Wark Castle motte and bailey castle and artillery fort


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Wark Castle motte and bailey castle and artillery fort
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NT 82394 38725

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

At Wark, the original motte and bailey form was developed gradually over the centuries in response to developments in warfare. By the 14th century a stone keep or `donjon' had been constructed on the site of the motte and by the mid- 16th century this had been modified and re-designed to accommodate artillery. The development of the castle into an artillery fort was completed when a massive, stone faced, artillery platform was constructed around the keep in 1543. Such artillery castles were constructed during the Tudor period as strong defensive structures. Most date to Henry VIII's maritime defence programme between 1539 and 1545. These monuments represent some of the earliest structures built exclusively for the new use of artillery in warfare and can be attributed to a relatively short time span in English history. Their architecture is specific in terms of date and function and represents an important aspect of the development of defensive structures generally.

Wark Castle contains the remains of a 16th century artillery fort built on the remains of a series of earlier defensive structures, dating back to the 12th century. Limited excavation has shown that archaeological deposits survive well beneath the surface and further remains of structures associated with the earlier history of the castle will survive within the site. Wark Castle is particularly important in representing the development of a castle over a continuous period in response to changes in warfare. It will contribute significantly to our understanding of the development of defensive structures during the periods of the 12th to 16th centuries.


The monument includes the remains of the inner and middle wards of Wark Castle. The castle lies adjacent to the River Tweed, on the Anglo-Scottish border. It originated in the early 12th century, probably as a motte and bailey castle and was occupied very nearly continually until the early 17th century. It underwent many modifications during this period, culminating in its final form, that of a 16th century artillery fort. Despite the frequent rebuildings, the overall plan of the castle has probably not changed greatly. It has an inner, middle and outer ward. The village of Wark is laid out within and around the area which is believed to have formed the outer ward of the castle; archaeological remains will survive in this area, however, it has not been included because their extent and state of preservation are not sufficiently understood. The standing remains of the castle are Listed Grade II*.

The inner and middle wards lie at the west end of the village, between the kaim or kame (the crest of a narrow, steep sided, glacial ridge), and the River Tweed. The castle mound, which forms the inner ward, occupies the top of the kaim, at the point where it lies nearest to the river, and overlooks the site of an ancient ford. The middle ward lies to the east of the castle mound and occupies the area between the kaim and the steep river cliff which forms the south bank of the Tweed.

The earliest castle was founded in the early 12th century as a private castle for Walter l'Espec. It would have included a timber keep on the motte and a palisade around the bailey. The bailey enclosure would have contained a wide range of timber built ancillary features including accommodation and service buildings. The castle suffered a series of attacks by the Scots shortly after it was constructed. It was burnt to the ground by King John in 1216. The castle was subsequently rebuilt with the addition of a stone curtain wall and the timber keep was replaced by a stone tower, first mentioned in 1365.

The inner ward comprises a mound, over 13m high, with a base diameter of 50m; the top measures 10m-15m across. This mound forms the artillery platform dating from the 16th century, and appears to envelope the earlier keep, a masonry tower which would have been constructed on top of the original castle motte. The tower or `donjon' was originally four stories high, and contained accommodation for over 40 men. There was a series of trapdoors in each floor which allowed ordnance to be hoisted up to the uppermost storey, where it was stored. None of the masonry associated with the tower is now visible, however, extensive remains of the tower will survive within the mound which encloses it and the dimensions of the top of the mound tally approximately with those of the `donjon' shown in a plan of 1561. Excavations carried out in the 19th century revealed a square, masonry lined pit, 1.5m across, on the south west side of the mound. This descended nearly to the bottom of the mound and was found to contain numerous cannon balls. An oval hollow, 0.5m deep, is visible in the top of the mound and may represent where material has collapsed into the interior of the tower.

