Kirkby Fleetham Castle- Hidden Hunting Lodge in the Vale of York

The earthwork site at Kirkby Fleetham just to the east of the A1 near Bedale in North Yorkshire is generally taken to be the hunting lodge given a licence to crenellate for Henry Le Scrope in 1308. However, recent finds in an adjacent domestic garden together with a reappraisal of the surviving documentary evidence give a more nuanced picture of life at the site.

Work in the garden of a house directly to the north east  in Spring 2019 has located the foundations of a coursed rubble stone wall approximately  1.3 metres wide with a series of looped windows, an internal mortar floor and traces of external white rendering. Traces of a cobbled yard have also been identified running between it and the castle earthworks to the south west. It has yielded a range of pottery including body sherds from Humberware jugs of the 14th Century along with several sherds of Cistercian ware from the early 16th Century. What is also significant is the volume of material dating to the Late 11th/12th Century including Coarse Sandy Gritty Wares from the York Area.

C14 Humberware Pottery

In terms of the castle remains two sections of stone revetment for a moat survive otherwise  the site consists of two earthwork enclosures one slightly higher than the other surrounded by the drained site of two large artificial lakes running to the west and north west. The unseasonable dry weather in Spring 2020 allowed for a number of clear stone building platforms to appear marked in the vegetation. These suggest a peripheral curtain wall surrounding the inner mound with a series of buildings leading off it. Erosion by rabbits in the outer enclosure reveals a series of cobbled surfaces with sherds of pottery from further south in the Vale of York dating from the 12th through to the 14th Centuries. A series of building platforms clearly track off into neighbouring gardens including the one where the recent discoveries have been made.

Wall excavated in garden next to Kirby Fleetham castle

The documented history of the site together with the surviving pottery suggests a much longer period of occupation than has previously been suggested. The Domesday Book tenant is referred to as Odo the Chamberlain of the Duke of Brittany with references to his former holding throughout the documentary record in the 12th Century. In the mid to late 13th Century the owner is referred to as Sir Henry Fitz Conan who had a licence for a park awarded in 1271. The decline of the site is poorly documented although there is evidence of continued occupation into the early 16th Century and the documents show it held as a hunting lodge by Lord Grey of Codnor in 1417 when the estate was briefly forfeited by the Scropes.

In terms of the building in the adjacent garden, its design and location suggest a half-timbered superstructure above a stone basement and from its location a court house or similar use such as survives at Danby in the North York Moors can be hypothesised.

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

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All photographs copyright Erik Matthews.

A castle in context: exploring the settlement context of Castle Pulverbatch

Giles Carey project lead for the Castle Pulverbatch survey, funded by the Castle Studies Trust,  presents an overview of the wider settlement context for the motte and bailey at Castle Pulverbatch, central Shropshire.

“It is a truism that medieval castles ‘dominated’ their landscapes. But this apparently simple statement obscures, and indeed misrepresents the many and varied ways in which castles were both embedded in the medieval landscape and contributed to its evolution and character.” (Creighton and Higham, 2004: 5).

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Pulverbatch is a village situated in central Shropshire, about 13km southwest of Shrewsbury on a minor road from Shrewsbury to Wentnor. The modern village is formed of two distinct centres, with a small nucleated settlement around the church (Church Pulverbatch, known as ‘Churcheton’, then Churton since at least the 13th century (Gaydon, 1968: 138)), and Castle Pulverbatch lying c.1km to the SW. One of Shropshire’s best-preserved motte and bailey castles is situated on the edge of a small steep-sided ridge at the southern end of the village (figure 1).

