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Shell keep castle and associated fishponds at Snodhill

A Scheduled Monument in Peterchurch, Herefordshire,

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.0578 / 52°3'27"N

Longitude: -2.9893 / 2°59'21"W

OS Eastings: 332267.404214

OS Northings: 240393.221341

OS Grid: SO322403

Mapcode National: GBR F6.DK53

Mapcode Global: VH782.4JJW

Entry Name: Shell keep castle and associated fishponds at Snodhill

Scheduled Date: 14 July 1933

Last Amended: 2 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015168

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27509

County: Herefordshire,

Civil Parish: Peterchurch

Traditional County: Herefordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Herefordshire

Church of England Parish: Peterchurch

Church of England Diocese: Hereford

Details

The monument includes the earthwork, buried, and ruined remains of a shell
keep castle, occupying a spur of high ground overlooking the River Dore, near
the head of the Golden Valley, and east of the settlement of Snodhill. The
shell keep was constructed on the site of an earlier motte and bailey castle,
which is believed to have been established in the 11th century, and included a
motte on the summit of the spur, with a bailey to the west and an outer
enclosure extending eastwards below the level of the bailey. It is recorded as
being in the hands of the crown in 1195-7, and was restored to Robert de
Chandos in 1197. The keep dates from around 1200, and some remodelling of the
masonry defences was carried out by the Chandos family in the 14th century. In
1403 it was ordered to be held against Owain Glendwr. The manor and castle of
Snodhill were granted by Elizabeth I to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who
sold the estate to a branch of the Vaughan family. When they sold it to Thomas
Prosser of London the castle was ruinous, and Prosser moved into a nearby
house known as The Court.
The remains of the motte and bailey castle include an earthen motte mound,
which is roughly oval in form, and has a maximum diameter of 35m. The motte is
steep sided and c.3.5m high, and is defended to the east by a c.20m stretch of
dry ditch which is up to 5m wide and 2m deep. A path up the west side of the
motte now leads to the ruinous gateway of the shell keep, and was probably the
original access to the motte's timber tower. East of the ditch the ground
drops away steeply before levelling out into a roughly triangular area defined
by artifical steepening of the hillslope, a feature which is most clearly
visible around the north east and south east quarters. The enclosure thus
defined would have been further defended by a timber palisade around the top
of the scarp slopes. The sub-rectangular bailey was formed by terracing the
natural hillside to the west of the motte, and measures roughly 25m east-west
by 18m transversely. Below this terrace the bailey is surrounded to south,
west and north by a second level terrace, which has a maximum width of c.10m
on the western side. A slight causeway is visible leading from this terrace up
to the bailey terrace in the south west quarter, which may represent the
original access to the castle. Below the outer terrace the already steep slope
has been artificially scarped to the north where it drops away through a
wooded area to the road beyond. Roughly one third of the way down this slope,
on the north side of the eastern enclosure, is a series of rectilinear
fishponds aligned east-west and terraced into the hillslope. The three ponds
are contained by an earthen bank up to 1.5m high. They measure roughly 25m x
8m, 30m x 10m, and 35m x 10m, the smallest being the most easterly. The
fishponds are separated by earthen banks forming dams which will originally
have housed sluices. These dams are roughly 10m and 15m wide, and survive up
to 1m high. The western end of the largest fishpond is formed by a substantial
earthen bank up to 3m high, with an opening at the north west corner of the
pond which was probably an outlet channel running past the west end of the
east-west retaining bank. The density of vegetation in the pond makes the
exact relationship of these features unclear, however it is likely that this
outlet also housed a sluice, evidence for which will survive buried within the
earthen banks. The cracked surface in the bottom of the ponds suggest they are
still seasonally wet and were probably spring-fed. As well as providing a food
supply for the occupants of the castle, these fishponds would have been a
further indication of the high status of its owner. Downslope of the fishponds
the hillside is crossed by a number of roughly level trackways, which will
have provided access to the ponds and perhaps to the castle itself. The most
easily visible of these appears as a terrace running east-west for some 200m,
passing immediately downslope of the retaining bank of the fishponds and
continuing down to the modern road.
At the foot of the slope to the west of the bailey, outside the intermediate
terrace, is a platform with scarped sides, with the earthwork remains of at
least two structures built into its western end, near the modern access to the
castle from the road. The scarp which defines this platform can be seen
continuing south east through the adjacent pasture field, eventually becoming
indistinguishable from the steep natural slope around the southern side of the
castle hill.
The standing remains of the shell keep are Listed Grade II*, and include the
ruins of an irregular ten-sided keep of stone rubble construction. Its
external plan was an irregular ten-sided polygon, with a gateway in the west
side flanked by two circular towers. A stone curtain wall followed the line of
the bailey and ran up the motte to join the keep at its north west and south
west corners. On the southern side the south west circular tower remains
standing to a height of c.3.5m. The tower retains the jambs of the outer and
inner doorways, a portcullis groove and the corner of a pointed archway above,
and a slot for the drawbar of the inner door. A low stretch of wall connects
the tower to another tall section of masonry which has a small square headed
window at basement level. A later buttress survives in this angle, while round
to the north and north east only low portions of wall survive to show the
outline of the keep. Contemporary with the keep is the bailey wall which
replaced the original timber defences. The southern stretch of this wall
survives at a low level to the south. The eastern end was demolished in the
14th century and a new wall erected with a circular bastion at the south east
angle, where the wall runs down the side of the motte. This later stretch
survives almost to its full height and is ashlar faced. Parts of two square
headed recesses can be seen inside the remains of the bastion. The western and
northern stretches of bailey wall are represented, for the most part, by a
bank within which the masonry foundations will survive. At the north angle of
the west section a block of masonry with dressed quoins survives, while at the
north west angle of the northern section, part of a 14th century bastion
stands to a height of c.3.5m. Some 2m inside the bank which marks the northern
bailey wall is a second roughly parallel bank, which may represent its
original line, or one side of a building within the bailey itself. Evidence
for further structures within the bailey will survive as buried features. At
the foot of the causeway up the west side of the motte is a depression c.5m
across with a bank on its north and north west sides, which may represent the
foundations of a guardhouse defending the gateway above.
Snodhill Castle is one of a concentration of medieval defensive monuments at
the head of the Golden Valley, and forms part of a chain of similar examples
strategically placed above the River Dore. Its nearest neighbour is the motte
and bailey castle at Dorstone, 1.5km to the north west, with Urishay Castle
some 3km to the south. Both these monuments are scheduled separately. The
monument is a notable landmark.
All fences round the monument are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground
beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT
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 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
administration.
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.

