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A comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales and the Islands.
 
 
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Site types in the Gatehouse listings

Medieval fortifications, like many medieval buildings were multi-functional. They were also highly symbolic. Simple definitions of a castle, such as 'a fortified dwelling of a lord', do not in anyway explain the vast range of forms and functions of medieval 'castles' and the associated types of buildings. The different site types in this listing, which are based on the descriptions given by various authorities, are crude (as are all such categories). There are many questions and areas of discussion regarding medieval fortifications which need to be addressed.

The boundary between a castle and a fortified manor house is a difficult one to define. Basically virtually all such sites are manor houses with fortifications, the larger, higher status, more flamboyantly fortified buildings are castles. The smaller lower status and more clearly domestic houses are 'fortified manor houses' but some very modest status sites of early date in the Welsh Marches are routinely called castles (see Minor Castles). There are also high status but less fortified buildings called 'palaces' (some grand buildings, others very modest timber houses). The existence of the word 'castle' in a site or building name is not a reliable indication of the form or function of that building.

The more military minded castle authorities looked at defining castles in terms of strength of defences and strategic considerations whereas the more social minded historians of more recent times tend to define castles in term of social status and function. For the military minded a castle is basically defined as a private residences of a lord with fortifications which make it capable of withstanding, at least for a while, an assault by a contemporary army of a likely enemy. The minimum defence would be a continuous parapet (A wall-walk around the entire site) but most would also have at least one tower and a gatehouse (in stone or earthworks and timber). For such authors landscape, where considered, is about tactical consideration as to protection from attack, strategic consideration such as protecting passes and river crossings and, occasionally, some consideration for domestic accessibility and civil administration. For the more socially minded castles are manorial centres, that is centres of local administration, built in a fortified style but not necessarily a military building. A number of castles have been found to been built on, or very near to, the site of existing Saxon manorial centres and show a continuity of function and status. For such minded historians the most important function of all castles was as symbols of lordly status and power to the local inhabitants, near neighbours and the lords peer group (Put by Lucy Marten-Holden as "the concept of dominion, not military domination"). For such authors landscape is often about elite pleasures and pursuits and the presence of deer parks, fish ponds, religious foundations, market boroughs and other such are important considerations.

Charles Coulson has shown that medieval people used the term castle in various, different and nuanced ways and medieval documentary reference to castles should not be automatically taken to refer to fortified residences. (see Castles in Medieval Society and also Abigail Wheatley's The Idea of the Castle.)

The truth is that castles are complex both individually, in having many functions, and across the group, in being very diverse in form and in the balance of functions. Some were certainly military garrisons but most used a military architectural style to show the status of their owners in a time where warriors were seen to be the 'natural' ruling elite. There may well be no such thing as a 'castle' but a variety of many building forms and functions which go under this title, not always consistently. There may have been considerable difference between the number and variety of castles and fortified buildings in different areas and at different times over the 600 years covered in the listing in this web site.

Surprisingly few castle sites, particularly the smaller sites, have been properly or fully excavated. Some of these will undoubtedly be discovered to have been masonry castles if they ever are excavated whilst others will be discovered to have never been castles. Equally earthworks now considered to be tumuli or mill mounds could be discovered to have been castles. Many prehistoric tumuli could have had some medieval reuse, far from all of these will have been identified as such. Identification of the age of sites on the bases of a few scant pottery shards has been a practice in the past but is now, hopefully, subject to more sophisticated critical assessment. Many smaller mottes were quite low mounds and could have readily been converted and modified into fashionable square moated manor houses in the 13th or 14th century. How many of such moated manors started out as mottes may never been known. Unrealistic expectations of what a 'castle' is supposed to look like prevents some people from recognising some sites as castles. A simplistic belief that castle are military fortifications and that military fortification should be on high ground (both untrue) leads to much misidentification.

The understanding of the castle is a complex and evolving aspect of serious study and reference should be made to texts such as those listed in the bibliography of this site. The paradigm of the castle, which includes an understanding of the politico-social environment, is an even more debatable field of study as looking at works on the subject of feudalism, a core component of the model of the castle in former times, will show. It should be be clearly understood that the idea of the castle was always highly charged with symbolic and psychological meaning and that some seemingly serious textbooks about castles, and most popular castle books, are written to serve the psychological needs of some modern readers–sometimes by authors who are naive and don't recognise their own motivations and sometimes by authors who are fairly cynical in exploiting a popular market. For further comment on the psychology of castle studies see Crenellating the Ego.

