Motte castle, chapel, post-medieval house and garden remains east of Urishay Castle Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014547

Date first listed: 13-Oct-1951

Date of most recent amendment: 02-Jul-1996


Ordnance survey map of Motte castle, chapel, post-medieval house and garden remains east of Urishay Castle Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: County of Herefordshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Peterchurch

National Grid Reference: SO 32331 37581


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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-bai1ey 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 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 and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as motte castles. 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte castle at Urishay is a well preserved example of this class of monument, and is of particular interest because of its association with the house and gardens which superseded it, and with the chapel which remained in use throughout the medieval and post-medieval occupation of the motte. There is thus a variety of types of information surviving as both above and below ground features. The motte mound will retain details of its method of construction, including post holes for palisades and foundations for its medieval tower. The fills of the ditch will preserve evidence for the activities which took place at the motte castle and subsequently. The ground surface sealed beneath the motte mound will preserve environmental evidence for land use immediately prior to the motte's construction. Within the standing remains of the house the sequence of its construction and subsequent modifications are preserved. Associated with the construction of the house are modifications to the retaining walls around the ditch and motte terrace, elaboration of the causeways, and the construction of the bridge, all of which contribute to our understanding of the development of this high status residence.

Gardens were known in Britain from Roman times, with documentary references appearing in the medieval period, and by the 16th century detailed plans and descriptions are common. Gardens can survive as earthworks, standing remains and buried features. Between the mid-16th and early 18th centuries formal gardens, which combined massive earthworks with exotic and intricate planting, were in vogue, and their extent and design reflect not only artistic aims and changing fashions but also the social aspirations and status of their owners. The terraced garden at Urishay is a good example of a small 16th or 17th century formal garden, designed to complement and enhance the high status residence which occupied the motte. The flower beds and paths on the terrace will survive as buried features, retaining evidence for the plants used, and structural evidence relating to any changes in design over time. The presence of imported tree species, and the repositioning of the hollow way to create more garden space, both attest the power and influence of the de la Hays. The proximity of the chapel further increases interest in the site. Both buried and standing remains retain evidence for its original design and subsequent alterations, including the construction methods employed. Its early construction, continued use, and subsequent modifications are further indicators of the wealth and status of its patrons throughout the occupation of the site.

The spatial and chronological association of the different elements of the monument enhance interest in the site as a whole, and contribute to our understanding of the development of this high status holding from the early 12th through to the 20th century. The motte castle is one of a chain of similar defensive monuments in the Golden Valley and as such forms part of the wider picture of the county's medieval defences. The monument as a whole increases our knowledge of the political and social organisation of medieval and later Herefordshire.


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The monument includes the standing, earthwork and buried remains of a medieval motte castle, a partly ruined chapel, and ruined post-medieval house and garden. The monument is situated on gently sloping ground on the west side of the Golden Valley, between headwaters of the Trennant Brook. The remains of the motte castle include a substantial earthen mound of circular form, with a diameter at the base of c.50m. The motte's steep sides rise c.6m above the bottom of the surrounding ditch, which averages 12m wide and survives to a maximum depth of 2m. A slight terrace half way up the side of the motte has a post-medieval retaining wall, but may indicate the position of an original palisade or walkway around the motte. Two causeways, one crossing the north west and one the south east quarter of the ditch, represent the original method of access to the motte. Both are c.7m wide, and retain traces of a masonry revetment which may have originated in the medieval period. Sections of retaining wall survive on both inside and outside edges of the ditch, in some areas to its full height, and at least two phases of construction are evident. The later phase relates to modifications associated with the construction of the house, however earlier stretches may be contemporary with the motte itself. The ditch to either side of the north west causeway has become almost completely infilled, but large dressed blocks from the retaining wall remain at its foot and along the top of the inside edge of the ditch to either side. The north facing section has been dislodged by tree fall. A line of stones c.0.5m below the level of the motte summit may indicate the existence of a vault below ground. The retaining wall around the south east causeway is more complete as the ditch survives to a greater depth, and the causeway itself has a cobbled surface which continues onto the summit of the motte. This surface will have been laid when the house was constructed, as one of several enhancements befitting a high status residence. The terrace, retaining walls and causeways were rebuilt, the latter now having a rather fan-shaped appearance. A bridge was constructed across the north east quarter of the ditch to provide access and an ornamental focus to the garden beyond. The footings of this feature survive on either side of the ditch, on the east side of which, a section of retaining wall has subsided revealing the rubble core of the bridge foundations. Against the motte, some dressed blocks from the top steps remain, and south of this a stone buttress supports a well preserved stretch of retaining wall. Construction of the house will have reused much of the masonry from the tower which originally surmounted the motte, and has removed all surface evidence for this feature. However its foundations will survive below ground.

