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Thirsk Castle: a motte and bailey castle

A Scheduled Monument in Thirsk, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.2321 / 54°13'55"N

Longitude: -1.3454 / 1°20'43"W

OS Eastings: 442766.006418

OS Northings: 482023.776254

OS Grid: SE427820

Mapcode National: GBR MM1H.JN

Mapcode Global: WHD8H.9WKF

Entry Name: Thirsk Castle: a motte and bailey castle

Scheduled Date: 9 November 1964

Last Amended: 29 January 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008761

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20454

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Thirsk

Built-Up Area: Thirsk

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire


The monument includes the western rampart, the undeveloped area of the bailey
and the motte of the Norman castle at Thirsk. The monument is situated on
fairly level ground to the west of Market Place. The bailey rampart is
located in Castle Garth and comprises an earthen bank 1.5m-2.5m in height by
140m in length with an outer ditch which, although it has become infilled over
the years, is estimated to be at least 10m wide and 2m deep. The western edge
of the ditch is thought to lie beneath the shallow-founded buildings and
metalled areas in properties to the west of Castle Garth while, at the
northern end, it runs beneath the grounds of the 19th century Masonic Hall;
the southern end of the ditch and rampart are thought to have been destroyed
in recent years by the construction of a new building to the rear of 15
Westgate. A small-scale excavation carried out in the 1960's recorded a
section through the bank and noted an earlier cobbled surface beneath it. To
the east of the rampart is an open area, measuring up to 140m long by 40m
wide, which is the interior of the bailey; this contains a number of low
rectangular earthworks (less than 0.3m high) which indicate the layout of
building plots and gardens within the enclosure. Along the eastern edge of the
bailey, a 2m deep scarp plunges into a broad ditch about 20m in width and to
the east of this the ground rises to give a large mound, the top of which is
roughly 3m above the surrounding land surface. Although altered over the last
100 years by building works and garden landscaping, this mound comprises a
motte which was separated from the bailey by the ditch. Decorated stonework is
reported to have been found during the construction of the house at Castle
Villa in the 1890's. Built-up areas to the east of the motte obscure the
eastern extent of the castle but, by comparison with other mottes and baileys,
it is estimated that Thirsk Castle originally lay within the area bounded by
Westgate, Castlegate, Kirkgate and Masonic Lane and thus it is estimated that
the surviving remains represent at least half the area of the castle.
Although it was once held that Thirsk Castle was built in AD 975, there is no
substantive evidence for pre-Conquest foundation and it is now thought that
the castle was erected by Robert de Stuteville in about 1092. Roger de Mowbray
held the castle against Henry II in 1174 but in 1175 it was surrendered to the
King who ordered its destruction in 1176. The de Mowbray family still held a
manor on the site in the 13th century and there is a reference to the
destruction of a house and dovecotes by the Scotts in 1322. For a period from
1376 Castle Garth was used as a garden but by the end of the century was laid
to grass.
Deeds record that in 1658 the land passed to Mr Reginald Bell. Any buildings,
the metalled surfaces of footpaths, the scout hut in Castle Garth, garden
walls and fences are excluded from the scheduling, although 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

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.

Although the motte and bailey at Thirsk has become partially altered by the
gradual encroachment of built-up areas, an estimated 50% of the original area
survives as well-preserved earthworks. The undeveloped areas of the bailey
and the top of the motte retain conditions for the preservation of building
foundations and the accumulated silts of the ditches are thought to contain
deposits which preserve artefacts and organic remains which will enable the
economic activities of the castle's medieval inhabitants to be reconstructed.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of North Riding of Yorkshire, (1923)
'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal - Note , , Vol. 46, (1974)
L'Anson, W M, 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in Castles of the North Riding, , Vol. 22, (1913)
Ballard, R., Conversation with owner's representitive, (1992)
MPP Monument Class Description: motte and bailey castles, (1988)
Pacitto, A L, AM 107, (1986)
RDL, NAR Record, (1961)

Source: Historic England

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