Bowes Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Bowes Castle, Bowes, County Durham


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Bowes Castle, Bowes, County Durham
County Durham (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The monument includes the standing and buried remains of a tower keep castle surrounded by the earthwork remains of a ditch on the south and west sides. It is situated at a strategic point on the approach to the Stainmore Pass over the Pennines and stands within the north-east corner of the Roman fort of Lavatris, the remainder of which is scheduled as a separate monument (DU 111 or NHLE 1002316). The castle is also a Grade I listed building.

Reasons for Designation

Bowes Castle, the standing structural, buried and earthwork remains of a Norman castle, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Historical: as the first of the chain of late C12 castles built to control the Stainmore Pass, Bowes was constructed to control this route and a section of the country bordering Scotland; * Archaeological potential: the site retains buried remains which have the potential to increase our knowledge and understanding of the castle, and of this building type.


Bowes is the first of the three Norman castles on the strategic route known as Stainmore Pass, built between 1171 and 1187 along what was then the border between England and Scotland. Bowes, Brough and Brougham Castles are all situated within or beside Roman forts, illustrating the strategic significance of the route.

Originally part of the honour of Richmond, Bowes Castle came into the hands of Henry II when Earl Conan died in February 1171 without male heirs. The king lost no time in strengthening a castle so important for the defence of the kingdom against Scottish invasion, and in 1171 the sheriff accounted for an expenditure of £100 on the work of the castle, besides £1 paid to Richard, the engineer in charge. In the following year £224, and in 1172-3 £100 were similarly accounted for. In 1173-4 the threatened Scottish invasion took place, and Bowes was besieged by King William the Lion. However, he retired immediately when Geoffrey, Archbishop of York, approached with a relieving army. Rannulf Glanville, then the keeper of the honour of Richmond, subsequently repaired the castle gates and defended the tower 'against the coming of the King of Scots'. In 1179-80 his expenditure included £117 13s. 8d. on the 'work of the tower' of Bowes. After 1183 the administration of the honour was assumed by Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, who in 1181 had married Constance, daughter of the late Earl Conan, and if any work was done on the castle during the next seven years it was at his expense and not the king's. After the duke's death in 1186 Rannulf Glanville, as sheriff of Yorkshire, accounted for £23 which he had spent on the tower, and in 1187-8 for a further £6 for its completion. There can, therefore, be no doubt that the existing tower keep, originally of three storeys, was under construction between 1171 and 1187, and that much of its cost was borne by the king.

Bowes Castle appears to have remained in the hands of the Crown until 1233, when it was granted by Henry III to Peter, Duke of Brittany. No further expenditure on its fabric by the sheriff is recorded after 1187. In 1241 the castle and manor of Bowes were granted for life to Peter of Savoy, the king's uncle and earl of Richmond. When Edward II granted ownership to John de Scargill in 1322 there was much resentment, and the castle was besieged and captured by tenants of the earl. From 1314 to 1322 the north of England was devastated by the Scots and by 1325 the castle was reported to be in ruins and in 1341 'weak and worth nothing'. After Scargill's death in 1361 the castle reverted to the crown. In 1444 the property was granted to the powerful Neville family who held it until 1471 when it once again reverted to the crown. James I sold it and any military worth that remained was destroyed during the Civil War. Thereafter it was partially dismantled and much of its stone robbed for building.

The castle was included in a RCHME survey of the Roman fort and its environs in 1990. In 1993 an archaeological evaluation in advance of drainage works uncovered a section of, what was considered to be, a medieval wall running parallel to the castle’s south ditch; C12-C14 pieces of pottery and several fragments of medieval glass were also recovered.


The monument includes the standing and buried remains of a tower keep castle surrounded by the earthwork remains of a ditch on the south and west sides. It is situated at a strategic point on the approach to the Stainmore Pass over the Pennines and stands within the north-east corner of the Roman fort of Lavatris, the remainder of which is scheduled as a separate monument (DU 111 or NHLE 1002316). The castle is also a Grade I listed building.

The unroofed, square keep is constructed of sandstone ashlar with a rubble core and stands to three storeys high; it is thought to incorporate some re-used Roman masonry. It has a double-chamfered plinth, and each face has projecting corners and a broad flat central buttress with set-back wall panels between. The east elevation retains the lower courses of the projecting forebuilding; the main round-arched doorway has set-back voussoirs, and is flanked by small round-arched openings. There are loops to ground and first floor in the south east corner. A well situated immediately outside the north east corner measures c.2m in diameter. The south elevation contains a first-floor round-arched window of 2 orders (inner order chamfered) to the east of the central buttress and the remains of a roll-moulded band above; four round-headed loops and a single square-headed loop lie to either side. The west elevation with large areas of exposed rubble core has exposed mural passages and a first-floor garderobe chute to the south; a projecting section of wall at the foot of the chute has two round-arched openings. There are the remains of large windows to the north end. The north elevation has a large round-headed first-floor window with set-back rounded jambs. Close to the south-western side of the keep, there is a broad L-shaped ditch measuring c.10m wide and c. 2.5m to 3m deep.

The ground floor of the keep served as storage, and the first floor was the principal living area accessed by a stone stair in the forebuilding. The second floor is considered to have housed the private chambers. The ground-floor interior retains several springers indicating the presence of former rib vaults, and in the south east corner there is a partially rebuilt newel stair, which provided communication internally between ground and first floor. At first floor the visible remains of the former kitchen in the north east corner include a fireplace and a simple flue leading out through the north wall. The first floor was divided into hall and chamber by a cross wall, visible as a stub projecting from the north wall. Mural chambers and garderobes are also present, built within the thickness of the walls, and there is evidence of a newel stair, giving access to the second floor private chambers.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
DU 119
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Colvin, H M, The History of the King's Works, (1963), 574
Vyner, et al, The Archaeology of the Stainmore Pass, (1998), 10, 15, 117-8
Bowes Roman Fort, Castle and Village, by RCHME Newcastle office, 1991.
English Heritage Guide Book: 1999 Barnard Castle, Egglestone Abbey, Bowes Castle.


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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