Gleaston Castle: On the edge of collapse – an attempt at rescue

In 2018 Historic England commissioned reports to be carried out on Gleaston Castle near Ulverston, where the Castle Studies Trust have previously funded a survey of the site. The reports commissioned by Historic England were led by Chloe Granger of Crosby Granger Architects, and included a condition survey and concept feasibility study. The feasibility study was aimed at reviewing any potential repair and/or development that could allow the site to become sustainable.

Formerly, in 2015 the Castle Studies Trust grant-funded preparatory works at Gleaston Castle that included a Conservation Statement, geophysical surveys and 3D imagery, to begin the process of understanding more about the castle and its development. From this initial research, the follow-up condition survey and feasibility study prepared by Chloe and her team sets the scene for future repair works and lays the foundations for a potential sustainable future.

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Gleaston Castle, listed Grade I and Scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, is located on the Furness Peninsula, Cumbria in what appears to be a remote location and strange position for a fortified castle. It is an enclosure castle dating to the 14th century, now a ruin, and has been recorded as such since the mid-16th century. The location on the Furness Peninsula would have historically been less remote, as access was via boat or by crossing the sands of the Morecambe Bay estuary at low tide – a mere short walk.

Gleaston Castle: south east tower interior. Copyright Chloe Granger

The exact date of construction of Gleaston Castle is not known; it was almost certainly built by John Harrington (knighted in 1306) and marked a move from the earlier coastal manorial residence at Aldingham, which had passed to the Harringtons in 1291, possibly in part prompted by early-14th century Scots raids. A date of c1325 is sometimes quoted although the earliest documentary reference is in the 1350s; several sources suggest that it was never finished. It appears to have been abandoned as a manorial residence after the death of Sir William Harrington in 1457 and c1540 it was recorded by Leland as lying in ruins, although some parts may have been re-occupied in the 17th century.

Gleaston is the probably nearest approach to a ‘quadrangular’ castle of a type more common in the North East, and typical of the earlier 14th century. It is not an exact rectangle in plan – the enclosure, 80 m in length north to south, narrows from 55 m at the north end to 45 m at the south. It has had corner towers, with the north-western, by far the largest, clearly containing the hall and subsidiary apartments.

Gleaston Castle: Great Hall from south east tower. Copyright Chloe Granger

The ruinous remains of the castle are in private ownership, incorporated into a working farm, which makes access difficult for the visitor. The structures are in a perilous condition, with falling masonry not an uncommon sight. General vegetation and rigorous ivy are the main culprits. The ivy on the south-east tower is known to Historic England as the largest, most substantial and ancient ivy known on a structure in the country. The scale of the issue is enormous. There is no management plan and no funding to enable a comprehensive strategy of repair to be carried out to safeguard the structures.

Gleaston Castle: entrance to sw tower. Copyright Chloe Granger

Through Chloe, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) have become involved and are planning a working party to begin to make a start on rescuing the castle. It is a colossal task, but the aim of the working party will be to raise awareness and put Gleaston castle on the map, which the team hopes will generate support for the cause. The volunteer working party team is hoping to carry out some initial vegetation clearance and some consolidation, with professionals offering their time pro-bono; the first required are an ecologist and an arboriculturalist. The initial working party is planned for September,

If anyone is interested in either contributing time or funds, your support would be greatly appreciated! For more information contact Chloe Granger on chloe at crosbygrangerarchitects dot co dot uk 

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Featured image: Gleaston Castle from the West and where its main entrance was. Copyright Chloe Granger.

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s impact on English Castles

Sara Cockerill, author of the recently published biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine, looks at her role in English castle development.

One of the areas which has stayed slightly “off-camera” as I have written about Eleanor is the question of her relationships with the castles of her era. The headlining castles built under Henry’s aegis show no signs of Eleanor’s input. More intriguing however, is her relationship with those castles which pre-dated Henry’s reign and which found themselves in need of a bit of TLC – not necessarily from a military point of view, but in order to function as homes as well as defences. Where this sort of work is concerned there seems to be some ground for tracing a link between Eleanor’s regencies and the initiation of refurbishment programmes.

To start with the most obvious example – the Tower. On Eleanor’s first arrival in London the Tower was uninhabitable, and the royal couple had to stay instead at Bermondsey Abbey. While it is clear that Henry II put Thomas Becket in charge of refurbishing the equally run down Palace of Westminster, money does not commence to be spent on the Tower until 1166 – during Eleanor’s regency, suggesting that she had some hand in the decisions as to its refurbishment. Quite what these were is of course a matter of some debate, but they included as well as defensive works, quasi domestic features, such as work to the chapel and living accommodation.


