Sandal Castle: motte and bailey castle and shell keep castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Sandal Castle: motte and bailey castle and shell keep castle
© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wakefield (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 33757 18149

Reasons for Designation

Motte 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 centres of local or royal administration. Between the Conquest and the mid-thirteenth century, usually during the twelfth century, a number of motte and bailey castles and ringworks were remodelled in stone. In the case of mottes, the timber palisade surrounding the top of the motte mound was replaced by a thick stone wall to form a `shell keep'. If the tower on the motte was of timber, this may also have been replaced in stone and, if a bailey was present, its ramparts were often strengthened with a curtain wall. Within the keep, buildings for domestic or garrison purposes were often constructed against the inside of the keep wall. Although over 600 motte castles or motte and bailey castles are recorded nationally, examples converted into shell keeps are rare with only 60 sites known to have been remodelled in this way. As such, and 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. Sandal Castle is a well-preserved example of a substantial motte and bailey castle which was of sufficient strategic importance to be refortified in stone and became a shell keep castle. The high quality of the stonework now exposed attests to the castle building skills of the baronial owners (earls of Surrey and then the dukes of York). It was repaired and improved by its royal owners from Edward IV in 1460 to Elizabeth in 1566.


Sandal Castle is located on high ground overlooking the Sandal area of Wakefield and the River Calder. The monument includes the standing remains of the thirteenth century shell keep castle and the earthworks of the earlier motte and bailey castle. The main earthworks comprise a substantial motte, c.15m high and with a base diameter of c.40m, and a crescent shaped inner bailey measuring c.60m by 25m. The bailey is separated from the motte by a deep ditch which also encircles both features and measures c.15m wide and 5m deep. The ditch is enclosed by a substantial counterscarp bank and is broken on the east side by a modern causeway which gives access to the bailey alongside the surviving medieval stonework of the bridge and gate. Extensive outworks exist to the south-east and represent a Civil War defensive hornwork of copybook pattern. The earliest castle buildings were of timber and were replaced in stone during the thirteenth century. Excavation of the interior carried out between 1964 and 1973 has revealed a number of timber buildings including a square, timber- framed kitchen and an aisled hall or residence. The original wooden tower on the motte was rebuilt as a stone shell keep with circular towers. This would have contained service and garrison buildings and would have had a wall-walk lining the interior. The base of the keep can still be seen along with the foundations, on the south-east side of the motte, of two round towers believed to have guarded the drawbridge between the keep and the barbican. The barbican, whose lower courses are still upstanding, was built on an island of rock in the ditch between the motte and the bailey and is flanked by defensive walls which cross the ditch. In the bailey are the foundations of service buildings and upstanding fragments of walling from the Great Hall and lodgings chambers set upon pillared undercrofts. The bailey also contains a well. Sandal Castle is a Listed Building Grade II*. The castle was first mentioned in c.l240 and was held by the Warennes, earls of Surrey. It stands approximately one mile south-east of Low Hill motte and bailey castle, on the opposite side of the River Calder. Although the precise relationship between the two castles is not yet known, it is likely that they were originally built to command the river valley together. Sandal Castle may have been attacked in 1317, and, in 1460, the area to the north was the site of the battle of Wakefield fought between the forces of Queen Margaret and the Duke of York. Richard III made this his chief stronghold in the north, adding the polygonal tower to the keep and providing a new bakehouse; the walls of both buildings are still visible. It was slighted between 1645 and 1648 following a seige after which it appears to have been systematically quarried for its stone. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These include the surfaces of the carpark and paths, an electricity junction box, all modern walling and fencing, benches, safety grilles and wastebins. The ground beneath these features is, however, included.

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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Mayes, P, Butler, L A S, Sandal Castle, Excavations 1964-73, (1983)
In SMR, WY 109/36; 171/15A-18A; NMR 4085/38-45,


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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