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Wakefield Lowe Hill

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Clarence Park; Law Hill; Low Hill; Lawe Hill; Thornes

In the civil parish of Wakefield.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of Wakefield.
1974 county of West Yorkshire.
Medieval County of Yorkshire West Riding.

OS Map Grid Reference: SE32651968
Latitude 53.67258° Longitude -1.50725°

Wakefield Lowe Hill has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a Siege Work but is rejected as such.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Remains of motte and bailey castle situated in the middle of Thornes Park. Possibly an adulterine fortification constructed by the 3rd Earl de Warenne during the Civil War of 1138-1149. Comprises motte, inner bailey, outer bailey and an apparent third bailey to the extreme east, which was probably in fact a platform constructed to accomodate an octagonal Victorian bandstand, the foundations of which are still visible.
Trial trenching carried out by the Wakefield Historical Society in 1953 recovered only a small amount of pottery, mostly C12 in date, in the fill of the ditch surrounding the motte. Excavation of the portion of the bailey nearest the mound revealed a hearth area underneath the Bailey Bank, associated with more C12 pottery, an iron spur and a decorative iron and bronze stud. No evidence was found of stonework or timberwork, but excavation was not extensive and the area of the motte top had been badly eroded. The limited number of Norman/medieval artefacts recovered was taken by the Site Director to indicate only a limited period of occupation after the Castle's construction in the mid 12th century. The impression gained from these cuttings was that the few finds represented rubbish left by the builders of the castle, not by any subsequent occupier. However, the castles of Wakefield and Sandal are referred to in a royal edict of 1324. A tradition recorded by Leland held that the castle was destroyed by 'violence of wind' - possibly the great gale of 1330?
The distinction between the inner and outer bailey has been lost on the most recent OS map. (West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service)

Lowe Hill motte and bailey castle is located in Thornes Park on the hill top overlooking the River Calder and the Thornes area of Wakefield. The monument includes the motte and two baileys. An apparent third bailey, situated on the north-east side, does not at present form part of the scheduling as current thought is that it is a platform built to accommodate a Victorian bandstand, the foundations of which can still be seen, not a bailey. The motte, on which would have been built a timber keep, stands c.9m high, has a base diameter of c.25m and is surrounded by an infilled ditch visible as a shallow depression c.5m wide. A scarp on the west and north sides of the motte continues eastward to create the north side of the inner bailey which is a roughly square enclosure measuring c.40m across. Low banks, c.1m high and 3m wide, follow the edge of the scarp and would have formerly been the site of a timber palisade. The smaller outer bailey lies at a slightly lower level to the north-east and is also enclosed by a scarp and bank. Like the inner bailey, the level area inside would have been the site of ancillary and garrison buildings and would have contained corralling for horses. The remains of these structures will survive well and extensively throughout the monument as disturbance to the site has been limited to a small scale excavation carried out in 1953, when a hearth and small quantities of metalwork and twelfth century pottery were found. The early history of the site is unclear as little documentary evidence survives. One theory, based on the date of the pottery found so far, is that it was an adulterine castle constructed by the third Earl Warenne during the war of 1138-49 between Stephen and Mathilda. Licence to build fortifications could be granted only by the king and an adulterine castle was one built without his authority during times of civil strife. On the opposite side of the River Calder, approximately one mile to the south-east, is Sandal Castle, first mentioned in c.1240. Although the exact relationship between the two is not yet known, it is likely, since both are mentioned in a royal edict of 1324, that together they controlled movement along the river. Traditionally, Lowe Hill castle is believed to have been destroyed by the great gale of 1330. (Scheduling Report)

A quarter of a mile withowte Wakefeld apperith an hille of erth caste up, wher sum say that one of Erles Warines began to build, and as fast as he buildid violence of winde defacid, the work. This is like a fable. Sum say that it was nothing but a wind mille hille. The place is now caullid Lohille. (Leland)

The motte is heavily overgrown as are most of the ditches.
The castle was by tradition destroyed by a great wind. The scheduling record that this was the great gale of 1330 but this is speculation about what great wind (Leland did not specific a date beyond it being the date of construction, although he would not have meant C12 by this). Hope-Taylor's thoughts on his fairly limited excavation was that the castle was abandoned shortly after construction, although it is not clear if he was responding to the Leland account. If the castle was destroyed by a wind, particularly if a spectacular but localised destruction (such as the tornado in Birmingham in 2005), then this may well have been taken as a sign of God's ill will and lead to the early abandonment of the site, whereas a more general gale would not have been seen in such a way. However, note Leland thought this to be a fable and comments about this 'violent wind' and the castles abandonment are all speculative.
The comments about the castle being unlicenced and adulterine in the scheduling report is received wisdom not supported by evidence - the reality is all C12 castles were 'unlicenced' and, at any date, licenced or unlicenced castles became adulterine if they were tainted by use by a rebel.
There has, apparently, been some speculation that the site might be a siege castle of Sandal. It does not have the form of a siege castle and this speculation appears to be uniformed musing.
A geophysical survey of the site was undertaken in 2015.
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:52

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