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were superseded by other types of castle.
Pilsbury Castle Hills is an extensive and extremely well-preserved example of
a complex motte and bailey site with important historical associations. It has
suffered very little disturbance since it was abandoned and therefore retains
intact archaeological remains throughout. These include the buried remains of
buildings not only on the motte and in the three baileys, but in the outwork
to the south and the open occupation area to the north.
The monument is a medieval motte and bailey castle whose remains include a
conical motte or castle mound, three baileys enclosed by ramparts and ditches,
an outwork on the south side and an open area on the north side containing a
variety of earthworks interpreted as the remains of pens and structures
associated with the castle.
The castle is situated on a spur overlooking the River Dove and utilises the
steep natural slope on its north-west side as part of its defences. From this
side the motte is c.12m high and the ramparts up to 10m high. From inside the
castle, the motte is c.5m high and 30m wide across the top. The breadth of the
summit indicates that it was the site of a shell keep; a type of castle keep
in which timber buildings were arranged round the inside of a circular wall or
Internally, the ramparts vary between 2m and 5m high. Internal ditches flank
the ramparts of the central and south-west baileys and vary between 3m and 5m
deep and 5m to 10m wide. A 15m wide ditch encloses the foot of the motte on
its east and south sides and branches north-eastward along the north-west side
of the north bailey where it reaches a width of 10m. The motte ditch also
branches to create a 10m wide external ditch round the south side of the north
bailey, where it varies between 2m and 3m deep.
The north bailey is the largest and most massively defended of the three
enclosures. Its ramparts are up to 5m high and a similar width across the top.
Projections facing north and eastward were the sites of towers. Blocks of
limestone on the surface of these projections are the remains of their
foundations or, alternatively, of the curtain wall that formerly enclosed the
bailey. Access into the north bailey was via a gateway through the defences on
the south-east side. A gate tower would have guarded this entrance and a
curving ramp leads down into the interior of the bailey which is roughly
square and has an area of 0.25 hectares. The strength of the north bailey
indicates that it was the location of the main living accommodation of the
lords of Pilsbury Castle, and would have included the lord's hall and its
various service buildings. The smaller central and south-west baileys, with
areas of 0.15 hectares and 0.09 hectares respectively, would have contained a
variety of workshops, stabling and ancillary buildings, and were most likely
enclosed by timber palisades. They are separated from the north bailey by a
wide ditch. A drawbridge would have existed to connect the two areas and is
believed to have been located at the south-west corner of the north bailey
where there is a corresponding earthwork on the opposite side of the ditch. In
this way, the highly defensible motte and north bailey could be isolated in
the event of attack.
The main approach to the castle was via a sunken track that leads from the
deserted village of Pilsbury to the south and from Crowdecote to the north.
This track passes the entrance into the north bailey and is overlooked by the
outwork on the south side of the castle and by the projecting towers in the
curtain wall. Traffic wishing to enter the service areas of the castle - that
is, the central and south-west baileys - would have circled the castle to the
north and approached via a second entrance which lay to the west of the motte.
Here a ramp leads from the occupation area north of the castle to a gateway
into the south-west bailey. This gate is overlooked by two earthwork mounds
interpreted as the sites of towers. The central bailey was then entered by
turning east through another gate located at the head of the rampart dividing
the two baileys. This rampart would also have carried a palisade.
The precise history of the castle is uncertain but, in addition to commanding
the Dove Valley between two crossing points, it may, in the last quarter of
the thirteenth century, have been the centre of the Hartington estates of
Edmund, Earl of Lancaster. No excavation of the site has been carried out but,
in c.1880, a number of medieval artefacts were found in a cave below the
castle. All modern boundary walls and fencing are excluded from the scheduling
though the ground underneath is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.