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Stainborough Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Stainborough Low; Stainborough Lowe; Staynbroughe Lowe

In the civil parish of Stainborough.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of Barnsley.
1974 county of South Yorkshire.
Medieval County of Yorkshire West Riding.

OS Map Grid Reference: SE31580304
Latitude 53.52318° Longitude -1.52588°

Stainborough Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a Masonry Castle although is doubtful that it was such.

There are earthwork remains.

This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law*.


Known as Stainborough Low and regarded by Elgee and Preston as a hill fort. The site is a commanding one. A Court Roll of James I (1613) mentions castle ruins called "Staynbroughe Lowe". In 1789 Horace Walpole erected a 'Gothic' building here (? Stainborough Castle) Its extensive garden has destroyed any earthworks (VCH; Elgee; Preston; Hall).
Condition unchanged. The site is a promontory and suitable for either a hill-fort or a motte, but the present earthworks appear to be the result of landscaping. 'Stainborough Castle', at SE 31570303, is Walpole's 'Gothic building' (Field Investigators Comments - F2 RWE 08-OCT-64).
SE 316030 "Possible hill fort site (Iron Age) beneath extensive later earthworks and buildings" at Stainborough (Challis and Harding 1975).
Listed as a possible Medieval ringwork (Birch 1981).
SE 315 030. Stainbrough Low {sic}. Listed in gazetteer as a univallate hillfort covering 0.80ha. (Hogg 1979). (PastScape)

Although referred to by a number of sources as an Iron-Age hill-fort, this site, in the absence of any thorough or detailed investigation, may as readily be assigned to the medieval era as a ring-work for this is precisely its form.
It is located on a wooded, promontory site, 150m above sea level, half km to the south-west of Wentworth Castle, and two km south of Dodworth, overlooking the valley of the Dove.
The earthworks consist of a roughly circular enclosure, 50m in diameter, and the subject of a considerable amount of landscaping, as probably is the surrounding earthwork embankment. The Gothic gate-house, possibly replacing an earlier structure performing the same role, was built in the eighteenth century. Although no excavation has taken place to provide confirmation, it is likely that the site was developed in stone since a Court Roll of 1613 refers to the castle ruins. (Birch 1981)

It is also possible that there was a medieval castle, or fortification on the site of Stainborough Castle. The name 'Stainborough' derives from the Old English and Old Norse Stanburg meaning 'stone fortification', which is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 (Smith 1961, 312). This may imply the presence of a stone (Norman ?) castle in the area. Variations on the place name element 'Low', which derives from the Old English Hl w or 'mound', occur in the area surrounding Stainborough Castle. A mention is made in a will of 1545 to ' Stayneburghe Lawe ' (Smith 1961, 313) and the Stainborough Manor Court Rolls for 1613 and 1615 mention 'castle ruins' on ' Staynbroughe Lowe' on two occasions (Walter-Hall 1924, 33, 35-6, 46; Ashurst 1991, 34). The field to the east of the site is named as 'Law Field' on the estate map of 1730, and the woods to the north and north-west of the castle have been known as Law Wood, Low Wood and Lowe Wood (1730 Estate Map; Ordnance Survey 1854; 1894).
The earthworks to the south and western sides of Stainborough Castle appear to have been formed by alterations to the natural slope of the promontory. These comprise of a series of steep scarps, forming a sequence of ramparts around the castle area. The ramparts vary in height from around 3 m to 7 m in height. The scale of these features is consistent with Iron Age, or perhaps medieval, fortifications. Indeed, it is clear from their scale and from the evidence of the cartographic sources, that such earthworks are not simply part of the mid 18th-century garden scheme, but existed in this area prior to this period.
Whilst not conclusive, the results of this survey do give further reasons to believe that the extensive earthwork terraces , which run around the slope of the natural promontory on which Stainborough Castle is located, pre-date the construction of the castle and the associated landscape, laid out in the mid-18th century. Both the documentary and cartographic evidence suggests that there were an earlier series of earthworks on the site. The scale and size of the earthworks, particularly to the north-west of the castle, are inconsistent with the overall garden design and are suggestive of an Iron Age hill fort. It is possible that the site was re-used as a fortification, or castle, during the medieval period. (WYAS 2006)

As with some other sites the obvious nature of the folly may have blinded some castle studies authors to the possibility of an actual medieval castle here. However the evidence for a medieval castle is slight and open to other interpretation. The evidence for a pre-historic hill fort is somewhat stronger. The location, on top of hill, is defensive but inconvenient and not really typical for medieval castles in Yorkshire, although other examples do exist (c.f. Almondbury). The current signage, discussing the C18 folly on the site, states "We know that no castle previously existed on this site" although the most recent archaeological survey appears to be that of WYAS in 2006 which does continue to allow for the possibility of a medieval castle.
If there was a medieval castle it presumably re-occupied an Iron-age hill fort and its form would have been a ringwork (which is the basic form of the much landscape site today) however the Lowe name element does suggest a mound, although it is most usually applied to barrows. The suggestion the place-name Stone Burh suggests a ?Norman masonry castle seems very weak. Some Iron-Age forts had stone revetment which may be a more likely explanation.
Gatehouse has not seen the C17 court rolls and it would be nice to know exactly how these mention 'castle ruins'. Generally C17 writers were not able to differentiate between Norman earthwork castle and Iron-Age forts. There was, I am informed, a unpublished excavation that found some medieval but the extensive 18th landscaping of the site makes the interpretation of that evidence difficult.
On the whole Gatehouse suspects this was the site of a stone-revetted Iron Age hill fort, possibly associated with a large barrow. There may have been short term 11th century post-Conquest occupation during the period when the change from Saxon to Norman overlordship was being established until more secure regional government occurred (c.f. with Kippax or the arguments made by Mary Higham for North Lancashire)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:45

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