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Harbottle Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Hirbodel; Herbotelle; Harbotle; Hyrebothle; Hirbotle

In the civil parish of Harbottle.
In the historic county of Northumberland.
Modern Authority of Northumberland.
1974 county of Northumberland.
Medieval County of Northumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NT93250481
Latitude 55.33704° Longitude -2.10810°

Harbottle Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Artillery Fort.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


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.
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. (Scheduling Report)

Ruined castle. Started after 1157, reconstructed in stone C13, extensively rebuilt in 1541.
The earliest work is a motte and bailey castle, the finest medieval earthwork in the county. Ruined walls in~squared stone.
The ruins include a stretch of curtain wall c.40 yards long and 15 ft. high with the remains of an angle tower at the north end. This wall separated the bailey from an unfortified courtyard beyond. On the motte are extensive fragments of a shell keep with one deeply-splayed C16 gun loop still in situ. Two other smaller, but still high and dramatic fragments of the curtain wall also remain. (Listed Building Report)

The castle started as a Motte and Bailey built by one of the Umfravilles in the 12thc. A stone castle was ordered by the King after 1157, but in 1173-4 the place was taken by the Scots (probably before the stone-work started). The stone castle was (probably) started soon after and comprised a shell-keep on the Motte and a castleyard occupying the western half of the bailey and defended by a curtain wall and tower, the eastern half of the bailey being cut off by a massive wall and used only as a barmkin. In 1318 the Castle was captured by Robert Bruce. It was ordered to be dismantled in 1319 but was restored in 1336. It was in ruins in 1351 but defensible again at the end of the century. Much work on it was done between 1541 and 1551 when the western and northern sides of the shell-keep were rebuilt in the present form. Further repairs were made in 1563, and in 1585 the inner ward was 'reasonable' but the outer 'almost down'. There were no further repairs and the site was used as a quarry, suffering particularly when the new house 'Harbottle Castle' was built in the 17thc. There was possibly a pre-Conquest fortress on the site (Dodds 1940).
The siting at one of the easy crossings of the Cheviots, was of critical importance for the control of the middle Marches (St Joseph 1950). Nothing seen to bear out the supposition that there was a "pre-Conquest fortress' (F1 ASPhillips/07-MAY-1957/OS Archaeology Division Field Investigation).
Building foundations on inner west side of curtain wall no longer visible (F2 DSmith/17-JUN-1970/OS Archaeology Division Field Investigation).
The stone foundations of a probable rectangular building, maximum measurements 22.0m by 6.0m, divided into 3 units are traceable inside the west curtain, and a small rectangular stone-founded enclosure measuring 7.0m by 5.0m is evident in the south east of the motte (F3 SAinsworth/11-DEC-1976/OS Archaeology Division Field Investigation).
Harbottle Castle, centred at NY 9322 0482, was surveyed by RCHME in 1990. The castle is a well preserved motte-and-bailey probably dating to the early- or mid-twelfth century, with fragmentary remains of later stonework, including sixteenth-century artillery fortifications. It occupies an east-west ridge in the Coquet valley; the defensive position is good and the outlook is extensive, especially towards Clennel Street, one of the principal routes over the Border. The early castle consisted of a large motte and kidney-shaped bailey, the latter subsequently sub-divided by a north-south wall. A field to the east, which contains earthworks, may have been enclosed as a barmkin (Ryder 1990) but this is by no means certain. The motte, 14m high, is 65m in diameter at the base and 30m at the top. It is crowned by the earthwork remains of various buildings and fragments of standing masonry dated to the mid-sixteenth century by two gun-loops of distinctive type (HKW). At the foot of the motte on the south side is a mass of fallen masonry said to be of thirteenth-century date (Authority 2). The motte ditch is up to 2m deep with traces of a counterscarp bank 0.3m high. The bailey was surrounded by a ditch 11m deep internally and 3.5m deep externally, with a counterscarp bank 0.4m high. The curtain wall survives intermittently as an earthwork with some standing masonry. Within the west part of the bailey are traces of buildings and a well. The wall dividing the bailey is well preserved. At its north end was the North Tower and at its south end a gatehouse, both excavated by Honeyman (Dodds 1940). There are fewer features in the eastern part of the bailey but there are traces of ridge-and-furrow cultivation here and in the area immediately to the east (centred NT9340 0475), where there are also lynchets, banks, trackways and other features of uncertain date and purpose. To the west of the castle also, beyond a low platform containing some worked stone (NT 93150480), are further traces of cultivation and there are some clearance cairns on the steep slope to the north. Further details, and references, are contained in the archive account which accompanies the 1:500 survey (Mark Bowden/08-JUN-1990/RCHME: Harbottle Castle Survey).
This castle of the Umfravilles passed by marriage to the Tailboys family in 1437. It was recognised as a major defence against not only the Scots, but also the men of Redesdale. When the last Tailboys male died in 1541, the King obtained it in exchange for lands in Warwickshire. Repairs were put in place and included gun loops. But by the end of the century, it was again in poor repair, and with the union of the Crowns in 1603, it lost its significance, being sold to the Earl of Dunbar in 1605 (HKW). (PastScape)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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