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Mitford Castle: a motte and bailey and shell keep castle, medieval chapel, graveyard and field system

A Scheduled Monument in Mitford, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.1633 / 55°9'47"N

Longitude: -1.7346 / 1°44'4"W

OS Eastings: 417005.23692

OS Northings: 585474.378093

OS Grid: NZ170854

Mapcode National: GBR J8BQ.8X

Mapcode Global: WHC2Q.BH72

Entry Name: Mitford Castle: a motte and bailey and shell keep castle, medieval chapel, graveyard and field system

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 18 July 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017318

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32728

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Mitford

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Mitford St Mary Magdalene

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes the remains of a motte and bailey and shell keep castle
and parts of a medieval chapel and graveyard, situated in a prominent position
on the summit of a hillock above the River Wansbeck to the north and the Park
Burn on all other sides; part of a medieval field system is situated at the
northern foot of the hillock. The shell keep castle, the stone walls of the
outer ward and associated structures, the remains of the chapel and two
medieval headstones are Listed Buildings Grade I. An adjacent World War II
pill box is the subject of a separate scheduling.
Mitford Castle was first mentioned in 1138 when it was referred to as the
`oppidum' of William Bertram, and it is known to have been occupied by William
the Lion in 1175. It was confiscated by King John in 1215 and attacked
unsuccessfully by the Scots in 1217. In 1317 the castle became the
headquarters of Sir Gilbert Middleton but was captured and occupied by the
Scots in 1318. By 1323 the castle was reported as being so damaged that it had
to be abandoned. In 1327 it was described as being `wholly burnt'.
The motte, later occupied by a shell keep, is visible as a substantial earthen
mound measuring 56m north east to south west by 34m, situated at the centre of
the north west edge of the knoll. There are traces of a surrounding ditch
visible on its northern side. An oval bailey, situated to the south and south
east of the motte, occupies the entire summit of the hill and measures 150m
north east to south west by 75m north west to south east. The southern half of
this bailey was later enclosed by a curtain wall to create an outer ward
associated with the shell keep; the northern half of the bailey was retained
as an undefended barmkin with an earthen bank between 1m to 2m wide and
standing 0.4m high around its edge.
On the lower ground to the north and south, the bailey is defended by a series
of outworks; on the south west sides these include a ditch 10m wide and up to
2m deep with a flanking counterscarp bank. A similar ditch exists on the south
eastern side where it has been disturbed by later quarrying which has also
removed a section from the southern part of the bailey. On the north western
side, the outworks include a triangular shaped platform and an outer moat a
maximum of 1m deep.
A `D'-shaped shell keep was constructed around the perimeter of the motte
during the 12th century, creating an inner ward. The west wall and part of the
east wall of the shell keep, which are constructed of high quality squared
stone, are visible, each containing the remains of an arched entrance. Within
the interior of the shell keep there are the remains of a central tower of
early 13th century date. The tower is visible as the lower courses of a five
sided stone building which measures 11m square with walls 2m thick. The
basement of the tower is divided by a wall into two chambers, each with a
barrel vault. These chambers are thought to have been used as cisterns for
water storage. The first floor of the tower has an entrance lobby at its south
corner reached by an external stair. Immediately to the west of the central
tower there are the foundations of a second building 30m square with splayed
window loops; this is interpreted as an earlier tower subsequently replaced by
the 13th century tower.
An outer ward attached to the south side of the shell keep is visible as
lengths of a curtain wall enclosing the southern half of the earlier earthen
bailey. The wall, constructed of squared stone, is 7m wide and on average
stands to over 20 courses high. A small postern is visible in its western side
and to the south of this the foundations of a range of buildings are clearly
visible. On the eastern side, the remains of at least three mural chambers and
a garderobe are visible. On the north side there are the remains of a gateway
giving access to the barmkin to the north.
Part of the southern end of the outer ward was removed by a quarry before
1810; immediately on the edge of this quarry, there is a fragment of a small
chapel of late 12th century date and an earlier graveyard. The chapel,
constructed of squared stone, is visible as the lower courses of the east end
of the north wall and the remains of a chancel arch. Immediately to the north
and east and also underlying the chapel, there is an associated graveyard;
partial excavation of this area in 1938 exposed several 12th century
gravestones. Many of these stones have been subsequently destroyed but there
is at least one headstone visible at the monument; a further headstone
reported as having an incised cross on its surface cannot now be identified.
The body slab of the latter was removed and is visible in the churchyard of
the present parish church. Two recently uncovered body slabs are visible to
the east of the chapel.
Part of a medieval furlong or field is visible immediately north west of the
outer moat of the motte and bailey on the north west side. The field is
visible as the slight remains of ridge and furrow cultivation orientated north
east to south west; the ridges are 5m wide and stand to a maximum height of
All fence lines which cross the monument and the notice post situated on top
of the motte are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
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.

A medieval chapel is a building, usually rectangular, containing a range of
furnishings and fittings appropriate for Christian worship in the
pre-Reformation period. Chapels were designed for congregational worship and
were generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provided
accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which was the main domain of the
priest and contained the principal altar. Around 4000 parochial chapels were
built between the 12th and the 17th centuries as subsidiary places of worship
for the convenience of parishioners who lived at a distance from the main
parish church. Other chapels were built as private places of worship by
manorial lords and lie near or within manor houses, castles or other
high-status residences. Some chapels possessed burial grounds. Unlike parish
churches, the majority of which remain in ecclesiastical use, chapels were
often abandoned as their communities and supporting finances declined or
disappeared. A significant number of surviving examples are identified as
being nationally important. The sites of abandoned chapels, where positively
identified, are particularly worthy of statutory protection as they were often
left largely undisturbed and thus retain important information about the
nature and date of their use up to their abandonment.
The earthworks at Mitford Castle survive well and retain significant
archaeological deposits. Despite some structural instability, the stonework of
the shell keep castle and the associated ward survives reasonably well. As an
example of a rare monument type which is well documented it will contribute
greatly to our understanding of medieval defensive architecture. The survival
of part of a contemporary field system, chapel and associated graveyard adds
to the importance of the monument.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Northumberland, (1992), 391-2
Honeyman, H L, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4' in Mitford Castle, , Vol. 33, (1955), 27-34
Hunter Blair, C H, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4' in Mitford Castle, (1937), 74-94
Hunter Blair, C H, 'Archaeologia Aeliana ser 4' in Mitford Castle, (1937), 74-94
1:200, O'Brien, C, Mitford Castle, (1992)
NZ18NE 04,

Source: Historic England

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