Scarborough Castle: Iron Age settlement, Roman signal station, Anglo-Scandinavian settlement and chapel, C12 enclosure castle and C18 battery


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
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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 Grid Reference:
TA 05001 89159

Reasons for Designation

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence and with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

Scarborough Castle is a very well-documented example of an enclosure castle whose military importance lasted throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period. As a royal castle it has played a very important role in the political history of England and has been the setting for a number of historically significant events. Despite being damaged in the later part of its history, its standing remains survive well. In addition, the buried remains of structures and features relating to all phases of occupation survive within its two baileys and outside its walls on Castle Dikes. These include prehistoric, Roman and Anglo-Scandinavian remains in addition to medieval and later.


Scarborough Castle is situated in a prominent cliff-top location overlooking the town to the west and the North Sea to the east. The monument is a multi- period site comprising a single area containing a number of features. These include the buried remains of a Late Bronze Age/Iron Age settlement, a Roman signal station, the site of an early 11th century chapel belonging to the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement, the 12th century enclosure castle which continued in use down to the 19th century, and an 18th century gun battery. Evidence for the earliest of these features was discovered during partial excavation on the site of the Roman signal station in 1920-24. A large number of pits were found containing bronze axes and tools, items of jewellery made of shale and bronze, material associated with bronze smelting, and a quantity of Iron Age pottery. A bronze sword was found in 1980 and two urn burials have also been uncovered. The evidence indicates settlement on the headland from about the sixth century BC and it is likely that the site was a promontory fort whose defensive earthworks may have been incorporated into the medieval defences. This, however, has yet to be confirmed. Archaeological investigation of the prehistoric settlement has so far concentrated on the eastern extreme of the headland around the Roman signal station. The signal station itself was one of a string established in the fourth century AD along the North Sea coast to warn of sea-raids. Others are recorded at Huntcliff, Goldsborough, Ravenscar and Filey whilst, at Whitby, Roman material suggestive of a sixth has been recovered. The example at Scarborough comprised a square, ditched enclosure with rounded corners and small angle bastions. This had a diameter of 33m and enclosed a small courtyard containing a double-stepped plinth which formed the base for a central tower between 27m and 30m high. The signal tower was built of wood but had stone foundations and was guarded by a gatehouse that controlled the entrance into the courtyard. Coin evidence indicates the station was built in c.AD 370 and occupied almost continuously until the early fifth century when it was overrun and destroyed. The remains excavated in the 1920s are now laid out for the public to view, but parts have been destroyed by the erosion and partial collapse of the cliff, as has the medieval Cockhill Tower which formerly stood at the southernmost point of the headland. Found on the same site as the signal station were the remains of a chapel built in c.1000. Three of the walls of the signal station were incorporated into three sides of the chapel, the south side alone being new. Little is known about the chapel except for its layout. It had a square chancel with a diameter of 3.6m and a nave measuring 6m by 5.1m. The churchyard was enclosed by the wall of the Roman courtyard. Documentary evidence indicates that the pre-Conquest town of Scarborough was founded by two Viking brothers, Thorgils and Kormac, and it would have been this settlement that the chapel served. The chapel was destroyed in the mid-eleventh century, most likely during the reputed sacking of the town by Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinsson. Although no other remains of the town have so far been found it is believed that evidence of Anglo-Scandinavian occupation will survive on the headland in the vicinity of the chapel.

The defensible position of the headland, steep cliffed on all but the south- west side and joined to the mainland only by a narrow isthmus, led in c 1135 to it becoming the site of a castle. The original fortifications comprised a ditch cut into the natural gorge that crossed the isthmus surmounted by a wall or palisade. A gatetower was built to protect the entrance which then lay somewhere along the approach between the later medieval barbican and keep. There was no keep in the early castle, but the remains of a wide range of timber buildings dating from this time, and including both garrison and domestic structures, will survive on the headland between the entrance and the cliff edge. The sites of two 12th century buildings are already known: the highly decorated stone-built Chapel of Our Lady, built on the remains of the chapel destroyed in 1066, and a free-standing Norman hall of aisled construction. The landward side of the headland was fortified by a curtain wall begun at this time. The visible remains of this wall, however, date to the late 12th and early 13th centuries when it was strengthened by the addition of a series of round-fronted towers. This work formed part of a major programme of refortification begun between 1158 and 1164, during which time too the gatetower was demolished and a stone keep built at the head of the isthmus. An inner bailey was created behind the keep by the construction of a palisaded bank and ditch. A stone gateway at the northern end provided access to the rest of the headland, which now became the outer bailey. The keep was square in plan, about 30m high, had a turret at each angle and was four-storeyed. Typically of the period, access was via a flight of stone steps which led from outside the south face of the keep, through a forebuilding and to the first floor. Later in the 13th century, the inner bailey was given a stone wall with two gatehouses, a new outer gate and barbican were built, and the causeway across the outer ditch was given two drawbridges. Within the castle, the remains of a number of later medieval buildings can be seen in the bailey and against the curtain; amongst them Mosdale Hall, rebuilt in the late 14th century by the then governor of the castle, John Mosdale. Also, in its original form, of 14th century date, is the wall leading from the postern at the southern end of the curtain wall which shielded the path that led from the castle down to the harbour. Two wells are also known: Our Lady's Well, located within the signal station, and the late 12th century castle well inside the inner bailey. A third chapel also existed, built on the site of its predecessors in c.1312 and destroyed in the 17th century. The medieval castle was originally founded by William le Gros, Earl of Albemarle. In 1154, however, it was seized by Henry II and, but for three days in 1557 when it was held by Sir Thomas Stafford, it remained a royal castle until 1619 when it was granted by James I to John, Earl of Holderness. Its royal owners spent considerable sums maintaining and improving its defences. It suffered damage from time to time during the foreign wars and political struggles of the 14th and 15th centuries, was attacked on numerous occasions by the French and Scots during the 16th century. It underwent two prolonged sieges during the Civil War of the 17th century, after which it was slighted by order of Parliament though the west face of the keep had already been destroyed by canon and other buildings had been severely damaged. The keep was never repaired but some parts of the castle were restored and new buildings were added. In 1746, in response to the perceived threat of the Young Pretender to the English throne, barracks for 120 troops were built on the remains of Mosdale Hall and the South Steel Battery was constructed at the southernmost point of the castle to house twelve guns overlooking and controlling the harbour. A garrison was still kept at the castle into the 19th century but it had little military use and, in 1914, was bombarded by two German cruisers who damaged buildings including the barracks. The headland and ruins have been in State care since 1920 and are in the ownership of the Crown. A number of features within the protected area are excluded from the scheduling. Within the castle walls these include the ticket office and all modern fixtures and fittings such as benches, railings, safety grilles, lighting and information boards, the canons and Master Gunner's house, and the surfaces of all paths and modern steps; outside the castle walls, in Castle Dikes, excluded features include the playground, benches, lamp posts, bins, telegraph poles and the surfaces of public footpaths; the ground beneath the excluded features, both within and outside the castle walls, is included in 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.

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Books and journals
Elgee, F, The Archaeology of Yorkshire, (1933)
Stead, I, La Tene Cultures of East Yorkshire, (1965)
'Antiquity' in Antiquity, , Vol. XXXVI, (1962)
'Transactions of the Scarborough & District Arch. Society' in Transactions of the Scarborough and District Arch. Society, , Vol. 2, (1959)


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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