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Pickering Castle: 11th century motte and bailey castle and 13th century shell keep castle

A Scheduled Monument in Pickering, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.2502 / 54°15'0"N

Longitude: -0.7759 / 0°46'33"W

OS Eastings: 479853.889817

OS Northings: 484529.759014

OS Grid: SE798845

Mapcode National: GBR RM09.T5

Mapcode Global: WHF9X.1FSK

Entry Name: Pickering Castle: 11th century motte and bailey castle and 13th century shell keep castle

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 10 May 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009884

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13301

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Pickering

Built-Up Area: Pickering

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Pickering St Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: York


Pickering Castle is situated on the southern edge of the North York Moors on a
limestone bluff which formerly overlooked the meeting point of two of the main
highways through the north of England: the east-west route along the Vale of
Pickering and the north-south route through Newton Dale to Malton. The
monument consists of a single area which includes the site of the 11th century
motte and bailey castle and the 13th century shell keep castle. The former was
built by William the Conqueror either during or shortly after the 'harrying of
the north' in 1069-70. It consisted of an earth motte crowned by a timber
palisade, flanked on the north-west side by a crescent-shaped inner bailey
and, on the south-east side, by a contemporary or slightly later outer bailey.
The inner bailey measured c.120m by c.35m and was bounded to the north by a
steep natural slope surmounted by a palisade and to the south by deep 15m wide
ditches linked to the ditch encircling the motte. The outer bailey, which
measured c.185m by c.25m, was protected on the north side by these same
ditches and, on the south side, by a 5-8m high palisaded bank with an outer
ditch. To the immediate east of the outer bailey ditch a further earthwork
bank may have provided additional defence on this side; alternatively it may
be part of a medieval defence system associated with the adjacent settlement.
The motte is c.20m high and has a base diameter of c.60m. It is not yet clear
whether this is the original 11th century motte or a later medieval
reconstruction. In the latter case, the earlier motte will have been preserved
inside the later while, in addition, the buried remains of a wide range of
domestic and service buildings will survive within the open areas of the
The reconstruction of the castle in stone largely took place between 1180 and
1236. There were three main phases to the work at this time, the earliest
involving the late 12th century replacement of the palisade round the inner
bailey with a curtain wall and also the probable construction of the first
shell keep on the motte. In its present form the shell keep dates to the
early 13th century but the foundations of the earlier wall will survive
underneath. The remains of the early curtain wall still stand round the inner
bailey, surviving best where the curtain was incorporated into later
buildings. The earliest buildings so far identified are the early or mid-
12th century Old Hall, a free-standing residence whose surviving foundations
show it to have been half-timbered, and the Coleman Tower, constructed at the
same time as the inner curtain and an integral part of it. The Coleman Tower
guarded the entry across the inner bailey ditch and was also a prison; hence
its earlier name, the King's Prison. It was square in plan and had its
entrance on the first floor, the level underneath being where the prisoners
were kept. On the east side are the remains of a small building and also a
stairway leading onto an adjacent wall. This wall, built across the motte
ditch in the late 12th century, replaced an earlier palisade and provided
access to the summit of the motte. A similar and contemporary length survives
on the opposite side of the motte, crossing the ditch and joining the curtain
alongside the later Rosamund's Tower.
The keep consisted of a rubble wall enclosing a roughly circular area 20m
wide. A wall walk would have lined the inside of the wall above a series of
garrison buildings. The foundations of some of these buildings survive but it
is not certain whether they date to the 13th or the 14th century. In some
cases they will have replaced earlier timber structures whose buried remains
will also survive. Also of uncertain date are the foundations of a number of
buildings in the inner bailey, including a service range to the south-west and
a group of buildings referred to as the Constable's Place in the accounts of
the years 1441-43. The latter were half-timbered and some sections predate the
inner curtain though others were clearly added later. A survey of 1537 lists a
number of distinct structures, including the Constable's hall, a kitchen,
buttery and pantry, and quarters for staff and servants. At the southern end
of the group were a number of storage buildings, one of which is believed to
have been the wool house. Two additional service buildings lay adjacent to the
Old Hall and are thought, originally, to have been contemporary with it. To
the south of these is the chantry-chapel which dates from c.1227 and is still
complete though in a much altered state. To the west of this is the early 14th
century New Hall, initially built as a residence for Countess Alice, wife of
Earl Thomas of Lancaster. This was later used as a courthouse which gave rise
to it being named King's Hall or Motte (moot) Hall in later surveys. It was a
penticed or lean-to building of two storeys which utilised the inner curtain
for its outer wall. The inner walls were timber-framed and, as much of the
surviving stonework is late 12th or early 13th century, it clearly replaced an
earlier building. The upper chamber or solar of the 14th century hall was an
elaborate plastered room with a decorated fireplace.
The last major programme of building dates to 1324-26 when Edward II ordered
extensive works to be carried out which included replacing the whole of the
