Understanding More About a C14 Nottinghamshire Mystery – Greasley Castle

Back in January 2021 Triskele Heritage were successful in a funding bid to the Castle Studies Trust for carrying out a research project at Greasley Castle in Nottinghamshire. Here James Wright of Triskele Heritage explains what they hope to achieve with this project.

The work will focus on the production of an interpretative phased floor plan. The castle, built in the 1340s, has an obscure history and the understanding of its architectural phasing is at best very cloudy. The site is now a working farm and a number of post-mediaeval structures have been conglomerated around the remains of what is suspected to be a fourteenth century courtyard house with projecting corner towers.

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The survey will act as baseline research data for a site which has not previously received serious fieldwork or publication. It will also provide a basis for further research and future conservation needs.

Work on the project will start in April 2021 and will be carried out by James Wright FSA alongside Dr Matt Beresford. We are supported in this endeavour by the landowners and Sarah Seaton of the Greasley Castle and Manor Farm History Project.

Greasley survey in action – photogrammetry

Project Background

Greasley Castle was developed for Nicholas, 3rd Baron Cantelupe (c 1301-55) after being granted a licence to crenellate by Edward III in 1340 (Davis 2006-07, 239). He was a significant figure who fought for the king in France and Scotland, served in parliament, founded Beauvale Priory and established a chantry at Lincoln Cathedral (Green 1934). Later owners of the site included John Lord Zouche – one of the few aristocrats proven to have fought for Richard III at Bosworth (Skidmore 2013, 330). After Zouche’s attainder, the castle was given to Sir John Savage in recognition for his military support of Henry VII in 1485 and remained in the family after his death at the siege of Boulogne (Green 1934).

The site is now a working farm and comprises two grade II listed buildings (NHL 1247955 and 1248033) overlying a scheduled ancient monument (NHL 1020943). The buildings sit along the northern perimeter of a 5.18 hectare earthwork enclosure and comprise a multi-phased U-shaped group of structures with an adjacent farmhouse to the north-west. The layout of the site is not well understood, but very limited prior research indicates the potential for a courtyard house with projecting corner towers.

The most substantive work on site took place in 1933 and comprised just two days of rather inadequate and poorly reported archaeological evaluation (Green 1934, 34-53). During the mid-2000s the wider landscape of the site was considered by the East Midlands Earthwork Project (Speight 2006). Greasley is routinely mentioned in surveys of castles stretching as far back as the antiquarian Throsby (1797, 239-42) and the early castle scholar Mackenzie (1896, 448-49). Although these initial commentators were of the opinion that little or nothing remained of the mediaeval castle, twentieth century authors, including Pevsner (1951, 76), his later editors (Pevsner & Williamson 1979, 135), Sarah Speight (1995, 70-71) and Oliver Creighton (1998, 479), noted in situ structures. In the twenty-first century a number of writers have pointed towards the tremendous archaeological potential of the surviving mediaeval architectural features (Emery 2000, 327; Salter 2002, 85; Wright 2008, 49-50, 65; Osbourne, 2014, 39).

Greasley survey in action: measuring

Crucially, the potential of the site has never been realised. Green (1934) noted that ‘it is not possible to be definite’ about the ground plan of the castle; a point later confirmed by Creighton (1998, 479): ‘the deficiency of the field evidence renders the exact nature and extent… obscure.’ The confusion surrounding the floor plan of the castle has been created by an overall lack of fieldwork and publication on the site. The paucity of research has led to a number of conflicting statements regarding the buildings archaeology. For example, the National Heritage List notes that the farmhouse was built c 1800 and has later nineteenth century elements (NHL 1247955); however, the most recent Pevsner edition notes that it is a seventeenth and eighteenth century building ‘with earlier origins’ (Hartwell, Pevsner & Williamson 2020, 240).

The proposed project to accurately map, assess and date the overall floor plan of the structures at Greasley Castle is long overdue and such building recording of manorial centres is specifically called for by the East Midlands research agenda (Knight, Vyner & Allen 2012, 94).

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Feature image copyright Neil Gabriel

References

Unearthing past excavations of Bungay Castle

Dr Lorna-Jane Richardson, University of East Anglia/Bungay Museum, looks at the 1930s excavations of Bungay carried out by Hugh Braun and also the possibility of future work at the site.