Figure 1. The immediate area around Castle Pulverbatch. Probable medieval ridge and furrow ploughing (plotted after Stillman 1980) is superimposed on a LiDAR image – much of this has been removed by more recent ploughing, though traces can be still seen in the field at the top of the image – just north of the village. LiDAR data collected for the Stiperstones and Corndon Landscape Partnership Scheme. © Giles Carey

The castle comprises a roughly circular motte, with a base diameter of 35m standing up to 8m high, constructed on the edge of a ridge to make the best use of the natural topography. A substantial ditch 7m wide and 2.6m wide, with a counterscarp bank 4m wide and 0.8m high, separates the castle motte from the flat ground to the west. The inner bailey, situated to the north-east of the motte, is roughly rectangular in plan. It measures 28m north-east to south-west by 30m south-east to north-west. Around its north-west and north-east sides, the bailey is defended by a substantial bank up to 10m wide and 4.2m high on its outside, 1.5m high on its inside. The south-east side of the inner bailey is not defined by a bank but makes strategic use of the natural topography to provide a defendable location. The outer bailey, standing to the west, is, by contrast, defined by much slighter defences. This difference in construction has been suggested as indicating a two-phase construction for the site, with the outer bailey representing the enlargement of a compact and strongly defended initial structure (Stillman, 1980: 3). The outer bailey extends 80m north-south by 40m east-west. A defensive bank up to 6.5m wide and 1.4m high runs along its north-west side, defining a deep hollow-way which runs adjacent to the field boundary in this location.

Figure 1: Castle Pulverbatch in context. 1. Motte and bailey; 2. Possible medieval settlement; 3. Church of St. Edith. © Aerial Cam, 2017.

Strategically, the castle occupies a dominant location on the edge of a spur extending south from the village of Castle Pulverbatch. From the top of the motte, views run along the valley of the Churton Brook, and cover the road network (figure 2). It has been suggested that the castle could have provided a control point over “the route from hill country to the Severn valley, perhaps levying a toll on traffic” (Stillman, 1980: 18).

Castle Pulverbatch is typical of rural earthwork castles in Shropshire and the wider Marches. It appears to form an outlier for a concentration of 12 similar motte and baileys in the Vale of Montgomery, from Montgomery in the south-west to Caus in the north-east (Cathcart King and Spurgeon, 1965). These small, rural castles have a number of key characteristics – mottes with a very restricted top, which would have been capable of carrying only a small structure – a ‘blockhouse or pill-box’ as Cathcart King and Spurgeon refer to them, overlooking strategic points on the road network. Pulverbatch certainly meets this criterion – it’s motte ‘dominates’ routeways at the northern approaches to the Long Mynd and the western flank of the entrance to the Stretton Valley.

Figure 3. Key sites mentioned in the text: 1 – Castle Pulverbatch (HER PRN 01051); 2 – Possible tenement plot, Pinfold’s Close and medieval settlement (HER PRN 03703); 3 – mill site (HER PRN 03704); 4 – Church of St Edith, within circular churchyard (HER PRN 33037); 5 – earthwork enclosure (HER PRN 03702); 6 – Motte and bailey at Wilderley Hall (HER PRN 01052). Derived from sketch survey by Nigel Stillman (1980) with additional detail added from LiDAR imagery. © Giles Carey

In 2017-2018, The Castle Studies Trust, and the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society provided grant-funding for geophysical surveys on the site, together with a level 2 earthwork survey using photogrammetry (Donaldson and Sabin, 2017; Stanford, 2017; Ashby, 2018). The results of this work were informative, and suggestive of a substantial building, measuring 22m by 18m in the inner bailey. Background research, however, drew attention to the wider landscape. It soon became clear that the story of the castle would only be ever half-complete if one focused on the earthworks and buildings of the inner and the outer bailey. The inter-relationship between the motte and bailey, its associated settlement and the parish church of St. Edith was evidently worthy of further exploration (figure 2).

Castle, settlement and church

Pulverbatch is first mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 when it appears as ‘Polrebec’. The name derives from Old English, a combination of pulfre of unknown meaning and bǣce meaning stream valley (Gelling 1990, 245–7). At Domesday, the manor of Pulverbatch, combining both modern settlements of Church and Castle Pulverbatch, was held by Roger Venator [The Hunter]. Roger Venator was a tenant of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. Along with his brother Norman, he was a huntsman for the Earl and was consequently granted land in the Shropshire forests. He also held nearby Wrentnall.

