Brampton Bryan castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Brampton Bryan castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County of Herefordshire (Unitary Authority)
Brampton Bryan
National Grid Reference:
SO 37027 72589

Reasons for Designation

A quadrangular castle is a strongly fortified residence built of stone, or sometimes brick, around a square or rectangular courtyard. The outer walls formed a defensive line, frequently with towers sited on the corners and occasionally in intermediate positions as well. Some of the very strongly defended examples have additional external walls. Ditches, normally wet but sometimes dry, were also found outside the walls. Two main types of quadrangular castle have been identified. In the southern type, the angle and intermediate mural towers were most often round in plan and projected markedly from the enclosing wall. In the northern type, square angle towers, often of massive proportions, were constructed, these projecting only slightly from the main wall. Within the castle, accommodation was provided in the towers or in buildings set against the walls which opened onto the central courtyard. An important feature of quadrangular castles was that they were planned and built to an integrated, often symmetrical, design. Once built, therefore, they did not lend themselves easily to modification. The earliest and finest examples of this class of castle are found in Wales, dating from 1277, but they also began to appear in England at the same time. Most examples were built in the 14th century but the tradition extended into the 15th century. Later examples demonstrate an increasing emphasis on domestic comfort to the detriment of defence and, indeed, some late examples are virtually defenceless. They provided residences for the king or leading families and occur in both rural and urban situations. Quadrangular castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex protecting a vulnerable coastline and routes to London. Other concentrations are found in the north near the Scottish border and also in the west on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 64 recorded examples of which 44 are of southern type and 20 are of northern type. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other types of castle, 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 to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be of national importance.

Although surface evidence for the original layout of Brampton Bryan castle has been obscured by subsequent building and landscaping, both standing and buried remains will retain evidence for its sequence of construction and the activities which took place at and around it. The standing remains demonstrate its phases of construction and include a fine example of a 14th century gatehouse, enhancing an earlier structure, with and early examples of ball- flower ornament remaining in good condition. Below ground evidence for the layout and method of construction of the moat will survive, and its fills will retain environmental evidence for activities at the castle. Evidence for structures such as the bridge will also be preserved in these fills. Within the motte, further structural information will be preserved, including evidence for the extent and layout of the hall, service bay and kitchen range. In addition, it will have sealed beneath it environmental evidence for the wider medieval landscape in which the castle was built.

In its strategic position guarding the Teme valley route into Wales, the castle is an important element of Herefordshire's medieval defences. When viewed with other contemporary defensive monuments in the area it will increase our understanding of the wider political and social organisation of the county. The Harley family is well known through contemporary records, and interest in the castle is increased by its well-documented association with historic events of national significance.


The monument includes the ruined, earthwork and buried remains of the quadrangular castle at Brampton Bryan, situated on floodplain south of the River Teme, 50m north of the church. The medieval layout of the castle appears to have been four ranges built around a courtyard, with a gatehouse contained within the southern curtain wall, to which a large outer gatehouse was later added. The whole monument was constructed on a mound or motte, and surrounded by a moat. The north range contained the hall and service bay, both at first floor level, with the kitchen to the east. Private accommodation was contained in the other ranges, with further chambers above the gate passage of the inner gatehouse, and on the first floor of the outer gatehouse.

The castle originally stood on an earthen motte, part of which can be seen around the inner gatehouse and hall range. This in turn was surrounded by a moat, with the approach to the castle being from the south across a bridge to the gatehouse. Subsequent landscaping for the later house and gardens has obscured the full extent of the castle accommodation and the moat at the surface, however evidence for these features will survive below ground. The steep slope to the north of the hall range wall, which now continues eastwards along the edge of the garden, probably represents the original northern extent of the motte.

