ringwork complex, and is valuable in showing the whole apparatus of palisade, battlements, bridge, gate tower and buildings within. Second, along with the Abbaye aux Dames capital, it is one of only two known representations of face-nailed ‘X’ bracing – an arrangement by definition untraceable archaeologically – which would have endowed the palisade with immense lateral strength and was perhaps widely used. Third, this may be the only contemporary representation of a Romanesque aisled hall – if that is what it is – within a castle. Fourth, as the battlemented platform at the top of the tower oversails its sides, forming a machicolation, it is one a number of images showing that such things did not derive from hourds, but were integral at least to timber towers long before appearing in stone. Fifth, while it has long been assumed that medieval defensive towers in timber were structurally akin to 12th- and 13th-century bell-towers, this is, apart from the Modena carving, the only one to actually show this to be so. Finally, although representing a well-known type, the crane certainly adds liveliness and interest to the composition.
Who the draughtsman was is, obviously, unknown. So is whether the graffito represents a real or imaginary place, although the inclusion of the crane, in use, could be taken as a hint that a particular site, where building works were under way, was indeed intended. What is clear is that it is not a picture of the castle at Caen, nor indeed of Creully, both of quite different form.
Let’s hope that this blog and the forthcoming article (in French) will encourage the identification of other wooden castles scratched in stone, and help with their interpretation and of excavated evidence in the future.
Featured image: The graffito (reproduced by kind permission of the Musée de Normandie, Caen)
Bill Klemperer is the Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Historic England – advising on aspects of national policy and casework around the country – especially the midlands where he is based in the Birmingham office. Here he talks about four important border fortresses he has helped save.
Altogether there are many hundreds of castles in the Welsh borders most of which are scheduled – protected by law under the 1979 ‘Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, 1979’ and part of my job is to help look after them. One of my predecessors, the late Anthony Stretten, undertook a survey in the 1990s to identify those castles that would require most effort to save them for the future. A ‘top four’ emerged – all with significant stone buildings that required repairs – Wigmore Castle just west of the village in north Herefordshire, Hopton Castle in south Shropshire west of Leintwardine, Wilton castle on the River Wye at Ross-on-Wye, and Clifford castle further up the Wye just north of Hay-on-Wye. They have now all been repaired – but the solutions have been different in each case.
Wigmore. This was a case of state intervention. Following a collapse the then Secretary of State, Peter Walker, agreed to take the castle into public ownership – so it is now maintained by English Heritage as a free visitor destination. The ruinous state of the castle was an issue – with multi-phase buildings all higgledly-piggledy all over the place. Twenty years of careful excavation was going to cost too much and would have destroyed much of the later evidence in revealing the earlier phases. So a different approach was agreed – the walls would be consolidated as they were – and the site would retain its importance for flora and fauna – a stabilised place of wonder to be discovered and explored. This became the type site for ‘soft capping’ that now has become mainstream practice. The grass on the wall tops protects the walls from the weather and after twenty years is still doing a good job. Some limited archaeology was done to inform stabilising works,but these few trenches produced amazing findings – so do get the report to find out more
Hopton castle. An impressive earthwork site with motte and bailey and later gardens and associated buildings are evident, and also the site of a nasty civil war massacre and siege. When I first saw it I was struck that the impressive tower of c.1300 that dominates the site could be abandoned in a field without access. A condition report revealed that the north west corner was about to fall off – but how to get the money to fix it? We talked to the locals and the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust was born. English Heritage funded a condition survey and work to prepare a lottery bid and the committee decided – by the Chair’s casting vote – to award about a million pounds! Archaeological ‘clearance’ followed and CBS Conservation came in to do the works. The Duke of Gloucester helicoptered in for the official opening. The site now has free access every day of the year and is secure for the future.
Wilton Castle was done at about the same time as Hopton in the first decade of the millennium. Here the ‘White Knight’ solution came to the fore in the shape of owners Alan and Sue Parslow. Wilton is a multi-phase stone castle and much work was needed to repair the walls and towers. This was jointly funded by the Parslows and English Heritage. Various different conservation techniques were used – full roofs were put back on the north west and south west towers – the former complete with chimney found in the excavation of the basement! A ‘hidden’ lightweight modern roof put onto a large 13thC east tower. Gracile [DO YOU MEAN GRACEFUL?] walls were supported by buttresses in contrasting material, wall walks discovered and replaced, a section of curtain wall rebuilt, and decayed stone, including some lintels and cills replaced. The site is now safe and the owners have open days each year.
Clifford was the most recently repaired – and this came about when the site came into the new ownership of Keith and Ann Hill, who are also keen to care for the castle in their care. Historic England (as we became in 2015) gave a grant to help the owners repair the buildings on top of the motte and this was done by Treasures of Ludlow – a well-known firm of conservation builders. Archaeological interpretation of the buildings has been undertaken by Nigel Baker while the Castle Studies Trust funded a geophysical survey and excavations there too. Amongst the tightly packed stone buildings on the large flat-topped motte is the so-called Rosamund’s Tower. Rosamund Clifford – the ‘Rose of the World’ – was brought up at Clifford Castle, daughter of the Marcher Lord Walter de Clifford. She became the mistress of Henry II and died, still not 30 in 1176. The site with its large bailey containing remains of an interesting barbican can be visited by appointment with the owners.
Much work has been done and much more remains to be done. The ‘local Trust model’ is achieving spectacular results at Snodhill castle near Peterchurch in Herefordshire’s Golden valley. Another notable success in recent years has been the repair of the rare shell keep at Kilpeck castle south of Hereford. All of these places are part of our shared inheritance Looking after them is our responsibility to future generations so they can share in that wonder.