Domesday records Pulverbatch as comprising two hides of land which paid tax, and there was land for five ploughs: two ploughs in the lordship with four slaves, while seven villagers had a further three ploughs between them. There were also two ‘radmans’ [riding men – the lord’s servants] in the manor. There was enough woodland for the fattening of 100 pigs. Before 1066, the manor had been worth £6 in tax; that had dropped to 20s in 1066, but by 1086its value had risen  to 30s (Eyton 1854, 189).

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The evidence suggests that the castle was built towards the end of the 11th century, either by Roger Venator or his son, also called Roger. Castle Pulverbatch is one of eighteen or more earthwork castles in south-west Shropshire that were built by the first Norman lords installed by Roger de Montgomery, himself one of three key lieutenants installed by William the Conqueror following rebellions in the Welsh Marches in the later 1060s. Documentary sources refer to the castle still being occupied in 1205, but there is no trace of a manor-house here in documents of 1292 (Gaydon 1968, 131).

Another motte and bailey lies 1.2km to the south-east, north of Wilderley Hall Farm (Figure 3, site 6), which at Domesday was held by another minor tenant of Roger of Montgomery, Hugh Fitz Turgis (Eyton 1854, 258). Probably, like Castle Pulverbatch, Wilderley was positioned strategically to command a route running northwards from the Long Mynd towards the Severn Valley (Gaydon 1968, 132). Little is known about the  history of Wilderley so establishing any chronological link between the two castle sites remains challenging.

In 1254 Philip Marmion was granted the right to hold a weekly market at Pulverbatch on Mondays, and an annual three-day fair around the day [16th September]of St Edith the Virgin’, to whom the church in Church Pulverbatch was dedicated (Eyton 1858, 197).

At an inquest on the death of Philip Marmionon January 14 1292, his estate at Pulverbatch included a ‘capital messuage [house, yard, outbuildings and land], a carucate of arable land, and two acres of meadow. A Mill realised 30s…’ (Eyton 1858, 199). The latter was presumably on the site indicated by slight earthworks in a field identified on the tithe map as Upper Mill Meadow (Figure 3, site 3).

There is no clear dating evidence concerning settlement at Pulverbatch. The chronological picture is further complicated by the suggested early date for a church at Church Pulverbatch (Figure 3, site 4). The present building is medieval in origin, although it was largely rebuilt in 1853 (Newman and Pevsner 2006, 203–4). (A lovely watercolour of the pre-19th century form of the church is held by Shropshire Archives, and a small version can be accessed via their online catalogue: https://www.shropshirearchives.org.uk/collections/getrecord/CCA_X6001_19_372B_4)

Figure 4 – 2nd edition 1:2500 Ordnance Survey map of 1903, showing suggested extent of settlement to immediate NE of the Castle site.

The church lies within a circular, embanked churchyard, which has been suggested as indicating an early, possibly pre-conquest origin, drawing upon other examples from the Marches (Rowley 1972, 81), although this hypothesis is untested in the county (see Ludlow 2009, 71-76 for discussion of examples from south-west Wales). A number of other circular churchyards are known in Shropshire (Cardeston, Stanton upon Hine Heath, Llanymynech, Loppington and Leighton, inter alia), but the importance of that at Pulverbatch is heightened by the presence of additional earthworks to the north of the churchyard, occupying a high point within the wider landscape (Figure 2, site 5).

A number of authors have speculated about the development of the medieval settlement sited immediately north and west of the castle (figure 4). Little earthwork evidence survives of this settlement, although a slight bank was recorded in the 1980s by Stillman on a triangle of land known as Pinfold’s Close, directly to the north of the castle’s outer bailey. This triangle was suggested as a possible plot division (see Figure 2, site 2) and subsequently recorded as a property/field boundary by Wendy Horton on a site visit in 1991 (Shropshire HER PRN 03703). Sadly, this area has been extensively disturbed since then, and little trace of any earthworks was found during the 2017-2018 survey work.

