Barns in the Bailey: Agricultural buildings within castles

Castles were more than military sites, being political, judicial and economic centres too. Duncan Berryman of Queen’s University Belfast looks at one of those aspects, the important but little studied area of agricultural buildings in castles.

The domestic considerations of castles were as important to daily life as their defensive functions. Castles were also the centres of estates; Clare Castle (Suffolk) is a good example of an estate centre with manors in the surrounding region and further afield while Caister Castle (Norfolk) was the centre of a much more compact estate. Manorial centres were generally undefended courtyards of domestic and agricultural buildings. However, many of these were moated sites and their lack of defensibility might be debated. Sites such as Chalgrove (Oxfordshire) and Coolamurry (Wexford) had substantial moats and may have had complex bridges (Page et al. 2005; Fegan 2009). These complexes saw high-status accommodation sitting alongside the barns and animal housing that served as the manorial farmyard. Many smaller castles would have been the centres of smaller estates and would have also functioned as manorial centres. Agricultural buildings were vital to this operation and would have been found within baileys or associated enclosures. To investigate these buildings, it is essential to take a multidisciplinary approach by combining archaeology with documentary and pictorial evidence. The agricultural buildings have often been left unexcavated as they are seen as less important, and less interesting, than the domestic complexes.

Artistic reconstruction of Clough Castle (Down). Many motte and baileys would have had a similar appearance, often with timber structures on the motte instead of the masonry buildings presented here.

Documentary sources related to Ireland indicate that many smaller castle sites had agricultural buildings within the surrounding area. This is clearly illustrated at Cloncurry (Kildare), where an extent records that beside the motte was “an old haggard close [farmyard] in which there are two small granges [barns] each of eight forks … [t]here is also there, beside the gate an ox-house … [and t]here is a dovecote” (Murphy & Potterton 2010, 175). There is also a record of a barn of ten forks at Castlemore (Carlow), as well as a mill and other timber and masonry buildings (O’Conor 1998, 32). The forks referred to in these accounts are probably the cruck blades of the barn, thus ten forks produce a nine-bay barn that could be the equivalent size of a barn like Bredon (Worcestershire). At Lough Merans (Kilkenny), the motte sat on a promontory in the lake and had an associated bailey containing a granary, stables, and a sheepcote (O’Conor 1998, 30). The motte of Inch (Tippararery) also had a granary and sheepcote, additional buildings were stables, a fish-house, a dovecote, and a malt kiln (O’Conor 998, 29). These examples suggest that, in Ireland, castles were playing important roles as the centres of manorial farms and wider estates. The perceived need for a defensive motte may have been carried over from an earlier period, but it continued with the construction of tower houses in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (McAlister 2019, 28-35).

Bredon Barn (Worcestershire). Barns of a similar size were found within castle baileys. They would have been constructed from masonry or timber

A brief survey of larger castles in England does show that these castles had a small number of agricultural buildings. The main buildings identified were stables, dovecotes, barns, and granaries. These buildings are unlikely to have functioned in the same way as they did in rural manorial centres, but they are a reminder that some agricultural processes occurred within the castle. Stables were obviously for housing the riding horses of the lord or king and their entourage, but they probably also housed the cart horses used by the castle staff to bring goods in from the market. There are records of stables at Hereford, Leeds (Kent), Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham, and the stables of Kenilworth (Warwickshire) are still extant (Colvin 1963). The dovecote was an important source of food in the form of squabs (young pigeons). A dovecote was recorded at Dorchester (Dorset) and one has been identified in the south-west tower of Bodiam (Sussex) (Colvin 1963; Thackray 2003). The existence of barns might suggest that sheaves of wheat or barley were being brought into the castle and threshed there, providing grain for flour and straw for the stables and other floors around the castle. There is evidence for barns at Acton Burnell (Shropshire), Bamburgh (Northumbria), Hadleigh (Essex), Weoley (Warwickshire), and Pontefract (Yorkshire) (Colvin 1963; Emery 2000; Roberts 2002).

The stables of Kenilworth castle (Warwickshire). This was a particularly grand building, but stables were vital for the lordly lifestyle.

The c.1610 plan of Castle Hedingham (Essex) indicates that there may have been an agricultural complex beside the main castle enclosure (Emery 2000, 113). To the top of the map are buildings labelled stable and barn and an area marked barnyard, in manorial sites this would indicate a complex of crop storage buildings including several barns and a granary. Returning to Clare Castle, the 1325 accounts of the constable indicate that there were a pigsty and poultry house within the castle compound (Ward 2014, 64).

Agricultural buildings are found in areas away from the main domestic complex of the castle, and these areas are often left unexcavated. They were most often made of timber, and thus leave little trace in the archaeology compared to the stone-built structures elsewhere. It is possible that there were more agricultural buildings within castles, or close to them, and they have not yet been identified. This research highlights the importance of using documentary and pictorial sources alongside archaeology and reminds us that lesser castle complexes may have been surrounded by a significant range of buildings.

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References

Colvin, H.M. (ed.) 1963, The History of the King’s Works Vol I & II (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office).