Bungay is a small market town on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, and sits on a meander in the River Waveney at the very edge of the Norfolk Broads National Park. The town is in a good defensive position, sat on a sand and gravel river terrace, some 10 metres above OD, with wide views across the valley and surrounded by marshland. This ‘natural fortress’ (Braun 1934) had seen earlier, perhaps early Medieval, defensive structures built, suggestive of a burh. This site was chosen for the construction of a castle firstly by one of William the Conqueror’s stewards, William de Noyers, who constructed a motte and bailey structure. The castle was bestowed on Roger Bigod, a Norman knight who was awarded estates in East Anglia and given Bungay in 1103 by King Henry I. Roger’s son, Hugh, known as Bigod the Restless, was made Earl of Norfolk in 1154, and he ordered the construction of the stone keep. The Bigods were the most powerful family in East Anglia for much of the 12th and 13th centuries. After nearly two centuries in the hands of the Bigod family, who also owned Framlingham Castle further south in Suffolk, Bungay Castle reverted to the Crown and fell into disuse. In 1312, Edward II gave the Castle to his brother, Thomas Plantagenet, and it eventually passed to the Dukes of Norfolk in 1483. However, it was recorded as being ‘ruinous’ by 1362, and over the subsequent centuries, the site was used as a source for building materials, the gatehouse was converted into a residence for an eighteenth-century novelist, and the keep was also used as a beer garden by the King’s Head Inn at least until the early 1930s.

Dr Leonard Cane directing excavations at Bungay Castle in 1934

A group of Bungay dignitaries, led by the Town Reeve and local doctor Leonard Cane, leased the site from the Duke of Norfolk, and on 19th November 1934, the excavation of the site commenced. This excavation took place under the leadership of Dr Cane and Hugh Braun, an architect from London who had worked in Iraq with the Chicago University Expedition at the site of Nineveh. The excavation provided work for unemployed war veterans and interestingly, engaged the services of a local water diviner, one Mr John Davey who can be seen in Fig 2, to locate water and gold during the excavations. Further research is underway in an attempt to discover more about these veterans, and the role played by Mr Davey and his water-magic.

The excavations initially concentrated on the area between the keep ruins and the gatehouse, and around the keep itself, revealing buried walls which “would show the castle rising some twenty feet higher than before the excavation commenced” (Braun 1991, 23). The drawbridge pit was excavated, and the west wall of the keep was exposed, but other areas of the gatehouse and keep were left intact, after the excavation ran out of funds. Some of these areas were, according to Braun’s report, tidied and returfed ready for further exploration at a later date. These areas remain untouched, and no further excavations in the area of the gatehouse or keep have taken place since 1934. The excavations were subsequently published in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History in 1934, 1935 and 1936. There have been no further major archaeological excavations, although some unpublished monitoring work took place in 2001, 2006 and 2008 according to the HER, and geophysical work took place at the Castle in 1990 (Gaffney & Gater) and 2017 (Schofield). In 2017, what is now Cotswold Archaeology Suffolk undertook a detailed geophysical survey of the area of the inner bailey, which demonstrated very high potential for archaeological material and structural remains. These include evidence for buildings, a potential well, and a variety of pits some of which feature ferrous debris. Bungay Castle holds much potential for further archaeological work.

Map of the Castle Motte (Braun)

These photographs are from the Braun/ Cane excavations at Bungay Castle and are dated to 1935. They are part of the Bungay Museum collection, and there are around 40 images which feature the excavations, the people involved, and a variety local dignitaries and visitors to the site. In January 2021, I became curator of Bungay Museum, which was originally established in 1968 by Dr Leonard Cane’s son, Dr Hugh Cane. As part of this role, I plan to undertake further research into the contents of the museum collection, local contemporary news articles about the excavations, as well as Ministry of Works documents held at Kew, in order to develop new displays about the site and Bungay’s very own version of ‘The Dig’. Basil Brown himself would have certainly visited the excavations, as he lists the site in his notebooks, and he lived relatively locally. I hope my research will reveal more information about the names and lives of the veterans who dug the site, how the excavation was managed and run, more about the archaeological finds, and the mysterious role of water divination in the process. There are many interesting stories waiting to be told about the original excavations at Bungay Castle, and many more are waiting in the wealth of archaeology that remains in the ground.

1935 excavations in the Castle Keep

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Feature image: Bungay Castle copyright Andrew Atterwill

References

Braun, H. (1934). “Some notes on Bungay Castle”. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History XXII.1, pp. 109–119.

— (1935). “Bungay Castle, report on the excavations”. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History XXII.2, pp. 201–223.

Braun, H. and G. Dunning (1936). “Bungay Castle: Notes on 1936 excavations and on pot- tery from the mortar layer”. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History XXII.3, pp. 334–338.

Gaffney, C., and Gater, J. (1990). Report on Geophysical Survey, Bungay Castle. Geophysical Surveys Bradford, Report 90/60.

Schofield, T. (2017) Bungay Castle, Bungay, Suffolk BUN 004 Geophysical Survey Report. Suffolk Archaeology Community Interest Company Report No. 2017/078.

St John’s Close and the edge of the Park: the landscape of Warkworth

Dr Will Wyeth, Property Historian at English Heritage, previews the geophysical survey, funded by the Castle Studies Trust, in order to learn more about the landscapte around Warkworth castle.

