Monday 28 September 2020

Castles in Pulverbatch

It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Ancient Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from any site without proper recording and reporting. Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.

There are the remains of two motte and bailey castles in Pulverbatch, both classified as scheduled ancient monuments by English Heritage. The Welsh Marches are particularly well endowed with such remains, possibly due to frequent incursions by marauding Welsh tribesmen at that time.

Castle Pulverbatch motte and double bailey castle (aerial photo) is situated at the northern end of a small steep-sided ridge overlooking to the north-east the village of Pulverbatch set in a small valley, through which the natural valley route from Shrewsbury to Bishops Castle once ran. The manor of Castle Pulverbatch was held by Roger Venator in 1086 and it is possible that he was responsible for the construction of the castle, though it is not until 1153 that the castle is first mentioned in texts of the period and it was still in existence in 1202, though perhaps derelict by that time.

The castle earthworks include a castle mound or motte, roughly circular in plan with a base diameter of 35m standing up to 8m high. The motte has been constructed on the edge of the ridge to make maximum strategic use of the natural topography. Although there is now no trace of any masonry on the motte there is a local tradition that stonework formerly existed on the site. A substantial ditch, 7m wide and 2.6m deep, with a counterscarp bank 4m wide and 0.8m high separates the castle motte from the flat ground to the west. Around the east and south-east sides of the motte no ditch is visible and it may be that the steep natural slopes, which fall to the south-east, provided sufficient defence.

There are two conjoined baileys designed to contain and protect the domestic buildings of the castle. The smaller, inner bailey lies on the north-east side of the motte and a larger outer bailey lies to the north-west. The inner bailey lies adjacent to the motte and is rectangular in plan with internal dimensions of 28m north-east to south-west by 30m transversely.

Around its north-west and north-east sides the bailey is defended by a substantial bank approximately 10m wide and 4.2m high on its outside, 1.5m high on its inside. Around the south-east side the natural hillslope has been cut back to create a steep scarp slope above the natural approach to the castle. A ditch 6m wide and 1.2m deep runs for approximately 40m along the western side of the north-east bailey, turning into the bailey rampart at its southern end short of the motte ditch, to allow passage between the inner and outer baileys. A similar section of ditch runs for 30m parallel to the north-east section of rampart. A large pit 6m in diameter and l.2m deep lies in the south-west sector of the north-east bailey, adjacent to the motte ditch.

The outer bailey lies adjacent to the motte on its north-west side and is roughly triangular in shape with internal dimensions of 80m north to south by 40m east to west. It is defended by a bank up to 6.5m wide and 1.4m high along its north-west side and by a scarp 2.2m high along its south-west side. A ditch up to 5m wide and lm deep runs along the outside of both bank and scarp. Around the northern side of the enclosure, the bailey rampart lies adjacent to the modern roadway; a section of the rampart at the northern corner of the site is crossed by a trackway leading into the interior of the site.

The outline of two rectangular buildings can be discerned as crop marks in the North angle of the inner bailey in dry weather.

The castle is built in a commanding position beside the old Shrewsbury to Bishops Castle road, now a green lane that may be a very old trackway along the ridge. It has an extensive view over the surrounding countryside and would have been particularly easy to defend. The site is known locally as the Knapp and is maintained by the Friends of Castle Pulverbatch.

A new interpretation board for this castle was installed in November 2008 by the Friends of Castle Pulverbatch. This has been funded by English Heritage and is intended to increase awareness of the historic value and excellent habitat for wildlife that the Ancient Monument provides. Two full colour postcards, produced from images painted by Tessa Parker, are now available for purchase from the White Horse pub.

A motte with two rectangular baileys lies close to Wilderley Hall Farm, sole remnant of the medieval hamlet of Wilderley. The motte stands 5m high, and lies entirely outside the first bailey which has a rampart on all sides except the south. The second bailey lies at a lower level and is defended by a bank with an 3.4m scarp on the east. A ditch, continuous with that round the motte, runs along the north side of both baileys.

A circular motte standing to the south west of two baileys, is surrounded except to the south, by an almost dry ditch. It stands some 5.0m above the ditch and measures some 16.0m across the flat top. The ditch is 1.8m deep.

The two baileys are almost ploughed out but the first one is represented by a scarp slope on the south side and a vague ragged scarp on the north side. Enough remains to be able to see that the overall size of this bailey was approximately 0.12 hectares. The second adjoining bailey is marked by a scarp on all sides except the south and covered approx 0.24 hectares.

Aerial photographs show that the motte is obscured by trees, but traces of the baileys are visible as earthworks. The castle is sited next to a road down from the Portway, which crosses the Long Mynd, avoiding the heavily wooded valleys and their streams. The route was still in use throughout the Roman and post Roman period and was recognised as a Kings Highway in the Middle Ages. It declined with the coming of the railways although it is still used today as a bridleway. Along the route of the Portway are small round burial mounds and cross dykes. Some are known to be later than the track and may even be some form of route marker.

Importance of the Monuments

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Norrnans. They comprised a large conical 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 containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and 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 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 castles or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Castle Pulverbatch motte and bailey castle survives well and is one of the finest examples of its class in the county. The substantial motte and the bailey earthworks will contain valuable archaeological information concerning its method of construction and evidence relating to the occupation of the castle. The interiors of the motte and of both baileys appear undisturbed and will contain valuable stratified archaeological information relating to the date, character and occupation of the buildings which once stood upon the motte and within the baileys. The castle is a substantial example, which is believed to have been in use far only a short period between 1086 and l202 and to have subsequently remained deserted. The early archaeological remains will therefore be undisturbed by any later occupation of the site and will be of’ particular value. Environmental evidence relating to the landscape in which the monument was constructed and the economy of the period will be preserved sealed on the old land surface beneath the motte and the bailey ramparts and in the fill of the various ditches.

Such motte and bailey castles also contribute valuable information relating to the settlement pattern, social structure and administrative organisation of the countryside during the early medieval period.