The Castle Studies Trust five projects for 2023

The Castle Studies Trust have awarded five grants totalling £35,000 to support research into castles. This is a record amount for the Trust, and as we enter our tenth year as a charity, we could not have managed this without our supporters.

We will bring you updates from these projects throughout the year as the teams get stuck in. But first, let’s get to know them a bit better. They are from across England, Scotland, and Wales and take different approaches to understanding castles.

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Bamburgh

A stone building with a square tower in the middle. It stands on an outcrop, prominent in the landscape. In the foreground is a beach.
Bamburgh Castle on the coast of Northumberland. Photo by Michael Hanselmann via Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Standing on a rocky outcrop on the coast of Northumberland, Bamburgh’s history stretches back to the early medieval period when it was home to a palace of the Kings of Northumbria. Bamburgh Castle itself was owned by royalty at various points, and rebuilt in the 18th century.

Bamburgh is a massive site: its history has been illuminated by excavations, and there is still more to learn.

Dr. Joanne Kirton and Graeme Young of the Bamburgh Research Project plan to carry out a geophysical survey and a masonry survey of the castle’s outworks.

Dunoon

The mound at Dunoon Castle. Photo by Rosser1954 via Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC-BY-SA 4.0.

A castle at Dunoon was first mentioned in the late 13th century but may be older. The ruins visible today date from the 14th century. It stands on a hill on the coast of the Firth of Clyde. The castle was besieged and captured multiple times over its centuries-long history and became a royal residence.

Despite the castle’s royal links, little is known about its layout and dating. Dr. Manda Forster’s team at DigVentures will carry out geophysical surveys (resistivity and magnetometry) of the mound and the area around it to find out where there may be buried walls, foundations, or other archaeological remains.

They will also organise workshops for the local community to learn how geophysics work. So as well as learning more about the castle, they may inspire the next generation of archaeologists!

Lowther

Google Map of the medieval Lowther Castle

The present Lowther Castle was built in the 17th century, but a few hundred metres north lie the medieval remains of a castle and possible deserted village. Lancaster University Archaeology Unit surveyed the earthworks in the 1990s, but there has been no other archaeological investigation since.

Being able to date the site would be a crucial step in understanding the Norman influence in the region. Could this be part of the remains of the Norman conquest of the Kingdom of Cumbria in the late 11th century?

Dr. Sophie Ambler has devised the project to carry out geophysical surveys at Lowther Castle followed by excavations. Working with the University of Central Lancashire and Allen Archaeology, this aims to establish the site’s building chronology.

Picton

Picton Castle in 2021 by Ruth Sharvile, via Geograph. Licensed CC-BY-SA 2.0.

Pembroke’s Picton Castle is a medieval building with later alterations and additions. It is uncertain when it was built and by who, but it is likely to have been established in about 1300 by Sir John Wogan. Picton has an unusual layout but may have parallels with French medieval castles.

Neil Ludlow and the Dyfed Archaeological Trust will carry out a measured survey of the building, recording its structure and creating a photographic record of the site. This will be an invaluable resource to understand the site, and help show the castle’s development over the centuries.

Wigmore

Photo of Wigmore © Philip Hume

Wigmore was amongst the early castles established in England in the wake of the Norman conquest. It was founded by William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford and later became the home of the Mortimer family. They were an influential family in the Welsh marches, and they developed the castle to reflect their growing power.

Small-scale excavations at Wigmore and geophysical surveys in the 1990s demonstrated the archaeological potential of the site, but what is missing is a reconstruction of how it looked during its heyday.

Chris Jones-Jenkins will create a reconstruction of how Wigmore Castle used to appear. This will draw on archaeological and historical sources to bring the reconstruction to life. You may also have seen Chris’ work with his reconstructions of Ruthin and Holt.

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Header image: Bamburgh Castle by Michael Hanselmann via Wikimedia Commons, licensed CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Raby Castle 3D Digital Model Nears Completion

As we draw towards the end of the year, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown, Curator at Raby Castle checks in on the 2022 research project funded by the Castle Studies Trust as this chapter draws to a close.  

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What a busy year 2022 has been and yet, this project has been one of the highlights. Working with Durham University Archaeological Services, the castle exterior was fully scanned over the summer and the scans imported into specialist software that enables us to view and fully manipulate the images. The quality of the scanned images are superb and can be used in multiple applications;  as a base model for 3d imaging (shown below) or overlaid with the HD photographic detail to provide a record of every elevation, down to the individual stone, providing inspiration for new visitor-facing interpretation and vital data for the castle architects. The team at Durham University have shared the incredible detail captured on the scans with their counterparts at Raby – demonstrating how the drone was able to access areas that have previously been very difficult to view; testimony to the skill of the drone pilot but also enabling an unrivalled view of the battlements – even into the machicolations.

Alongside the images, Raby Castle has benefitted from the experience and knowledge of Durham’s Senior Archaeologist Richard Annis in reviewing the complex interior of the building against historic plans and research notes compiled by Raby’s dedicated volunteer group. With the scans and historic plans to hand, Richard has explored the building from top-to-toe, focusing on intersections between the medieval fabric and later interventions. This has identified spaces known to the castle team which had not appeared on any of the earlier plans, enabling detailed measurements to be taken as part of the broader survey.  In addition to the overall survey which will be of immense benefit for the quinquennial survey and subsequent building monitoring and maintenance, this project sought to produce a 3d digital model of the castle that could be used to demonstrate different phases of the castle’s history. The team at Durham University Archaeological services have produced a Terra model (below) which will now be separated into phases for the conclusion of the project in December. The castle have engaged audio-visual specialists Heritage Interactive to work with them to produce new interpretation for visitors that will incorporate the models and the research findings.