Following the success of a survey of Warkworth Castle’s earthworks in late 2020 as part of a scheme of reinterpreting this most palatial castle (report forthcoming), we on the English Heritage Warkworth project team have sought to expand upon our understanding of the medieval complex by turning towards its immediate landscape. Although much of the medieval landscape is not in the care of the charity, which looks after over 400 historic properties and sites across England, the landscape has tangible and nuanced connections which the project wants to explore. The castle is among the most prominent features in this area (Figure 1); its location adjacent to the lowest crossing point of the River Coquet means that low, somewhat boggy ground extends across the area south-east of the castle as the river widens to its mouth by the coastal village of Amble.

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Figure 1. Warkworth Castle from the south-east, on the coastal road to Amble. The Great Tower, in the background, sits atop a large motte. In the foreground, low boggy ground flanks the south side of the raised coastal road. Out of shot on the right is the River Coquet as it widens to its mouth by Amble, and towards Coquet Island in the North Sea proper. © Will Wyeth

The plan of Warkworth Castle comprises a fairly typical motte and bailey, with stone superstructures of varying date and scale, and whose earliest iterations date from the late 12th century. While the antiquity of the settlement of Warkworth – laid out upon the north-south ridge of raised ground within this loop of the Coquet – is not known for sure, what is apparent is that the castle respects and influences the configuration of burgage plots and the coastal road ultimately linking Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and Berwick-Upon-Tweed. A walk around Warkworth village proper shows there are several important places and features which both relate to and indeed enrich the castle story.

Figure 2. The remains of the late 14th-century fortified bridge, comprising a gate-tower and multi-pier crossing, at the northern end of Warkworth settlement. Photo © Colin Park (cc-by-sa/2.0) – geograph.org.uk/p/6013384.

The church of St Lawrence, itself probably constructed on the site of an earlier medieval church, is located mere metres away from the late 14th-century fortified bridge (Figure 2) which spans the northern extent of the river’s loop. The identification as a ‘fortified bridge’ is perhaps misleading. Thought to have been completed around the time the Great Tower at Warkworth Castle was finished, the bridge may be better understood as a toll collection station, though its administrative and security characteristics are not necessarily contradictory.

Figure 3. Low, raking light of a Northumberland autumn sunset highlights the earthworks of ridge-and-furrow immediately south of the castle. © Will Wyeth

To the north, the coastal road carries on towards Alnmouth and onto Alnwick. It is in relation the immediate south and west of the castle, however, to which the Castle Studies Trust generously agreed to fund a further season of geophysical survey. Fields here testify to a legacy of cultivation which may be medieval in origin; traces of ridge-and-furrow are apparent immediately south and south-west of the castle (Figure 3), as well as in an area of ground rising gently from the river terrace, west of the Great Tower, across the river proper (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Rising ground on the west bank of the River Coquet, punctuated by pre-modern cultivation earthworks, viewed looking west from the Great Tower of Warkworth Castle. © Will Wyeth

This new geophysical survey targets a cluster of fields adjacent to a modern pedestrian route to the castle which may fossilise a medieval antecedent (Figure 5), which would substantiate theories about the architectural orientation of major elements of the southern curtain wall of the castle towards the south-west. It also looks to locate with confidence the position of a suspected medieval hunting park boundary and access gate, which are sporadically referred to in manorial documents associated with Warkworth Castle in the late medieval period, but whose origins may lie in the 12th-13th-century, or (when considering place-name evidence) earlier still. Currently the park boundary is probably represented by a linear bank (Figure 6) with a southern return going westwards.

Figure 5. Pathway leading to Warkworth Castle from the south, sandwiched between pre-modern cultivation earthworks. © Will Wyeth

One of the fields in question bears the name St John’s Close, which had previously been thought to indicate the presence of a chapel here. In fact, the name likely references the field’s ownership by the Knights Hospitallers in the late medieval period, of uncertain origin but attested in a 16th-century return. The field is depicted in an estate map (which for copyright purposes cannot be displayed here) at the corner of a hunting park.

Figure 6. In the middle distance are the best-preserved portion of a linear bank, the suspected remains of the medieval park boundary, which runs roughly north-south. The path in the foreground is the pedestrian route discussed above. The linear bank makes a rough 90-degree return westwards out of shot, on the left. © Will Wyeth

It is hoped that by firmly establishing the location of the medieval park boundary, any trace of a parallel routeway to the castle from the south-west, as well as the located of a gate into the park, English Heritage will be able to better draw the connections between castle and landscape which are now acknowledged as central components of castle culture. In turn, this will allow the charity to tell a more informed and more nuanced story about Warkworth Castle and the people who lived, worked and died here and hereabouts in its long history.

