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Ravensworth motte and bailey castle, water defence features, park pale and shrunken medieval village

A Scheduled Monument in Ravensworth, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.4633 / 54°27'48"N

Longitude: -1.7838 / 1°47'1"W

OS Eastings: 414111.690466

OS Northings: 507572.138324

OS Grid: NZ141075

Mapcode National: GBR HJZT.MS

Mapcode Global: WHC65.K2SN

Entry Name: Ravensworth motte and bailey castle, water defence features, park pale and shrunken medieval village

Scheduled Date: 5 August 1933

Last Amended: 2 August 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013087

English Heritage Legacy ID: 26937

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Ravensworth

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Kirkby Ravensworth

Church of England Diocese: Leeds


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle situated on the end of a low
spur surrounded by marshy ground, in eastern Teesdale. The extensive castle
remains stand on a low platform separated from the adjacent high ground to the
north by a ditch, with earthworks enclosing marshy land around the castle and
further earthworks on the slope to the south. The surrounding marsh appears to
have been relied upon as the main defensive measure with various moats and
channels serving to control the drainage here. Together these water management
earthworks helped create a substantial shallow lake west of the castle in the
medieval period. Further earthworks are considered to be associated with
medieval emparking. Aerial photographs have revealed a further range of
buildings on the higher ground to the north of the castle; these are
interpreted as part of the shrunken village of Ravensworth.
The castle retains substantial sections of upstanding masonry and earthworks
defining the foundations of buried buildings. The castle platform is roughly
rectangular in plan, its longer axis north east to south west, the greatest
length being 137m and the width up to 67m. A ditch cut across the platform
from north west to south east separates the motte which lies in the northern
third of the platform from the bailey which lies in the remainder. The
platform is steeply scarped on all sides dropping to the flat land which
surrounds the site, with a ditch 20m wide at the north angle of the platform
separating it from the adjacent higher land. A moat immediately surrounds the
castle and has a counterscarp bank extending along its south east side. The
castle was approached from the north west where the ditch was spanned by a
bridge of which the outer abutment remains as a stony mound. The perimeter of
the platform was enclosed by a curtain wall, linking a series of rectangular
towers of which the south west, the south east and the gateway remain as
ruins. Some of the remaining towers and sections of the curtain wall are
identifiable as earthworks. The stub ends of the wall attached to the standing
towers indicate the wall to have been 1.07m thick and 5.8m to the top of the
parapet. On the motte at the north of the site stands the remains of the
gateway tower. It is the most complete part of the castle, the walls standing
to virtually full height, with the arch of the adjacent gateway also remaining
intact. The tower has three storeys and is 5.2m square internally with walls
1.5m thick. Internal features such as fireplaces and window surrounds and much
original architectural detail remains. In the bailey to the south are further
sections of standing masonry, the most prominent of which is the belfry tower
which still stands partially to three storeys. It is identified as the tower
for a chapel, the remainder of which can be identified as earthworks.
Architectural details including a Latin inscription around the uppermost
storey of the belfry tower are preserved. The other sections of standing
masonry are the north west gable and lower parts of the walls of a long
rectangular building 32m by 9.3m, which has been identified as a barn or
stable block. The earthwork remains of further ranges of buildings are clearly
identifiable throughout the extent of the platform.
The marsh surrounding the castle platform is enclosed by a large bank and
ditch extending 250m eastwards along the bottom of the valley, 110m to the
south east of the castle, with a lesser bank extending 80m northwards at the
west end, 120m to the west of the castle. A further earthwork projects
northwards from the southern bank and extends 30m towards the castle. These
ditches and embankments created a waterlogged outer enclosure to the west and
south of the castle, and would have served to control drainage in the enclosed
On the slope to the south west of the castle a broad earthwork extends 170m
along the hillside and across a wide gully, where the interior face of the
earthwork appears to have been revetted in stone. This earthwork is
interpreted as a dam, above it the gulley broadens into a level area, its west
slope having been scarped to provide material for the dam. A dry valley
extends northwards down the slope from the dam to a spring which feeds into
the earthworks enclosing the marsh. This dam formed a pond which would have
contained a considerable body of water and helped to control the water flow to
the castle defences. Further earthworks to the east and west of this gully,
extending northwards down the slope to the bank surrounding the marsh, form a
discrete enclosed area which is thought to be associated with a hunting park
attached to the castle prior to the 14th century. There are further earthworks
visible on aerial photographs to the north of the castle which may be part of
the medieval village of Ravensworth.
There is no date for the foundation of the castle but it is thought to be the
work of the Fitzhugh family in the 11th century. In 1391 Henry, Lord
Fitzhugh received licence to enclose 200 acres around the castle as a park, or
as an extension to an existing park. The architecture of some of the surviving
buildings suggest that the castle itself was rebuilt during this time. A
chantry dedicated to St Giles was founded within the castle chapel in 1467. In
1512 the estate was divided and appears to have gone into decline and by
1608, despite being in the hands of the Crown, the castle was being quarried
extensively by local people. The medieval park wall can be traced for most of
its length but for the most part the existing wall is a later rebuild on the
original line. The condition of the castle is described in documents in the
mid 16th century and by illustrations in the 18th century.
The fence crossing the school playground and all modern features within the
area are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included.

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.

Although in a ruined state, significant parts of Ravensworth castle have
survived, and the original plan and layout is preserved. The standing fabric,
particularly the gatehouse and the belfry tower survive reasonably well, and
further remains of medieval structures are preserved below ground. Unusually
the main defensive feature of the monument was the waterlogged area
surrounding the castle which was controlled and managed by a system of
embankments and channels which still survive as standing earthworks. The
marshy area surrounding the castle will retain important archaeological and
environmental evidence relating to the landscape in which the castle was
constructed and occupied. The monument additionally includes earthworks
relating to the deer park attached to the castle as well as remnants of the
medieval village settlement adjacent to the castle. Together the various
remains at Ravensworth Castle will contribute to the study of the form and
development of castles in the north of England during the medieval period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ryder, P, 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in Ravensworth Castle North Yorkshire, , Vol. VOL 51, (1979), 81-100
St Joseph BLN 46,50,

Source: Historic England

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