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Maiden Castle Fort, Durham

In the civil parish of Durham.
In the historic county of Durham.
Modern Authority of Durham.
1974 county of County Durham.
Medieval County of County Palatinate of Durham.

OS Map Grid Reference: NZ283417
Latitude 54.76943° Longitude -1.56163°

Maiden Castle Fort, Durham has been described as a probable Uncertain.

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Maiden Castle Iron Age hillfort is situated astride a precipitous promontory above the River Wear, protected on all but the western side by steep natural slopes. Orientated east-west, the fort measures a maximum of 180m by 75m and is protected on the western side, where natural defence is weak, by an earthen rampart with an external ditch. The rampart is visible as a scarp 3m high and is separated from the ditch by a broad berm. Slight traces of a counterscarp bank are visible inside the rampart towards its southern end. An original entrance is thought to lie at the northern end of the western side where there is a break in the ditch. Limited excavation of part of the western rampart in 1956 revealed that it was originally constructed of clay, revetted with cobbles and capped with a wooden palisade. At a later date the inner side of the rampart was removed and a stone revetting wall was built and subsequently wooden stakes were added to the wall in order to strengthen it; these stakes were burnt when the fort was later abandoned. A medieval mason's mark was discovered on one of the stones which formed the later stone revetment wall, implying some form of reuse of the prehistoric hillfort during the medieval period. (Scheduling Report)

Maiden Castle classified as an Iron Age promontory fort, covering 2 acres, and protected on all but the west side, by steep natural slopes. The west rampart is 18 ft wide and 7 ft high, with an external ditch, still 4 ft deep, and the remains of a slight inner bank at the south end. The original entrance may have been at the north end of this side, where there is a break in the outer ditch (Thomas). Limited excavation in 1946 on the west rampart revealed three phases of construction:
1. The original clay rampart was revetted with cobbles, externally and at the top where a wooden palisade was also provided.
2. The inside of the rampart was cut away and a stone revetting wall built; at least one of the stones bearing a Medieval mason's mark.
3. Wooden stakes were added to the retaining wall for strengthening. When the rampart was finally abandoned these stakes were burnt. 'Clearly the last two of the three phases .... must belong to the Middle Ages; it is possible, though not likely, that the original construction was prehistoric'. The only finds came from the topsoil; the earliest being 15th or 16th century pottery fragments. The nearest parallels to this site are the defended (rather than fortified) farm or manor sites of Medieval date, in Roxburghshire. (PastScape ref. Jarrett)

Nothing to suggest this was a manorial site or a farmstead held for military service. So defenses almost certainly for stock control and domestic security. Did the nearby pilgrim centre of Durham Cathedral,with numbers of strangers in the district, increase concerns about crime?
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:08

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