Ancient Monuments

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Lowe Hill motte and bailey castle

A Scheduled Monument in Wakefield West, Wakefield

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Latitude: 53.6729 / 53°40'22"N

Longitude: -1.5068 / 1°30'24"W

OS Eastings: 432677.989277

OS Northings: 419718.495352

OS Grid: SE326197

Mapcode National: GBR KTXZ.K2

Mapcode Global: WHC9Z.TYN4

Entry Name: Lowe Hill motte and bailey castle

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 9 March 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010054

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13294

County: Wakefield

Electoral Ward/Division: Wakefield West

Built-Up Area: Wakefield

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Thornes St James

Church of England Diocese: Leeds


Lowe Hill motte and bailey castle is located in Thornes Park on the hill top
overlooking the River Calder and the Thornes area of Wakefield. The monument
includes the motte and two baileys. An apparent third bailey, situated on the
north-east side, does not at present form part of the scheduling as current
thought is that it is a platform built to accommodate a Victorian bandstand,
the foundations of which can still be seen, not a bailey.
The motte, on which would have been built a timber keep, stands c.9m high, has
a base diameter of c.25m and is surrounded by an infilled ditch visible as a
shallow depression c.5m wide. A scarp on the west and north sides of the
motte continues eastward to create the north side of the inner bailey which is
a roughly square enclosure measuring c.40m across. Low banks, c.1m high and
3m wide, follow the edge of the scarp and would have formerly been the site of
a timber palisade. The smaller outer bailey lies at a slightly lower level to
the north-east and is also enclosed by a scarp and bank. Like the inner
bailey, the level area inside would have been the site of ancillary and
garrison buildings and would have contained corralling for horses. The
remains of these structures will survive well and extensively throughout the
monument as disturbance to the site has been limited to a small scale
excavation carried out in 1953, when a hearth and small quantities of
metalwork and twelfth century pottery were found.
The early history of the site is unclear as little documentary evidence
survives. One theory, based on the date of the pottery found so far, is that
it was an adulterine castle constructed by the third Earl Warenne during the
war of 1138-49 between Stephen and Mathilda. Licence to build fortifications
could be granted only by the king and an adulterine castle was one built
without his authority during times of civil strife. On the opposite side of
the River Calder, approximately one mile to the south-east, is Sandal Castle,
first mentioned in c.1240. Although the exact relationship between the two is
not yet known, it is likely, since both are mentioned in a royal edict of
1324, that together they controlled movement along the river. Traditionally,
Lowe Hill castle is believed to have been destroyed by the great gale of 1330.
As yet, there is no indication that it was ever rebuilt in stone.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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.

Lowe Hill castle is a well-preserved example of a motte and bailey castle the
remains of whose timber phases, unusually, have not been disturbed by later
rebuilding in stone.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hope-Taylor, B, Excavation at Lowe Hill, Wakefield, Yorkshire, (1953)

Source: Historic England

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