Higham and Barker see the village ‘growing up around a castle founded in previously open countryside’ (Higham and Barker 1992, 200) while Rowley suggests that its regularity indicates a deliberately planned settlement unit laid out by the lord of the manor in the 12th or 13th century (Rowley 1972, 86). Creighton goes further in identifying the development at Castle Pulverbatch as representing a nucleation point, “a regular settlement” growing up adjacent to the “new seigneurial centre” (Creighton 2002, 203). This would accord well with the manor of Pulverbatch becoming the caput baroniae, or principal manor of the baronry of Pulverbatch by the end of the 12th century (Gaydon 1968, 131). Stillman suggests that the settlement around the castle may have been a fairly speculative endeavour from the lord of the manor that was ultimately unsuccessful, with settlement shifting downhill to the modern settlement at Church Pulverbatch (Stillman 1980, 18). There is no evidence of the settlement at Castle Pulverbatch ever expanding into ‘anything more than a small farming community’ (Gaydon 1968, 132).

This relationship between the development of a settlement, and the development of a castle site has been little explored in the region. Whilst the extensive work at the motte-and-bailey site of Hen Domen in the 1970s revolutionised our understanding of the likely former structural complexity of timber castles in general (Higham and Barker, 1972), there has been little opportunity to further investigate the significant group of motte and bailey castles in the Vale of Montgomery and SW Shropshire, including inter-relations between settlements and castle.

Some of these complexities can be seen at the site of Caus Castle, was subject to a detailed programme of earthwork and geophysical survey in 2016, also funded by the Castle Studies Trust (Fradley and Carey, 2016). Although a castle of quite different status, size and setting to that at Pulverbatch, work here provided evidence of a castle, borough, market (and later fair) in states of flux, and indicated that the fortunes of the castle and the fortunes of the town were not always aligned.

A number of other small, earthwork castles in this part of the march would repay such further study. We might think  the  castle at More, for instance. A motte and bailey castle developed here from an earlier ringwork castle, with its associated earthwork remains of a deserted settlement, with the remains of house plots and toft boundaries (figure 5).

Figure 5 – Hachure plan of More Castle, scale 1:1250. © Shropshire Council Archaeology Service / Hannaford and Sylvester, 2015.

Non-intrusive landscape survey, as funded by the Castle Studies Trust, allows us to place these sites in some context, and allows a glimpse at the bigger seigneurial, tenurial and topographic picture of these earthwork castles.

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Featured image Castle Pulverbatch bailey from motte top.

Bilbliography

Ashby, D., 2018. ‘Castle Pulverbatch, Shropshire: Ground Penetrating Radar Report’, unpublished report, ARCA, University of Winchester.

Carey, G., 2018. Capturing the Castle: recent survey work at Castle Pulverbatch Motte and Bailey, Shropshire, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society 93 pp.31-44

Cathcart King, D. and Spurgeon, C., 1965. ‘The Mottes in the Vale of Montgomery’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 114 pp.69–86.

Creighton, O. and Higham, R., 2006. ‘Castle studies and the ‘landscape’ agenda’, Landscape History 26 pp.5–18

Creighton, O. H., 2002. Castles and Landscapes. London: Continuum

Donaldson, K., and Sabin, D., 2017. ‘Castle Pulverbatch Motte and Bailey, Shropshire: earth resistance & magnetometer survey report’, unpublished report, Archaeological Surveys Ltd., report no. J708. Shropshire HER ESA 8253.

Eyton, R., 1854. Antiquities of Shropshire Volume 6. London. John Russell Smith.

Fradley, M. and Carey, G., 2016. ‘Archaeo-topographical survey: Caus Castle, Westbury — a preliminary report’, unpublished report. Shropshire HER ESA 8179.

Gaydon, A. (ed.), 1968. The Victoria History of Shropshire: Volume VIII. London. Oxford University Press.

Gelling, M., 1990. The Place Names of Shropshire. EPNS, Vols. LXII/LXIII (Part One).

Hannaford, H., and Silvester, R., 2015. ‘Desk-based studies of four castles in the Welsh Marches: Castle Pulverbatch, More Castle, Wilmington Castle & Hyssington Castle’, unpublished report, SCAS, report no. 371. Shropshire HER ESA 7514.

Highham, R. and Barker, P., 1992. Timber Castles. Exeter: University of Exeter Press

Ludlow, N., 2009. Identifying Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites in South-West Wales In: Edwards, N. (ed.) The Archaeology of the Early Medieval Celtic Churches London: Routledge, pp.61–84.

