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Kirkoswald Castle moated site

A Scheduled Monument in Kirkoswald, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.762 / 54°45'43"N

Longitude: -2.6863 / 2°41'10"W

OS Eastings: 355935.584089

OS Northings: 541005.387228

OS Grid: NY559410

Mapcode National: GBR 9FPC.7Q

Mapcode Global: WH80S.QK0P

Entry Name: Kirkoswald Castle moated site

Scheduled Date: 23 April 1948

Last Amended: 9 May 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019939

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32898

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Kirkoswald

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Kirkoswald St Oswald

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of Kirkoswald Castle,
a class of medieval castle known as an enclosure castle, together with the
surrounding moat, the island created by the moat, a stone bridge near the
moat's south eastern corner, and an outer bank flanking the northern
and western sides of the moat. It is located on slightly rising ground a short
distance south east of Kirkoswald village.
A timber tower is thought to have been erected here by Ranulph Engaine in the
mid-12th century. The first documentary evidence for the castle is a licence
to fortify granted to Hugh de Morville in 1201. In 1314 the castle was
destroyed by Robert Bruce but had been rebuilt six years later. Towards the
end of the 15th century a great hall and chapel had been added and the moat
dug by the then owners, the Dacre family. By the end of the 16th century the
castle was reportedly in need of repair, however, such work does not appear to
have been carried out for in 1604 the owner, Lord William Howard began
dismantling the castle. Demolition continued for the next 30 years during
which time material from Kirkoswald was sent to another Howard property,
Naworth Castle, Lowther Hall, and many of the buildings in Kirkoswald village.
The remaining upstanding medieval fabric is of red sandstone and includes the
north western corner turret of the north eastern angle tower which still
stands almost to its original three storey height and contains architectural
features such as doorways and small lancet openings or windows. Small
fragments of the adjoining curtain wall, great hall and north east tower also
remain above ground. The south eastern angle tower survives to first floor
level and contains a round-arched doorway, window and vaulted ceiling. Parts
of the ground floor of the south western angle tower still survive above
ground level but much of the south wall has collapsed outwards into the moat
in recent years. Earthwork remains consists of the lower courses of the north
eastern angle tower, the great hall with a turret on its northern side, the
curtain wall on the castle's east and west sides, and guard chambers flanking
a gateway in the west curtain wall. The castle sits on an irregularly-shaped
island, the north west corner of which has been made into a separate island by
the cutting of an `L'-shaped ditch to conect with the north and west arms of
the moat. The moat remains waterlogged in places, measures 9m-12m wide with
traces of stone revetment, and is crossed by a sandstone bridge close to its
south eastern corner. The original access across the moat may have been over
the west arm where faint traces of a causeway are suggested. Flanking the
north and west arms of the moat is an outer bank. This bank varies in width,
being approximately 5m wide on the west side, however, it measures up to 17m
wide in places on the north side but reduces markedly in both height and width
towards the north east corner.
Kirkoswald Castle is a Listed Building Grade II.
All fence posts and gateposts 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

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

Around 6000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or two islands of dry
ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. The majority served as
prestigious aristocratic or seigneurial residences with the provision of a
moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The
peak period during which moated sites were built lies between about 1250 and
1350. They exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes and form
a significant class of medieval monument which are important for an
understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside.
Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic
Despite its ruinous and overgrown appearance, substantial upstanding and
buried remains of Kirkoswald Castle still survive. Its location close to the
Scottish border meant that it functioned as the first line of defence against
attacking Scottish armies and as a focal point for English military campaigns
against the Scots in the late 13th/early 14th centuries. As such it provides
an insight into the constantly changing design and defensive strategies
employed in medieval castles. Additionally the waterlogged parts of the moat
will preserve organic remains.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Curwen, J E, 'Trans Cumb & West Antiq & Arch Soc. Extra Series' in Castles And Towers of Cumberland And Westmorland, , Vol. XIII, (1913), 150-3
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,

Source: Historic England

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