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Skipsea Castle: 11th century motte and bailey castle and inland harbour

A Scheduled Monument in Skipsea, East Riding of Yorkshire

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Latitude: 53.9779 / 53°58'40"N

Longitude: -0.2305 / 0°13'49"W

OS Eastings: 516144.158793

OS Northings: 454981.878433

OS Grid: TA161549

Mapcode National: GBR VQTF.WS

Mapcode Global: WHHFS.F8GV

Entry Name: Skipsea Castle: 11th century motte and bailey castle and inland harbour

Scheduled Date: 7 August 1916

Last Amended: 30 September 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011212

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13334

County: East Riding of Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Skipsea

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Riding of Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Skipsea All Saints

Church of England Diocese: York


Skipsea Castle is situated in Holderness, north of the village of Skipsea
Brough and 2km inland from the present North Sea coast. The monument includes
the well-preserved earthworks of a large and impressive motte and bailey
castle and the earthwork remains of the inland harbour controlled by the
castle. While the bailey is located on a natural ridge of boulder clay, during
the Middle Ages the motte stood on an island of sand and gravel within a lake
known as Skipsea Mere. The mere was drained in c.1720 and the resultant
reclaimed land allotted to various owners. This area is also included in the
scheduling due to the important environmental and organic remains preserved in
its waterlogged silts. Further remains relating to the castle and its harbour,
and also to the failed borough founded by William le Gros in 1160, will also
survive outside the area of the scheduling. However, their extent and state of
preservation is not fully understood at present and so they are not included
in the scheduling.
The motte, which is built of sand and gravel, measures c.100m wide at the base
by 11m high. It is encircled by a defensive bank currently measuring c.5m wide
by c.1.5m high and a ditch measuring between 7m and 10m wide. Originally, the
gravel bank would have been higher and the ditch much deeper, but erosion and
silting over several hundred years have caused the levelling out of the
earthworks. On the east side, a slight earth bank shows the line of the
causeway which crossed the former mere and connected the motte with the higher
land on which the church is situated. The lack of foundations on the top of
the motte indicates that the keep was of timber and had not been rebuilt in
stone by the time the castle was destroyed in the early 13th century.
However, a short section of mortared stone wall on the south-east side of the
motte has been interpreted as part of a gatehouse or similar structure.
The bailey lies to the west of the motte and was originally divided from it by
the mere. It comprises a crescent-shaped area measuring c.400m from north to
south by c.100m east to west. On the north, west and south sides it is
enclosed by a substantial defensive bank whose lower parts are believed to be
undisturbed boulder clay while the upper parts were built from redeposited
clay, creating a rampart which averages 2.5m above the bailey floor and, in
some places, stands c.4m high. An outer ditch measuring c.10m wide runs
parallel with the bank and, before it became silted up, would have doubled the
effective height of the rampart on that side. There were two opposing
entrances to the bailey, one through the north side of the rampart and one,
still known as Bail Gate, on the south side. Other breaks have been caused by
the cutting of modern drainage channels while another, known as Scotch Gap and
situated to the south-west, is believed to have been created during the
destruction of the castle.
The inturned entrance at the southern opening, and a platform indicating the
site of a gatehouse, suggest that Bail Gate was the main entry into the
castle. In addition, it opens onto a complex of platforms and terraces which
has been interpreted as the main area of activity within the bailey, being the
site of garrison buildings and warehouses. The remains of a track linking the
south gate with the north gate can be seen running along the eastern edge of
the bailey. It ends at another area of platforms which overlook the mere,
lying across the water from a small peninsula formed by part of the rampart
round the motte. Together, buildings in these two places controlled the mouth
of a wide channel which curved south between the motte and the bailey. This
channel formed part of the inland harbour whose position, within the castle
defences, is an indication that the control and storage of trade goods
entering and leaving Holderness was one of the main functions of the castle.
The channel acted as an outer harbour for ships entering the mere via a
navigable watercourse which is believed to have connected the mere with the
coast during the Middle Ages. The route and state of survival of this
navigation has not yet been fully determined and so it is not included in the
scheduling. At its southern end the channel narrowed to form the inner harbour
which followed the curve of the bailey from west to east and measured c.25m
wide by c.200m long. On its north side, this inland harbour was divided from
the mere by a bank which also acted as a causeway extending as far as the
motte. On the south side lay the bailey which, at this point, would have
contained the wooden wharves and jetties where goods were loaded and unloaded.
There is no channel leaving the inner harbour at its east end and this area
has been interpreted as a boatyard where boats were repaired and overwintered.
The whole of the south-eastern half of the mere, enclosed as it was by
causeways to north and south, is believed to have been fresh water while the
rest of the mere was salt. Because of this, it may have been used as a
fishery, fish being a very important part of the medieval diet and economy.
This, however, has yet to be confirmed through the analysis of the silts and
organic remains which survive there. In the western part of this area traces
of the earthworks left by ridge and furrow ploughing dating to the period
after the 1720s when the mere was drained, can be seen.
Skipsea Castle was built by Drogo de Beavriere in c.1086 and, until the early
13th century, formed the administrative centre of the Lordship of
Holderness. However, following the suspected death by poisoning of Drogo's
wife, a niece of William the Conqueror, Drogo fled and Holderness was granted
by the king to Odo, Earl of Champagne and Aumale. Aside from a brief period
between 1096 and 1102, when it passed to Arnulf, youngest son of Earl Roger
of Salisbury, the castle stayed with the Aumale family until 1221. Then it was
slighted on the orders of Henry III following the part played by Count William
de Forz II in the rebellion against the young king. When it also became an
inland harbour has not been precisely dated. However, trade was clearly
flourishing by the mid-twelfth century as, in 1160, Count William le Gros
founded a market borough. Despite its key location, however, the borough did
not survive, though why it declined is not yet understood. The centre of
settlement in the Skipsea area shifted east of the church and all that remains
inhabited of the borough is Skipsea Brough. In the 1720s, if not before , the
area of the monument was given over to agriculture and part of it is now in
the Guardianship of the Secretary of State. All signs and modern fencing and
gates are excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath 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.

Skipsea Castle is an important example of a well-preserved early motte and
bailey castle whose function as an inland harbour overseeing trade within the
lands it controlled is both highly unusual and indicative of the diversity of
this class of monument. The earthwork remains of both the castle and the
harbour survive well and the buried remains of a wide range of structures
and features will survive extensively and in situ because there has been no
development and only minimal agricultural disturbance of the monument since
the Middle Ages. Organic materials such as timber, leather, textiles and
basketry, and also environmental remains, will also be preserved owing to the
waterlogged nature of much of the site.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Atkins, C, Skipsea Castle, North Humberside, (1988)
Renn, D F, Norman Castles in Britain, (1968)
Ryder, J, Medieval Buildings of Yorkshire, (1982)

Source: Historic England

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