Image of Raby Castle from 3D Digital Model

Special thanks from the Raby Castle team are owed to the Castle Studies Trust Trustees who visited in October to check on progress. The afternoon spent at Raby was valuable for both the Trust and the Castle, drawing on expertise and debating anomalies in the castle architecture. The discussions will feed into the final report being produced by Durham University Archaeological services alongside the model. We look forward to sharing the end results once the final report and model have been completed.

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A large and eclectic crop of fascinating applications asking for over £100,000 for the Castle Studies Trust to Consider

The deadline for grant applications passed on 1 December. We’re going through the various projects now. Altogether the 15 projects, coming from all the home nations and one from Ireland, are asking for over £110,000. They cover not only a wide period of history but also a broad range of topics.

We will not be able to fund as many of these projects as we would like. To help us fund as many of these projects as possible please donate here:

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In a little more detail here are the applications we’ve received:

Bamburgh, Northumberland: The aim of the project is to better understand the outworks to the north of the castle, by using various geophysical survey techniques and a preliminary survey of the masonry remains, it will include a 3D model of the recently excavated Elmund Tower and provide materials for interactive displays.

Barnard Castle, Co Durham: The aim of the project is to try and understand a lot more about the outer ward of the castle, using a variety of methods including geophysical survey, aerial survey and test excavation

Cavers Castle, Roxburghshire: Through a combination of building survey and excavation to try to understand the early form of this important baronial castle.

Dunoon, Argyll: A community-led geophysical survey project to understand better the form and scale of this important castle that was the seat of the Lord High Stewards of Scotland. The original castle dates back to the 1200s and the remains above currently ground date from the fourteenth century.

Fun Kids, Castle Podcasts for 7-13 Year Olds: To produce a series of 8 podcasts for children aged 7-13 to engage children to explore a what, how and why of 8 castles. The series will focus on a variety of castles and build awareness of less common castles that families can explore.

Galey, Co. Roscommon: Geophysical and topographical surveys to explore the possible motives behind the placement of, as well as immediate landscape context, morphology and any attached settlement and industrial activity, that occurred at a lakeshore-sited late medieval Gaelic-constructed tower house castle.

Hartlebury, Worcestershire: The seeks to explore what looks like a possible civil war bastion ditch, which seems to have been partially revealed in a 2022 drone survey of this former bishop’s palace with remains dating from the fifteenth century. This will be done through geophysical survey and excavation.

Lowther Castle, Cumbria: Through a combination of geophysical survey and excavation to try to learn more about this ringwork castle and settlement, thought to date from the late eleventh century. the aim is to try to discover if it dates from this period and was therefore a Norman plantation; and also its history after its foundation.

Millom, Cumbria: The project will involve a drone survey to assess the condition of the 14th century fortified manor combined with a geophyisical survey to understand if there is any link between it and the nearby church and monastery.

Muncaster, Cumbria finds assessment: To make a complete assessment of the finds from the 2021 excavations which took place near the 14th century tower along with two nearby kiln sites.

Muncaster, Cumbria geophys and archaeology survey: To carry out a geophysical survey of the area surrounding the castle and to investigate a large stone feature in the cellar of the castle to understand its purpose and possible date

Northern Frontier, Beacon Hill Yorkshire: A geophysical survey of Pickering Beacon Hill, a siege castle used for the siege of Pickering in the lead up to the Battle of the Standard (1138) to better understand the landscape at the time and see how much life was disrupted during the period known as the Anarchy.

Picton, Pembrokshire: The aim of the project is to achieve a full understanding of the form, functions and affinities of the medieval part of Picton Castle through a building survey. It has an unusual plan with no close parallels within Great Britain, but shows some affinities with castles further afield including, possibly, Gascony in France

Snodhill, Herefordshire: Excavation to explore the early masonry defences and attempt to resolve the entrance arrangements and to do a geophysical survey of the Eastern Bailey

Wigmore, Herefordshire: To provide a digital reconstruction drawing of Wigmore Castle using a mixture of archaeological and archival evidence

We will not be able to fund as many of these projects as we would like. To help us fund as many of these projects as possible please donate here: Kindlink Donation Form App

The applications have been sent to our assessors who will go over them. You can see how the assessment process works from our blog back in January 2016: How the Castle Studies Trust Selects its Projects – Castle Studies Trust Blog

Castle Studies Trust is going on its travels in 2022

In its latest round of grants the Castle Studies Trust has awarded £34,000 to five projects including two projects outside the UK. As well as covering a wide geographic area the projects will also undertake a broad range of technics to boost our understanding of castles.

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Dating medieval towers in the hinterland of Medieval Chalkida, Greece:

Stand-alone medieval towers, often part of castles or larger fortifications, are common in Central Greece. Often thought to have been built by the Frankish nobility during their period of dominance between 1204-1470, there is minimal evidence to back this up. By taking wood and mortar samples, the project aims to answer that question.

The present project forms part of the five-year survey ‘Beyond Chalkida: Landscape and Socio-Economic Transformations of its Hinterland from Byzantine to Ottoman times’ (authorised in July 2021 by the Greek State)

Samples will be taken from six towers of wood used laterally within tower walls to increase their structural strength, and mortar from within the core of the walls (both therefore probably

contemporaneous to the original period of construction). Specialists will use dendrochronological and

Carbon 14 methodology for the wood (8 samples), and optical microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and diffraction (XRD) Spectroscopy (mortar – 21 samples).

