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St Briavel's Castle

A Scheduled Monument in St. Briavels, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.738 / 51°44'16"N

Longitude: -2.6406 / 2°38'26"W

OS Eastings: 355859.557393

OS Northings: 204561.031141

OS Grid: SO558045

Mapcode National: GBR JN.1QGY

Mapcode Global: VH878.5LV0

Entry Name: St Briavel's Castle

Scheduled Date: 26 April 1976

Last Amended: 7 July 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017371

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28868

County: Gloucestershire

Civil Parish: St. Briavels

Built-Up Area: St Briavels

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Gloucestershire

Church of England Parish: St Briavels St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Gloucester


The monument includes an enclosure castle situated on the edge of a steep
scarp above the River Wye, where the land falls away sharply to the river to
the west. The castle appears to have been sited to control the nearby ford at
Bigsweir. The irregular plan of the castle has led to the suggestion that it
lies on the site of an earlier earthwork, and that in its earliest form it may
have been an earthen motte with a timber or stone bailey, dating to the early
part of the 12th century. Although the precise date of its foundation is not
known, it appears not to have been in existence when William Fitz Baderon
acquired the estate in about 1086, and it is likely that he built the first
castle on the site at this time as part of a defensive scheme started by
William Fitz Osbern against the Welsh. The first known record of the site
dates from 1131. By the later 12th century a square stone keep, which was said
to have been over 100ft high, had been constructed on top of the castle motte,
and in the 13th century a curtain wall was added enclosing an area of 0.61ha.
Between 1209 and 1211 extensive additions appear to have been undertaken to
the fabric of the castle, including the construction of a two-storey domestic
range on the north west side which is thought to have been the `royal
apartments' mentioned in documents of 1227, and which replaced in importance
and function the earlier hall which lay on the north side of the ward of the
castle. Also at this time the twin towered gatehouse with a defended passage
was added. The structure was originally conceived as a keep gatehouse, that is
a gatehouse which could be closed and defended against attack from the rear as
well as the front. The gatehouse was rebuilt by Edward I in 1292-93 to improve
the defences of the castle against Welsh attack and to provide a more
prestigeous residence for the Royal Constable. The entrance passage was closed
by three barriers each consisting of a portcullis backed by a pair of massive
doors. Smaller doors, each protected by its own portcullis, originally led
into the side rooms and upper floors of the gatehouse. In the 14th century a
chapel was built in the castle ward, replacing an earlier timber chapel.
The upstanding remains of the castle, which have survived into the 20th
century, date mainly from the early 13th century and comprise a dry moat with
a pond in its north east side, rubble curtain walls, fragments of the square
keep on the motte, the two-storey domestic range, the site of the hall with
its fireplace and the twin towered gatehouse with its defended passage, above
which are a group of rooms. The 14th century chapel stands on the west side of
the bailey against a building which houses a reused 14th century fireplace.
Adjacent to the west side of the castle moat is a level piece of land, the
only available flat ground before the land falls away sharply to the west. It
has been suggested that this piece of land, called the `Tump', was part of the
early castle but there is no direct evidence for this, and it appears to be
outside the limits of the moat. This area is not, therefore, included in the
scheduling. It is possible that the outer edge of the moat on the north and
east side may extend under the road and the George public house, but it is
considered that disruption of the archaeological levels in subsequent road
construction and by the cellars of the George, have removed archaeological
deposits in these areas, and they are also not included in the scheduling.
The castle was the Crown's administration centre for the Forest of Dean, and
there were many royal visitors to the castle throughout the early Middle Ages.
These royal visitors included King John, who visited on five separate
occasions, Henry II who made four visits between 1220 and 1230, and Edward II
who stayed there in 1321. The castle also fulfilled a number of administrative
functions and was the seat of legal administration for the area; the Hundred
Court, the Court Baron of the manor and castle, the Court of Criminal
jurisdiction and the Mine-Law Court were all held there. All offenders from
the 96 bailiwicks of the Forest were brought to the castle to be imprisioned.
The castle remained in use as a courthouse and prison long after it had lost
its military function. It also served as an arsenal for locally produced
weaponry. With the conquest of Wales completed in the late 15th century, the
importance of the castle rapidly declined. In 1680 the unused parts of the
castle were demolished. The keep collapsed in 1752, by which time the great
hall had also been demolished, leaving only the former royal apartments and
the gatehouse still in use. In 1777 the east tower collapsed and destroyed
the adjoining buildings. The castle was used as a debtors' prison until 1842,
and the gaolers are said to have run an ale house there from 1702. The castle,
having been allowed to decay, began to be restored in the late 19th century,
and was rendered habitable in 1906. In 1952 it was occupied by the Youth
Hostels Association, and is now a Youth Hostel.
The castle is a Listed Building Grade I and is in the care of the Secretary of
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern
fitments and fittings inside the castle and those attached to the castle
fabric, the temporary building and cycle shed which adjoins the south side of
the chapel, the cobbled surface of the drawbridge, the wall around the outer
part of the moat and the wooden gates and gateposts which give access to the
moat, the stonework around the pond in the moat and notice boards. The ground,
fabric and walls beneath all these features is, however, included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of
stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers
bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but
this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide
accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there
are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either
waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure
castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they
developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive
experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The
majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were
built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier
medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were
new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or
leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure
castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration
in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration
along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward
I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples
retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

St Briavel's Castle survives well with its moat, curtain wall, gatehouse and
royal apartments in good condition. The upstanding remains are a good example
of an enclosure castle of the 13th century. Sub-surface deposits within the
castle and moat will contain archaeological information and environmental
evidence relating to the castle and the wider landscape. Notice boards explain
concisely the history and functions of the various parts of the castle, and it
can be visited by the public in its present function as a Youth Hostel,
providing a valuable educational resource.
The enclosure castle of St Briavels is recorded in the early 12th century, but
is thought to have its beginnings in the 11th century as a motte and bailey
castle. This long history of use and adaptation will provide evidence of
changing approaches to defensive problems and castle building over time. It
was one of a sequence of castles along the border, built as part of a
defensive strategy against the Welsh. In the 13th century it was strengthened
in a huge castle building programme undertaken for the conquest of Wales and
the Welsh wars of 1277, 1282-3 and 1294-5. The gatehouse can be seen as part
of the sequential development of castle gatehouses formed by projecting mural
towers on either side of an entrance passageway which culminated in the grand
castles of Harlech, Beaumaris, Caerphilly and Tonbridge. St Briavel's Castle
was frequently visited by the kings of England including King John, Henry II
and Edward II, and had royal apartments especially constructed to accomodate
them. These royal associations will give an insight into social organisation
in the medieval period, and because of the consequential high profile, may
provide additional historical documentary evidence which reflects the status
of the castle. Apart from its military function the castle was the judicial
centre for the Forest of Dean and an arsenal for locally produced weaponry.

Source: Historic England


Gloucestershire County Council, Gloucestershire County Council SMR,
Gloucestershire County Council, Gloucestershire Historic Towns Survey, St Briavels Arch Assess, 1999, forthcoming
Gloucestershire County Council, Gloucestershire Historic Towns Survey, St Briavels Arch Assess, 1999, forthcoming
Gloucestershire County Council, Gloucestershire Historic Towns Survey, St Briavels Arch Assess, 1999, forthcoming
Herbet,, Victoria County History of Gloucestershire, forthcoming
information board in castle,

Source: Historic England

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