timber palisade round the outer bailey with a stone wall. This outer curtain
included three projecting towers, a gatehouse with a drawbridge over the outer
ditch and a postern gate which led from the north-east arm of the inner bailey
ditch, underneath Rosamund's Tower and out onto the rampart. A second gate and
drawbridge, built at this time alongside the Coleman Tower, had fallen out of
use by the 16th century and can now no longer be seen. The three projecting
towers, named from north-east to south-west, Rosamund's Tower, Diate Hill
Tower and Mill Tower, are all square in plan and all would have led out onto
the wall-walk along the inside of the curtain though, in the case of the Mill
Tower, the curtain to either side has not survived sufficiently well to
demonstrate this. The ground-floor entrance to the Mill Tower consisted of two
doors linked by a short passage, in which the first door opened inwards and
the second outwards indicating that the tower was built as a prison, a role it
took over from the Coleman Tower. North of the Mill Tower, the outer curtain
crossed the inner bailey ditch which can also be seen outside the castle walls
on the west and north sides. This section of the ditch was part of the
original 11th century defences and was quarried out of the rock on which the
castle was built. A levelled area alongside the inner edge indicates that
quarrying of the rock-face continued after the ditch was cut. The quarried
stone would have gone towards the construction of at least some of the castle
Aside from its strategic and administrative roles, Pickering Castle had two
other functions: to guard and manage the large forest which lay adjacent and
to provide a court and place of detention for those found guilty of offences
against it, such as poaching, unauthorised clearance and the theft of timber.
The forest was an extremely important economic resource during the Middle Ages
and its particular importance at Pickering can be seen in the great use made
of wood in the castle buildings and also, most significantly, its continuous
use in the defences down to the 14th century. Also important to the castle
economy during the 14th century was the sale of wool, and it also had
responsibility for managing the royal stud created by Edward II in c.1322.
Possibly the stables known to have been located against the outer curtain at
this time, between the gatehouse and Diate Hill tower, were connected with
According to the Domesday Book, in 1086 the manor of Pickering was held by the
king, that is, William the Conqueror. The castle established at this time as
part of the subjugation of the rebellious North remained in royal hands until
1267 when it was conferred with the title Earl of Lancaster on Edmund
Crouchback, younger son of Henry III. Edmund's son Thomas succeeded to both
title and estates in 1296 but was executed for treason by Edward II in 1322,
whereupon his estates reverted to the king. Following the unsuccessful
Scottish campaign of the same year, and the ensuing retaliatory attacks on the
north of England by Robert the Bruce, Edward ordered the building works noted
above, clearly intending to keep Pickering a royal castle. However, in 1326
his son Edward III confirmed Henry, the younger brother of Thomas, Earl of
Lancaster, in his brother's titles and estates, and, in 1351, the castle
became part of the Duchy of Lancaster when that title was created. Upon the
elevation of the House of Lancaster to the throne in 1399, and in 1413, the
succession of Henry V, the Duchy reverted to the Crown and Pickering became a
royal castle once again. It has been in State care since 1926.
A number of features within the protected area are excluded from the
scheduling. These include the ticket office/sales point and its paved base and
steps, all English Heritage fixtures and fittings such as bins, bridges,
safety grilles, signs, railings and interpretation boards, the surfaces of all
modern steps and paths inside and outside the castle walls, lighting and the
modern walls and fences round the outside edge of the protected area but the
ground beneath all these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the
Normans. They comprise a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte,
surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In the 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 and as strongholds. In
many cases they were aristocratic residences and the centres of local or royal
Between the Conquest and the mid 13th century, usually during the 12th
century, a number of motte and bailey castles and ringworks were remodelled in
stone. In the case of mottes, the timber palisade was replaced by a thick
wall to form a `shell keep'. If the tower on the motte was of timber, this
may also have been replaced in masonry and, if a bailey was present, its
ramparts were often strengthened with a curtain wall. Within the keep,
buildings for domestic or garrison purposes were often constructed against the
inside of the keep wall. Although over 600 motte castles or motte and bailey
castles are recorded nationally, examples converted into shell keeps are rare
with only about 60 sites known to have been remodelled in this way. As such,
and as one of a restricted range of recognised post-Conquest monuments, they
are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development
of the feudal system. In view of this, all surviving examples will normally
be identified as nationally important.

Pickering Castle is an important example of a major early motte and bailey
castle which developed into an equally important shell keep castle whose
administrative and economic significance lasted throughout the Middle Ages and
its judicial role lasted into the post-medieval period. It is well-documented
and its standing remains are particularly well-preserved owing to its being
one of only a few castles unaffected by the Wars of the Roses and the Civil
War of the 17th century. The buried remains of a wide range of structures and
features relating to all phases of its history will survive in its two

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Thompson, M W, Pickering Castle, (1958)

Source: Historic England

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