Work will start at the earliest in late 2022 and may not actually take place until next year due to the time it is likely to take to get official permission from the government. 

Kilmacahill, Co. Westmeath

Geophysical survey of deserted medieval settlement close to Jamestown motte & bailey castle. The aim is to understand the morphology of settlement and its relationship with the castle and medieval monastery.

This survey will contribute to a larger project: the Human-Environmental Exchanges in the Landscapes of Medieval Ireland Project (HELM Project) which aims to use a combination of multispectral imaging, UAV drone survey along with geophysical survey to gain a much better understanding of the form of the deserted medieval village through non-invasive methods.

At time of writing it was unclear when the survey will take place.

Pontefract, West Yorkshire

Pontefract Castle: Service area between the kitchen and royal appartments copyright Angela Routledge, Wakefield Council

The project funded will be a geophysical survey of two parts of the castle, which during its history was the main royal castle in Northern England, not previously investigated. The survey will be of two areas of the castle using Magnetometry, Resistivity and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

The focus is on parts of the castle not previously explored by  excavations in the 1980s, especially around the northern ramparts. This area stretches from the Swillington Tower towards the Kings Tower, and includes several earthwork features which remain unidentified, or unconfirmed.  Geophysical investigation is likely to reveal several interesting features including the link wall between the curtain wall and the Swillington Tower, which is unique in that it was built outside the main castle defences.

A second area that we have very little information on is part of the castle known as the “service buildings”. This area has never been excavated and we have very little knowledge regarding the layout or function of this part of the castle. 

As yet it is unclear when the survey will be undertaken.

Raby, Co Durham:

Aerial View of Raby Castle copyright Raby Castle

The Trust will be co-funding the project which aims to improve the understanding of the castle in the medieval period, especially around 1400 in the decades immediately after the licence to crenellate, with a buildings survey and development of a 3D model.

Once a stronghold of the Neville family, it moved into the ownership of the Vane family in 1626 and has been much altered and modernised, especially in the Victorian period, into a palatial family home.  Large sections of the medieval castle survive intact, albeit intersected and extended with more recent architectural additions.

This project seeks to strip back the more recent layers, to make sense of the medieval castle. Our aim is to create a 3D visualisation of Raby Castle in around AD 1400, helping us to visualise and to understand (where possible) how it functioned before the later additions.

In addition to boosting our understanding of the castle, the plan is also to train up a team of volunteers in how to carry out a building survey.

The aim is to start the survey work in April. 

Shrewsbury, Shropshire:

Shrewsbury Motte Top copyright Nigel Baker

This is the third project the Trust has funded on this important castle of the Welsh Marches and is an excavation of the motte top. The first two excavations in the inner bailey discovered that the original inner bailey was a lot smaller than it is today with little room for any substantial buildings, especially the royal hall.

This leaves only the motte and the aim is to understand the structural sequence and assess the character and the status of the buildings there: specifically to identify the royal hall known to be present during the Middle Ages.

The excavation is due to take place in the second half of July.

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Featured image Shrewsbury Castle by air courtesy of Shropshire Council

From Edwin’s hall to Roger’s castle: the elite residence of Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire

Since 2018 the Castle Studies Trust has funded archaeological investigation of the motte and bailey castle at Laughton en le Morthen, South Yorkshire. Led by Dr Duncan Wright of Newcastle University, a scheme of topographic and geophysical survey, followed by targeted excavation, showed that the castle at Laughton had been built on an earlier elite residence—almost certainly the hall complex of Earl Edwin of Mercia referred to in Domesday Book. The results of the fieldwork therefore show us how an existing high-status centre was transformed into a castle in the wake of the Norman Conquest. Using a combination of the evidence gathered in the field, and comparison with similar centres in the country, researchers are able to reconstruct the chronological development of tenth and eleventh-century Laughton with some confidence.

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Laughton-en-le-Morthern as it might have been pre-Conquest (copyright Pighill Illtustrations)

The first reconstruction shows how the elite residence would have looked in the late tenth and first half of the eleventh century. The hall forms the focus of the complex, and this wooden building and any additional structures would have been surrounded by a ditched and fenced enclosure. The protective circuit was found during excavation, and it was even possible to see where wooden posts had been levered out of the ditch when it went out of use. Appended to the hall complex within its own enclosure would have been a stone-built church, a doorway from which survives in the north wall of the present building. Dr Michael Shapland suggests that the first church at Laughton may have been a free-standing ‘tower nave’ construction, for the exclusive use of the aristocracy rather than the wider community. To the east of the hall and church extended settlement and industrial activity, which has been found by previous archaeological investigation. Laughton would have been an important estate centre as well as an elite residence, and was a place where agricultural produce was collected and processed.