The existing definitions for the various forms of medieval fortifications have problems (click here for further information and discussion), some monuments of identical social status and function (i.e. Mottes and Ringworks) are spilt into many different subgroups whereas some monuments of very different social status and function are lumped together in one group (The term Towerhouse includes small gentry status Pele Towers with only residential function with high status baronial Tower Houses that had legal and administrative as well as residential functions.)

In this web site the site 'types' are defined as:

Timber Castles
These are the earthwork and timber castles of the motte and bailey or ringwork form which where the vast majority of castles of the early conquest period, of the Marches in the 11th and 12th centuries and of the period during the reign of Stephen known as the Anarchy. They could be fairly short lived, although some such castles survived for centuries, with the timber buildings and defences being replaced on occasions sometimes in timber and sometimes in masonry (Alderton Castle in Northamptonshire was shown in a Time Team excavation to have been built about 1070 and to still have been having high status visitors in the C15-a fine piece of enamels horse harness being found in the gatehouse). Some of the smaller low mottes may have been adapted into moated manor houses, whilst others where abandoned and replaced by manor houses of a more comfortable and domestic nature. Timber castles varied greatly in size with some being massive constructions clearly deserving the term castle, whilst other were small mounds of minor knights and had a similar size, function and social status as the later pele towers. These small mottes are called 'castle' but this could be considered a rather obtuse use of the term.
In practice some, possibly many, timber castles may have been revetted in dry stone or even have been revetted with timber walls plastered, limewashed and painted with mock masonry lines.
Holwell Castle, Devon
Go to Timber Castle listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Timber Castle listing for WalesClick here
Masonry Castle
These include castles designed from the outset to have masonry defences and timber castles where the fortifications or significant building have been replaced in stone. This includes all the classic castle types such as Shell Keep, Great Tower and bailey, Enclosure, Concentric castles etc. These are the buildings which are what are generally thought of as castles and are well described in many books, web sites etc. Masonry is stonework bounded with mortar or, in a few cases in central Wales (where limestone for mortar did not exist) bedded with clay. A few castles have dry-stone walls, these are listed under earthwork castles, since the dry-stone walling basically requires a similar level of expense and skill as earthwork defences. Richmond Castle, Yorkshire
Go to Masonry Castle listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Masonry Castle listing for WalesClick here
Siege Works
Temporary earthwork and timber fortifications built as a secure base and possibly temporary lordly base during the besieging of a castle or town. Siege works are often called siege castles, because of the similarity to earthwork castles, but their residential function was minimal. The distinct tendency to over emphasis military history means where there has been a recorded historical siege or battle earthworks of various sorts may be incorrectly attributed as siege works and particular caution is required when attributing a classification as a siege work. Beacon Hill, Pickering
Go to Siege Work listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Siege Work listing for WalesClick here
Fortified Manor House

A high status fortified residence not capable of withstanding an army but able to resist an armed band. They are generally moated and have a gatehouse with loops and crenellations. They tend to be sited with much less consideration for tactical and strategic defence and with domestic considerations, such as ease of access, to the fore. The difference between a small castles and a fortified manor house is a subjective one and may well be an artificial division in that for contemporary medieval citizens it may not have existed. David King did not use this term and preferred the term Strong House, since not all fortified high status houses were manorial, but use of his term Strong House has not been widely adopted possible because it is widely used as a synonym for bastle.

Such buildings did not require a licence to crenellate, despite some suggestions otherwise, and having a licence to crenellate does not mean a building was certainly fortified. However, all buildings issued a licence to crenellate are recorded under this group since they clearly were at least intended to be [re]constructed in a fortified style. It is clear that a good number of the houses granted licences to crenellate had only very slight defences such as a moat and maybe a thin walled stone gatehouse but otherwise mainly timber buildings.

Also recorded under this label are a number of later medieval houses which are not generally considered 'defensive' but which used architectural styles that derived from military function. These houses are sometimes called 'castles of chivalry', they were almost purely residential with the administrative function of the manor often done elsewhere.