Tower of London Chapel of St John, By Slowking4 – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34675029

Another castle which came under Eleanor’s review is Berkhamsted – initially given to, and refurbished by Becket, it was transferred to Eleanor,  who held the barony as part of her dower assignment, during the course of Henry’s quarrel with Becket, with the royal family spending Christmas of 1163 there; an event which involved numerous items of plate being sent from Westminster to dress the rooms to best advantage. In the years which follow, again during Eleanor’s regency, there is regular work noted in the accounts, on the “Kings houses” there, at the granary, the bridges – and the lodgings. Her interest in the property is further evidenced by her travelling to stay there as soon as she gained a greater measure of freedom in 1184, with the advent of her daughter Matilda, then in exile from Saxony. Eleanor and Matilda’s family seem to have spent the whole summer there. And finally – work stops on the castle just at the period when Eleanor departs to her retirement in Poitou. However even in retirement her steward for the Berkhamsted estate would travel to visit her at Fontevraud….

Berkhamsted Castle bailey from the motte including remains of buildings built in Eleanor’s regency

Other places where Eleanor was particularly at home and where her interest can be traced are Old Sarum (Salisbury) and Winchester – her main locations during her captivity. But everything suggests that she was sent there not because she disliked them, but rather the reverse. Both are places she positively chose to visit on more than one occasion as regent in the 1150s and 1160s. Winchester, of course, was Henry I’s main residence, and had benefitted from a constant programme of renewals ever since. Interestingly however its domestic architecture was thoroughly overhauled from the year after Eleanor arrived in England. In 1155–6 £14 10s. 8d. was paid for making the king’s house and the next year another £14 10s. was spent for work on just one chamber in the castle. In 1170 £36 6s. was paid, and in 1173 £56 13s. 1d. was paid for work on the king’s houses at Winchester and £48 5s. for work on the castle and provisioning it. Large sums of money were, interestingly paid for the King’s chapel, in the years when Eleanor was a frequent resident there in confinement.  To this period too can be traced the first indications of development of the gardens. Old Sarum for its part had a residential area which was modern, having been built as recently as 1130 under the aegis of the then bishop. During Eleanor’s residence at Salisbury in the 1170s and early 1180s, there was consistent expenditure including £47 on the houses in the year Eleanor came to live there. That Eleanor positively liked Salisbury is shown by the fact that after her release she chose to organise the wedding of André de Chauvigny to the heiress Denise of Déols there; and Winchester too was a voluntary stop for her more then once in her later years.

Old Sarum from the west in C12, (Model: John B. Thorp. Photo: Kurt Kastner)

In a similar category is Windsor castle. Though predominantly a project of Henry’s – the defensive remodelling smacks of his planning – Eleanor spent considerable periods of time here – bearing Matilda here when the castle must have been a building site, and visiting repeatedly both as regent when she may well have had a hand in the development of the domestic buildings, which were to form a family base for her descendant Henry III’s family. Again it is a castle she seems to have positively chosen to visit with Matilda on Matilda’s return, and again following her release.

Although of course Berkhamsted has fallen into disrepair, one can perhaps therefore trace Eleanor’s hand in creating a core of castles which could double as homes, which was to influence the lives of generations to come.

Featured image: Aerial photograph of Old Sarum site, on departure from Old Sarum airfield by Mark Edwards.

Kings, barons, miners and inedible pigs: the great siege of Rochester in 1215 now on video!

Dr Peter Purton FSA, leading expert on medieval siege warfare examines one of the most famous British medieval sieges, that of Rochester in 1215.

The great donjon of Rochester castle (Kent) is still visible from miles around – including from the Eurostar. It stands above a bridge across the tidal waters of the river Medway and that was one reason why it was subject to a famous six- week siege which ended when an entire corner of the great tower was brought crashing to the ground, leading to the fall of the castle on 30 November 1215.

This was the first big battle in the civil war that broke out between King John (1199-1216) and the barons who had forced him to seal Magna Carta in June of that year. The king got the pope to declare it null and both he, in the south, and the barons, based in London, began to gather soldiers. We know a great deal about what happened because contemporary chroniclers, including eyewitnesses and those closely associated with men fighting there, wrote it down; and because some government records survive. We know the names of the nobles and many of the knights on both sides, of the engineers paid to construct the King’s five stone-throwing siege engines, and the master miners from the Forest of Dean who with their team (altogether 13 miners) undermined first the wall of the bailey and then the great tower itself.

Sappping a tower: Foix castle museum

The first castle was built after the Norman conquest but the great tower dated from 1127 when it was built for the archbishop of Canterbury, then William of Corbeil, who shared ownership and use with the crown. It is the tallest keep in the British Isles (125 feet, 38 metres) and unusually boasts two floors above the main level and basement below, divided vertically by a spine wall that gave access to the castle well. Richly provided with latrines and comfortable chambers, two spiral staircases, beautifully decorated stonework, it was a place fit to entertain king or archbishop. But in 1215 none of this mattered, archbishop Stephen Langton ignored John’s demand to hand it over and instead allowed rebel baron William de Albini and 60 or 80 knights, their retinues and archers and crossbowmen, to take possession.

