Pilsbury Castle 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.

Derbyshire Dales (District Authority)
Hartington Town Quarter
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SK 11388 63867

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.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

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:


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Derby: Volume I, (1905), 385-6
Hart, CR, North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey to AD 1500, (1981)
Lysons, Reverend D, Lysons, S, Magna Britannia. A concise topographical account of several coun, (1817), 175
Turner, W, 'Derbyshire Archaeological Journal' in Notes on Buxton and District, , Vol. 25, (1903), 159


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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