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Daws Castle, Watchet

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Weced; Dart's Castle; Danes' Castle

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

OS Map Grid Reference: ST06184329
Latitude 51.18112° Longitude -3.34363°

Daws Castle, Watchet has been described as a Urban Defence although is doubtful that it was such.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Saxon burghal ramparts strengthed with stone in C10 and possible maintained until after 1086. Site called 'le castell' in 1537. Bond put site in his 'Anglo-saxon urban defensive circuit of no post-Conquest importance' list and writes has no remains, Dunning has air photo of site showing it severally suffering from coastal erosion but with some banking still visible.

Saxon enclosure possibly constructed in 914 surviving as an earthwork though evidence for stone walls has been found. Probably the site of the burh of Weced (Watchet) first mentioned in the Burghal Hideage. Inhumations possibly dating to C5 have been found near by. The site was discovered during the construction of three lime kilns in the mid to late C19. The bank defining the southern part of the enclosure is visible as earthworks. It measure 255m long and curves sharply at its north west end by the cliff. (PastScape)

Despite part of the of the Saxon fortified site known as Daw's Castle having been lost through coastal erosion, the remainder of the circuit, and the major part of the fort's interior, survive comparatively well and are known from limited excavations to contain archaeological remains and environmental evidence which relates to the construction of the site, the lives of its inhabitants, and the landscape in which they lived. The high status of the site is demonstrated by its possession of a mint, one of only a few recorded in Somerset, which produced coins from the time of Athelred II (978-1016) until the site was abandoned in favour of the present town of Watchet. This importance is further enhanced by the contemporary documentary sources which refer to the site. They include the early 10th century Burghal Hidage list, an administrative document which recorded the network of fortified burhs constructed across southern England against the threat of Viking attacks. Additionally, the burh is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and an entry for the year 914 records failed attacks by Scandinavian raiders who had sailed up the Severn Estuary.
The monument includes the remains of a fortified site of Saxon date known as Daw's Castle located approximately 1km to the west of the medieval port of Watchet. The site is prominently located on the cliff edge about 80m above Warren Bay in the Severn Estuary and has extensive inland views towards the Brendon Hills and Exmoor to the south and west and the Quantock Hills to the east. The fortification survives as a curvilinear earthen bank which represents the line of the Saxon defences and is broadly aligned from east to west enclosing an area of approximately 2ha. The north side of the site is now defined by the cliff edge as part of the defensive earthworks have been lost to coastal erosion and landslips. The surviving circuit of the defence is represented by a bank approximately 180m in length which has been shown by partial excavations to have been constructed in two phases. The first phase of construction is believed to date from the reign of King Alfred, between 871 and 899. A mortared stone wall 0.6m high and 0.85m wide at its base was revealed fronting a bank approximately 7m wide. The later phase of construction is represented by a wall of more substantial proportions which was shown by excavation to have replaced the original wall, with dimensions 1.42m wide and at least 3.5m high. A bank 7.9m wide was revealed behind the wall. Fronting the wall was a berm 10.7m wide and a narrow ditch 1.52m wide. This later phase is believed to have been constructed during the 10th century in response to the increased threat of Viking raids which are recorded as having taken place within the Severn Estuary. The results of the partial excavation would seem to lend support to the probability that the earthwork remains at Daw's Castle represent the site of the original Saxon burh of Watchet. A network of fortifications was constructed across southern England at the instigation of King Alfred in order to defend against the threat of Viking raids. These fortresses, known as burhs, are described in documents known as the Burghal Hidage, compiled around 914, which lists the burhs together with the number of men required to defend them. Watchet is assessed at 513 hides which equates with an approximate length of 645m for the whole perimeter of the defensive bank. Documentary sources record a mint at Watchet which was producing coins from around 980 predominantly of Aethelred II, and this is assumed to have been located within the burh. It is suggested that because the Watchet mint did not strike any coins between 1056-80, a break unique among Wessex mints, and also because no reference to a fort at Watchet is recorded in the Domesday survey, the site had been abandoned after the Conquest and the mint re-established within the present town. A number of graves were revealed during the 19th century construction of three lime kilns on the north east side of the site. These graves have been dated to around the fifth century AD which suggests a possible earlier phase of occupation of the site. The lime kilns are Listed Grade II. The lime kiln yard and its associated lime kiln draws and surface structures which lie to the north east of the scheduling are specifically not included in the scheduling. Daw's Castle is in the care of the Secretary of State. (Scheduling Report)

Does not seem to have any post-Conquest significance and, Gatehouse suspects, was never much used as an urban centre since access to the sea and the fishing boats which must have been a significant part of the local economy is not good. Possibly a place of retreat during Danish raids but not needed after secure Norman rule stopped these.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling        
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:53

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