Mote Hills motte and bailey castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NY 93758 93514

Reasons for Designation

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Mote Hills is exceptionally well preserved and is considered to be the best example of a motte and bailey castle in Northumberland. Such monuments are rare in Northumberland and the association of this one with the well documented Umfraville family is of particular importance; it will add to our knowledge and understanding of the spread of Norman occupation in Britain.


Mote Hills motte and bailey is situated in an elevated position on a natural spur, which has been modified in order to construct the earthworks. The motte, roughly circular in plan with a flat top, stands to a maximum height of 15m and is 80m in diameter across the base and 46m across the top. The motte is surrounded on the north and east sides by a strong earthen rampart ranging from 1.5m to 3m high, while the western side is protected by steep natural defence. The bailey is situated to the north of the motte and is separated from it by a broad crescent shaped ditch 15m wide. The bailey is roughly rectangular in shape and has maximum internal dimensions of 72m east-west by 48m north-south; it is strongly defended on all sides by a massive earthen rampart, on average 20m across and 10m high. A shallow outer ditch 15m wide surrounds the entire complex. The motte and bailey is considered to have been constructed by Robert de Umfraville in the 11th century AD and is thought to have been the predecessor of the Umfraville seat at Harbottle. Limited excavation of part of the motte in the early 18th century uncovered a Roman inscribed stone in two pieces; it is believed to have been brought from the Roman fort at High Rochester to be re-used as building material. Unconfirmed reports also attest to the 19th century discovery of a pottery vessel containing burnt bone, the location of which is not known. The stone walls which form the boundary of the area on the south and east sides, and the stone wall which crosses the northern edge of the area are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

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Books and journals
Hodgson, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume 2 part 1, (1827), 97-98
Hope-Dodds, M, The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume XV, (1940), 36 &151


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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