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Ellesmere Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Eselmer; Elesmeres; Mere; Hellesmer; Elsemere

In the civil parish of Ellesmere Urban.
In the historic county of Shropshire.
Modern Authority of Shropshire.
1974 county of Shropshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SJ40313467
Latitude 52.90616° Longitude -2.88904°

Ellesmere Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.

Description

The motte and bailey castle 200m south west of St Mary's Church is a well- preserved example of this class of monument, despite later modification to the top of the motte and the southern side of the bailey. Extensive remains of the structures that stood on the motte and within the bailey are expected to survive as buried features, which together with the associated artefacts and organic remains will provide valuable evidence about the activities and the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the castle. The wealth of documentary sources from the medieval period relating to the castle and the adjacent town gives a clear indication of the military and economic importance of the castle and the neighbouring settlement to the English and the Welsh. The bailey is accessible to the public and the monument remains a prominent feature within the landscape.
The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a motte and bailey castle, on the south eastern outskirts of Ellesmere near to St Mary's Church which dates from the 12th century. The castle is thought to have been constructed by Roger de Montgomery, the head of a marcher lordship, soon after 1086. In 1101, following a rebellion by Roger's son and heir, Robert de Bellesme, the castle and its lands were confiscated by the Crown. In 1138 Henry I granted the manor of Ellesmere, including the castle, to William Peverel of Dover. After the civil war Henry II confirmed the manor on Dafydd ab Owain, a north Welsh prince, when he married his sister Emma in 1174. During the early to middle part of the 13th century the manor of Ellesmere passed in and out of royal control and throughout much of that century there are numerous accounts of building or repair works to the castle. In 1263 the manor, castle and hundred of Ellesmere were granted to Hamo le Strange and continued to be held by the le Strange family until they passed by desent to the Stanleys, the Earls of Derby. It is not known when the castle was abandoned, but it is apparent from Leland's description of the site that by the mid-16th century little if anything remained visible of the former castle buildings. By the early 18th century the top of the motte had been levelled in order to form a bowling green. The castle occupies a glacial mound that forms part of a pronounced north west - south east ridge. From this location there are extensive views of the surrounding area. The flat-topped roughly circular motte has been created by cutting into and artifically enhancing the slope of the sides of the mound and dumping the excavated material on top. It is approximately 80m in diameter at its base, 52m across the top and stands about 11m high. A steep-sided ditch, about 20m wide and 3m deep, separates the motte from the bailey to the south east. This ditch continues around the base of the motte to the north east, but has been largely infilled and is now apparent as a shallow depression. The ditch surrounding the southern part of the motte has been completely infilled, but survives as a buried feature and is included in the scheduling. The sub-rectangular bailey is situated on the eastern end of the prominence. It consists of a terrace, approximately 34m by 70m (maximum dimensions), and is bounded on its northern and eastern sides by a ditch that cuts into the steeply sloping ground and by a counterscarp bank. A causeway crosses the northern part of the eastern defences and provides access to this enclosure. The curving scarp which defines the southern side of the bailey is largely the result of later quarrying for sand and gravel. Slightly raised and levelled areas within the bailey are believed to be remains of platforms on which buildings were originally constructed. Earthworks to the north west of the motte were once thought to be the remains of a second bailey. Later work has deemed that they are the result of 19th and 20th century landscaping associated with the vicarage. Terraces created to the north of the motte are also modern. (Scheduling Report)

The earthworks of the castle form a readily identifiable monument. The date of construction is not known but the castle is usually ascribed to Roger of Montgomery and was probably built not long after 1086. The castle was definitely in existence by 1138 (Renn 1973). Repairs or building works were undertaken in c 1203, 1204, 1242 and 1257 (Eyton 1860, 235-239), and in 1274 it is noted that timber which was to be used in the building or re-building within the castle had been appropriated (Eyton 1860, 242). A "Kings House" is noted in 1257 (Eyton 1860, 239) but nothing else is known of the internal features of the castle. The exact limits of the fortifications are also not known due to quarrying in the post-medieval period. It was thought that the castle had an inner and outer bailey but fieldwork has indicated that the "outer bailey" earthworks are 19th century garden features (SA 5224, SA 5225). The castle was garrisoned in the 13th century and still maintained in 1309 (Eyton 1860, 244). In the mid-16th century Leland visited Ellesmere where "there used to be a castle" (Chandler 1993, 394). (Dalwood and Bryant 2005)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown. Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
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This record last updated on Saturday, September 20, 2014

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