Enclosure castle at Castle Donington
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1011608
Date first listed: 05-Jul-1993
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: North West Leicestershire (District Authority)
Parish: Castle Donington
National Grid Reference: SK 44857 27562
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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
The castle at Castle Donington includes major earthworks and even though parts of the earthworks are backfilled, it is a good surviving example of a class of site not common in the county. The archaeological evidence is supported by valuable documentary evidence and the site is also of topographical interest, lying as it does adjacent to the planned medieval settlement of Castle Donington and overlooking the major ford over the Trent. The site will retain important buried remains both of the curtain wall and its towers and of major medieval buildings within the defended platform.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument occupies the northern end of a prominent sandstone spur of land
to the north of the planned medieval town of Castle Donington. The site,
which defended an important crossing of the River Trent to the north, includes
the buried remains of an enclosure castle surrounded by a moat and an outer
ditch on the south-east side, which provided additional defence for the
It is probable that an easily defensible site such as this will have had its
origins as an Iron Age (or even earlier) promontory fort, although evidence
yet to confirm this. The documentary record begins with the construction of
the castle in the mid 12th century by the Lords of Halton in Cheshire. It was
later destroyed by order of King John in 1215. Re-building took place in the
later 13th century, and by 1310 the castle was held by Henry Lacy, Earl of
Lincoln. The castle later passed to the Earls of Lancaster and was held for
Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses. In 1461 the castle was granted to
William Hastings who used stone from the site for his new house in nearby
Donington Park. During the next 100 years the castle was in the hands of
several different stewards, finally falling into disrepair and ruins. In 1565
a Commissioner's report describes the castle as containing the ruins of a
curtain wall surrounded by a moat and having towers, two of which were square,
two round, and one half-round.
The site occupies a sub-circular area about 160m in diameter defined by what
was originally a large pair of ditches cutting off the tip of the promontory
from the plateau to the south, where the town is now situated. The outer of
the two ditches has been mostly backfilled but it is still visible as an
earthwork feature about 2m deep and 25m wide in the south-eastern part of the
site. In the southern part of the site it is a buried feature beneath Nos 1-9
The Moat and below Nos 1-11 The Hollow. The modern road known as The Hollow
is itself a re-cutting of the south-western part of the outer ditch. Nos 1, 2
and 5-11 The Hollow and Nos 1-5 The Moat are all cut into the sides of the
ditch itself, modifying its shape, and the remains of the outer ditch is not
included in the scheduling below these houses. By contrast, the remaining
houses in The Hollow (Nos 3-10) and in The Moat (Nos 7-9) are built over the
uppermost fills of the ditch and so the ground below these houses (though not
the houses themselves) is included within the scheduling.
The outer ditch is separated from the inner ditch by a broad bank, up to 4m
above present ground level in places and 20m wide towards its south-western
end. It is broad enough towards its south-western end to support several
modern buildings (including Nos 2, 4 and 8 Castle Hill); these buildings are
excluded from the scheduling, however the ground beneath them is included.
The inner ditch is still a major earthwork feature, despite having been
filled-in at various points along its circuit. Unlike the outer ditch, which
only exists across the promontory south of the castle enclosure, the inner
ditch surrounded the castle site. To the south and south-east, it was cut
perhaps 10m deep below the prevailing ground surface and it was at least 25m
wide. On the north-east, north and west sides of the castle, however, the
ditch was constructed by scarping the natural slopes of the promontory and
constructing a counterscarp bank about one third of the way down the slope.
This counterscarp bank is visible as a prominent earthwork some 2m high and 5m
wide on the north and north-east sides of the site but, as the ditch has been
infilled on the north-west and western sides, its presence is only revealed
here by the sharp change in the angle of the hill slope.
Access into the castle enclosure in the medieval period was along the same
line as today, that is northwards from Borough Street via Castle Hill. Access
must have been achieved by means of causeways and bridges across the outer and
inner ditches on the line of the present roadway and it is likely that the
buried remains of at least one gateway will survive below its surface.
The main buildings of the castle occupied the irregularly shaped platform in
the centre of the site, enclosed by the earthwork ditches. It is clear from
documentary references and finds made in the 1940s that the platform was also
surrounded by a substantial masonry curtain wall with at least five towers.
Little is known of the distribution of buildings within this enclosure,
although there were clearly major stone buildings here, the remains of which
will survive as buried features. The remains of one stone structure is
visible at present and the location of two more are known. Still visible is a
block of medieval masonry 6m long and 1.75m high which forms the western part
of a more modern retaining wall to the south of the passage behind Nos 18-26
Castle Hill. This masonry is included in the scheduling. To the north of
this length of masonry a major stone-lined well was recorded in 1978, which is
now covered and is also included in the scheduling.
The foundations of two substantial walls, possibly representing a keep, the
curtain wall and the sites of two towers, were seen during work in a garden on
the north side of the site in the 1940s. A small excavation 1976 established
that the moat contained more than 4m of archaeological deposits; it was flat-
bottomed with evidence of at least one re-cutting. The excavation, which also
produced 14th-late 15th century pottery and a considerable amount of tumbled
masonry from the curtain wall, indicated that the site was occupied up until
the early 16th century, which accords well with the documentary evidence.
The site now occupied by Nos 16-26 Castle Hill is also known to have contained
medieval buildings. An engraving of 1792 shows a much repaired stone building
of several phases and of medieval origin on this site. The north wall of the
present row of houses (which were built around the turn of the century)
includes some of the fabric of this building. These houses are also built
over older cellars, again of several phases of construction, though, as these
houses are all occupied, they are excluded from the scheduling.
Excluded from the scheduling, therefore, are the following buildings; Nos 1,
2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24 and 26 Castle Hill, Nos 7, 9,
15, 17 and 21 The Moat, Nos 3-10 The Hollow, and all out-buildings and modern
features; also excluded are all made-up surfaces including the road surface of
Castle Hill, although the ground beneath all these properties and features is
included in the scheduling.
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: 17096
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Farnham, G, Thompson, A H, 'Transactions of the Leicestershire Arch and Historical Society' in The Castle and Manor of Castle Donington, , Vol. 14, (1926)
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