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Dunstanburgh Castle: Romano-British settlement, 14th century enclosure castle and harbour, and World War II pillbox and foxhole

A Scheduled Monument in Craster, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.4885 / 55°29'18"N

Longitude: -1.5935 / 1°35'36"W

OS Eastings: 425784.872604

OS Northings: 621705.72657

OS Grid: NU257217

Mapcode National: GBR K49Z.TC

Mapcode Global: WHC17.H9FS

Entry Name: Dunstanburgh Castle: Romano-British settlement, 14th century enclosure castle and harbour, and World War II pillbox and foxhole

Scheduled Date: 10 April 1915

Last Amended: 5 July 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007507

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23231

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Craster

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Embleton Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument occupies an isolated basalt promontory overlooking the North Sea
and includes the sites of a second century Romano-British settlement, a 14th
century enclosure castle with associated outworks and a harbour, and a World
War II pillbox and foxhole. Evidence for Roman occupation was found during
partial excavations carried out within the castle in 1930 and 1931 when
fragments of imported Rhenish millstones were found in addition to sherds of
samian pottery. Although the precise nature of the occupation is not yet fully
understood, the site is a likely setting for a small fort or signal station
since the Roman frontier, during the second half of the second century AD, ran
from the Forth to the Clyde.
The enclosure castle was begun in 1313 and work on its walls and gatehouse
appears to have been complete by 1316 when Edward II made its construction
legitimate by granting licence to crenellate. The gatehouse, which became the
keep of the later castle, comprises two D-shaped drum towers separated by a
rib-vaulted gate-passage. A barbican or outer defence was built to guard the
front entrance, but this was largely removed during alterations carried out in
the later 14th century. The semicircular fronts of the towers were originally
five-storeys high, projecting two storeys above the main part of the building.
Each of the towers carried a corbelled stair turret which rose above the gate-
passage and provided access to the upper levels of the tower. Other turrets
occupied the north-facing corners of the gatehouse and could be reached from
the wall-walk which extended round the curtain wall of the castle. Guardrooms
containing fireplaces and a garderobe or privy occupied the ground floors of
each tower, while small chambers were built into the thickness of the curving
walls and have been interpreted as porters' lodges. The first floor of the
gatehouse comprises numerous chambers including one, set above the gate-
passage, which originally contained the winding gear for a portcullis and also
murder holes (narrow, slanting shafts through which projectiles could be aimed
at attackers below). The second floor contained the lord's hall, which was
divided from his solar or private chambers by wooden partitions. Between 1372
and 1383, the gate-passage was blocked at either end and the gatehouse ceased
to function as an entrance and instead became the keep. A new gate-tower was
built in the west curtain and was protected by a barbican to which a mantlet
or screen wall was later added. This wall ended in a second gateway which
adjoined the south west tower of the keep. In 1382-83, an inner ward was
created behind the keep by the construction of narrow building ranges round a
small courtyard. Along with a tower at the north east corner, these will have
included accommodation for guests and men-at-arms in addition to the main
service buildings of the castle. A large oven indicates that the north range
included a bakehouse while the west range contained a kitchen.
The inner ward, keep and gate occupy the south west angle of a much larger
enclosure bounded on all four sides by curtain walls and containing the
remains of further defensive and domestic structures. The latter include the
buried and earthwork remains of the castle's home farm. This is recorded as
having an oak barn built in 1454 and last repaired in 1470. Other buildings of
the farm complex appear to have been stone constructions. Only the west,
south and east curtain walls are upstanding, the north curtain having been
greatly damaged by the action of the sea as early as 1543. In addition to the
gate-tower, included in the west curtain is the Lilburn Tower. This was built
in c.1325 for John Lilburn, constable of Dunstanburgh, and is a three-storey
building with tall corner turrets projecting above its flat roof. Each floor
included a single apartment, all with fireplaces and the upper two with
projecting garderobes. At first floor level, a passage is contained within the
thickness of the east wall, allowing direct access between the wall walks on
the north and south sides. A postern or secondary gate also lies to the north.
Two further towers exist in the south curtain. The first, built overlooking a
narrow inlet at the junction of the south and east curtain walls, is
Egyncleugh Tower. This tower dates from the same period as the Lilburn Tower
and has opposing gateways at back and front, showing it to have been the water
gate referred to in a document of 1386. A drawbridge crossed the rock cut moat
to the south and was protected at its outer end by a barbican or similar
structure depicted in a drawing of 1678. Above the gate were two floors
containing single apartments, each with a fireplace and garderobe. To the
west, approximately midway along the south curtain, is the Constable's Tower,
built in the later 14th century at the south east corner of a courtyard
which formed the middle ward of the later castle. This three-storey tower also
contained apartments on its upper floors, each with south-facing windows
furnished with window-seats. A small group of buildings attached to the
north east corner of the tower have been interpreted as the constable's hall,