Interior of Rochester’s keep showing the rebuilt corner. To the left is the spine wall the defenders fell back to after the sapping

Control of the ancient bridge over the Medway was vital for both sides, and so it became John’s first target once he had gathered an army of several thousand experienced fighters mainly from Flanders, Poitou and Gascony. The defenders resisted every attack for weeks, inflicting many casualties on John’s men. In the end the besiegers turned to their miners, who first broke through the bailey wall (we don’t know where), then, using the grease from 40 slaughtered pigs (‘of the kind not fit for eating’) as an accelerant to burn the props they had used to prop up the masonry while they sapped  the south east corner turret of the great tower, brought it crashing down. The defenders retreated behind the spine wall but had run out of food so surrendered. King John wanted to hang them all  but was dissuaded by his own captains who didn’t want to meet the same fate if the wheel of fortune should turn against them.

To this day one can see the join on the sides of the donjon where the wall had to be rebuilt after the siege.

In 2015 the Castle Studies Group (www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk) held a conference there to mark the 800th anniversary and I presented a short paper analysing the siege. Now, following an invitation from across the Atlantic, an extended and illustrated version of that talk can be viewed at:

Pembroke Castle keep – William Marshal’s statement in stone

Neil Ludlow, co-project lead in both the Castle Studies Trust funded 2016 geophysical survey and 2018 excavations looks at Pembroke Castle’s most iconic structure, it’s keep.

Pembroke Castle is probably best-known for its magnificent cylindrical keep, begun in 1201-2. But why was it built? And how was it used? These and other questions are being explored as part of the wider study of the castle.

Great keeps like these were bold statements of power and prestige. At Pembroke, it seems the keep was also celebratory and commemorative, marking the marriage, ennoblement and inheritance of its builder, William Marshal – and in the most conspicuous way. But it was not intended for residential use: there is neither bedchamber, latrine nor water supply. Household accommodation was instead provided by the great hall, while a chamber block served the Marshal earls on their rare visits to Pembroke.

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Use of the keep, as intended, was restricted and episodic, probably confined to the handful of occasions when the earl visited. Access was clearly limited to those above a certain rank – for instance, there is only one spiral stair and no separate stair for lower ranks. And the interior had to be crossed to get to the stair, showing that its use was strictly controlled.

Pembroke Castle keep section drawing. Copyright Neil Ludlow

The main chamber lay on the second floor, which has a high-quality window and a fireplace. It may have been intended as an audience or reception chamber, and a setting for formal and ceremonial occasions. It has been suggested that its external doorway was served by an external bridge and stair from the curtain wall, but such an arrangement is inconsistent with the remains. The doorway may instead have led onto an appearance balcony, visible from the town before the outer bailey was added and allowing the earls to be seen by their subjects. Similar balconies existed at King Henry II’s round keeps in France.

Pembroke keep second floor door. Copyright Neil Ludlow

The first floor, at entrance level, may have been an anteroom or ‘waiting area’ for the second floor. It too has a fireplace. The uppermost chamber lies beneath the unique, masonry dome. It lacks a fireplace, suggesting events here were of short duration. Nevertheless, it is lit by a second elaborate window, while a decorative painted scene can perhaps be envisaged on the underside of the dome. It may have been a ‘prospect chamber’ for entertaining special guests. Other openings, at all levels, are very narrow slits which are too small, too narrow and too high up to have been used by archers, and were probably for light and ventilation only.

At summit level, at least one major change in design occurred during construction, which culminated with the crenellated parapet and concentric inner wall that now crown the keep. As originally built, the dome seems to have been circled by a wide, slate-lined drainage channel. The slates are fossilised, as a series of crests and troughs, within the concentric inner wall and seem to have been truncated when the present wall-walk was established. It is not known whether they were contemporary with the overhanging timber hourd, the sockets for which can be seen beneath the present parapet, but it is difficult to envisage how the two could have worked together.

Pembroke Castle keep from southeast (photo: Adam Stanford @ Aerial-Cam)

Hourds like this are now thought to have often been leisure-related rather than military,providing a viewpoint from which a lord’s estates could be shown off to his important guests. At any rate, this overall scheme was replaced, possibly before it was complete, by the present parapet, wall-walk and concentric inner wall. Another slate channel, within the latter, runs around the haunches of the dome and is of very similar design to the earlier drain. These substantial drainage arrangements may indicate that the dome was not roofed, perhaps instead being finished with slates like the domes of some later medieval church towers in south Pembrokeshire.

Much later alterations at summit level included the insertion of a floor beneath the dome – creating an attic space which was accessed from the wall-walk through a secondary doorway, and lit by crudely-inserted window – showing how the keep’s role changed through time, with loss of its original prestige. And much of the dome’s facework was robbed, perhaps to make the central ‘turret’ that now occupies the summit. Part of the second drainage channel was removed in order to create access to this turret, confirming that it is a later addition, but it was present by c.1600 when it was shown in a sketch of the castle.

Either one of these summit alterations may be contemporary with the partition in the body of the keep, the chase (or scar) for which survives in the internal plaster. The plaster contains coal fragments; a corresponding absence of charcoal suggests that the present finish may itself be late, but also means that it cannot be radiocarbon-dated.

