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Motte and bailey castle and shell keep castle at Harbottle

A Scheduled Monument in Harbottle, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.3373 / 55°20'14"N

Longitude: -2.1079 / 2°6'28"W

OS Eastings: 393253.870824

OS Northings: 604810.737241

OS Grid: NT932048

Mapcode National: GBR F6QQ.FJ

Mapcode Global: WHB0M.L3GP

Entry Name: Motte and bailey castle and shell keep castle at Harbottle

Scheduled Date: 26 November 1932

Last Amended: 10 October 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020386

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20959

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Harbottle

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Upper Coquetdale

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes an exceptionally well-preserved Norman motte and bailey
castle and later shell keep situated in a strategic position guarding one of
the main crossings of the Cheviot Hills. The motte and bailey was constructed
in the early 12th century by the then Lord Redesdale when he moved his capital
from Elsdon to Harbottle. The conical motte stands to a height of
approximately 10m and measures 90m across at the base and 22m across its
circular top. It is surrounded by a ditch which is on average 18m wide and has
a maximum depth of 1.8m. The accompanying bailey lies to the north, east and
west of the motte and is delineated by a massive earthern rampart 2.4m wide
which stands up to 10m above the bottom of a ditch 12m wide. The bailey
measures a maximum of 140m east to west by 100m north to south with a
causewayed entrance through the eastern side approached by a sunken roadway. A
shell keep was constructed on the motte later in the 12th century accompanied
by a castle yard. Over the subsequent centuries this has been damaged and
restored several times; today the visible remains are fragmentary, comprising
the lower courses of the shell keep and parts of the curtain wall which are
best preserved on the west where it stands in parts to over 6m. The castle is
Listed Grade I.

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 and 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 particulary important for
the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although
many were built and 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.
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 strenghtened 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.
The motte and bailey castle and later shell keep at Harbottle are
exceptionally well-preserved and this, along with the important strategic
location and the archaeological deposits which the site contains, make it one
of the most important medieval fortifications in Northumberland.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hope-Dodds, M , The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume XII, (1940)
Ryder, P F, Harbottle Castle: a short Historical and Descriptive Account, (1990)
Northern Archaeological Associates, Harbottle Castle: Arch. recording & rectified photography, 1991,
St Joseph, J K,

Source: Historic England

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