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Castle Studies Trust 2021 Grant Awards

The Castle Studies Trust is delighted to announce the award of six grants, totalling a record £31,000 not only covering a wide geographic area but also a wide range of different types of research:

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Caerlaverock new castle with old behind it and the coastline Crown Copyright Historic Environment Scotland

Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire

The aim is to understand the chronology and geography of extreme weather events in the high medieval period, and the effects they wrought on archaeological features that led to the abandonment of the old castle built in c.1229 in favour of the new built 200m away in c.1277. The latest thinking is that it was a series of extraordinary storm surge events which pushed a series of storm driven gravel ridges across the River Nith.

The methodology to find this out is interdisciplinary, using scientific methods to enhance understanding of archaeological fieldwork. The fieldwork will involve the establishment of a series of transects across the site and surrounding landscape from which cores and samples will be extracted for sediment description, stratigraphic analysis, and Carbon 14 dating.

Depending on Covid restrictions, the aim is to start doing the work in May this year with the receipt of the final data in the autumn.

Greasley_Castle from air copyright Neil Gabriel

Greasley, Nottinghamshire

The production of an interpretative phased floor plan for Greasley Castle in Nottinghamshire.  The castle, built in the 1340s, has an obscure history and the understanding of its architectural phasing is at best very cloudy. The site is now a working farm and a number of post-mediaeval structures have been conglomerated around the remains of what is suspected to be a fourteenth century courtyard house with projecting corner towers.

The survey will act as baseline research data for a site which has not previously received serious fieldwork or publication and provide a basis for further research but also for any future conservation needs.

Work on the project will start in the early summer when covid restrictions ease.   

Laughton-en-le-Morthen motte and bailey castle and church

Laughton-en-le-Morthen, South Yorkshire

To provide professional illustration and reconstruction which will also be integrated into a co-authored academic article based on the two previous research projects carried out on the site by Dr Duncan Wright and funded by the Trust. A geophysical survey and then small-scale excavation which give a strong indication that the Normans had built a motte on the site of a high-status Saxon dwelling.

Part of the monies will be used to produce phase plans of Laughton during key stages of its development, and a small percentage will pay for a line drawing of the 11th century grave cover incorporated into the fabric of the nearby church. The aim will be to start the work as soon as possible.

Old Wick Tower copyright Historic Environment Scotland

Old Wick, Caithness

Dendrochronological assessment of timber at the Castle of Old Wick, Caithness thought to be one of the earliest stone castles in Scotland dating from the12th century and the period of Scandinavian ascendency. Current thinking though ascribes the date to the 14th century. Analysing these samples will hopefully provide an answer.

With no architectural features or physical “independent” evidence analysing the remains of a timber joist-end (in poor condition) in one of the joist ends remains the best chance of being able to find an answer. 

The taking of the samples is likely to take place in September when conditions are still going to be favourable as the castle is situated next to the North Sea and the sample can only be found 8 metres above ground level. 

Richmond Castle copyright English Heritage

Richmond, North Yorkshire

Co-funding a three-week excavation of Richmond Castle, one of the best preserved and least understood Norman castles in the UK. The aim is to understand better the remains of buildings and structures primarily along the eastern side of the bailey including near the 11th century Robin Hood tower and near Scolland’s Hall.

Subject to the scheduled monument consent being granted the excavation will take place in late July.

Warkworth Castle, copyright William Wyeth

Warkworth, Northumberland

Geophysical survey to explore evidence for subsurface features in and around the field called St John’s Close in a field adjacent to the castle with the aim to establish the location and eastern extent of the castle’s deer park in the 16th century as well as its entrance way. It also hoped to find evidence of a routeway running parallel to the possible park boundary which could represent an early route to the castle’s gatehouse from the south-west.

The plan is to do complete the geophysical survey by the end of March.

To keep up to date with how these projects progress over the coming months you can:

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And if you donate at least £50 here and be invited to our exclusive visits to these projects: https://donate.kindlink.com/castle-studies-trust/2245 

Featured image: Old Wick Castle, Caithness, copyright Historic Environment Scotland

A pandemic and some missing castles!

Castle Studies Trustee Charles Hollwey looks at the intriguing case of Humphrey de Bohun and the 10 licences to crenellate awarded to him on the eve of the Black Death and what happened to them.

In December 1347, Humphrey de Bohun, 6th earl of Hereford, 5th earl of Essex, was given a licence to crenellate, i.e. to fortify, 10 of his manors. These were:-

  • Writtle, Brymshoo, Apechilde, Depeden, Saffron Walden; Essex
  • Enfield; Middlesex
  • Oaksey, Upavon, Seend; Wiltshire
  • Whitminster; Gloucestershire

The number of licences is the most ever given, at one time, to a medieval noble or gentry. You can find them all on the Gatehouse castle gazetteer website[i]. However scrutiny here would indicate that there is little to see now or indeed was in the past. Most of the sites would appear to have been not much more than lightly fortified manor houses. Only at Saffron Walden is there what would be commonly described as a castle. However here and elsewhere there is little evidence that any building work was done by Humphrey.