Pevsner, N. and Newman, J. 2006. Buildings of England: Shropshire. London: Yale.

Rowley, T. 1972. The Shropshire Landscape. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Stanford, A., 2017. ‘Castle Pulverbatch Processing Report’, unpublished report, Aerial Cam, report no. C-P-01042017.
Shropshire HER ESA 8254.

Stillman, N., 1980. ‘Castle Pulverbatch: a field survey of a motte and bailey earthwork in Shropshire’, unpublished report, University of Birmingham. Shropshire HER ESA 1137.

Thorn, F., and Thorn, C. (eds), 1986. Domesday Book: Shropshire. Chichester

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

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

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

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

Gleaston Castle: south east tower interior. Copyright Chloe Granger

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

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

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

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

Gleaston Castle: entrance to sw tower. Copyright Chloe Granger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sappping a tower: Foix castle museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-conquest origins

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

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

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

The Great Tower – post medieval survival?

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

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

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

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

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

C18 Remodelling?

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

High Status Saxon Living

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

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

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

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

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

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Our five projects for 2020

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

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

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

Lincoln Castle

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

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

Shrewsbury Castle

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

Sowing the Seeds

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

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

The Wirk

Could the Wirk be a Norse castle? Based on the island of Rousay, this stone tower is situated close to the old parish church and recently discovered Norse Hall. However, no one knows what this tower was used for or even when it was built.

Warkworth

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

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

Donate regularly for invitation to exclusive site visits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bamburgh, Northumberland

Photo by Thomas Quine, licensed CC BY 2.0.

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

Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Photo by Sean Wallis, licensed CC BY NC 2.0.

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

Dunollie, Argyll

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

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

Fraoch Eilean, Loch Awe

Photo by Andrea Hope, licensed CC BY SA 2.0.

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

Hoghton, Lancashire

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

Holme Pierpont, Nottinghamshire

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

Lincoln, Lincolnshire

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

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

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

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

Sowing the Seeds

Hortus conclusus depicted by Meister des Frankfurter Paradiesgärtleins

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

Strongholds of Wessex

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

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

The Wirk, Orkney

Rousay - The Wirk

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

Thermal Imaging of Castles

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

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

Warkworth, Northumberland

Photo by Barry Marsh, in the public domain

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


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

The Simple Act of Hospitality the Tudor Way

Summers for me always mean getting together with friends and family for BBQs and picnics. The simple act of hosting a party comes with a range of logistics for the host to manage: buying, cooking, and serving food, providing entertainment, ensuring everyone is enjoying themselves, along with more practical tasks such as cleaning communal areas that guests will frequent. The Tudor period did not entail many modern-style BBQs in the backyard; however, hosting celebrations was a large part of elite culture. Scholars of hospitality in the medieval and early modern periods have long recognized its social and cultural significance. Generosity was a Christian value and was expected from those who could afford to provide it.

Hans Holbein the Younger, ‘Henry VIII dining in the great chamber’ (c. 1548). Photo from the British Museum, licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Hospitality leaves very little trace in architectural remains, so historians must turn to documentary records to investigate how castles were used to host feasts and celebrations. Household Books are one such record that provide a clue into the extravagance and hierarchy of these revels. These documents were created as a sort of ‘how-to-guide’ for management and maintenance of a large residence. Unsurprisingly, households played a main role in the performance of hospitality and therefore, protocols for dining and hosting are a common feature in these records. King Edward IV’s Liber Niger is one of the most used sources for demonstrating the splendour of royal households, and many of the large noble households of the late medieval period take some instruction from the king. For instance, Henry Percy, the fifth earl of Northumberland (1477–1527) kept a detailed Household Book for the year 1512 in which daily ritual and splendour are of the foremost concerns.[1] The Northumberland Household Book (NHB)is specifically for the earl’s main castles of Wressle and Leckonfield in Yorkshire.[2] It gives exact numbers of servants, their role and responsibilities, instructions for dining etiquette, and seeing to the lord and his family. In a theoretical sense, it provides us with an image of the perfectly run noble household.

