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Old Sarum Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Old Saresbury; Salisbury; Salesberia; Sarisberiensem; castellum Saresberiense

In the civil parish of Salisbury.
In the historic county of Wiltshire.
Modern Authority of Wiltshire.
1974 county of Wiltshire.
Medieval County of Wiltshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU13773267
Latitude 51.09319° Longitude -1.80482°

Old Sarum Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


A Motte and bailey castle founded by William I soon after the conquest and constructed on the site of the Iron Age hillfort at Old Sarum. Additions to the castle were made during the reign of King Henry II, especially between 1170-79. Repairs were documented between 1201-1208 and the last known main phase of building took place during the early 13th century. Further repairs were also documented in 1247. During the 13th century, the military importance of the castle declined. Repairs to the castle took place during the 14th century, but it was demolished by 1514. The motte is situated on the highest point of the spur in the centre of the hillfort. It is oval in plan measuring 370ft by 320ft and is surrounded by a ditch 20ft deep and 75ft wide. The mound top covers an area of two acres and was enclosed by a stone curtain wall constructed 1170-80. It contained a range of buildings which included an adminstrative compound dating from the late 11th-early 12th century. The compound comprised the Great Tower, Herlewins' Tower, the Kitchen Tower and the courtyard house which was the principal domestic building for the castle. The foundations of these buildings are still visible. Excavations have also located the layout of additional buildings. The lower bailey originally comprised the eastern area of the hillfort, ultilising the hillfort defences. It was expanded in around 1140 AD, when the outer curtain wall was constructed to include the perimeter of the hillfort. The wall has no towers and is between 10ft-12ft wide and survives to a height of 12ft. It encloses an area containing the cathedral and Close which resulted in conflict between the castle and the ecclesiastical authorities, this eventually leading to the move of the cathedral to Salisbury (New Sarum) in 1219 and subsequent abandonment of Old Sarum. The site is Scheduled and in the care of of the Secretary of state. (PastScape)