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A possible explanation could be the date. In 1348, the Black Death reached England. It was first recorded at Weymouth in June, reaching London by the autumn and was across all southern England by March 1349. It was only in December 1349 that some form of normality returned.

Map of the Progress of the Black Death

Like our current pandemic there were drastic consequences with an estimated 40 to 60% of the population dying, the greatest loss being amongst the working classes. There was a curtailment of much activity for instance major campaigns in the 100 Years’ War with France were halted until 1355. Post the pandemic there was a shortage of labour with an increase in wages, meaning building projects would have been more expensive.[ii]

Dance of Death (replica of 15th_century fresco; National Gallery of Slovenia)

In such a situation did Humphrey cease his building plans? Before jumping to this conclusion we need to probe into the impact on castle construction, the nature of licences to crenellate and the life of Humphrey.

  • Impact on castle building? The consensus view seems to be, certainly in the long term, this was not great. John Goodall, the eminent castle expert suggests it raised the financial threshold of construction and increased the relative importance of royal works. However it did not “deter the very richest—from embarking on splendid building projects”[iii]
  • Nature of licences to crenellate?  It is not unusual to have licences without ensuing building work. The research of the late Charles Coulson and Phil Davies has highlighted that the true nature of such licences was not to control castle building but for the recipients to obtain the prestige, status and legitimacy of having such documents, whilst also generating revenue to the crown.[iv] Many were made after castle building or were given to buildings with minimal fortifications and many seemed to have led to no construction. The number given to Humphrey whilst high was similar to a few Bishops, for instance the bishop of Salisbury received licences for 10 sites in 1377 and the bishop of Chichester for 12 houses in 1448. Similarly to Humphrey, there was little consequently to see.
  • Life of Humphrey? Born in 1309 a younger son, inheriting in 1336, he served in the Breton campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War with involvement in the victories of Morlaix (1342) and La Roche-Derrien (1347).[v] However I am unaware of any subsequent campaigning and despite being the Lord High Constable of England he was never a favourite of Edward III. He died in 1361 at Pleshey Castle leaving his nephew as heir.

There is not a simple answer to this plethora of licences and missing castles. It is possible some were to underpin his legitimacy to manors where his inheritance might have been disputed, such as Seend and Upavon. Similarly at Saffron Walden, which had been slighted as a castle during the anarchy. Others might have been to emphasis his premier noble status.

Perhaps what was important pre-pandemic was not so afterwards? The impact on his psychological wellbeing is unknown but might be significant as can occur in our pandemic. In 1350 he commissioned the translation of the romance poem ‘Guillaume de Palerme’. He did not seem to have married or had children.

In my view the answer to this mystery is not simply the pandemic but it might have been a factor. I do think more understanding of his life might be the key.

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Featured Image: Walden Castle, Saffron Walden, slighted during the anarchy.


Footnotes

[i] www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info

[ii] Black Death in England Wikipedia

[iii] Goodall, John (2011), The English Castle, Yale University Press, p 258

[iv] Davis, Philip (2009), ‘Licences to Crenellate‘, Castle Studies Group Journal 22

[v]  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Bohun“. Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 138.

All pictures sourced from Wikimedia Commons; Links, attributions and licences as follows

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Walden_Castle_in_Saffron_Walden.JPG

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dance_of_Death_(replica_of_15th_century_fresco;_National_Gallery_of_Slovenia).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1346-1353_spread_of_the_Black_Death_in_Europe_map.svg

Castle Studies Trust Christmas Quiz – the Answers

So how many did you get right? Find out below

  1. Lincoln (2020 project)
  2. Pembroke (2018)
  3. Shrewsbury (2018 and 2019)
  4. Pulverbatch, Shropshire (2017)
  5. Pleshey, Essex (2015)
  6. Druminnor, Aberdeenshire (2019)
  7. Thornbury
  8. Warkworth (2020)
  9. Ruthin
  10. Ravenscraig, Aberdeenshire
  11. Hoghton Tower, Lancashire (2019)
  12. Wigmore
  13. The Wirk (2020)
  14. Slingsby, Yorkshire – article by Bethany Watrous on her digital reconstruction
  15. Caus, Shrophshire (2016)
  16. Gleaston, Cumbria (2015)
  17. Laughton (2018, 2019)
  18. Shrewsbury again (found during 2018 execavation)
  19. Clifford, Herefordshire (2017)
  20. Ballintober, Ireland (2014)

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Castle Studies Trust Christmas Quiz

To help keep you entertained during this strange and hopefully unique Christmas the Castle Studies Trust has prepared a Christmas quiz. Can you name the castles these pictures are or images are taken from either our projects from all years or blog posts during the year?

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  1. Where is this?