A quadrangular stone castle with a river in the foreground, a village to the right, and gardens next to the castle and behind it.
Wressle Castle by Peter Brears, based on the 2014 survey. See the CST blog ‘Re-imagining Wressle Castle’.

One of the concerns in the NHB is the procedure for eating. It tells us that the earl of Northumberland sat at the high table with his wife, Catherine Spencer, and his son and heir, Henry Percy. Northumberland’s other two sons, Thomas and William, served the food for the high table.[3] The NHB continues to list a total of sixteen people to attend the needs of the lord and his family, including ‘the childe of the kechinge that shall help the saide Yoman or Groome to dresse my Lords Metes and Servyce for the Howsehold And to be ath the Revercion’.[4] After the list of those serving the high table, the NHB lists the people who should sit at each of the tables in the great chamber and subsequently in the great hall. Controlling where people sat, the food that they ate, and the order of service was one way for a lord to visually display and reinforce the social hierarchy on a daily basis.

Text Box: Figure 3: A section from the Portrait of Sir Henry Unton (c. 1558 - 1596), held at the National Portrait Gallery, London
A section from the Portrait of Sir Henry Unton (c. 1558 – 1596), held at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Some days called for special feasts and the NHB isolates the principal feasts of the year when the household could expect a ‘great repaire of Straungers’ arriving at the castle. These days include: Easter, St George’s Day, Whitsun, All Hallows Eve, and Christmas. These celebrations did not just provide food for guests, but entertainment as well. For the Twelfth Night celebrations at Wressle in 1512, the ‘hoole chappell’ was directed to ‘sing wassaill’, a carol celebrating the service of the wassail drink at the evening banquet.[5] On All Souls Day, Northumberland’s chapel performed the ‘responde callede Exaudivi at the Matyns-tyme for xij virgyns’.[6]

In an earlier blog post for the CST, Dr Kate Buchanan explored ideas of a social gathering around Christmas time at Huntly Castle and the sensory experience that those present might have experienced. She demonstrates that hosts could – and oftentimes did – blend business with pleasure when it came to hospitality. This is definitely the picture from other fifteenth- and sixteenth-century household books. Celebratory periods brought family, peers, political allies, and even tenants together under one roof. Castles facilitated the gathering of a community and it was the space in which relationships could be forged. 

Hospitality was just one way that castles were used to promote and uphold the social hierarchy of Tudor England. We must remember that hospitality was not just an act that the host actively placed on the passive guest. It was very much a performance with the household servants as many of the main players. Servants prepared and served the food, attended to guests, and ensured that everyone adhered to protocol. Castles played a much greater role than being the theatres on which this performance took place. The great hall and the household chapel were key areas in the castle that hospitality was dispensed. These spaces brought everyone in the castle together for entertainment and allowed for interaction of people across the social and gender hierarchy. These interactions were of course heavily regulated. Although castles accommodated people from across the social spectrum, they helped to ensure, through visual cues, the social order of premodern England by promoting the owner’s wealth and status through ritual and display.

If you would like to know more my forthcoming book, The Culture of Castles in Tudor England and Wales will be available in September 2019 from Boydell Press.


[1] Henry Algernon Percy, The Regulations and Establishment of the Household of Henry Algernon Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland at his Castles of Wressle and Leakenfield in Yorkshire (London, 1905).

[2] The Castle Studies Trust has funded two projects at Wressle. You can explore the findings here: http://www.castlestudiestrust.org/Wressle-Castle.html

[3] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland,pp. 349-353.

[4] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland, p. 351.

[5] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland, pp. 342-3.

[6] The Regulations of the Earl of Northumberland, pp. 342-3.

Fresh from Fotheringhay

We have the results of the survey at Fotheringhay Castle. You can find out more about what we found in Steve Parry’s excellent blogpost, complete with the earliest depiction of the castle.

The castle is most famous as the place where Mary Queen of Scots was tried and executed. It was thoroughly dismantled in the first half of the 17th century, leaving the motte intact but little else above ground. Thanks to work by the Museum of London Archaeology and funded by the Castle Studies Trust, we now have a better idea of how the castle was arranged.