The artillery platform, known as The Ring, was built around the tower in 1543. The Ring comprised a wide earthen platform faced with massive stone walls over 7m high and 1.8m thick. The platform was more than 7m wide and was provided with 12 embrasures for artillery. Most of the facing stones of The Ring have been robbed away and the stone core survives as a massive vertical feature, most clearly visible on the north and west sides of the mound. The sloping masonry on the south side is at a lower level and may represent stone cladding of the original motte on which The Ring stood. Debris from the tower has slumped onto the artillery platform, giving rise to ledges at various heights around the mound. On the east side of the mound, the line of a flight of steps linking the mound to the middle ward is clearly visible as a deep hollow with some stonework exposed in the sides. The steps turn through a near right-angle about half way down the mound and descend to the north along the line of a boundary wall. A limited excavation of this area carried out in the 19th century revealed a long flight of stone steps with a portcullis about half way up. To the west of the mound, the kaim has been cut by a ditch which now survives as a depression 1.6m deep and up to 14m wide. This is interpreted as the defensive ditch associated with the earlier motte and bailey castle.

The middle ward lies immediately to the east of the castle mound. It is an area on two levels, lying between the ridge of the kaim and the river. It is cut in two by a lane, believed to be medieval in origin, which now leads to The Boathouse. The middle ward is partly surrounded by the remains of a substantial defensive curtain wall. The west curtain wall runs down the north slope of the castle mound to meet the line of the lane; in this section it survives as a bank 1.4m high. The line of the wall continues to the north of the lane as an outward facing scarp 3m high; the wall itself is not visible here and probably underlies the west boundary of Castle Cottage. The north curtain wall follows the line of the river cliff. A substantial stretch can be seen standing between the gardens of Castle Cottage and Tweed Bank Cottage, where it forms part of Castle Cottage boundary wall. The wall here survives to a height of 1.5m. A further small length of wall, 8m long and two courses high, survives immediately to the east of Tweed Bank Cottage. At a lower level on the river cliff, immediately to the east of Castle Cottage, a length of wall 3.5m long and 1.6m high, contains the outfall of a substantial drain 0.45m wide and 0.5m high. This drain extends beneath the grounds of Castle Cottage and is likely to have carried waste from the service ranges within the bailey. The boundary between the outer and middle wards, on the east side of the middle ward, is marked by a substantial drop of up to 7.5m, although to the north of the lane it is less than 3m. Part of the east wall survives along the east boundary of Tweed Bank Cottage. The south wall of the ward follows the naturally high ground of the kaim ridge. The inner wallface of the curtain is visible for a length of 16m, stands 3m high and is augmented by the slope to give a total internal wall height of 5m. Masonry visible on the external face indicates that the thickness of the wall may have been as much as 7m. This could represent the double-skinned wall, filled with earth, which was built in 1543 as a defence against artillery. The slope of the kaim to the south of the line of the wall has undergone some modification. It includes the remains of two earthwork banks and a stone building, however the date of these features is unknown.

The interior of the middle ward forms a roughly square area, 72m by 76m. During the 16th century there were plans for this area to contain accommodation for 140 men, as well as a hall with kitchen, bakehouse and other offices. There are no visible upstanding remains, but in 1863 it was reported that the remains of buildings could be discovered all over this area by digging a few feet down, and the remains of steps were uncovered when a trench was dug across the lane in 1951. To the south of the lane, there are faint traces of a bank and platform which may represent a later episode of land use. To the north of the lane, there is a drop in ground level. The ward here is occupied by the grounds of Castle Cottage and Tweed Bank Cottage. The foundations of a defensive tower were visible in the garden of one of these houses in the late 19th century. There are slight variations in ground level on the lawn of Castle Cottage and cropmarks of a rectangular building appear on the lawn during periods of drought, which indicates that the remains of buildings still survive beneath the ground in this area. The south boundary wall of Castle Cottage contains a number of pieces of reused masonry, including a carved stone decorated with quatrefoils.