2. Where did this CST funded excavation take place?

3. Where is this?

4.What motte and bailey castle, which we funded a geophysical survey for, is this?

5. Where can you find this bridge which the Trust co-funded post excavation work on?

6. In which Scottish castle did the geophysical survey we funded find this well?

A latter coming protruding from a circular opening in the ground.
Photo by Iain Ralston and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 licence.

7. Where is this?

8. Where is this great tower?

9. This is a reconstruction drawing of which castle?

10. Where is this castle built by a queen?

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11. Where is this castle?

12. The entrance to which border castle is this?

13. Where is this base a tower? It’s one of the projects the CST has funded

14. Where is this?

15. The plan of which castle is this, which the CST funded work on?

16) Which castle is this? We funded a building survey on it previously?

17. For which castle are these aerial images of, which include results of the geophys survey the CST funded on it?

18. These pieces of Saxon pottery were found at which excavation the CST funded?

19. This is a CST study day at our first ever excavation we funded? Which castle?

20. The CST funded a buildings survey of this castle. Where is it?

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Pleshey Castle: a gatehouse fit for royalty

Progress has continued to be made in the understanding of Pleshey Castle, as project lead Patrick Allen explains.

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Since the publication of the article on Pleshey Castle in Current Archaeology (Issue 344, Nov. 2018, CST blog 15/09/20), we have been able to reconstruct in detail the gatehouse of the timber bridge over the motte moat, whose upper chamber is identified from building accounts for 1460-1 as the Queen’s privy chamber (‘Q’ on Fig.1). It would have been occupied by Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, who held Pleshey between 1445 and 1461. Pottery dating, documentary evidence and the style of the floor tiles, however, suggest that the gatehouse was built in the 1380s by Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, and the upper chamber would originally have been occupied by his wife, the duchess Eleanor. In the late medieval period, it was usual for accommodation to be provided above gateways. This gatehouse at Pleshey closed off the keep and the lord’s private quarters from the rest of the castle, but although it would have provided a degree of security it should not be confused with the heavily fortified gateways of castles with a more obviously military role.




FIGURE 1: Plan of the castle, with the queen’s chamber over the bridge gatehouse (Q) and the king’s chamber (K) immediately to its east, with the line of the timber bridge shown in blue. (Drawn by Iain Bell).

The physical character of the gatehouse can be reconstructed from specialist building material reports by David Andrews, Paul Drury and Nick Wickenden. The gatehouse was built of flint, with greensand dressings for the foundation plinth, corner stones, and door and window mouldings, with a peg-tile roof and lead gutters. Together with the chapel and the keep (which was timber but had a stone façade) it was one of the few stone buildings in the castle, as even the great hall in the bailey was of timber on stone sleeper walls. The ground floor room next to the gateway had a simple gravel floor and was probably a guardroom, but the upper chamber was luxurious. Its floor was of decorated glazed tiles made at Penn in Buckinghamshire, with three different roundel patterns (Fig. 2). Fragments of glass and lead cames show that the chamber had leaded glazed windows, while part of a chimney pot found in a spread of demolished roof tile implies that it was heated by a fireplace. The walls were plastered and decorated with simple painted designs, rather like modern wallpaper.

Three designs of Penn decorated tile floors as reconstructed by Paul Drury, based on tiles found in the demolition rubble of the bridge gatehouse. (Drawn by the Drury McPherson Partnership).

The chamber would have been dominated by a large four-poster bed with richly embroidered silk or fine wool hangings for curtains around it, as well as the tester for its canopy and the valence at its base. Several sets of these hangings are described in an inventory of goods seized from the castle following Thomas of Gloucester’s arrest and murder in 1397 (Dillon and Hope 1897). The chamber may have had tapestry wall hangings, also described in the inventory. The carpets that are mentioned would have been more like rugs and most of the decorated floor would have remained uncovered.

There was a general improvement in the private living quarters in the castle in the late 14th century, especially with the addition of fireplaces and privies. In the 1450s, when Pleshey was held by Queen Margaret of Anjou, the building accounts suggest that the keep had become guest accommodation, with the Queen’s chamber in the gatehouse and the King’s chamber next to it, approached by a ‘revealing’ or audience chamber (‘Q’ and ‘K’ on Fig. 1; Ryan 2010, 252). Queen Margaret would have been an absentee landlord as she spent most of her time at court, but these chambers would have been prepared for occasional visits. One such visit probably occurred when she ordered major building works at Pleshey early in 1458. After the defeat of the Lancastrians in 1461 Pleshey passed to the Yorkist Edward IV and, from 1465, Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Several entries in the building accounts for the 1460s record cleaning and refurbishment work before royal visits, and the gatehouse accommodation would still have been of a high standard, fit for a queen, eighty or so years after it was built.