The standing remains are built of local sandstone rubble and ashlar, and are Listed Grade I. They represent several phases of construction, and include the outer gatehouse, part of the inner gatehouse, and part of the south wall of the hall and kitchen range. The earliest documentary references tell us that Bryan de Brampton had a `tower with curtilage' on the site in 1295. It is generally considered that the earliest phase of the present structure is represented by the great hall and inner gatehouse, which were either de Brampton's work or were built shortly after 1309, when the castle passed to Robert Harley by his marriage to Bryan's daughter Margaret. The inner gatehouse projected inwards from the southern curtain wall, which still stands to its east and west, and its north and south wall stand almost to their full original height. The entrance is formed by two arches through the wall, with an opening for a portcullis between them; an early example of ball-flower ornament can still be seen over the inner arch. There is a single arch at the northern exit of the gateway passage, to the east of which is a contemporary doorway, and to the west the shell of a 16th century stair-turret. The first floor would have housed the portcullis, and contains a single chamber, with a garderobe or latrine closet. A fireplace in the north wall is flanked by single windows, both with seats in their embrasures. With the construction of the outer gatehouse, two doorways were inserted into the south wall of the inner gatehouse, giving access to the upper staircases and walkway along the top of the outer gatehouse walls. At second floor level the single chamber in the inner gatehouse also has a fireplace and garderobe. There is a window with seat to the north, west of which a foliate capital of 13th century date has been reused in the wall.

The outer gatehouse was added some time later in the 14th century. The gateway in its south wall consists of two arches enclosing a portcullis groove, above which a moulded string with ball-flower decoration is set below a further arch. This entrance is flanked by two round towers, each of c.5m external diameter and with two storeys remaining. On the ground floor the east tower houses a polygonal chamber, containing a fireplace in the south west quarter with a single window to the west, and garderobe to the north of the gate- passage doorway. The first floor chamber is open to a portcullis room over the gate arch, and has two windows and a garderobe above the one on the ground floor. The portcullis room itself has a fireplace in the north wall, which is carried by an arch over the entrance passage. Its octagonal chimney stack is a 16th century addition and has a crenellated top. The west tower houses a circular chamber at ground floor level, with a well at its centre now infilled. An opening to the south west is roofed with a series of arches stepped down towards the well. The chamber above has two windows, one with ball-flower ornament, and was entered via a mural stairway opening off the west side of the gatehouse passage. The remains of the hall and kitchen range are c.12m north of the inner gatehouse; the courtyard which separated them was cut through within the last century to provide access between the later hall to the west and the tennis courts to the east. All that remains of the hall block is part of the original 14th century south wall, and the three-storeyed 16th century staircase bay, or porch, enclosing the original hall doorway. To either side of this doorway are small windows which would have lit the basement. Above the eastern one is a similar window with a window-seat; the remains of others to the east would have lit the service bay. The hall would have been lit by similar windows overlooking the courtyard; both hall and service bay were at first floor level while the kitchen, to the east, was at basement level and rose through two floors. There was a chamber over the service bay and kitchen, from which access was later made into a small room on the upper floor of the porch. With the construction of the porch a fireplace was inserted above the door. Lit on all three sides by large windows, the porch was entered through a door in its east wall; the stairs to the hall doorway have been removed.

The staircase-bay, and the stair-turret in the south west corner of the courtyard, were part of considerable alterations begun in the late 16th century by Thomas Harley. His intention was to increase the comfort and convenience of the castle as a home rather than a military stronghold. The work continued after the succession of Sir Robert Harley MP in 1631, and appears to have been still in progress when the castle was besieged by the Royalists in 1643. In Sir Robert's absence, his wife Lady Brilliana held the castle for seven weeks, despite bombardments from a canon on the church tower, and a poisoned water supply (which killed the cook). The Royalist force under Colonel Lingen eventually withdrew, however Lady Brilliana died suddenly in October that year, and shortly afterwards the castle was taken by Sir Michael Woodhouse and burnt to the ground; a print made some 60 years later shows little more standing than at present survives. Twenty years after the sacking of the castle Lady Brilliana's son, Edward, began construction of a two-storeyed, seven-bayed house, which was later incorporated into the present 18th century Hall.

Brampton Bryan castle guards the Teme valley route into mid-Wales, an area which has been of military importance since Roman times; three Roman forts are situated within 2.5km to the east. Contemporary associations include motte castles at Walford and Buckton to the east, and Bucknell to the west, and the motte and bailey castle at Lower Stanage 4km west. All these monuments are the subject of separate schedulings. The shed just west of the hall range and the gravel surfaces of the Hall driveway and paths are excluded from the scheduling, however the ground beneath them 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
Slade, H G, 'Archaeological Journal' in Brampton Bryan Castle, , Vol. 138, (1981), 26-9
Harley, C C, (1995)
plan, RCHM, Herefordshire, Volume III, (1934)
Stocker, DS, (1995)


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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