Laughton-en-le-Morthern as it might have been post Conquest (copyright Pighill Illustrations)

The second reconstruction depicts Laughton following the Conquest and after construction of the motte and bailey castle on the site of Earl Edwin’s hall. We cannot be sure when the castle was built, but it was most likely completed before the end of the eleventh century when Norman power in northern England was gradually being established. Laughton at this time was a contrasting picture of change and continuity, with some earlier parts of the elite complex maintained and others adapted or removed. Most obviously, the residential parts of the site were destroyed to construct the castle; excavation showed how the ditches surrounding Edwin’s hall were quickly infilled, and the posts supporting the fence were removed. Geophysics also confirms that the 9m-high motte at Laughton was built direct over the middle of the earlier arrangement, and extended over the western part of the enclosure. The church probably kept its original form in the eleventh century, and was only updated in the twelfth century after it came under the control of York Minster. While investment in the church continued through the twelfth century and later, occupation of the castle seems to have been very short-lived. Excavation identified no material from the later medieval period, and the motte and bailey was not enhanced with stone structures. At Laughton it seems that building of the castle was more important than its actual occupation; construction involved the destruction of Edwin’s residence and the raising of something new that demonstrated the establishment of Norman authority. Nearby Tickhill instead emerged as the most important secular centre in the region.  

Phased Plan of Laughton en le Morthern

The phase plan outlines the core components of the two chronological periods recognised at Laughton. It makes clear how construction of the castle destroyed and disrupted the earlier elements of the high-status complex.

Early grave cover

The stone illustration represents about one sixth of an early grave cover with incised decoration, which was analysed by Professor David Stocker and Dr Paul Everson. This type of monument is well-recognised in eastern England and Yorkshire, and at Laughton the stone can be found built into the eastern wall of the chancel. It is a difficult stone to date precisely, but probably dates to the eleventh century and would originally have covered a burial either within or outside of the church.

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All pictures and illustrations ndertaken by Peter and Rosalyn Lorimer of Pighill Archaeological Illustration. 

What happens to your castle when you upset the king?

Slighting is the destruction of a high-status building, and in the Middle Ages it was all about power: damaging property meant exercising power over its owner. Castles were statements of the owners’ strength and status, so damaging one said a lot about how that status had changed, or their strength undermined. One especially interesting example comes from Bedford Castle.

During King John’s war with the barons in 1215–16 one of his captains was Falkes de Breauté. Falkes seized control of Bedford Castle from William de Beauchamp who had joined the rebellion against John.  John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his son, Henry III; Falkes was a key figure at the battle of Lincoln in 1217 which ended the rebellion against royal power and secured Henry’s reign.

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A model at Bedford Museum, showing how the castle may have appeared before the siege of 1224. Photo by Simon Speed (public domain).

After the war ended, Falkes made himself at home in Bedford, expanding the castle and even tearing down two churches in the process. At the same time, William de Beauchamp was trying to persuade the young Henry III to give him back Bedford Castle. Falkes was a powerful man in the royal court, despite making enemies. He clashed with Hubert de Burgh, who was Henry III’s justiciar, and in November 1223 Falkes nearly sparked a new civil war by attempting to seize the Tower of London alongside the earls of Chester and Gloucester and the count of Aumale.

Falkes lost a lot of power and influence because of this failed gambit and in 1224, he was instructed to give up Bedford Castle (along with some other properties). Falkes refused and things came to a head in June when Falkes’ brother, William de Bréauté, imprisoned a royal official at Bedford Castle.

William had been left in charge of Bedford Castle, and Falkes supported his brother’s refusal to release the royal official and surrender the castle to the king. Henry quickly diverted the army he was gathering for an expedition to Poitou to undertake a full blown siege of Bedford Castle. Falkes might have hoped he would get some support from his allies, including the earl of Chester but he was left isolated. An eight-week siege followed, with four attacks on the castle and more than 200 deaths on the side of the royalists. William led the defence of the castle while Falkes fled to safety. Bedford Castle’s garrison surrendered on 14 August and all of them, including William, were swiftly executed.

A drawing from Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora showing the execution of Bedford Castle’s garrison. Chronica Majora, II, fol. 60 (public domain).

With Falkes asking Henry III for forgiveness, the king had all the power to decide what to do next. He could give Bedford Castle to William de Beauchamp, the previous owner who had been seeking its return for years. He could keep it under direct royal control, or he could slight it – unmaking the castle expanded by Falkes. Henry III chose the destructive option: royal records show that the tower was levelled, the ditches filled, buildings in the outer bailey demolished, and the walls of the lesser bailey lowered. This amount of detail in the historical record is unusual, and where we do have details of castle slighting they are often much more brief and may just cover how much was spent.

Excavations between 1969 and 1972 found evidence of the castle’s destruction, with plenty of rubble strewn across the site. They also showed that the motte was lowered, which wasn’t mentioned in the royal records. The slighting of the castle was an especially destructive event. There are many other castles which were slighted where the destruction was less extensive, or the castle later repaired and rebuilt. At Bedford, that was never an option.

With no allies left, a wife seeking divorce, and having turned over all his lands to royal control, Falkes went into exile. Henry III did eventually grant the castle to William de Beauchamp on the condition that only an unfortified house could be built on the castle.

The destruction of Bedford Castle was a high-profile way for Henry III to reassert his authority after having been challenged by Falkes de Breauté. In the Middle Ages, not every slighted castle was the result of a royal order, but they were the majority. Visiting Bedford Castle today, there isn’t much to see, but in the early 13th century it was a strong stone-built fortress. Its destruction emphatically marked Falkes’ fall from power.

For many slighted castles we often only have archaeological or documentary evidence; at Bedford we are lucky enough that they coincide so we can confirm the documented events took place and give context to the evidence of destruction on the ground.


For more on slighting generally, you can read Richard’s paper in The Archaeological Journal.

