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Ballands Castle, Pen Selwood

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Pen Selwood.
In the historic county of Somerset.
Modern Authority of Somerset.
1974 county of Somerset.
Medieval County of Somerset.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST75343105
Latitude 51.07824° Longitude -2.35338°

Ballands Castle, Pen Selwood has been described as a probable Timber Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The motte and bailey known as 'Ballands Castle' survives well and will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to the motte and bailey and the landscape in which it was constructed. Ballands Castle, together with a similar site c.1.8km to the north east at Row Farm and another in Cockroad Wood c.1.4km to the north west, form a small localised cluster, and will provide information about the Norman settlement of this part of Somerset.
The monument includes a motte and bailey castle built on a natural terrace on a west facing hillside which slopes down to a stream. The motte and an additional mound are at the north of the site, with the inner bailey and an outer bailey extending to the south.
The motte is a flat topped mound, 3m high, the top c.9m north-south by c.14m east-west, surrounded by a ditch c.7m wide and c.1m deep. Beyond the ditch on the west side is an additional mound thought to represent an outwork. This has dimensions of c.35m north-south, c.8m east-west and c.1m high.
To the south of the motte are two baileys. The inner bailey measures 25m north-south and 16m east-west. A bank on the south side of the inner bailey is c.0.75m high and c.3m wide. The ditch between the inner bailey and the outer bailey, to the south, is 7m wide and 1m deep to the top of the bank of the inner bailey, and 2m deep to the top of the bank of the outer bailey. The outer bailey stands c.1m higher than the inner bailey. The bank on the north edge of the outer bailey is c.0.6m high and c.3m wide, and the bank on the west side of the bailey is of similar dimensions. The outer bailey is c.50m north-south and c.25m east-west, and the ditch on its south side is c.7m wide and c.1m deep. Along the east side of both inner and outer baileys is a c.1m drop to a stream. On the west side the inner bailey stands 4m higher than ground level, and the outer bailey stands 5m higher than ground level. The outer bailey is marked by the OS as 'Site of Church', but there is no evidence on the ground to support an ecclesiastical foundation here, and the nature of the earthwork supports the premise that it is part of the motte and bailey castle. (Scheduling Report)

The principal features of the earthworks are the motte and rectangular enclosure. The motte has been constructed from the N end of a slight N-S ridge and one enclosure occupies the full width of the ridge at the highest point. The summit of the motte is slightly higher than the interior of the enclosure and its position seems to have been chosen for ease of construction rather than maximum strength. It is linked to the enclosure by a scarp along the top of the ridge on the W and by a hedge bank on the E. It seems probable that the enclosure was a bailey but there is no evidence to support the VCH suggestion that it is of earlier date. The sloping inter space between the enclosure and the motte is small and may have been principally a link work rather than an inner bailey (Ordnance Survey). The motte has steep sides and is surrounded by a slight ditch 0.25-0.5m deep and 7-9m wide. Height from the top of the mound to the bottom of the ditch is about 4-5m. The bailey is surrounded by a ditch scarped out of the hillside on the W. On the N side it has both an inner bank 0.25m high and an outer bank 0.25-0.5m high - here the ditch is 1.5m deep and 9m wide. On the E side this ditch is obscured by a small stream and a hedge. A cart track bisects the bailey in an E-W direction. No foundations can be seen. Motte covered with ash and oak trees with brambles, bracken and lush grass on the lower slope. Much badger activity on the N side. The bailey is largely covered with nettles and there is good grass cover on the banks - very slight cattle damage (HBMC Field Monument Wardens report). Previously thought that the bailey was the site of a Saxon church (ST75363097) and that the motte was a tumulus (ST 75343105) (Personal communication - Dennison, E Somerset County Council 02.01.85). (Somerset HER)

An earthwork on the western side of the parish, known as Ballands castle from the field named Ballands in which it stands, has been assumed to be a medieval motte and bailey castle, but may rather have been the site of the lodge occupied by the lieutenant of Selwood forest. (VCH)

Dunning writing in 1995 called this a tristra, a mound from which to shoot at deer, not a castle. Creighton writes "may have associated with a small deserted medieval settlement and church" and clearly feels this is a castle. One of three closely grouped castles the others being Castle Orchard and Cockroad Wood. Whatever it was, tristra or fortified residence (presumably of a forester), it seems certain is was mainly concerned with hunting.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:28

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