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References

Dillon, Viscount and Hope W.H.St.J. 1897, ‘Inventory of the goods and chattels belonging to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester and seized in the castle at Pleshey, Co. Essex, 21 Richard II (1397); with their value as show in the escheator’s accounts’, Archaeol. J., 54, 275-308 (transcript from PRO E 136/77/4): Available:

<https://www.archaeologicaldateservice.ac.uk/…/view/archjournal/contents.cfm?vol=54>

Ryan, P. 2010, ‘The fifteenth-century building accounts of the Duchy of Lancaster in Essex’, Essex Archaeol. Hist., 4th ser., 1, 248-60

Featured image courtesy of Chelmsford Museums Service.

Shrewsbury Castle – more than meets the eye

Shrewsbury Castle Excavation Director, Dr Nigel Baker, reviews the second season of excavations at the castle which has just ended, with an unexpected conclusion.

Shrewsbury Castle has sometimes been described (most often by the writer of this blog!) as one of the best-preserved shire town motte-and-bailey castles in the west of England. This remains true – at least in the sense that it has never been quarried away for gravel, nor had a prison or law courts built on top of it, nor was it demolished and redeveloped after the Civil War. Nevertheless, such a statement now requires a hefty footnote.

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A visitor, walking into the inner bailey at the foot of the motte sees crenelated curtain walls rising from the top of substantial ramparts: the impression of a classic castle sequence with earth-and-timber fortifications renewed in stone, is overwhelming. The 2020 work has however shown that neither the ramparts nor the western curtain walls are quite what they seem. Excavation to a depth of more than two metres in the western rampart has shown that at least half of its height was a product of the post-medieval centuries – with a substantial contribution probably made by Thomas Telford during his ‘restoration’ of the castle in 1786-90, enhanced by his simultaneous lowering of the ground level across the interior.

Shrewsbury Castle excavation trench in western rampartas viewed fromfrom C13 logis block. Courtesy of Nigel Baker

But the medieval strata below Telford’s rubble also show that the western curtain wall, and by implication the standing castle building, the camera regis of the later 1230s, can no longer be seen as simple improvements to the original earthwork castle as the ground beneath them was found to drop away sharply, the slope levelled up by a massive medieval earthmoving operation. It seems that the present outline of the castle – and the familiar view of it from the railway station below, are a product of the early 13th century (dating subject to confirmation when the pottery has been analysed) – dubbed Shrewsbury Castle 2 by the excavators. The ‘original’ motte-and-bailey, first heard of when it resisted a siege in 1069, must have had a perimeter that was around 25% smaller, confined to the original hilltop. This castle (inevitably ‘Shrewsbury Castle 1’) was nevertheless heavily fortified, as the substantial motte ditch found in 2019 shows. As originally conceived, the ‘inner bailey’ was little more than a lobe-shaped barbican, protecting access up onto the motte, with little room for buildings within it. One of the implications of this is that the most important buildings – like the royal hall – must have been on the motte top.

The medieval landfill operation is also of interest on account of the rubbish contained in its strata. Preliminary visual identification of the animal bones suggests that game species are present, possibly pike, possibly swan, and it is likely that further work on this material will add to the growing corpus of evidence for high-status diet on castle sites throughout the region.

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The excavation was funded by the Castle Studies Trust and supported by University Centre Shrewsbury under Professor Tim Jenkins and Dr Morn Capper. Archaeological direction was by Dr Nigel Baker and Dai Williams and the work was undertaken by local volunteers and UCS postgraduates and undergraduates.

Feature image courtesy of Dr Nigel Baker

Archiving at a Tudor Castle – Thornbury

Anyone interested in the study of the past knows the importance of records and documents for information gathering. Records and proper documentation are not just important for historians, but they played a central role in the everyday management of a medieval and early modern landowner too. Creating and maintaining accurate records was only half the battle. They needed to be kept safe and easily accessible for the landlord or estate managers. By the sixteenth century, most documentation was being stored in muniments chambers in elite residences. Royal castles and residences had muniments chambers for centuries and it started to permeate into the nobility and gentry as they began needing their own documentation close at hand. Below is an image from Hardwick Hall of the muniments chamber of Bess of Hardwick. Spaces could be large and purpose-built, like the chamber below, or a series of chests that could be locked.