Baddesley Clinton Hall, Warwickshire
Go to Fortified Manor House listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Fortified Manor House listing for WalesClick here
Fortified Town House
Similar in status to fortified manor houses but built with the confines (usually meaning walls) of a town or city. Some of these were the houses of wealthy but relatively low status merchants who could hold considerable sums of precious goods and money at home so would have been strongly built; others were owned by wealthy, but modest social status, civil servants (usually clerics). Because towns are so heavily redeveloped very few of these buildings survive and even contemporary medieval documents only rarely mention them and even less often described these houses. Hutton Hall, Penrith. Photo by kind permission of Matthew Emmott (rights reserved)
Go to Fortified Town House listing for EnglandClick here
Palace
A high status manor house. That is a fundamentally domestic building of a high status person usual a bishop or member of the royal family. Usually more elaborate that a fortified manor but a small bishops palace, such as the one at Lyddington might be quite modest compared to a large fortified manor. All these high status building had some fortifications, if only to keep out thieves, but were probably not seen, even by the contemporary people, as being military buildings. Included in this definition, for the purposes of this site, are Royal hunting lodges. These could vary from sizable buildings, even castles, with courts and gaols (jails) to simple timber building providing short term accommodation. Lyddington Palace, Rutland
Go to Palace listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Palace listing for WalesClick here Go to a listing of bishops houses, listed by dioceseClick here
Towerhouse
The term' towerhouse' is much used and loosely defined, some authors use it for any type of tower house, including pele towers, and there is, indeed, a continuum in size and status between these buildings. However, I more closely define a Towerhouse as a form of Fortified Manor House where all the accommodation is in one tower, often has a parapet along the top of the tower, turrets and other defensive features. Although the residential buildings form one tower this would usually have had a court of ancillary buildings. This is a high status building and usually a manorial centre. Unsurprisingly for high status buildings these sites are often named castle. Dacre Castle, Cumberland
Go to Towerhouse listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Towerhouse listing for WalesClick here
Pele Towers
Also called peel towers. A form of fortified farmhouse or house of a significant, but not noble, person, such as a vicar or local knight, built with some defensive features both for genuine protection from raiding bands and for social prestige. These can be free-standing towers or towers attached to other, unfortified, buildings. The free standing form is more 'Scottish' and often later in date and are, in practice, rare. However most peel towers now appear free standing as they have lost their attached timber halls, kitchens and other ancillary buildings. These moderate status building are generally said to be confined to the North of England, and in the Scottish border area often sited with some strategic consideration; however, some similar moderate status fortified buildings, such a forester's lodges, do exist elsewhere.
Many authors dislike the use of pele in this sense since one of several original meanings was a temporary military camp. However, I think that the social status and function of these buildings is so significantly different from Towerhouses as for a separate category to be needed. There is much to be said for using terms like solar tower which emphasis the fact these buildings were often a small part of a larger complex. However, use of such terms would obscure the social status of these buildings. Part of the reason the term pele tower is disliked is, however, because it emphasises social status something which can cause contention.
Clifton Hall, Westmorland
Go to Pele Tower listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Pele Tower listing for WalesClick here
Bastles
A form of fortified farmhouse, usually fairly roughly built, rectangular and 15th and 16th century in date (Mainly late 16th century and some continued to be built well into the 17th century) and generally confined to the Northern counties, only occasionally with any active defensive features (such as gun ports). Included because the foundations and scant remains of ruins can be very difficult to differentiate from Pele Towers and because the Bastles were often grouped and were otherwise placed to be of some strategic value in defending against Scottish raids. Philip Dixon makes the point that the term Bastle House probably original most often referred to a higher status rectangular form of 16th century pele tower such as Doddington Bastle whereas the cruder farmhouses were more often called Pelehouses. However, probably to try to avoid confusion with similar names describing different forms the Scottish Royal Commission previous distinction between 'bastle-house' and 'pelehouse' has not been widely adopted and is not now used by RCAHMS. A few very similar type building exist in southern Pembrokeshire and have a similar function against pirates, as would some Cornish Bartons. (Barbary pirates from North Africa were active in Southern English waters in the 15th to 17th centuries and often raided inland kidnapping individuals for slavery or later ransom. Irish pirates were active in the Irish Sea from at least the 3rd century onwards). Black Middens Bastle, Northumberland. Photo by Les Hull copyrighted but also licensed for further reuse
Go to Bastle listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Bastle listing for WalesClick here
Artillery Forts
Fortifications designed specifically for mounting artillery, usually as coastal defence against warships. Vary from large stone structures to small earthwork bulwarks with room for one or two pieces. Although some of the large royal buildings were of high quality with good detail these are actually practical military works. Much early artillery was relatively small and not very powerful and many gun loops in manor houses, town walls etc. would have been for such pieces - probably not even as effective as a modern shotgun although possibly psychologically more effective and, as new and expensive items, certainly impressive and showy. Deal Castle, Kent