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Where Power Lies: the archaeology of transforming elite centres in the landscape of medieval England c. AD 800-1200

Between 2018-2021, the Castle Studies Trust awarded Dr Duncan Wright three small grants to research the castle of Laughton-en-le-Morthen. The aim was to develop an innovative new research methodology to understand the near wholesale replacement of existing lords with incoming Norman tenants-in-chief physically showed itself post the Norman Conquest. Here Duncan explains what that has helped lead to.

In October 2021 the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) awarded Dr Duncan Wright (Newcastle University) an Early Career Research Grant of £200,000 in support of a new archaeological research project.

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Entitled ‘Where Power Lies’, the project will undertake the first systematic examination of the physical evidence for elite centres in the landscape of medieval England between c. 800-1200AD. Many of these high-status places were developed as castles, and the research aims to identify the motivations behind choosing to build a castle at an existing lordly centre, when a site could equally be perpetuated as a manor house or else abandoned altogether.

The success of Duncan’s AHRC bid is partly thanks to the support of the Castle Studies Trust, who funded his research at Laughton en le Morthen (South Yorkshire) with three separate grant awards totalling almost £5000. The work at Laughton, which comprised geophysical and topographic survey, targeted excavation, and the commission of 3D reconstructions, not only helped reveal the complex history of the site but also acted as an important pilot and proof of concept for the new project. Indeed, Where Power Lies hopes to emulate the success of the research at Laughton, and will include some of the same survey techniques, but it will also scale up the focus to look at the national distribution of aristocratic centres with evidence for investment in both church and residential components.

Survey results of geophysical survey of Laughton-en-le-Morthen

After modelling the national picture, the Where Power Lies team will investigate a carefully selected sample of case study sites, which will be subject to topographic, geophysical, and standing building surveys. These investigations will allow us to reconstruct the biography of the case study locations in detail, and to explore how the character and expression of elite power invested in their residential and ecclesiastical complexes evolved over time. Working with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme as an official project partner, the research will also produce a new profile of the artefacts of the aristocrats who built and occupied these sites. 

By undertaking this work, Where Power lies will shift the focus beyond the relatively small corpus of excavated aristocratic sites of the period which continue to form the basis of our understanding. Instead, by embracing a range of digital technologies and non-intrusive survey methods, the projectwill create valuable new datasets at a number of scales. By generating this new information, the team will demonstrate how the transformation of power centres occurred on the ground, revealing whether castles integrated earlier components into remodelled layouts, or whether they caused greater destruction and a more fundamental schism with the past.

Excavation at Laughton showing remains of a ditch that ran next to a possible entrance way to the Saxon lordly centre.

The team will be led by Duncan as Principal Investigator, who will be accompanied by Professor Oliver Creighton (Exeter University) as Co-Investigator, and a Research Associate who will join the team for the duration of the project. Duncan would like to take this opportunity to thank the Castle Studies Trust for their generous support of his research at Laughton en le Morthen, which strengthened the AHRC bid significantly. He hopes the results of Where Power Lies will prove of interest to everyone associated with the Trust.

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You can read more about the Laughton-en-le-Morthen project here: https://castlestudiestrust.org/blog/2020/08/25/landscapes-of-lordship-searching-for-laughtons-anglo-saxon-elite/

What lies beneath: Results from two geophysical surveys at Warkworth Castle, Northumberland

Dr Will Wyeth, English Heritage property historian and project lead on the two geophysical surveys the Castle Studies Trust funded on Warkworth Castle, looks at what the surveys reveal and equally importantly don’t reveal about the castle.

The results from two geophysical surveys in and around Warkworth Castle have now been digested and synthesized. The first survey sought to explore evidence for subsurface remains of the castle earthworks. The second survey examined a field called St John’s Close, sited within a corner of the medieval park attached to Warkworth Castle. Both surveys are intended to inform English Heritage’s on-going project to improve the way the history at the castle is explored and shared with visitors. Here, we share some of the highlights of these surveys: for the full discussion of the results, you can read the full report here.

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Figure 1. The Great Tower at Warkworth Castle (built late 14th century), situated atop an earthen mound (motte). View looking east from outside the embrace of the castle curtain walls (visible on the right). © Will Wyeth

The first survey targeted three areas of the castle. The first was the top of the earthen mound, or motte (see a phased site plan here). Our aim here was to establish the presence or any subsurface features which may relate to any structures pre-dating the present late 14th-century Great Tower (Figure 1). Our results here were inconclusive: the subsurface examination certainly revealed a feature, perhaps a drain or path, associated with the postern of the present Great Tower (Figure 2). Other features may represent building or demolition rubble, but it’s not clear which.

Figure 2. The blocked postern of the present, late 14th-century Great Tower, giving access from a storage area within the tower to the motte-top. A drain or path leading from the postern down the slope of the mound was detected in the recent geophysical survey of the mound.  © Will Wyeth

The second area of the castle earthworks to be examined was a portion of the castle’s raised bailey platform, east of the enclosing curtain wall presently dated to the late 12th-early 13th centuries. The earthworks of the bailey of Warkworth Castle pre-date any stone buildings known to survive at the present castle: this is because the earliest structures – among them the curtain wall – do not embrace the entirety of the earthworks (see a phased site plan here).

