Enclosure castle at Castle Donington


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011608

Date first listed: 05-Jul-1993


Ordnance survey map of Enclosure castle at Castle Donington
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Leicestershire

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 important.

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 promontory. 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 has 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)

End of official listing