Pembroke Castle keep from north (feature photo) Adam Stanford @ Aerial-Cam

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Doon on the lochfront: Loch Doon Castle (Ayrshire, Scotland)

As part of his 2018 PhD thesis on Scotland’s early stone castles, Dr Will Wyeth assessed some of the country’s underexplored sites. One such was Loch Doon castle which provides a case study for two of Will’s key themes of his research, namely the castle’s orientation and its landscape.

Loch Doon was home to a series of small islands, one of which was largely occupied by a medieval castle, comprising an enclosure and within it, parts of a later medieval tower house. In 1935 the loch was dammed and in consequence of the resulting rising water level, the castle dismantled and re-assembled on the modern lochside to the west of its original position.

Original location of Loch Doon Castle, picture taken between 1902-18. Picture courtesy of Brian McGarrigle, Scottish Castle Association

Connecting its architecture with the emergence of scattered references in documentary sources, we believe it was built by the mid-late 13th-century earls of Carrick, among whose members were Robert de Brus and his son by the same name, later Robert I. The castle appears in the 1370s Scottish (as opposed to the revised early 15th-century English) portion of the ‘Gough Map’ as loghdone. Little store can really be set by its depiction there, owing to uncertain cartographic conventions, though it is noteworthy that it is represented by two castle icons – one on the loch island, another on the adjacent shore.

Loch Doon castle featured in an episode of the war which saw Sir Christopher Seton, brother-in-law of Robert the Bruce flee to the castle. It was besieged and thereafter was surrendered to English troops by Sir Gilbert de Carrick in 1306, who was probably a kinsman to Robert. While the meagre early history of the castle is reasonably well-known, what has hitherto not been explored in great detail are two other elements of Loch Doon Castle. What can it tell us about its builders? And is there evidence for a wider landscape to the castle, and what can this tell us?

Why build it on an island?

There is a significant volume of evidence, and discussion by many earlier and contemporary historians, regarding the long-lived tradition of natural, modified or artificial island lordship centres in Scotland. So was Loch Doon castle referencing this tradition, alive and well in contemporary Scotland? I argued that while there was no question of an island site’s defensive advantages, as well as an acknowledged similarity to the crannog tradition, Loch Doon castle was more of a castle than a crannog-like castle.

Loch Doon Castle Main Entrance, copyright Prof. Richard Oram

The way the castle’s formal entry point, its large pointed portal, opened nearly straight onto water, whilst its work-a-day entry (the sole other access) opened onto part of the island with a beach for ease of landing and more space, suggested similarities with the managed routes of access to castles specifically: the rest of the island can be imagined as small outer yard. Such routes and configurations may have been apparent in contemporary crannogs, but evidence is simply lacking. Both insular castles and medieval crannogs may have been built to draw attention to vast sheets of natural water for which terrestrial castles elsewhere used ponds and lakes. The castle’s long southern wall, forming the exterior face of its great hall, was designed for maximum exposure to the sun, but also towards routes from Galloway in the south.

A landscape context?

The castle is situated at the border of two counties; indeed, at the time of its construction, it was located at the south-eastern extremity of the earldom of Carrick. A routeway from the political heartland of medieval Galloway in Glenken runs through the valley of Loch Doon towards the royal centre at Ayr. Another route ran from another politically important area in eastern Wigtownshire into the valley of Loch Doon.

There is evidence for all kinds of medieval activity near to the castle. At the farm sites of Starr and Loch Head south of the castle are traces of rig-and-furrow cultivation assumed to be medieval in origin. The nearby farm of Portmark evidenced later medieval metalworking, and its name suggests a tangible connection to the castle; elsewhere, port– place-names mark the embarkation point for medieval crossing to insular lordship centres. Perhaps this was what the Gough map was representing as a second ‘castle’? Such composite island-waterside complexes are widely recognised in Ireland. Lastly, in the rugged hilly district south of the castle, in neighbouring Galloway, are a cluster of place-names connected to deer traps, from the Gaelic eileirig, as well as the location of a hitherto unattested hunt hall (possibly medieval in origin) at the aptly named ruined building named Hunt Ha’.

What was the castle ‘for’?

It is difficult to establish a conclusive answer. In 1306, Sir Henry Percy seized administrative and military documents stored at the castle for the English crown following its surrender. Whether these documents were at the castle as a matter of course (so making the castle a manorial centre of sorts) or because of the political violence unfolding across the kingdom is not clear. Both may be true. The evidence from the castle and its landscape suggests it was ‘doing’ many things. It was made to be seen from far and wide. Its position by a routeway through the rugged Galloway Hills is typical for castles in general. Its insular setting may reflect a castellar rendering of the crannog tradition, or a Carrick take on the watery landscapes of castles lowland Britain and Ireland. The earldom’s main and older centre – Turnberry castle, on the coast in lowland Carrick and over 31km as the crow flies from Loch Doon – was its only other castle. Thus, Loch Doon castle may have as much been a retreat for leisure, for welcoming guests and the comital ensemble travelling to Galloway, as an administrative centre for the earldom’s extensive upland districts.