Figure 3. The unenclosed, eastern portion of the raised bailey platform at Warkworth Castle, looking south from the motte slope. The  multi-angular tower with two-storey arrowslits on the right is the Grey Mare’s Tail Tower, built in the 1290s. © Will Wyeth

Our research question here was to establish why this eastern portion of the bailey was left unenclosed, upon the construction of the enclosing curtain wall. Here, again, our results were inconclusive with regards our research question, though the survey did throw some light on possible uses of this space in the later medieval-early modern period. The survey detected a trampled path from the area east of the eastern curtain postern, south of the 15th-century stable building, heading northwards, respecting the projecting mass of the 1290s Grey Mare’s Tail Tower (see feature 14, Figure 4 ). The relative phasing of this feature does not tell us a great deal, except that the path may post-date the construction of the Grey Mare’s Tail Tower. It may also suggest that the postern in the curtain wall, currently dated to the late 14th century, could be coeval with the Grey Mare’s Tail Tower, or it may have replaced an earlier iteration. This is the earliest possible arrangement, as the path could also be more recent in date. 

Figure 4. Interpretative plan of Warkworth Castle, with features from geophysical surveys recorded, north at top. Map Data: Ordinance Survey © Crown Copyright

The final portion of the castle earthwork survey sought to establish the location and extent of features within the enclosed portion of the bailey (‘Area 1’, see Figure 4). Uncertainty remains as to the configuration of the bailey before a major phase of construction presently dated to the 15th century. This substantial campaign of building incorporated the construction of the compressed collegiate church (perhaps never completed) with exquisite covered passage, and a comprehensive rebuilding of the eastern portions of the Great Hall, Chamber block and chapel in the bailey, of which the finest surviving portions are the Lion’s Tower and the Little Stair Tower (Figure 5).

Figure 5. The enclosed portion of the bailey at Warkworth Castle, looking south. The remains of the collegiate church are in the foreground; the Lion Tower, rich in heraldic ornamentation, is on the right, and beyond it is the distinctive spire of the Little Stair Tower. Feature 2 is located approximately between the two picnic benches, in the centre left of the image. © Will Wyeth

The most substantial, and perhaps important, finding of the geophysical survey of the earthworks relates to feature 2 (see Figure 4). Located in the south-eastern quarter of the bailey, it comprises a substantial segment of buried wall or robbed wall foundations, approximately 22m long (on an east-west axis) and c.2m thick. Though the feature stops short of the bailey curtain wall here, it clearly blocks the east curtain postern already mentioned, and therefore may very well pre-date it. The massive character of this feature suggests it may have belonged to a substantial, multi-storey building. Feature 2 also appears to meet the curtain wall at a right angle, with one possible implication being that it may have formed one wall of a square- or rectangular-plan building, which was demolished to make way for the present curtain wall. Curiously, although the castle is not very extensive, the concentration of known high-status buildings from the later 12th-century onwards is on the bailey’s western side. If feature 2 relates to a high-status building, it is unusual for being located in the eastern part of the bailey. Several other features were located within the bailey; these are discussed in the full report.

Figure 6. Satellite view of Warkworth Castle and adjacent park. The area in red, encompassing the surviving park boundary and the park’s south-east corner, was the subject of geophysical survey. © Google Earth, annotation by Will Wyeth

The second area examined by geophysical survey comprised part of the park of Warkworth Castle. The earliest record of the park is dated to the 13th century, but a park at Warkworth may have existed earlier still. Hogdson’s History of Northumberland, which assembled extensive records from the Alnwick Castle archives and elsewhere, offers a rich picture of the late medieval administration of the park, with records of repairs, infringements, agistments (a one off payment by a livestock owner to graze on the land of the landowner) and the collection and sale of underwood all recorded in 15th-century documents. The earthworks of the castle park have yet to be comprehensively mapped, but a portion of the south-east corner of the park, fossilizing the boundary of an historic field within the park called St John’s Close, does survive (see the previous Warkworth blog post for photos of these). This field was chosen as the target of geophysical survey to determine the survival of any features or buildings associated with the medieval park. Research on castle parks has demonstrated that they could feature a broad variety of structures, and were not simply enclosed areas. A further research goal was to ascertain the precise location of a documented park gate attested in a 17th-century estate map (Figure 7), which could represent the closest point of access into the park enclosure from Warkworth Castle.

Figure 7. Estate map of the 1620s, depicting Warkworth Castle (lower left), village and park boundary. The postulated park gate is the round-headed opening roughly half-way along the park’s eastern boundary, between the castle and St John’s Close. Top is south. From Hodgson’s A History of Northumberland, V, opposite p.136 (archive.org. link here).

Unfortunately, the survey results did not yield answers to the questions we posed regarding any medieval features within the area of parkland surveyed, nor was it possible to decisively establish the location of a park gate. The most significant find was in the form of several round features, either enclosures and/or hut circles, which are very likely prehistoric in date (Figure 8). A walk-over of this area confirmed that they were not visible at ground surface level, being concealed by ridge-and-furrow deemed to be medieval in date. The largest of these, feature 2, is also bisected by a former field boundary depicted on the early 17th-century estate map mentioned earlier, though not shown on either of the 1st edition OS maps. A possible caveat to the lack of medieval finds is feature 9 (see Figure 8); this could be a path or hollow-way, and it appears to cut (and therefore post-dates) the ridge-and-furrow. As the eastern terminus of feature 9 is close to the edge of the park boundary, it may point to the location of the suspected park gate. Its western extent appears to respect the trajectory of the lost field boundary, and there it may represent an early modern, post-medieval feature. For a fuller account of the features revealed by the survey, see the full report.