Emery, A. 2000, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Fegan, G. 2009, ‘Discovery and excavation of a medieval moated site at Coolamurry, C. Wexford’, in C. Corlett & M. Potterton (eds), Rural Settlement in Medieval Ireland in the Light of Recent Archaeological Excavations (Dublin: Wordwell Books).

McAlister, V. 2019, The Irish Tower House: Society, Economy and Environment c.1300–1650 (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

Murphy, M. & Potterton, M. 2010, The Dublin Region in the Middle Ages: Settlement, Land-Use and Economy (Dublin: Four Courts Press).

O’Conor, K.D. 1998, The Archaeology of Medieval Rural Settlement in Ireland (Dublin: The Discovery Programme).

Page, P., Atherton, K. & Hardy, A. 2005, Barentin’s Manor: Excavations of the moated manor at Harding’s Field, Chalgrove, Oxfordshire 1976–9 (Oxford: Oxford Archaeology Unit).

Roberts, I. 2002, Pontefract Castle: Archaeological Excavations 1982–86 (York: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service).

Thackray, D. 2003, Bodiam Castle (Swindon: The National Trust).

A Large and Eclectic Crop of Fascinating Applications for the Castle Studies Trust to Consider

The deadline for grant applications passed on 30th November. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 13 projects, coming from England, Ireland, and Scotland are asking for over £88,000. They cover not only a wide period of history but also a wide range of topics. In a little more detail, here are the applications we’ve received:

Bamburgh, Northumberland

Photo by Thomas Quine, licensed CC BY 2.0.

The main aim is to recover evidence for the base natural topography around the approach to the main gate of the once royal castle, from the area of the medieval village, and explore how this was altered, presented and exploited to create a sense of theatre for visitors to the site.

Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Photo by Sean Wallis, licensed CC BY NC 2.0.

A geoarchaeological auger survey of the moats that surround this former royal castle and palace of Thomas Becket. The survey aims to answer such questions as what were the moats original profiles, when were the moats filled and how do the two moats compare with each other.

Dunollie, Argyll

Photo by Paul Lloyd, licensed CC BY NC SA 2.0.

To try and understand the date of the construction of the castle owned by the MacDougall clan through various through buildings and materials analysis including radiocarbon dating and mortar analysis.

Fraoch Eilean, Loch Awe

Photo by Andrea Hope, licensed CC BY SA 2.0.

To try and understand the date of the construction of the former royal castle through various through buildings and materials analysis including radiocarbon dating and mortar analysis.

Hoghton, Lancashire

The aim of the project to continue the work the CST funded in 2019 with excavations and building survey. Further excavations will try and understand the purpose of the structures found in the 2019 excavation season and if they were related to the original great tower.

Holme Pierpont, Nottinghamshire

To build up an understanding of this late medieval great house, never previously researched. The work will include a mixture of desk research, building survey and geophysical survey of the parkland surrounding it. The house is the most complete of the three late medieval brick-built houses in Nottinghamshire.

Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Photo by Ben Keating, licensed CCY BY NC SA 2.0.

To develop a reconstruction drawing of the castle as it would have appeared in the second half of the 12th century. Lincoln Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century.

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

To fund a second year of excavation, this time to understand the rampart of the inner bailey. The geophysical survey carried out in the 2019 suggested there could be remains of buildings there, possibly even a late Saxon church. Shrewsbury was a very important border castle up until the 13th century and frequently used as a base for English raids into Wales.

Sowing the Seeds

Hortus conclusus depicted by Meister des Frankfurter Paradiesgärtleins

The aim of the project is to try and understand better everyday life in castles by seeing if there are any surviving plants at four Irish castles that were planted, grown and cared for by medieval people. The research will involve ecological surveys at each location.

Strongholds of Wessex

Photo of Silbury Hill by Greg O’Beirne, licensed CC BY SA 3.0.

The aim of the project is to understand the military organisation of the northern part of Wessex (Wiltshire and West Oxfordshire) from the transition from Saxon to Norman rule between the 9th and 12th centuries. The work will involve documentary research, landscape and place name surveys. Sites examined will include Castle Combe, Cricklade and Silbury Hill.

The Wirk, Orkney

Rousay - The Wirk

Could the Wirk be a Norse castle? Based on the island of Rousay, this stone tower is situated close to the old parish church and recently discovered Norse Hall. However, no one knows what this tower was used for or even when it was built. The work would involve a geophysical survey of the surrounding area as well as two trial trenches to try and find dating evidence.

Thermal Imaging of Castles

A thermogram of Cirencester Roman amphitheatre by Dr John Wells, licensed CC BY SA 4.0.

To test how useful thermal imaging could be in understanding castles. The thermal survey using a FLIR camera of two castle facades in different climates. within the UK—Caisteal Uisdein, on the coast of Loch Snizort, and a castle farther south and slightly inland, Castle Rising.

Warkworth, Northumberland

Photo by Barry Marsh, in the public domain

Using various forms of geophysical survey to try and understand the subsurface features for the former caput of the Dukes of Northumberland. The survey will focus on the bailey inside the 12th-century curtain wall as well as the strip of land outside but on the early earthwork castle, the motte and field near the entrance to the castle.


The applications have been sent to our expert assessors who will go over them. And if you want to know more about how the assessment process works, we have a brief summary.

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.