Go to Artillery Fort listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Artillery Fort listing for WalesClick here
Chain Towers
A form of harbour defence where a chain is extended across the entry into a harbour or river to prevent access by vessels. The mechanism housing the chain and allowing it to be raised and lowered was housed in a defensive tower, often an artillery fort in its own right. The main function of such chains may actually to have been to control trade and ensure the collection of tolls. The tower holding the chain across the Ouse at York
Go to Chain Tower listing for EnglandClick here
Fortified Ecclesiastical sites
Monasteries, churches and granges defended against raids. Monastic communities were made up of mainly high status people, and that most abbots would be the close relatives of castle owning lords; monasteries were also often used as stop over residencies for lords. Much monastic 'fortification' such as gatehouses are actually status displays rather than really defensive, although scottish raids and peasant riots did occasionally put such defences to the test. Granges could hold considerable wealth so defences here were generally practical but also reflect the status of the parent community. Churches were an important resource for the local peasant community having many functions beyond spiritual succour; in unsafe areas like the Marches, this included short-term defence against raiding bands. Bishop's castles and priest's towers are considered as private residences and are listed with other castles etc.
It is and was commonplace for churches to have towers and to be crenellated. The symbol of secular lordship, the crenellated tower, derived from the responsibilities of secular lordship to defend the community were thus appropriated to symbolise spiritual dominion. It should also be noted that belfry towers have particular structural issues to deal with heavy moving and vibrating bells and need to be substancial for these reasons, particularly in areas where the quality of mortar was poor.
Thornton Abbey Gatehouse
Go to Fortified Ecclesiastical sites listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Fortified Ecclesiastical sites listing for WalesClick here
Urban Defences
Town walls, banks and gates. Those built by the Romans, Anglo-Saxons or Danes are mentioned if they were maintained, at least partly, during the period 1000-1600. As with most fortifications of the period these were not simply defensive but reflected social status. Ambitious town leaders would petition for and build walls for the personal and civic kudos. Walls and ditches, or sometimes just isolated gates, also regulated trade and made collection of taxes easier. Some villages, in vulnerable areas, had simple defences of ditches to deter cattle raiders and 'wolves' (Although it is doubtful wolves were a significant threat, to any community at any time, they were believed to be a threat and had enormous psychological power). Town Walls of Conwy, North Wales
Go to Urban Defence listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Urban Defence listing for WalesClick here
Fortified Bridges
The narrowness of bridges combined with the fact they cross a long linear obstacle has always made them a place which is defensible. However a number of medieval bridges had gates in gatehouses, either on the bridge itself, or at one end of the bridge, which made these bridges fortified. Some also had drawbridges, although in some cases these may have actually been raisable bridges to allow masted vessels to pass under the bridge. In practice it may be these gates were mainly gates to control traffic and ease the collection of tolls and many bridges had simple bar gates for such a purpose. A number of bridges also had chapels or even hospitals (probably in the medieval sense of visitors lodging houses) on them which, again, may have had a role in toll collection. Warkworth Bridge and Bridge Gate
Go to Fortifed Bridge listing for EnglandClick here Go to Fortified Bridge listing for WalesClick here Go to combined Fortified Bridge listing for England and WalesClick here
Linear Defences and Dykes
A number of dykes of medieval date exist in the North of England and may represent a defence against Scottish raids and/or mark out boundaries. There was a set of trenches along the coast forming late medieval coastal defences most notably the Downs beach line.
As with all fortification such defences can only be of military effectiveness if garrisoned with a force capable of responding to attackers, when they can have a role in delaying an attacking force, particularly one loaded down with booty and livestock. Otherwise such boundary markers must function mainly symbolically.
War Dyke, Yorkshire.  Photo by Gillian Rimington copyrighted but also licensed for further reuse
Go to Linear Defences and Dykes listing for EnglandClick here
Unknown or uncertain

Sites which are lost were probable timber castles, other sites are doubtful mentions of possible fortifications and some are just not clear from the available description.
Also included in this category are a small number of sites which don't fit into any of the above categories such as the Quay Street fortified warehouse, formerly at Haverfordwest.

 
Go to Unknown or uncertain listing for EnglandClick hereGo to Unknown or uncertain listing for WalesClick here

Go to complete listing for the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man.Click here


As stated above the definition of what is a castle is a complex and contentious one. Please refer to several texts, including some written in recent years, to get an idea of the types and forms of castles, strong houses, fortifications and town walls and to understand the variety of functions and defences of these 'fortifications'. See the bibliography for some recommended texts. Many web sites give brief definitions, often rather dated and old, but few even hint at the complexities of the form and function of fortifications. See the web links for some recommended sites.
This page last modifed on 7 May 2012

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