chambers and offices, while building foundations along the north side of the
middle ward indicate the positions of ancillary buildings such as kitchens and
workshops. The remaining east curtain, built above the steep 30m cliff,
originally consisted of a flat-topped earthwork faced with stone. Into this
were inserted three garderobe chambers for the men-at-arms patrolling the wall
walk. In the 15th century, a wall was constructed on top of the earthwork.
Approximately 500m south of the castle, north west of the inlet called Nova
Scotia, is an area formerly occupied by the castle harbour. In 1314, a ditch
was dug from the harbour to Embleton Bay, north of the castle. This ditch,
which measures c.4m deep and 24m wide, made the castle and the area lying
between it and the harbour into an island, and access was via a drawbridge
across the ditch. A World War II pillbox and foxhole lie just north of where
the ditch and harbour joined. The area enclosed by the ditch is crossed,
predominantly from east to west, by the earthwork remains of post-medieval
ridge and furrow beneath which, in 1949, building foundations of possible
medieval date were found. In addition, c.50m south of the castle keep, are the
earthwork remains of a roughly square enclosure flanked to the north by the
foundations of a range of buildings forming two sides of a courtyard. These
remains have been interpreted as an outwork commanding the approach to the
castle but may, alternatively, be the site of a later farmstead. Ridge and
furrow crosses the enclosure, but it has not been determined which is the
later feature.
From early in the Norman period, Dunstanburgh was part of the barony of
Embleton but no castle was built there until Thomas Earl of Lancaster, High
Steward of England, ordered its construction in 1313. Unusually for the area
and the time, the castle was not built to defend the Scottish Marches nor was
it the centre of the baronial fee. It appears to have been intended as a
bolt-hole for Lancaster who spent most of his life in opposition to King
Edward II and his favourites, even to the point of unlawfully executing Piers
Gaveston. It did not serve him, however, and he himself was executed in 1322
after the battle of Boroughbridge.
For four years, the castle continued under its constables, providing horsemen
for the army that invaded Scotland in 1322 and, in 1326, ships to protect the
king against Queen Isabella. In the same year the castle was returned to the
heirs of Earl Thomas and, in 1362, was succeeded to by John of Gaunt who, in
the 1380s, in response to Scottish raids, ordered the repairs and alterations
that were made to the castle at that time. John of Gaunt died in 1399 and
was succeeded by his son, Henry Bolingbroke who, in the same year, usurped the
throne of Richard II to become King Henry IV. In this way Dunstanburgh became
a royal castle governed by constables and appears to have been allowed to
decay. However, annual expenditure reports made to the Duchy of Lancaster
from 1436, show that large scale repairs were being carried out in the years
leading up to the Wars of the Roses when, but for a brief period in 1462,
Dunstanburgh remained a Lancastrian stronghold. It was finally taken in 1464
in a Yorkist victory that, together with those at the recent battles of
Hedgeley Moor and Hexham, ended the Lancastrian cause in the north. From that
time it fell into ruin and, in 1604, was sold by the Crown. In 1885, the
original gate-passage through the keep was reopened and the gate arch that can
be seen today was added to the front. The castle has been in state care since
1930 and is a Grade I Listed Building.
Excluded from the scheduling are all English Heritage and National Trust
fittings and fixtures, all modern fencing and all gates and stiles, and the
wreck of the Polish trawler located below the high water mark south of the
medieval harbour, but the ground beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of
stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers
bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but
this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide
accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there
are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either
waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure
castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they
developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive
experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The
majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were
built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier
medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were
new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or
leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure
castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration
in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration
along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward
I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples
retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

Dunstanburgh Castle is a well-documented example of an extensive enclosure
castle with its own harbour and associated outworks. Its importance lies not
only in the good state of preservation of its standing remains but also in the
range of ancillary features which survive throughout the castle and the
adjacent area as buried features and include the buildings of its home farm.
Also of importance is the earlier use of the site during the Romano-British
period, and its later reuse during World War II.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hunter Blair, C H , Dunstanburgh Castle, (1936)
Summerson, H, Dunstanburgh Castle, (1992)
'Archaeologia Aeliana' in Archaeologia Aeliana, , Vol. 13, (1936), 279-92
Cramp, R, 'BAR Brit Ser' in Settlement In North Britain 1000BC-AD1000, , Vol. 118, (1983), 263-298
NT monument numbers 302 and 367, National Trust Regional Office Northumberland, Features of Archaeological Interest - Dunstanburgh Castle Area,

Source: Historic England

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