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Foss Castle: a motte and bailey, precursor to Old Mulgrave Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Lythe, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.4942 / 54°29'38"N

Longitude: -0.717 / 0°43'1"W

OS Eastings: 483197.047405

OS Northings: 511737.175285

OS Grid: NZ831117

Mapcode National: GBR RJFG.KR

Mapcode Global: WHF8R.Y9QK

Entry Name: Foss Castle: a motte and bailey, precursor to Old Mulgrave Castle

Scheduled Date: 11 March 1974

Last Amended: 10 May 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008286

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20536

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Lythe

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Lythe with Sandsend

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle situated at the head of the
valley of the Sandsend Beck, overlooking its precipitous gorge from the north
side. The Barnby Beck, major tributary of the Sandsend Beck, issues over a
series of waterfalls from a slack, while a minor tributary flows in a steep-
sided gully along the western edge of the monument; because of its location
the castle has good natural defences on its south-western side. The motte is
an artificial mound, 50m in diameter at the base and surrounded by an 8m wide,
2m deep ditch. The mound is 4m high, the flat top being 40m in diameter and
partially surrounded by a 0.5m high rampart bank. There are various low
earthworks on the top of the mound, some of which will contain the foundations
of buildings such as the fortified tower which once stood on the motte while
other features are the result of a small-scale excavation reported to have
been carried out prior to 1817. To the north-east of the motte and running at
a tangent to it is a ditch which links the gully of the small stream to the
west with the edge of the precipice to the south; the ditch is 5m wide and
1.5m deep at its north-western end but becomes 10m wide and 3m deep at its
south-eastern end. The motte is flanked by two enclosures, or baileys. Of
these, the northern one is triangular, measuring 60m by 30m across, bounded by
the ditch on its north-eastern side and by the steep, 5m high scarp of the
east bank of the stream at the west. The southern bailey is larger, measuring
65m long by 40m wide, bounded by the ditch to the north-east and by the
precipice to the south and west.
The castle was founded in 1072 by Nigel Fossard and abandoned about 1200 when
Robert de Turnham built Old Mulgrave Castle, its stone successor, 700m to the

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain
by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the
motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of
examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey,
adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bailey castles acted as
garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in
many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal
administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte and
bailey castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their
immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive
monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape.
Over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally,
with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of
recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for
the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although
many were occupied for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to
be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they
were superseded by other types of castle.

Except for minor disturbance of the motte by early 19th century antiquarians
and recent afforestation, the motte and bailey at Foss Castle is well
preserved; the below-ground remains of medieval structures will survive on the
motte and within the baileys while the accumulated fill of the bailey ditch
and the buried landsurface beneath the motte will retain environmental
evidence relating to the landscape in which the castle was constructed.
Unusually, the 13th century successor to the Norman castle, Old Mulgrave
Castle, was constructed on a new site; because the archaeological remains at
Foss Castle have not been disturbed by later construction, the two monuments
considered together offer a relatively rare opportunity for studying the
development of medieval fortifications over time.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Young, G, History of Whitby, (1817), 687
L'Anson, W M, 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in Castles of the North Riding, , Vol. 22, (1913), 348-51
Record No. 07405.0000,
Title: 6" Map Series (Ordnance Survey)
Source Date:

Source: Historic England

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