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Croft Castle, Crewkerne

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Castle Hill; Cruca; Craft

In the civil parish of Crewkerne.
In the historic county of Somerset.
Modern Authority of Somerset.
1974 county of Somerset.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST42061080
Latitude 50.89383° Longitude -2.82546°

Croft Castle, Crewkerne has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

Description

Isolated outcrop which rises to over 450ft forms part of an irregular enclosure called Castles (1839 tithe map). It lies within an area of demense land which was divided into tenths by the end of the C16 but was then still known as "Countes Croft", the C13 "Craft Comitisse". The hill was planted with trees by Earl Paulett early in the C19 but was subsequently returned to grass. No visible earthworks. On the strength of the discovery of two fragments of C12 pottery, together with the name of Castle Hill, the site has been suggested as that of a Norman Castle. Ploughing in 1976 revealed eight more similar sherds, two nails and a piece of hamstone. Previously thought also that this may be the site of a C13 manor house belonging to the manor of Craft but this is more likely to be within the DMV at Upcroft (Anon, ?M. Aston c. 1976). Geophysical survey (PRN 29508) in 2010 revealed a ditch seemingly enclosing the hilltop where a square area of masonry appeared to be sited. Further structures may have been detected to the SW. Further work in 2011 (PRN 31593) added to the plan which was then tested by limited excavations (PRN 29997) that confirmed the presence of defensive ditches and a stone tower or keep. Finds suggested that occupation of the site was fairly short-lived. (Somerset HER)

Six trenches were excavated as part of a Time Team television programme, following geophysical survey (PRN 31593). Trench 1 on the summit of the hill examined a stone-built tower or keep that had been demolished to ground level and the foundations substantially robbed out. Within the walls was a square pit over 3.5m deep that may have been a cellar or well. Outside the walls were small areas of preserved mortar and stone flooring. Trench 2 was located across one of the defensive ditches indicated by the geophysical survey. The ditch was located but could not be dated. A large sub-rectangular pit nearby contained pottery of late C12 / early C13 date that appeared to represent infilling with rubbish. The original purpose for digging the pit was not clear. Trench 3 examined the outer ditch which was here buried beneath hillwash. It appeared to have silted naturally and incorporated lenses containing charcoal and burnt bone but no dating evidence. Trench 4 located the terminal of the ditch seen in Trench 3. Trench 5 was sited to confirm the location of the SW corner of the keep which had been completely robbed out. Trench 6 located a ditch of U-shaped profile. It again contained charcoal but no dating evidence and is assumed to relate to the castle. (Somerset HER ref. Brennan)

According to a later history of Forde abbey, partially confirmed by contemporary official sources, William {de Reviers} gave to his elder daughter Joan, on her marriage with William de Briwere (d. 1232–3), 50 librates of land variously described as at 'Craft' in the manor of Crewkerne and de castris, together with the advowson of the church or churches. (G. Oliver, Monasticon Dioecesis Exoniensis, 343–5; Close R_. 1231–4, 198; Complete Peerage, s.v. Devon.) The younger daughter Mary, wife of Robert de Courtenay (d. 1242), received an estate again variously described as the chace (chaseam) of Crewkerne or as the whole residue of the manor of Crewkerne, with the foreign hundred and the chace. (Oliver, Mon. Exon. 343–5; Cal. Inq. p.m. ii, p. 52; Complete Peerage, s.v. Devon.) (VCH 1978)

Excavated by TimeTeam in 2011. Foundations of a 17m x 13m stone building with walls 3m thick found. This was dated as 1170-1180 in date as was believed to be unfinished. A mid C13 vessel found was believed to be associated with the demolition of the unfinished tower. This seems to have been a castle of one of the de Reviers (Redvers; Revières) Earls of Devon. Several encircling ditches also found by geophysics so possibly on the site of an earlier fortification. A mid C12 charter of Earl Baldwin mention his castle of Cruca (castri mei de cruca) which may refer to this site. The medieval landscape is unclear, a DMV is recorded in the SMR at ST413114 (Hintons Craft). A deer park south of Hinton St George (see Somerset HER 54004) seems to date from before 1347 and may have had even earlier origins suggesting the Great Tower on Castle Hill was intended as a hunting lodge although, in practice, the residential site seems to have been at Hinton. TimeTeam suggest the masonry castle was unfinished because of a reductions in the fortunes of the de Reviers. The real expense here may not have been the Tower _per se
but the digging of a well of sufficient size to serve the needs of the horses of the hunting parties (or garrison if ever occupied in a military fashion). However the tenurial history of the park may suggest it was not a de Reviers holding and the castle may have, instead, been intended as a bold political statement by the de Reviers to the Counts of Eu. Further historical study is required in light of the findings of a significant site on Castle Hill. Further archaeological study, particularly of the surrounding ditches, could date the occupation of the site more closely and answer the question as to if this site had an earlier timber phase, possibly associated with The Anarchy.
In light of the TimeTeam excavation this site, previously dismissed by Gatehouse as a possibly later folly, has to be included in the list of square Norman masonry great towers.
The Wikipedia entry (accessed 21 Aug 2013) give Crow Castle as an alternative name. This name has not been applied to this site but belongs to the nearby doubtful site Crow Castle at ST438105.
When and where is the detailed report on the 2011 archaeological dig going to be published?
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated on Saturday, July 26, 2014

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