You can read Will’s PhD thesis for free on the University of Stirling’s website.

Sowing Seeds of Interdisciplinary Work: Relict Plants at Medieval Castles

Thinking Green

Like medieval monasteries, castles had gardens. These could be places of rest, play and display as well as productive centres for (some of) the food to supply the castle household while also providing curative or medicinal plants. We know that in the Middle Ages, plants were highly valued for their culinary, fragrant and medicinal properties; and, they were considered to have mental and spiritual benefits. What do we know about the plant-life of the medieval castle and its green spaces?

Surviving architecture indicates that some of these spaces were enclosed with relatively high walls, often surmounted by a parapet or at least crenelated. Excavations tell us something about what plants were at castles but there is no certainty about what was grown in their gardens.1 Seeds can be tricky to identify in the archaeobotanical record from reasons as diverse as poor preservation to sampling issues. Beyond general mentions of gardens, medieval historians have noted references to bowers (arched trellis covered with vines or climbing plants) and possible water features as well as hawthorn hedging, roses and juniper trees.2 Many medieval manuscripts show luxurious images of trellising and water features in a verdant green dreamland (Fig. 1). I am not going to suggest that exact replica sites of mythical gardens existed but perhaps we can use these images as a reference point.

Figure 1. GR12994 Garden of Paradise, c.1415 (tempera on panel) by Master of Oberrheinischer (15th century); 26.3×33.4 cm; Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany; German, out of copyright.

So, we know what gardens might have looked like and some of the things that may have been present. What then, do we know about gardening?3 Certain castles, such as Richmond, have latrines that empty into the garden space suggesting that medieval people were good at composting! (Fig. 2) But what about plant propagation and curation? What plants or flowers were grown? Or how?

Figure 2. ‘Cockpit’ Garden at Richmond Castle, latrine on eastern wall. Authors own.

Nurseries were established at monasteries across Europe in the later medieval period; one existed in London by at least the late thirteenth-century4 and at Kilmainhaim, Ireland during the early fourteenth century.5 Perhaps they also existed at castles? Some medieval manuscripts show images of plants in pots – isn’t that very interesting? (Fig. 3). So possibly plants in pots, like elite households, were on the move.6 If plants moved with their households what types were selected? Were they transplanted to grow in new locations? While extensive archaeological excavation might be able to answer these questions – what if we look at the evidence in front of us: the modern ecological landscape?

Figure 3. Plants in Pots. Book of Hours, Belgium, Bruges, between 1500 and 1526. M.363 fol. 24. http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/page/29/112393

Might the modern landscapes of medieval castles give some clue to plants of the past? The study of relict plants – those that survive from the past – involves the examination of modern landscapes for the presence of plants that may have been deliberately planted and cared for by people in the past. An ecological survey of Welsh castles completed in 1994 by Ann Connolly noted that there were clusters of plants with known medicinal uses present at castle sites but notably absent from suitable surrounding terrain.7 This included wild sage (Salvia verbenaca) at Montgomrery and wild rocket (Reseda luteola), as well as henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) at Rhuddlan. The implication is that these plants were deliberately planted at these sites for their medicinal use.

Pioneering work has been completed on relict plants in from medieval monastic gardens in Norway8 and Iceland.9 Fiona MacGowan, working in Ireland noted the presence of yellow wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri) at the windows of the main focal building at Lea Castle, Co. Laois (2014; Fig 4). These are non-native to Ireland and were thought to be frame the windows and waft in good smells. Relict plant studies, as part of wider analyses, is becoming established as a novel way to gain insights into past communities’ growing or cultivation practices as well as potential medicinal and dietary concerns.

‘Sowing the Seeds of Interdisciplinary Work’, the project funded by the Castle Studies Trust sets out to build on this work, and understand if surviving plants at medieval castles which were possibly planted, grown, cared for and used by medieval people can further inform us of medieval lived experiences in the garden and possibly with gardening. Ecological surveys will be carried out at four geographically distant but culturally similar medieval castles sites with diverse landscapes: Adare. Co. Limerick, Castleroache, Co. Louth, Mocollop Castle, Co Waterford and Castlecarra, Co. Mayo (Figs 4-7).

From the selected sites, only Adare has been subject to archaeological investigation and therefore has an associated archaeobotanical report to be analysed.10 Castlecarra is surrounded by woodland which has the potential to be ancient; it is included in the Lough Mask and Lough Carra Special Area of Conservation (Site code 001774). It will be part of the survey. All four have associated settlements and a variety of religious houses from parish churches to abbeys. At Mocollop and Castle Carra these spaces will also be surveyed owing to their relatively undisturbed surrounding landscapes. They will provide an interesting set of comparative sites.

Figure 5. Castle Carra, Co. Mayo. Main focal building of castle complex. Large protruding latrine in the foreground. Authors own.
Figure 6. Castleroche, Co. Louth. Extensive castle complex. Image courtesy of Dr David Whelan.