Figure 1: Hardwick Hall’s muniments chamber. Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30659367@N00/48975171787

By the late sixteenth century, muniments chambers were a necessity in any high-status house. The nature of these spaces is conveyed by Richard Braithwait’s (1588-1673) prescriptions that an earl ‘have in his house a chamber very stronge and close, the walls should be of stone or bricke, the dore should be overplated with iron, the better to defend it from danger of fire’.[1] For Braithwait, the bulk of documentation related to landownership demonstrating the connection between documents and lordship. The documents needed to be kept orderly with ‘drawing boxes, shelves, and standards…and upon every drawing box is to be written the name of the Mannor or Lordship, the Evidence whereof that box doth containe’.[2] His advice continues to help with the ease of retrieving the documents:

and looke what Letters, Patents, Charters, Deeds, Feofements, or others writings, or Fines, are in every box; a paper role is to be made in the saide box, wherin is to be sett downe every severall deede or writing, that when the Earle, or any for him, hath occasion to make search for any Evidence or writing, he may see by that Role, whether the same be in that box or not.[3]

The level of organisational procedure that Braithwait discussed concerning muniments rooms is a clear indication to their increasing use by the end of the sixteenth century. Moreover, the space itself needed to be practical and secure.

            Do we actually have any evidence that Braithwait’s description is accurate or was this a pipe dream? Nearly a century before Braithwait’s publication we have evidence of a well-organised muniments chamber at Thornbury Castle, Gloucestershire used to store the documentation of Edward Stafford, third duke of Buckingham (1478-1521). Buckingham’s son, Henry Lord Stafford, transcribed a list of manuscripts that were in the duke’s possession shortly before the duke’s execution (British Library, Add. MS 36542). The list describes the contents of six large chests. The chests bore alphabetical lettering on them, and Carole Rawcliffe has suggested that the duke had developed a simple, but effective organisational system for his documents. Each of the six chests recorded in Lord Stafford’s list was bound in iron with plate locks, padlocks, and strong iron bolts. Estate papers and records related to specific farms and manors were boxed together on a topographical basis, county by county, with a description of the contents of the box. Lord Stafford’s desire for the storage and organisation of the documents related to Stafford land was primarily for his attempted recovery of the lands confiscated by Henry VIII upon the execution of his father. Nonetheless, there was a methodical system that was in place for the Buckingham archive well before the duke’s execution in 1521. Knowledge of the system in place would have made for an easy retrieval of the record needed just as Braithwait advocated a century later. It also indicates that many of these records were created for multiple future uses: for legal purposes, financial purposes, personal use, and even royal use. It was essential that they could be retrieved, presented, and read if needed.

Figure 2: 14th century muniment chest, from the collections of The National Archives. Catalogue Reference: E 27/7 (image from Wikipedia).

Organisation was of course key, but the storage space needed to be secure as well. Storing the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of documents that were created by and for the Staffords meant that the space accommodating them needed to be substantial, controllable, and close at hand. This space is an essential part of the materiality of this corpus of these objects. Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire was one of Buckingham’s primary residences. The south-western tower of the inner courtyard married the range accommodating the elite apartments of the duke and duchess to the range containing the steward’s apartments and the gatehouse. On the second and third floors of this tower was the muniments storage chambers. The uppermost was described in a later survey as the place where ‘evidents’ were kept.[1]

The top chambers were considered the safest places to keep important records. The close proximity of the muniment chamber to the duke’s and duchess’s bedchambers spatially recognises the importance of their safe keeping as well as their private nature. Not everyone had access to the south-west tower at Thornbury: it was theoretically controlled through its proximity to the high-status apartments. Placing the muniments chamber so close to the elite apartments and the steward’s bedchamber kept the documents under tight security, but also it linked the documents to the people most likely to use them. The space was hidden away from prying eyes and on a practical level from the potential of a kitchen fire and an easy walk from the elite apartments to the muniments chamber.

Today we think of archives as cultural – and public – statements about the past; however, the muniments chamber at Thornbury was deeply personal and individualistic in nature. Indeed, the records within the chamber were oftentimes personal with the names of tenants, the amount of rent owed, and their geographical location; it was essentially their personal data. The chamber became a space that held a living memory of the duke’s tenant base. For Buckingham, the muniments chamber was spatial soul of his lordship. It was a physical manifestation of his power; written down and recorded for posterity. For his tenants, however, the muniments chamber represented their powerlessness and the one-sidedness of early modern lordship. The documents are written testimony to the exploitation of Buckingham’s lordship. His tenants had no control over their information and the storage of it. Although the muniments chamber at Thornbury might be thought of as a shrine to Buckingham’s lordly power, it contained documents that were not static. They held the names and rents of the duke’s tenants, payments to household staff, and the buying and selling of resources all of which were changing. Although muniments chambers are an often neglected part of our understanding of castle space, they held records related to the wider network of power and wealth that the castle is meant to symbolise.

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[1] Richard Braithwait, Some Rules and Orders for the Government of the House of an Earl set down by Richard Braithwait (London, 1821), p. 18.

[2] Braithwait, Some Rules and Orders, p. 18.

[3] Braithwait, Some Rules and Orders, p. 18.

[4] See A. Pugin, Examples of Gothic Architecture, 5 vols (London, 1831-8), II, p. 32.

[This is part of a much longer article about the Buckingham archive as an object that will appear in the Welsh History Review volume 30 number 2 in December 2020.]