The house is of mainly 17th century date and consists of two ranges, the larger orientated NNW-SSE, the main front therefore facing ENE towards the garden. Now unroofed, it originally had three floors, and the south, west, and parts of the east walls remain almost to their full height. The windows and fireplaces were adapted several times during the occupation of the house. The internal plasterwork has fallen away to reveal that the original deeply chamfered windows were narrowed, probably in the late 17th century, to house sashes. The square jambs of the earlier windows are of tufa. The broad fireplaces were similarly replaced with two successively smaller brick versions. The north wall of the house is no longer standing, however part of a polygonal room survives in the north west angle of the cross range. A window in the south west wall of this range retains the top of a central mullion which suggests it survived unmodified, and is probably a feature surviving from an earlier period. Much of the outside of the house retains a 19th century concrete rendering. The remains of a small ancillary building are recessed into the motte against the south east wall of the house; the north east and west sides and part of the front or south wall are now visible. In use throughout the 19th century, the house was advertised to let in Country Life in 1903, however the estate was offered for sale some ten years later. The fixtures and fittings were removed in the 1920s, one entire room being shipped to Chicago, and much of the panelling being transported to the Isle of Mull. Amongst the last features to survive was a moulded 17th century ceiling. The house was described as ruined by 1927.

The earthwork and buried remains of its terraced garden are situated downslope to the ENE of the house, which would have commanded fine views across the garden towards the countryside beyond. The garden is rectangular in plan, measuring c.38m NNW-SSE by c.25m transversely, and has been terraced into the hillslope, so that its north and west sides are recessed and the south and east sides are scarped. This level area will have been laid out with a series of flowerbeds and paths which are no longer visible on the surface, but will survive as buried features. A broad walkway approaches the garden across its front or east side, with another path leading past the north side towards the house. A number of ornamental trees survive around the edges of the terrace, including box and laurel, which were popular garden species between the 16th and 18th centuries. A sunken lane or hollow way runs past the monument east to west, parallel to and south of the existing road, and was shifted northwards when the house was built to create more space for the gardens. It can be seen as an earthwork feature c.6m wide approaching the gardens from the ENE and ending at the top of the terrace, after which it has been infilled and planted with trees. However it survives here as a buried feature and reappears as an earthwork near the farm. A second hollow way approaches the monument as a trackway from the south east, which now continues around the east and north edges of the motte.

The buried and ruined remains of the chapel are situated to the north of the motte, and the ruins are Listed Grade II*. The chapel is of stone rubble construction, with some tufa mainly in sills and jambs. The earliest remains date from the 12th century, and several phases of rebuilding and modification have been identified, much of which is contemporary with the house. The chapel is rectangular in plan and of two cell construction. The nave is now separated from the chancel by a modern wall set roughly 1.5m west of the chancel arch. The arch itself is a reconstruction, and has reconstructed stone altars set against each end on the nave side. The slab floor probably dates from the 17th century, and excavation has revealed earlier floors surviving beneath it. The chancel has been reroofed with stone tiles and the east gable rebuilt, but the remains of the original east wall retain traces of two narrow windows with semicircular heads and steeply sloping sills. These were subsequently replaced by the existing single light with broad shallow splay. The south wall of the chancel contains two windows. The eastern, broad splayed, square headed window replaced a 12th century light with round-headed arch. The western window is small and high with a flat top and splayed jambs. The priest's doorway in the north wall of the chancel has a segmental headed interior arch: the door leaf itself is a modern replacement. Within the chancel the altar is a modern reconstruction. The edge of the raised sanctuary retains sockets for a communion rail, and south of the altar are the, now blocked, niches for the aumbry and piscina, in the east and south walls respectively. The western part of the nave has no roof or north wall, and its south wall has been rebuilt, but retains an earlier door. The modern wall dividing the western unroofed nave from the eastern nave and chancel (both roofed) has blocked the window in the south wall, however it is apparent that the original narrow light with semicircular head was later widened. The west end of the south wall and the west wall and buttress at its north end are of 17th century date. The west wall contains two square, barred, windows, the northern one being wider and set lower than the southern. Both have splayed sides and oak sills and lintels internally, with stone lintels externally. Much of the glazing in the chapel was reinstated during the restoration of 1914, as was the 19th century pedestal of the font which remains at the west end of the nave. Excavations have shown the original chapel had a semicircular apse, which was demolished in the late 12th or early 13th century and replaced with the chancel, which was itself extended eastwards. Two infant burials were found, post-dating the demolition of the apse and below 16th century floor levels. Earlier and probably original foundations of the west wall of the nave were located c.1.6m west of the existing wall, and survive as buried features.

The estate at Urishay probably took its name from Urri de la Haie, to whom the land was granted by Roger I de Chandos some time after the death of Henry I in 1135. Urri would have constructed the chapel soon after completion of the castle, to serve his family and garrison, and the later 12th century extensions to the chapel may correspond with his grandson Roger's success under Richard I and King John. The estate remained with the de la Hay family until the demise of the house in the 1920s. The monument is a fine example of a medieval motte castle adapted as a high status post-medieval residence. In its strategic position near the head of the Golden Valley, the motte is one of a concentration of similar monuments, its nearest neighbour being the motte and bailey castle at Snodhill 3km to the north (scheduled separately). The close association and continued use of the chapel until the First World War attests the high status of the site throughout its medieval and post-medieval occupation, and into the present century.

The new door in the north wall of the chapel chancel is excluded from the scheduling; the fences around the chapel and the modern wall near the entrance to the farm are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath all of these features is included.

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: 27516

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Cathcart-King, D J, Castellarium Anglicanum, (1983)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Herefordshire, south west, (1931), 211
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Herefordshire, south west, (1931), 211
Shoesmith, R, 'Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club' in Urishay Chapel, (1987), 690
Shoesmith, R, 'Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club' in Urishay Chapel, (1987), 686-715

End of official listing