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Welbourn Castle Hill

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Welbourn.
In the historic county of Lincolnshire.
Modern Authority of Lincolnshire.
1974 county of Lincolnshire.
Medieval County of Lincolnshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SK96805432
Latitude 53.07735° Longitude -0.55645°

Welbourn Castle Hill has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The ringwork known as Castle Hill survives well as a series of earthwork and buried remains. It is a rare example of a ringwork with a stone curtain wall rather than a timber palisade. The areas of raised ground will preserve evidence of land use prior to the construction of the monument, and water- logging will preserve evidence of organic remains, such as seeds, leather and timber, thus providing an insight into the economic and domestic activity of the site. As a result of documentary research, geophysical survey and partial archaeological excavation, the site is quite well understood. These archaeological investigations have demonstrated the presence of buried archaeological remains which will provide valuable information about the layout and dating of the complex, contributing to our understanding of the economic, social and military activities of a significant feature in medieval society.
The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a medieval ringwork known as Castle Hill, located in the northern part of Welbourn village. Following the Conquest, land at Welbourn was held by Robert Malet. The manor lands were divided, and in the early 12th century land granted to the lord of Bayeux became the manor of 'le Northalle', referred to in a document of 1158 as being walled in stone. The other part of the manor, lying to the south of Castle Hill, was known as 'le Southalle' and was first mentioned in the 14th century. The two manors remained independent throughout the 13th century, but by 1334 both were held by Isabel de Vescy. The amalgamation of the two estates is thought to have led to the abandonment of 'Northalle', and in 1374 the site was said to be waste and entirely without buildings.
The ringwork is roughly D-shaped in plan and is enclosed by a bank and external ditch. The central area measures approximately 60m in width and lies at about the same level as the surrounding ground. The interior formerly accommodated the buildings referred to in a document of 1288, including a hall with two chambers, a kitchen, brewhouse, oxhouse, cowshed and sheep fold. The document also indicates that there was a wall, surmounted by a tower, and a ditch around the court. A geophysical survey has indicated the survival of buried building remains, mainly on the western and central parts of the ringwork, and suggested the presence of other features, such as an oven and pits, concentrated on the eastern side of the interior. The survey also identified a circular feature, approximately 15m in diameter, on the west side of the ringwork, thought to be the remains of the tower mentioned in the 13th century description of the manor. Limited archaeological excavation has provided evidence of building remains dated to the 13th to 14th century.
The D-shaped ringwork is enclosed by an external bank and ditch curving round the north, east and west sides, with a gap in the bank to the north east. The bank stands up to 2m above the level of the interior and 4.5m above the base of the ditch at the north western corner. Partial archaeological excavation has revealed two phases of construction, one including stonework believed to represent the wall mentioned in the 12th century documents. The external ditch, enclosing the north, east and part of the west side of the ringwork, is partly water-filled and measures up to 15m in width and 2m deep. At the south western corner of the ringwork the bank is included in the scheduling. However, the ditch has been infilled and is obscured by modern residential development, and this portion of the external ditch is not therefore included in the scheduling.
The bank and ditch are not evident in the same form on the south side of the ringwork, where it is bounded by the earthwork remains of three parallel ditches, visible as linear depressions up to 0.5m deep. The inner, or northern, ditch measures about 12m in width and is thought to indicate a continuation of the southern arm of the ringwork's external ditch. The middle ditch measures approximately 6m in width and is separated from the inner ditch by a low bank thought to include stonework from the remains of a wall. The outer ditch is partly evident to the south of the middle ditch. Geophysical survey identified the remains of a wall along the northern edge of the inner ditch, thought to be part of the curtain wall. (Scheduling Report)

Sherds of 10th-12th century Stamford ware recovered during trial trenching suggest activity that either predates the castle or dates to the castle's initial construction and inhabitation. Two phases of rampart were identified, with the latter phase probably relating to the documented provision of a stone wall around the castellum in 1158; the earlier rampart appears to relate to a structure or complex in existence prior to this date. Wall tumble and a footing trench dating to the 13th-14th centuries were recorded, while finds were indicative of a medieval domestic assemblage and iron working on the site. Demolition rubble confirmed the site's abandonment after this period - historical data gives a date of 1374 for the abandonment. Robber trenches suggest the removal of building stone, probably for use in the village and the church of St. Chad. A lack of early post-medieval finds suggests that the site remained abandoned until the 18th century. (Lincolnshire HER Record)

Welbourn is situated above the Lincoln Edge some nine miles south of Lincoln. In 1086 the settlement was held by Robert Malet as of his honour of Eye in succession to a certain Godwin, apparently a thane of Azor son of Sualeva. Five carucates were in demesne, on which twelve villeins and eight bordars were established, and there were 35 sokemen on a further seven carucates (Lincs DB, 58/1). Throughout the twelfth and much of the thirteenth centuries the demesne probably remained unenfeoffed, although from time to time its dues were farmed in part or whole (BF, 188, 1046). Its nucleus was known as 'le Southalle' in the fourteenth century, and it seems likely that it can be identified with the present manor house in the south of the village which still exhibits architectural fragments of the thirteenth century, although not necessarily in situ (CI vii, 422; Pevsner, Lincs, 704). The sokeland, by contrast, was granted in the early twelfth century to the lord of the honour of Bayeux to become the manor of 'le Northalle' ('Survey of the Barony of Bayeux, 1288',ed. W. O. Massingberd, Lincolnshire Notes and Queries 8, Lincoln 1904, 59-60; CI vii, 422. The assessment of the manor was seven carucates in the thirteenth century, and there were 34 bovates held in villeinage (BF, 188; 'Survey of the Barony of Bayeux, 1288', W. O. Massingberd, Lincolnshire Notes and Queries 8, Lincoln 1904, 59-60). The services due, however, were those of sokemen, and it therefore seems likely that they represent the 35 sokemen of Domesday.). The site of the capital messuage can be identified with the ring work known as Castle Hill which is still upstanding to the south of the church at the north end of the village. The castellum is first noticed in 1158 when it was being walled in stone, but it is not until the next century that details of the structure are found (F. M. Stenton, The First Century of English Feudalism, Oxford 1932, 159-60. Stenton believed that the reference indicated that the castle was being built at this time. It is possible, however, that a stone wall was replacing earlier earthwork defences.). A particularly detailed extent of the estate of 1288 indicates that there was a wall around the court, which was surmounted by a small tower, along with a ditch which is said to be 'in the court', while the domestic buildings and offices consisted of a hall with two chambers, a kitchen and brewhouse, an oxhouse, a cowshed, a sheep fold, and garden ('Survey of the Barony of Bayeux, 1288', ed. W.O.Massingberd, Lincolnshire Notes and Queries 8, Lincoln 1904, 60.). The complex was clearly of twelfth century date, but its proximity to the church may suggest that it occupies the site of the eleventh century hall. (Roffe)

Seemingly fairly well preserved ringwork castle, rebuilt with a stone curtain wall and with some early documentary history. This should be a canonical example of an early castle but is, in fact, rarely detailed beyond a slight mention is most castle studies texts. Is this because it is a ringwork and, therefore, not a site that fits into the usual simplified story of castles which has the Normans as builders of motte and bailey castles, despite the probability that between 25-30% of Norman castles were ringworks like Welbourn? The geophysics shows a circular stone building within the ringwork, this is undated (but note the documentary evidence of stone work being built in 1158) but can be compared to New Buckenham Castle where a thick walled circular tower thought to date from 1145-50 occupies a similar position.
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:49

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