Figure 8. Interpretative plan of St John’s Close south-west of Warkworth Castle, with features from geophysical surveys recorded, north at top. Map Data: Ordinance Survey © Crown Copyright

Although neither survey succeeded in yielding clear evidence to help answer all the research questions we asked at the beginning, they certainly improved our understanding of both areas examined. In the case of the castle earthworks, it is clear that a substantial building once occupied the south-eastern portion of the bailey, and it is now possible to map this accurately in relation to surface-level features. In the case of the park, we can tentatively identify the approximate location of a gate into the park, though we cannot be certain it is medieval in origin. More work may allow us to ascribe dates, or relative phases, to these features.

For English Heritage’s interpretation project at Warkworth Castle, these surveys have been invaluable, and we are grateful for the support of the Castle Studies Trust in pursuing them – especially during the difficulties in completing the surveys resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Going forward, the standing buildings of the castle have also been subjected to a separate, detailed analysis, and it is hoped that the bringing together of these two sets of data will offer a fresh understanding the site. Although the research is ongoing, a preliminary integration of both appears offers some new and tantalising ideas about the history of Warkworth Castle. These will inform our presentation of Warkworth Castle to the public, and improve our collective understanding of one of England’s finest castles.

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You can view the full report here: https://www.castlestudiestrust.org/Warkworth-Castle.html

Defending Bedfordshire – a late starter

In the latest in is “Defending…” series looking at the fortifications in particular counties, Mike Osborne looks at Bedfordshire.

When I wrote Defending Lincolnshire: a military history from the Conquest to the Cold War (The History Press, 2010), I had no idea that ten years on, the series would have grown to cover ten counties with an eleventh almost completed. What I have discovered along the way is that while there exist clear cultural similarities, counties are patently different in so many regards. Some of these differences are obvious: the landscape factors which affect settlement patterns; the geology which dictates building materials and factors such as moated sites; the county’s relationship to important routes and its density of urban or rural settlements; its central or remote position within the nation; its relative vulnerability to invasion; and, above all, its recorded history. Other differences are more subtle and may be governed by local conditions and circumstances: the dominance of particular families or factions; the power struggles of kings, nobles or bishops; the economic effects of trade or farming; fashion and technology; continuity and re-use of defensive locations and the impact of localised, country-wide or international conflict. Taking the wider context of these studies which embrace all forms of fortification and military activity from Iron Age forts to nuclear bunkers, then such differences will only be magnified. 


The motte at Cainhoe (copyright Mike Osborne

Bedfordshire is unusual in that whilst there were Romano-British settlements and an established network of Roman roads: Watling Street, Ermine Street and the Icknield Way, there were, apparently, no Roman forts. Bedford became established only in Saxon/Danish times, owing to its strategic position astride the Great Ouse, and Clapham’s church-tower, on the border of Wessex and the Danelaw may well have served a defensive function. Sadly, despite the public promotion of Danes Camp at Willington and Tempsford as Viking river-side fortresses, they have both been found to be medieval moated sites. Luton only developed after the Norman Conquest becoming the location for two earthwork castles. A ‘royal’ castle was established at Bedford, soon to evolve into a masonry fortress, but the county’s numerous motte castles, notably Cainhoe, Yielden, Risinghoe and Totternhoe, and its fewer ringworks, whilst remaining as structures of earth and timber throughout, nevertheless often occupied dominant sites. Historical factors around conflict saw Bedford erased as a fortification early in its career having undergone two sieges, and most of the other castles would be superseded by more comfortable accommodation. The county was split into an unusually large number of small manors which may account for the over twenty earthwork castles and the 300+ homestead moats- the greatest density of any English county- benefiting from the underlying clay. Bedfordshire’s later medieval castles, Wrest Park, Bletsoe and Ampthill, have disappeared, but remnants of Someries survive to the background sound, in normal times, of Easyjet. Whilst largely insulated against external threats, the county still experienced the effects of conflict during the civil war between Stephen and the Empress and the Wars of the Roses, whilst suffering its share of the universal effects of famine, plague and social disorder. Probably the best-known castle-related event was the siege of Bedford by Henry III in 1224 which resulted in the destruction of the castle but not, in all likelihood, the draconian penalties reputedly enacted against the garrison.

Someries Castle: the gate-house/chapel range of the mid-fifteenth-century brick strong-house of Sir John Wenlock (copyright Mike Osborne)

Were anyone to ask me which of these counties had been the most interesting, given their differences, I should be pushed to answer. From the perspective of fortification, some will share similarities: Essex, Norfolk, and Hampshire as targets for invasion; the Midland counties of Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire/Rutland controlling lines of communication from urban centres; Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire sharing elements of landscape; whilst London has a bit of everything as, I am currently discovering, has Gloucestershire and Bristol. All of them have interesting facets either shared or individual, common or unique. Rob Liddiard, amongst others, has confirmed to me the value of the local focus alongside other approaches, and it is certainly something I will continue to explore.

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Defending Bedfordshire: the military landscape from pre-history to the present (Fonthill Media, 2021) is now available along with other counties.

Captions

Featured image: A model of how Bedford Castle may have appeared around the time of the siege of 1224

 

Recent discoveries at Shrewsbury Castle

With the 2020 excavation report now published, Shrewsbury Castle Excavation Director Dr Nigel Baker looks back at the two years of excavations and what they reveal about this important castle of the Welsh Marches.