Old Sarum is a well preserved example of its class, the prominent position and defensible capability of which has been exploited in later periods, both before and after the Norman Conquest. The hillfort appears to have been refortified during the Saxon period, and was the likely site for the Roman town of Sorviodunum, but is most obviously modified by the construction within its defensive circuit of the motte and bailey castle. Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of examples an embanked enclosure, the bailey, (at Old Sarum formed by the defences of the hillfort) adjoined the motte. Motte and bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and in open countryside, motte and bailey castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte or motte and bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system.
The motte and bailey castle built within Old Sarum is a well preserved example of its class, the importance of which is enhanced by its royal connections.
Together with these important defensive elements the monument includes the remains of the medieval town, the ecclesiastical precinct within which lie the cathedral and bishop's palace, and the extra-mural settlements close to both the eastern and western entrances. All will contain buried remains providing information about the construction and use of the site, its economy and environmental setting from the Iron Age to the medieval period.
Old Sarum is a prominent feature within the landscape around Salisbury. The monument is open to the public and is much visited.
The monument includes Old Sarum, a multivallate Iron Age hillfort with contemporary settlement outside the ramparts. It also has evidence of Romano- British occupation and documentary evidence of a Saxon burh and mint. During the medieval period it was rebuilt as a royal motte and bailey castle and includes a cathedral and bishop's palace within an ecclesiastical precinct together with extra-mural settlement remains. The remains of the castle and cathedral are Listed Grade I and the monument is in the care of the Secretary of State. It is situated c.3km NNE of Salisbury, at the west end of a westward facing chalk spur overlooking the River Avon.
The hillfort is roughly oval in shape, measuring an overall maximum of 580m (east-west) by 460m (north-south). The defences, enclosing an area of c.12ha, originally had a single bank and ditch but now include an internal bank, a substantial steep sided ditch up to 30m wide in places and, at a lower level on the slope, an outer bank. The hillfort had entrances at both east and west ends. Of these, that at the western end was later blocked and now contains an underground passage, while that at the eastern end has continued to function as the entrance into the fort and is protected by an outer hornwork or barbican. Excavations within the hillfort have produced evidence of early Iron Age settlement and of later Iron Age and Romano-British occupation from the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. Included within the scheduling is an area of Iron Age activity located outside the hillfort close to the eastern entrance. A further area of Iron Age activity is located c.250m west of the hillfort, and is not included in the scheduling.
Old Sarum is the focus for a number of major Roman roads and the Roman town of Sorviodunum has been suggested as lying within the hillfort. There is, however, a lack of any substantial evidence for Romano-British occupation within the hillfort and current understanding does not allow this suggested location to be confirmed.
By 1004 coins of Ethelred were being minted at Old Sarum and, by the mid 11th century, documentary sources attest to the establishment of a Saxon burh, Seresberie. It is possible that defences were constructed at this time.
After the Norman Conquest in 1066 a royal motte and bailey castle was built within the hillfort. The defences of the hillfort were adapted to become those of the outer bailey while a mound was constructed in the centre of the hillfort. The mound is over 100m in diameter and rises to a height of c.5m above natural ground level. It is surrounded by a ditch, c.20m wide and over 6m deep, from which material to construct the mound was quarried. The inner bailey, the entrance of which is on its eastern side, now contains the ruins of a series of stone buildings dating from c.1100 AD to the 13th century. Of these, the earliest is the keep or Great Tower, a massive rectangular structure which originally had an earth filled ground floor and two further floors for accommodation and storage above. Access to the keep was provided through the Postern Tower and adjacent forebuilding which stood to the north of it. The Postern Tower stood above the postern passage which led out to a timber bridge across the inner bailey ditch. The forebuilding, added in the early 12th century, contained a staircase leading into a vestibule in the Postern Tower and thence into the royal apartments. The keep was extended on its southern side in the late 12th century by the addition of the garderobe or Treasure Tower built over a large arched cess pit. In the early 12th century the royal palace was rebuilt, replacing an earlier structure, known as the 'King's House', which was already in place by 1070. The palace, which was built by Bishop Roger, the influential third bishop of Salisbury, consists of four ranges built around a central square courtyard. The courtyard, and the north and west ranges, were on the upper level and had one storey while the south and east ranges were on the lower level and had two. Covered corridors linked the four ranges of buildings which contained halls, chambers, chapels, kitchens and private royal apartments. A pair of garderobes was added to the west side of the kitchen tower in the 13th century. Contemporary with the palace and lying to its north is Herlewin's Tower, a rectangular building originally of two storeys, lying astride the defensive circuit of the inner bailey. Also of this period is the gatehouse, designed around a central passage from which guard chambers with vaulted ceilings led off to either side. Within the ditch of the inner bailey the stone bases for the wooden bridge date to the 13th century and now support a modern wooden structure. Within the southern part of the inner bailey the remaining bakehouse and the 'New Hall' are of late 12th or 13th century date.
The outer bailey of the medieval castle includes earthwork banks radiating from the motte to the outer defences. Those to the north east and south of the motte may have defined the outer bailey of the post-Conquest castle. The Norman town may have been established within the south western quadrant and the north western quadrant includes the ecclesiastical precinct within which lie the remains of the cathedral and other associated structures. The cathedral now survives as low walls and reinstated areas marking out the composite ground plan of its two phases of construction. The first cathedral was built in 1078, after the transfer of the see at Sherborne to Old Sarum, and consisted of a nave separated from two side aisles by eight great arches on each side. At the apsidal east end, the main altar and two side chapels in the transepts were also enclosed by semicircular apses. This building was completed in 1092 and almost immediately largely destroyed. Rebuilding in the Norman style commenced in 1130 under Bishop Roger and involved the large scale levelling of this part of the hillfort interior. Utilising the surviving nave, the length of the cathedral was doubled, the transepts were enlarged and a higher central tower was built. In the mid to late 12th century Bishop Jocelyn added the west front and south porch and built a bishop's palace nearby. This had three ranges, a Great Hall, lodgings and a gatehouse, built around a central courtyard. The move of the bishopric to Salisbury in 1219 was followed by the dissolution of the old cathedral in 1226.
Outside the western limits of the defences aerial photographs show traces of what may be a contemporaneous suburb of Old Sarum. Although understanding of the extent, nature and survival of these remains is currently incomplete, artefacts recorded after cultivation immediately beyond the western hillfort entrance enable the eastern part of the possible settlement to be confirmed and included within the scheduling. Beyond the eastern limits of the defences, to the south of the main entrance, lie part of the remains of the east suburb, defined by surviving earthworks and by recorded finds dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Although understanding of the full extent of these remains is currently incomplete, and they have been considerably disturbed to the east of the Salisbury to Amesbury road, an area can be defined which is included within the scheduling.
By the early 14th century the town was largely abandoned and in 1322 the demolition of the castle was ordered by Edward II. By 1514 the site had been totally abandoned although the town continued as a 'rotten borough' sending Members of Parliament to Westminster until disenfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832.
During the 20th century a number of archaeological excavations were carried out within the monument. The castle, the cathedral and other ecclesiastical buildings within the outer bailey were excavated over a number of seasons between 1909 and 1915 by W H St J Hope, W Hawley and D H Montgomerie for the Society of Antiquaries of London. Further excavations were carried out by J Musty and P A Rahtz in the 1950s. (Scheduling Report)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:09

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