Foss Castle: a motte and bailey, precursor to Old Mulgrave 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.

North Yorkshire
Scarborough (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NZ 83208 11733

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Except for minor disturbance of the motte by early 19th century antiquarians and recent afforestation, the motte and bailey at Foss Castle is well preserved; the below-ground remains of medieval structures will survive on the motte and within the baileys while the accumulated fill of the bailey ditch and the buried landsurface beneath the motte will retain environmental evidence relating to the landscape in which the castle was constructed. Unusually, the 13th century successor to the Norman castle, Old Mulgrave Castle, was constructed on a new site; because the archaeological remains at Foss Castle have not been disturbed by later construction, the two monuments considered together offer a relatively rare opportunity for studying the development of medieval fortifications over time.


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle situated at the head of the valley of the Sandsend Beck, overlooking its precipitous gorge from the north side. The Barnby Beck, major tributary of the Sandsend Beck, issues over a series of waterfalls from a slack, while a minor tributary flows in a steep- sided gully along the western edge of the monument; because of its location the castle has good natural defences on its south-western side. The motte is an artificial mound, 50m in diameter at the base and surrounded by an 8m wide, 2m deep ditch. The mound is 4m high, the flat top being 40m in diameter and partially surrounded by a 0.5m high rampart bank. There are various low earthworks on the top of the mound, some of which will contain the foundations of buildings such as the fortified tower which once stood on the motte while other features are the result of a small-scale excavation reported to have been carried out prior to 1817. To the north-east of the motte and running at a tangent to it is a ditch which links the gully of the small stream to the west with the edge of the precipice to the south; the ditch is 5m wide and 1.5m deep at its north-western end but becomes 10m wide and 3m deep at its south-eastern end. The motte is flanked by two enclosures, or baileys. Of these, the northern one is triangular, measuring 60m by 30m across, bounded by the ditch on its north-eastern side and by the steep, 5m high scarp of the east bank of the stream at the west. The southern bailey is larger, measuring 65m long by 40m wide, bounded by the ditch to the north-east and by the precipice to the south and west. The castle was founded in 1072 by Nigel Fossard and abandoned about 1200 when Robert de Turnham built Old Mulgrave Castle, its stone successor, 700m to the east.

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:
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Books and journals
Young, G, History of Whitby, (1817), 687
L'Anson, W M, 'Yorkshire Archaeological Journal' in Castles of the North Riding, , Vol. 22, (1913), 348-51
Record No. 07405.0000,
Title: 6" Map Series (Ordnance Survey) Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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