Before the excavations in 2019 and 2020 funded by the Castle Studies Trust, Shrewsbury Castle was one of the least well understood major castles of the Welsh Marches. Its visible form is that of a classic motte-and-bailey, with earthen ramparts surmounted by stone curtain walls. However, the archaeological project and associated research has shown that the historical reality is more complex than this.

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First recorded as a consequence of being besieged by local rebels in 1069, many aspects of its recorded history follow a familiar Marches pattern: heavy royal expenditure in the 12th and 13th centuries as a campaign base and in the face of Welsh raiding, followed by decline into obsolescence and ruination in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, arrested temporarily by a return to active service in the English Civil War in the 1640s. Its later history was as a private residence, distinguished by its ‘restoration’ by Thomas Telford in 1786-1790, and finally its return to public life as a council meeting hall in 1925 and as the home of a regimental museum in the 1980s.

First of all, the Norman castle was not built on an empty site. It occupied the end of a ridge that was critical to the defence of the old Saxon borough, and the 2019 excavation demonstrated occupation here in the 10th or early 11th century, on a plateau or low knoll at about 68m AOD, higher than its surroundings, and at one end of the likely cross-peninsula borough defences. At present the archaeological evidence is limited to a single pit and its artefacts, but reading between the lines of the historical record, it is possible that the site was shared by a church dedicated to St Michael and perhaps a hall, maybe that of the pre-Conquest sheriffs.

Plan of Shewsbury Castle as it may have appeared in late 11th / early 12th century copyright Dr Nigel Baker. The black lines indicates probable masonry curtain wall lines, based on the presence of the ‘green slabby rubble’ masonry that appears at various junctures at the bottom of some elevations and seems to be early, meaning potentially pre-13th

The Norman castle of the 1060s wiped out all that had been there before, except the church, which appears in Domesday Book; this also records the loss of 51 tax-paying households when the castle was built. It consisted of a large motte overlooking the river, elevated to a height (80m AOD) equal to that of the royal and episcopal halls within the old borough, with a substantial ditch, discovered in 2019, around its base. West of the motte was a small inner bailey. Extending south was a much larger outer bailey, separated from the English borough further south by a second cross-peninsula ditch and supplemented in the 12th century by earth ramparts around the bailey perimeter. The small size of the inner bailey, in reality perhaps more of a barbican, suggests that the royal hall, documented from 1246 but probably present from the beginning, was on the motte top.

It is not yet clear when the earth and timber defences began to be replaced in stone, but stretches of thin, slabby rubble in the curtain walls and motte wing walls may be indicative of work in the late 12th or early 13th century.

Major changes took place throughout the 13th century, some documented, some suggested by the excavations. The single surviving medieval building, often called the hall, is fairly certainly the camera regis or royal chamber built in 1239-41, a date consistent with the dendrochronological evidence from the building. It may have been constructed as part of a larger rebuilding campaign that saw the west side of the inner bailey expanded westwards by pushing a terrace out over the gradient behind a newly-built ashlar curtain wall. This is one of the conclusions of the 2020 excavation trench through the western rampart, which found medieval tipped strata at a level below that of the natural gravel seen in the interior of the bailey in 2019.

Plan of Shrewsbury Castle in late C13. Copyright Dr Nigel Baker

Meanwhile, the east side of the motte was subject to erosion by the River Severn and the consequent partial collapse of the motte was recorded by an enquiry held in 1255; in 1269-71 a ‘great wooden tower’ fell down and was said to be totally destroyed. The motte top was repaired towards the end of the 13th century with a new wall built across the damaged side in red and white striped masonry. The motte ditch appears to have been infilled, mainly by the deposition of rubbish, and a new castle well, which survives, was dug within it.

As the town grew, the outer bailey was built over. In 1220-c.1250 when the town walls were built, the outer bailey was walled continuously with the rest of the town and no longer separated from it; the tenements that had been established there continued to pay their ground rents to the crown while those outside, further south, paid theirs to the borough.

Two early plans show what had become of the castle by the end of the 16th century. The Burghley Map of Shrewsbury of c.1575 shows the main building unroofed, a smaller building (perhaps St Michael’s) in ruins, and just one roofed building standing in the inner bailey in the area of the surviving well. A sketch plan by the master mason John Smythson of 1627 likewise shows the main building, and most of the curtain walls, in a ruined condition; it also shows a gatehouse of which there is no other evidence.

Restoration came in 1643-44 when the castle was garrisoned by the Royalists, and the borough’s mayoral accounts record expenditure on the main gate and its new barbican, a new postern gate, walls and outworks. The castle was captured for Parliament in February 1645; what appears to be battle-damage can be seen on the woodwork of the main gate and around the openings of the main building but this identification now needs confirmation by battlefield archaeologists. After its capture, the Parliamentarians continued the Royalists’ restoration of the main building, its roof and gallery built with timber felled in the winter of 1647. The castle was finally de-munitioned in 1686 and became a private residence.

Shrewsbury Castle in 18th Century, note on the wall on top of the motte the possible base of windows of a high status building / Great Hall.

Thomas Telford’s ‘restoration’ of the castle in 1786-1790 for Sir William Pulteney was nothing if not brutal. The excavations in the inner bailey have shown that the interior was levelled down, scraped bare, and at least some of the material used to enhance or even create the ‘ramparts’ around the perimeter. Illustrations show that, until 1786, the motte top was still occupied by a 13th-century round tower and the ruins of other, as yet unidentified, buildings. These were all swept away and replaced by Telford’s ‘Laura’s Tower’, a fine, two-storey summerhouse in the Gothick style.

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