Snodhill Castle is a well preserved example of this class of monument,
retaining valuable information in the form of standing, earthwork, and buried
features. The motte mound will contain details of its method of construction,
including post holes for internal revetments, palisades, and for the timber
tower it supported. The standing masonry will retain information relating to
its method of construction, including the conversion of the earlier buildings
and subsequent modifications in design. The fills of the motte ditch will
retain environmental evidence relating to the activities which took place at
the castle during its construction, and through some three centuries of
occupation and modification. Within the bailey and enclosures, evidence for
the structures and the activities that took place there will survive below
ground. The land surface sealed beneath the motte mound will retain evidence
for land use immediately prior to the castle's construction. The fishponds
provide an additional indication of the status of the castle, and evidence for
their method of construction will survive in the earthen banks and the ponds
themselves, including pond linings and revetments. Evidence for the design and
operation of the sluices will survive buried within the dams. The series of
trackways on the hillside indicate the density of traffic to and from the
fishponds and the castle itself.
In its strategic position above the River Dore Snodhill Castle forms part of a
chain of defensive monuments along the Golden Valley. As such it contributes
to the wider picture of the medieval defences of Herefordshire. When viewed in
association with other similar examples along the valley it can increase our
understanding of the medieval political and social organisation of the county.
Clearly visible from the road, the castle is a prominent local landmark.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Cathcart-King, D J, Castellarium Anglicanum, (1983), 210-17
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Herefordshire, south west, (1931), 213
Skelton, R, 'Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club' in Deserted medieval villages, , Vol. 44, (1983), 257
Other
Hereford County Record Office, Herefordshire County Archives, Snodhill Papers Ref F94,
observation from AP, Musson, C, (1990)

Source: Historic England

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