Working with Dr Fiona MacGowan, an ecologist who has a passion for the medieval, we will carry-out the ecological surveys over the late summer (hopefully). Once compiled the ecological reports will be used to expand our knowledge of what plants may have been used or grown at Irish medieval castles by contextualising the results within appropriate historical and folkloric traditions. These findings will be analysed together with of archaeological, historical and architectural details of the four castles sites. We are sure that the results will demonstrate the potential of relict plants studies to enrich our understanding of the ‘green’ lives of people in the past.

Figure 7. Mocollop Castle, Co. Waterword. Ruinous castles situated in a working farm. Image courtesy of Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

Footnotes

  1. Caple 2007
  2. Thorstad 2019
  3. Dempsey 2020
  4. Harvey 1985
  5. Reeves-Smith 1995
  6. Smith 2018
  7. Connolly 1994
  8. Arvid Åsen 2009
  9. Kristjánsdóttir, Larsson & Arvid Åsen 2014
  10. Dunne 2007; Dunne & Kiely 2013

Bibliography

Åsen, A. P., 2009. Plants of possible monastic origin, growing in the past or present, at medieval monastery grounds in Norway, in Plants and Culture: seeds of the cultural heritage of Europe, eds. J.P. Morel & A.M. Mercuri. Edipuglia Bari: Centro Europeo per i Beni Culturali Ravello, 227–38.

Caple, C., 2007. Excavations at Dryslwyn Castle 1980-1995. London: Society for Medieval Archaeology.

Connolly, A., 1994. Castles and Abbeys in Wales: Refugia for Mediaeval Medicinal Plants. Botanical Journal of Scotland 46(4), 628–36. https://doi.org/10.1080/13594869409441774

Dempsey, K. in press. Planting new ideas: a feminist gaze on medieval castles. Chateau Gaillard 29.

Dunne L. 2007. Adare Castle, Raising Bridges and Raising Questions, in From Ringforts to Fortified Houses: Studies on Castles and Other Monuments in Honour of David Sweetman, C. Manning (ed.), Dublin, Wordwell, pp. 155-170.

Dunne L. & Kiely J. 2013. Archaeological Excavation Report 01E1153 – Adare Castle, Co. Limerick Medieval Castle”, Eachtra Archaeological Reports, 16, pp. 1-265, online: http://eachtra.ie/index.php/journal/eachtra-journal-issues-as-standalone-pdf/#Issue16

Harvey, J.H., 1985. The first English garden book: Mayster Jon Gardener’s treatise and its background. Garden History 13, 83–101. https://doi.org/10.2307/1586825

MacGowan, F., 2014. Ecological Report for the area around Lea Castle, Portarlington, Co. Laois. Unpublished Report.

Reeves-Smyth, T., 1999. Irish Gardens and Gardening Before Cromwell (Barryscourt Lectures 4). Cork: Gandon Editions

Smith, S., 2018. Rills and Romance: Gardens at the Castles of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Edward I, in The Medieval and Early Modern Garden in Britain, eds. P. Skinner, & T. Tyres. London & New York: Routledge, 40–55.

Thorstad, A. 2019. The Culture of Castles in Medieval England and Wales. The Boydell Press. Woodbridge.

To stay up to date with news from ‘Sowing the Seeds’ subscribe to our newsletter, and you can read more of Karen’s work on academia.edu.

Hornby Castle Project – from Pre-Conquest to War of the Roses and beyond

Castle Studies Trust’s expert grant assessor Erik Matthews reveals the findings of the 10 years (and counting) excavation he has been directing of Hornby Castle in Wensleydale North Yorkshire.

  A programme of archaeological fieldwork involving excavation with some building recording has been in progress since 2010 with the new season due to commence as soon as conditions will allow. It has focussed on the site of a moated hunting lodge of the Dukes of Brittany referred to in a Charter dated to 1115. It was subsequently used as a “pleasaunce” for first the Nevilles of Redbourne in Lincolnshire and later the Conyers  before its destruction in a military attack at the end of the Wars of the Roses.

Pre-conquest origins

  Recent work has focussed on the kitchen where oven structures have been recovered with traces of a wooden tank for holding live fish prior to their cooking. A stone sink with a wooden drain leading into the moat to the north has been found with a cherry stone recovered from it. There was also traces of a fireplace which collapsed with the remainder of the building sending a plume of ash into the room. Following the discovery of residual artefacts of Pre-Conquest date from the kitchen floor including a carved walrus ivory handle, a sherd of Pre Conquest glazed pottery made in Northern Germany and piece of  fine worked bone casket, it was decided to section the floor to find evidence of an earlier structure beneath. Evidence of a wooden floored, stave walled structure was found which may be associated with the immediate Pre-Conquest tenant Arnekill who was of noble birth and related to the Earls of Northumbria.

   Examination of the remains of the kitchen front wall yielded evidence of the ferocity of the destruction of the complex with the recovery of a large stone cannon ball (below)from a heavy calibre cannon which had become embedded in it. Close by a carved Nidderdale marble capital was found which has been dated to the 12th Century and which may have come from a chapel in nearby.

