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were superseded by other types of castle.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.
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
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.