Whorlton Castle: a motte and bailey and tower house with associated garden, earthworks, ponds, park pale, field system, deserted village and church


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.

North Yorkshire
Hambleton (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NZ 48268 02376

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte and bailey at Whorlton is unusual in that it continued in use throughout the medieval period. The Norman defences were later remodelled in stone with the construction of a 14th century tower house, a form of defended aristocratic residence common to the north of England which evolved in response to the war-like conditions that prevailed in the region during the Middle Ages. The monument additionally includes earthworks relating to the later medieval imparkment of the estate, illustrating that despite troubled times some degree of wealth and security was still enjoyed by the aristocracy: the late medieval gardens are a rare and unusual survival in northern England and include remains of a complex water-management system created for the supply of large ponds. Further associations with the well- preserved remains of the medieval village, field system and 12th century church help to provide a wider view of rural life in Yorkshire during the whole of the medieval period. The different elements of the monument are clearly visible as well preserved earthworks, while the tower house and church survive as ruins upstanding to full height in places. Archaeological remains will include below-ground foundations of buildings, features relating to medieval agricultural and horticultural practices, environmental evidence preserved in accumulated silt in various ponds and burials associated with the medieval churchyard.


The monument includes two groups of features; those relating to the medieval castle with its landscaped vista and those associated with the medieval village of Whorlton. The Norman motte and bailey, altered by the addition of a stone-built tower house, is situated at the top of Castle bank, while a series of garden earthworks, ponds and park pale occupy the slopes to the east of the castle; much of the land surrounding the castle had been cultivated during the medieval period and large areas of ridge and furrow are still visible. The remains of the village lie to the south, on Howe Hill, and represent an expansion of the settlement westwards from Whorlton Lane, along an old road to Swainby. Also included in the monument are the ruined parts of the Holy Cross Church, which has Norman origins. The motte is a flat-topped mound, squarish in plan and measuring 60m by 50m across, which is partly surrounded by a ditch up to 20m wide by 5m deep with a 2.5m high outer bank. Some of the cellars may date to the Norman period but most of the masonry, including the gatehouse tower, belongs to the 14th century tower house built on the site. To the south and east of the motte a relatively level platform, bounded by a steep 2m-3m high scarp with a 1m deep ditch at its foot, forms the outer court or bailey. A modern farm building in the northern half of the bailey is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it is included. A dried-up pond in the south east corner of the bailey is a later addition and is probably associated with the later garden landscaping; it drained into a second pond at a lower level outside the bailey which drained in turn, to a now boggy area beside the stream which flows west from Whorlton village. Immediately to the east of the bailey, the modern road is flanked by two roughly symmetrical rectangular enclosures, each 40m by 20m across bounded by 1m high banks; these were laid out as ornamental gardens, at the end of the medieval period. A sharply defined rectangular pond, 190m long by 20m wide and up to 3m deep, lies along the eastern side of the garden enclosures and is divided into two unequal parts by the modern road. This pond is one of the latest features to have been constructed when the castle grounds were landscaped. To the south of and east of the castle, a number of earthworks are visible which relate to the imparkment of the estate which was begun in the 13th century. A boundary feature or park pale runs from the northern end of the rectangular pond north eastwards for 340m where it meets a stream in a deep gully; it comprises a double bank with a ditch between and, although altered by agriculture, earthworks are still up to 0.5m high in places. Between the park pale and the modern road are a series of low parallel ridges and furrows which show that this area was once under arable cultivation but, apart from an area of ridge and furrow to the north of the rectangular pond, there is no evidence of medieval earthworks beyond the park pale. The road once ran slightly north of its present route and its original edge is indicated by a slight bank. Boundary features and cultivation earthworks are also visible in the graveyard of Holy Cross Church and in the land between the church and the village. The Church of the Holy Cross dates to the 12th century and, although only the 14th century chancel is in use, the original arcades of the ruined nave are still standing. The graveyard, now largely disused, will have been in use from the medieval period. The remains of the medieval village lie beside a hollow way which runs along the brow of Howe Hill, south west towards Swainby. The line of hollow way is visible as a parallel series of narrow linear terraces and south of this are the rectangular platforms of house plots or yards. Ridge and furrow earthworks are also apparent to the south of the village. At Domesday, Whorlton was recorded as belonging to the Manor of Hutton Rudby then held by Robert, Earl of Mortain. Accounts from the 13th century name the stronghold variously as `Potto' and `Hwernelton' castle and from the 12th to the 16th century, Whorlton remained under the control of de Meynell family and it was they who created Whorlton Park. The layout of the park and the village of Whorlton was recorded in detail on a map of 1628. Finds of Roman artefacts have been made close to the church, suggesting that the settlement may have had much earlier origins. The chancel of Holy Cross Church, which is in use for worship, is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it and the standing structure of the nave and tower are included. A modern stone-built barn at the north eastern end of the village is excluded from the scheduling and all fences and the metalled surfaces of roads are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included. An area of the churchyard to the west of the church which remains in active use for burial is totally excluded from the scheduling.

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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Whorlton Castle etc, RCHME unpublished survey, 1990,


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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