Stone canon ball found in the kitchen front wall (copyright Erik Matthews)

The Great Tower – post medieval survival?

The 2019 season focussed on a section of the moat which located traces of a stone bridge abutment and wooden foot bridge surviving in the moat silts heading towards an earthwork in an adjacent field.  The main discovery has however been evidence of an ashlar clad stone Great Tower. Two wall foundations 2.8 metres wide sunk into a rock clad mortar embankment rising some 1.2 metres have been located to the north and west. The north wall includes the remains of a robbed out spiral stair. Internal features include an internal chamber with very thick walls which may have been a strong room, also a corridor from the floor of which an iron knife was recovered blade down! Evidence of an external doorway heading to the north towards the area of the most bank has been recovered and a small section of roofing lead together with lime slurry suggests an impressive structure. The close proximity of the foundations to the modern ground surface suggest tantalisingly that the structure may have survived as a ruin into the relatively recent past.

For more information about the excavation please contact Erik Matthews on rubyna dot matthews at btinternet dot com

Shrewsbury Castle: a 2020 vision, from Saxon habitation to C18 landscaping?

Project lead for the Shrewsbury Castle excavations Dr Nigel Baker looks forward to the forthcoming excavations at the castle, hopefully this year, funded by the CST

Last year, the Castle Studies Trust excavation – the first ever to have taken place within the walls of Shrewsbury Castle – produced three headline conclusions. The first was that the work of the young Thomas Telford there for his client, William Pountney M.P. in 1786-90 was, sadly, more destructive of the medieval original than had previously been recognised. The extent of his restoration of the house (now the Soldiers of Shropshire Museum) and the curtain walls has long been known. What wasn’t appreciated was that standing walls of ruined buildings and a 13th-century tower on the motte top were destroyed and reduced to their footings, and the interior of the inner bailey was, it seems, scraped flat, producing a lovely level lawn at the expense of any archaeological deposits overlying the natural gravel of the hilltop. Despite this, infilled negative features (pits and ditches) cut into the gravel survived and were found by our excavation trench. As a result, our second headline conclusion was that the motte was ringed on its landward side by a massive ditch, twelve metres wide: what we know as the inner bailey must, in the early Middle Ages, have been little more than a barbican defending the end of the bridge giving access up the motte.

C18 Remodelling?

But the extent of Telford’s work raises a question, first put to the archaeological team by Martin Roseveare, our geophysicist: if Telford had the inner bailey levelled flat, where did he put the proceeds, meaning the scraped-up earth and debris? Could the apparently well-preserved medieval ramparts ringing the bailey actually be down to the young Scottish civil engineer, rather than impressed English labour under the whip-hand of William the Conqueror’s henchmen? This is one of the leading questions that a second season of excavation at Shrewsbury Castle hopes to be able to answer, by digging on part of the western rampart known to be already disturbed by former Victorian greenhouses.

High Status Saxon Living

There are, however, other at least equally compelling reasons for excavating on this site. The third headline conclusion of the 2019 trench was that there was pre-Conquest activity within the area of the inner bailey. This was demonstrated by a pit, pit 20, containing Stafford-type ware (well known in late pre-Conquest Shrewsbury) and a type of pottery known as TF41a, an import up the Severn from Gloucester, never seen before in Shrewsbury. The question is, what was it doing there?

Top piece Rim of type 41a Saxon pottery from Gloucester
Lower piece: Rim of Stafford ware Saxon pottery

Shrewsbury is one of those castles listed in Domesday along with the destruction it caused to its ‘host’ shire town. Construction of Shrewsbury Castle took out 51 tax-paying tenements, a quarter or a fifth of the total built-up area, to the economic distress of the remaining inhabitants. Many of the destroyed plots will have lined the strategically important Chester to Hereford road that passes through the outer bailey. However, looming over the road and its plots, and the main gate through the pre-Conquest defences, was the hilltop on which the castle would come to be built. And on it, overlooking the gate, most likely on the Victorian greenhouse site, was the Church of St Michael, a church that became the castle chapel, but was listed in Domesday between the entries for two of the town’s pre-Conquest minsters and was served by two priests later in the Middle Ages, when it was a royal peculiar, exempt from episcopal oversight. This need not necessarily all add up to a pre-Conquest church – but the chances are very strong that it does, and that this church, which, overlooking the town defences,  may have had some kind of defensive role, was part of the context of pit 20.

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The clues are beginning to point to a high-status site, probably enclosed, with its interior ground level two metres above that of its neighbours, and its own church. For an analogy, one could do worse than look to Wallingford, whose castle in the north-east corner of the Saxon burh had probably taken over and re-fortified a royal site of some kind, possibly housing government functions, perhaps a mint, and a garrison of housecarls. Or one might look to Oxford, where St George’s Tower is now generally thought to be of pre-Conquest date. Shrewsbury seems to be joining the list of Norman town castles established on sites of political, not just tactical, importance.

