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Wetherby Castle

In the civil parish of Wetherby.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of Leeds.
1974 county of West Yorkshire.
Medieval County of Yorkshire West Riding.

OS Map Grid Reference: SE40234811
Latitude 53.92747° Longitude -1.38803°

Wetherby Castle has been described as a probable Masonry Castle.

There are masonry footings remains.


The foundations of a large building, of unknown origin and history (Speight) but supposed to be the site of an ancient castle were removed from Castle Garth some years before 1902. (YAJ, 1882) No vestige appeared above ground but beneath the surface foundations and vaults were found. It is supposed that it existed about the time of Henry I. No confirmatory evidence of a castle can be seen at the published site which is positioned on a rocky spur of natural strength. Coursed stonework of an unidentifiable building has been uncovered in recent years, and has been incorporated into a rock garden (Field Investigators Comments–F1 RL 07-MAY-63). (PastScape)
Excavation revealed an apparent short-lived Norman tower keep castle, one of only 77 known from England. Several phases of prehistoric, Romano-British and Saxon occupation were also recorded. (PastScape ref. Speed, 2005)

According to Speight (1902;430) foundations of a large building were visible above ground on Castle Garth in the 19th century; were removed before 1882, when no vestige appeared above the ground but beneath the surface foundations and vaults were found (YAJ 1882, p. 447). Foundations of a rectangular building were excavated in 1922 by Dr. Hargreaves, then of Castle Garth House. Interpreted by W.M. I'anson as the foundations of a keep set across the neck of the juncture between a Barbican Ward (towards the River) and a Great Ward (towards the town). Dated by him to the early- to mid-13th c. Further search required to locate excavation records, if any. Promontory above river behind Castle Garth House clearly marked on OS 2nd edn. 1:2500 map (1909 edn.). Area largely undeveloped, but has been 19th/20th c. market garden. A watching brief (PRN 7376) was carried out by Alison Clarke between June and July 2000 during groundworks for a small extension to the rear of the Black Bull Public House. The lower levels of the two foundation trenches excavated were composed of soil and occupation debris consistent with the use of the yard as an open space from at least the late medieval period. Two sherds of medieval pottery were recovered. (West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service)

The programme of archaeological work at Castle Gate, Wetherby, demonstrated the presence within the site of extensive below-ground remains of an apparently short-lived Norman tower keep castle, one of only some 77 examples known from across the country. That the castle was not subsequently altered during the later medieval period meant that it retained its original layout and was of increased importance. The remains were hence considered to be of national importance with the area to be Scheduled upon completion of the development. In addition, the work identified the presence within the site of deposits associated with several phases of prehistoric, Romano-British and later Anglo-Saxon activity. (Speed 2005 - abstract)

Wetherby Castle 1140-1155 During the civil wars which followed the death of Henry I, the Percy family built a castle on this site to guard the ford across the River Wharfe against raids by armies from Scotland which then controlled England to the north of Yorkshire.
Built without royal permission, it was demolished by order of Henry II. Only the foundations of the keep remain. (Wetherby Civic Society Blue Plaque)

Wetherby has a strategic position as the site the Great North Road crosses the River Wharfe. The reported site is close to the Church, natural defended in a loop of the river and eminently possible as a castle location. The quite detailed history given on by the Wakefield Civic Society on a blue plaque at the site appears to be speculation based on received wisdom about C12 castles and the Anarchy and some of it is quite clear nonsense (Scotland did not control northern England and Scottish armies did not raid Yorkshire in the C12).
Gatehouse is, at the moment, unable to find out any details of this 'Norman tower keep' such as dimensions or plan. It is completely missing from the usual canon of Norman great towers. Even the tenurial history of Wetherby is unclear. The Percy's were overlords in the C12, but Wetherby may not have been a demense manor (it seems to have been tenanted for one knight's fee by a William fitz Robert in 1166) and the fact the Knight's Templar came to hold the manor in the C13 is not suggestive of it being important to the Percy's. The was no need for a significant castle here to manage their extensive Yorkshire estates as they had castles at Topcliffe, Tadcastle and Spofforth.
Without further information it is difficult to speculate further on this site. Smaller C12 towers in the 'great tower' tradition were being built by gentry status knights (i.e. Radcot, Oxfordshire and Newnham, Kent and these may have been seen as particular offensive (in an upstart manner) to the greater nobles and the crown when more certain royal authority was established under Henry II which may be a reason these were destroyed (The only real standing example is St Leonard's Tower, Kent but as a holding of the bishop of Rochester this was beyond royal authority).
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:48

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