Wark Castle played a key strategic role in the wars between England and Scotland throughout the 12th to 16th centuries. Built as a private castle for Walter l'Espec in the 12th century, the original castle was razed to the ground by the Scots in 1138. It had been re-fortified by 1158, but was again burnt in 1216 when King John marched against the northern barons. It was rebuilt shortly afterwards and in 1255 Henry III used the castle as a base for negotiations with the Scots. The castle took on a more prominent role during the reign of Edward I, who visited the castle in 1292 and again in 1296, at the beginning of his campaign into Scotland. In 1300 it was borrowed for a year `for the safety of the March' and placed under the control of Robert FitzRoger, commander of the king's forces in Northumberland. During the reign of Edward II the castle came into royal possession, but by 1329 had reverted into private hands. Edward III visited the castle shortly after the siege of Wark in 1342. It has been suggested that the events that occurred during this visit later led to the formation of the Order of the Garter. Wark suffered considerably during the almost constant warfare of the late 14th century. In 1390 the castle was reported to be in ruins, and in 1399 the castle was again attacked, the inhabitants ransomed, and the walls beaten down. The castle was attacked again in 1460 and the fortifications dismantled.

Wark reached the height of its importance during the 16th century, when the Earl of Northumberland described it as `the stay and key of all this country'. During this period it belonged to the Grey family but came into royal hands on a number of occasions, and was garrisoned and repaired largely at the king's expense. In 1513 the castle fell to James IV of Scotland before the battle of Flodden and, as a result of this, Henry VIII ordered that Wark should be fortified and strengthened. The fortifications were reviewed in 1517 and a detailed account of the castle survives from this period, as well as recommendations for further work. Some alterations to accommodate artillery had been made by this stage and further restoration works were carried out. However, despite this work, surveys in 1523 and 1541 showed that the fortifications still left much to be desired. In 1523 strong reinforcements were sent to the castle in response to a threat by the Duke of Albany. The Earl of Surrey inspected the fortifications and ordered the bulwarks to be strengthened. He described the keep as `the strongest thing I have ever seen'. In November 1523 the castle was assaulted by 2000 Frenchmen, under the Duke of Albany. They breached the outer ward, but were eventually driven back and the garrison was quickly relieved by the Earl of Surrey. A full report of the state of the castle was made in 1541 and showed that it was again in disrepair. The great strategic importance of the site was recognised and in 1543 the sum of one thousand eight hundred and forty six pounds was spent on the castle. This work included the platform known as The Ring. A detailed survey and plan was produced in 1561 by Rowland Johnson, surveyor of the works at Berwick, who was ordered by the crown to report on the state of Norham and Wark castles. This report describes the artillery platform and keep and the strengthened curtain wall on the south side which now comprised a double skinned wall with a `little rampart' between. Another plan, possibly produced slightly earlier, describes the outer ward as containing a great gate, porter's lodge and stone house used by the lord of the castle, the middle ward contained the constable's house, bakehouse, kitchen and other buildings, and the inner ward with the keep contained a hall, parlour, kitchen and several chambers. However, it is clear from Johnson's description that Wark was again in a poor defensive state. Another plan by an Italian, Antonio de Bergamo, is undated but probably also Elizabethan. This shows a strongly defended castle with elaborate, multiple defences of walls, ditches and bastions. It is not clear whether this was a plan of existing fortifications, or proposals for new fortifications.

The control of the castle continued to be divided between the owners, the Grey family, and the crown throughout the 16th and early 17th century. But it is clear from contemporary reports that the Greys were doing little to maintain it. Towards the end of the 16th century the Border unrest quietened. A garrison and ordnance were kept at Wark until 1633, after which the castle was abandoned, only being occupied once more, in 1644, when part of the Scottish army invading England was quartered there.

The surface of the road leading to The Boathouse and the houses, garages, sheds, drives, southern boundary walls and existing fence posts of Castle Cottage and Tweed Bank Cottage are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is 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.

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Books and journals
Mearns, P, Wark Castle: The Character of the Period in which it was Founded, (1863), 1-50
Vickers, K H, A History of Northumberland Volume ll, (1922), 44-74
Hunter Blair, C H, 'The History of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club' in The Castle of Wark Upon Tweed, , Vol. xxix, (1938), 76-103
RCHME, Newcastle Office, Wark on Tweed Castle, Unpublished Survey at 1:500 & 1:1000, 1992,
RCHME, Newcastle Office, Wark on Tweed Castle, Unpublished Survey at 1:500 & 1:1000, 1992,


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