But archaeology can be frustrating. While we hope that excavation of the Victorian greenhouse site in the west rampart may yield insights into the extent of Thomas Telford’s landscape gardening, the foundations of a pre-Conquest church and further clues to a high-status or even royal site preceding the castle, by 2021 the excavation team may well be singularly well-informed experts on…Victorian greenhouses.

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Our five projects for 2020

The results are in, we’ve decided which projects we will be funding for 2020.

But before we get to the announcement, we want to thank all the applicants who proposed projects. It was a difficult decision, with exciting and innovative approaches to a group of fascinating castles. This year marks a milestone for us: we are award £30,000 across the successful projects which is the most we’ve given in a single year.

So without further ado, here are the five projects we will be funding in 2020. We hope you are looking forward to discovering more about them.

Lincoln Castle

Photo by Gustavo Faraon, licensed CC-BY-NC 2.0

The project will develop a reconstruction drawing of the castle, as it would have been in the latter part of the 12th century, founded by William the Conqueror, in the second half of the 11th century.

Shrewsbury Castle

We will be funding a second year of excavation, following on from 2019, this time to understand the rampart of the inner bailey.

Sowing the Seeds

Castlecarra is one of the sites to be investigated. Photo by Karen Dempsey.

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 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.

Warkworth

 Photo by Karl Davison, licensed CC-BY-NC 2.0

Using various forms of geophysical survey to try and understand the subsurface features for the former caput of the Earls of Northumberland.

Donate regularly for invitation to exclusive site visits

Regular donors will be invited to all exclusive visits to the projects we fund.

Those who are able to donate £500 a year or more (excluding Gift Aid) will also have the opportunity to attend our annual special castle visit to major/privately owned castles. In 2020 this will be at Edinburgh Castle on Saturday 6 June where we will visit parts of the castle not open to the public.

Any new donations by standing order or payroll giving will be matched by a generous supporter for the next two years up to a maximum of £2,000 a year in total.

You can donate regularly via payroll giving or by setting up a standing order. Please return the form to the address on the forms, with the gift aid form if applicable.

Reconstructing Ruthin Castle

The commission to carry out a reconstruction drawing of Ruthin Castle came after several years of visits and informal discussions with Will Davies and others, all anxious to bring the castle to greater prominence. Once the Ruthin Castle Conservation Trust had been set up in 2016 to arrest the deterioration of the castle ruins, it became imperative that better researched material, texts and drawings be produced to raise awareness of the castle and the critical condition of the ruins. The Trust accordingly commissioned a reconstruction drawing with grant aid from Castle Studies Trust, Castle Studies Group, and the Cambrian Archaeological Association.

The available documentary sources were scarce. Principal among them was the somewhat hesitant plan drawn by Randle Holme in the 17th century, complete with alterations and amendments, accompanied by two very similar versions of a perspective view, and the inevitable Buck from a century later.

An engraving by the Buck brothers in 1742 from the collection of the National Library of Wales.

Rick Turner identified a detail in the background of a 17th-century picture of “Orpheus Charming the Animals” housed at Chirk Castle, which he believed represented Ruthin. After several attempts at getting a good look at it, some shots were obtained for me by helpful member of National Trust staff. All this was greatly enhanced by a reasonably good topographical survey of the hotel and gardens prepared some years ago.

I began by creating a very rough block model of the remains of the castle with the hotel in place, to better identify the elements missing completely and those in doubt, with a view to possibly carrying out some minor excavations to resolve some of these issues. Unfortunately this was not to happen within our timescale, so such revelations still await us in the future.

The need to produce a useful image for the Trust rather than a long drawn out programme of investigation resulted in a quick agreement of the general viewpoint, displaying the most dramatic surviving parts of the castle in a completed medieval context, but in such a way that minimised the missing pieces. The result was essentially the Buck and Holm views, but altering some details contained in the latter which did not agree with the surviving remains. A lower vantage point was chosen to conceal the missing details of the buildings in the background.

The model was subtly orientated to provide the optimum view, turned into a line drawing, and then the final colour version was produced.

Ironically, it was at this point that the most heated discussion began, regarding the colour of the walls. The present remains of the outer ward are predominantly of a deep red sandstone, with the inner ward of light grey limestone (with some red quoins). The implications of this were far reaching, but for the purposes of the drawing the issue was simply to render or not to render, and if rendered, what colour? The castle is described in some documentary sources as “Castell Coch”, hence red was taken to be the main colour, so perhaps the inner grey ward was rendered red. In the end the consensus was not to render at all, but to expose the masonry as it presently appears, with the red colour of the outer bailey dominant, giving rise to the name. Even then there was some dissent over the strength of the colour of the natural red sandstone in the final image, but “Castell Coch” won out.

Reconstruction drawing of Ruthin Castle from the south-west as it may have appeared in the late medieval period. 
Artist: Chris Jones-Jenkins. Copyright: Ruthin Castle Conservation Trust.

The original painting has now been elegantly framed and is hanging in the foyer of the Castle Hotel, available for all to see. It is hoped that the image will go on to stimulate further discussion in the years to come and generate interest in and publicising the work of the Trust in promoting this historic asset.


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