Mount Ferrant: a motte and bailey castle


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011603

Date first listed: 30-Aug-1922

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Jan-1994


Ordnance survey map of Mount Ferrant: a motte and bailey castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Ryedale (District Authority)

Parish: Birdsall

National Grid Reference: SE 79653 63875


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.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 castle at Mount Ferrant represents a type of motte and bailey whose configuration has been specifically adapted to suit its commanding situation. Although its defences were dismantled in the 12th century, the monument has not been altered by subsequent use; below-ground features associated with the occupation of the castle, foundations of timber structures and associated medieval robbing trenches will survive. Archaeological remains from the dismantling of the castle are important because of their association with the founding of Meaux Abbey.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle situated on a narrow promontory projecting westwards from the foot of Birdsall Brow. This spur, with steep scarps on three sides, offers a naturally defensive position and only slight additional fortification was required. Because of the topography of the site, the motte and bailey has an unusual form but the essential elements of this type of castle, a main stronghold and one or more outer courts, have been identified. The spine of the promontory rises gradually from east to west and its highest point, a slight knoll near the western end, served as the motte; although there is no evidence that the top of the knoll has been artificially raised, it was made more defensible by a 2.5m deep ditch on the eastern side and a corresponding but slightly shallower ditch on the western side. To the east of the motte, the promontory is divided into three baileys by earthworks cut transversely across the ridge. The western bailey is at a slightly lower level than the motte and measures 50m by 50m across, its eastern edge is marked by a 5m high scarp to the base of a ditch. This ditch is 25m wide and its 2m high eastern scarp rises to the middle bailey, a relatively flat area measuring 100m east-west and up to 60m north-south. The eastern bailey is separated from the middle bailey by a slight ditch and measures 200m east-west by 100m north-south; the ground falls quite steeply to the east where the promontory joins the foot of the Wold scarp. Here the existing field boundary incorporates the outer defences of the bailey; these take the form of a 2m high earthen bank with a 10m wide outer ditch which lie across the narrow neck of the promontory. The construction of the castle is attributed to Nigel Fossard. There is documentary evidence that the castle was constructed largely of wood. It must have fallen out of use by 1150 when it was dismantled and timbers were given to monks for their building works at the newly founded abbey of Meaux. The destruction was completed, in around 1173, by Henry II to punish the young Lord William Fossard. Commanding views over the surrounding countryside are possible from the highest point of the castle; it overlooks the Roman road to Malton which runs just over 100m to the west of the castle and which will have remained as a strategically important routeway in the medieval period. All fences are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 20527

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Yorkshire East Riding, (1912)
Cathcart-King, D J, Castellarium Anglicanum, (1983)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:1000 Series Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 6" Series Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing