Shell keep castle and associated fishponds at Snodhill


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Shell keep castle and associated fishponds at Snodhill
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County of Herefordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SO 32269 40406

Reasons for Designation

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprise a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In the 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 and as strongholds. In many cases they were aristocratic residences and the centres of local or royal administration. Between the Conquest and the mid 13th century, usually during the 12th century, a number of motte and bailey castles and ringworks were remodelled in stone. In the case of mottes, the timber palisade was replaced by a thick wall to form a `shell keep'. If the tower on the motte was of timber, this may also have been replaced in masonry 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 about 60 sites known to have been remodelled in this way. As such, and as one of a restricted range of recognised post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. In view of this, all surviving examples will normally be identified as nationally important.

Snodhill Castle is a well preserved example of this class of monument, retaining valuable information in the form of standing, earthwork, and buried features. The motte mound will contain details of its method of construction, including post holes for internal revetments, palisades, and for the timber tower it supported. The standing masonry will retain information relating to its method of construction, including the conversion of the earlier buildings and subsequent modifications in design. The fills of the motte ditch will retain environmental evidence relating to the activities which took place at the castle during its construction, and through some three centuries of occupation and modification. Within the bailey and enclosures, evidence for the structures and the activities that took place there will survive below ground. The land surface sealed beneath the motte mound will retain evidence for land use immediately prior to the castle's construction. The fishponds provide an additional indication of the status of the castle, and evidence for their method of construction will survive in the earthen banks and the ponds themselves, including pond linings and revetments. Evidence for the design and operation of the sluices will survive buried within the dams. The series of trackways on the hillside indicate the density of traffic to and from the fishponds and the castle itself. In its strategic position above the River Dore Snodhill Castle forms part of a chain of defensive monuments along the Golden Valley. As such it contributes to the wider picture of the medieval defences of Herefordshire. When viewed in association with other similar examples along the valley it can increase our understanding of the medieval political and social organisation of the county. Clearly visible from the road, the castle is a prominent local landmark.


The monument includes the earthwork, buried, and ruined remains of a shell keep castle, occupying a spur of high ground overlooking the River Dore, near the head of the Golden Valley, and east of the settlement of Snodhill. The shell keep was constructed on the site of an earlier motte and bailey castle, which is believed to have been established in the 11th century, and included a motte on the summit of the spur, with a bailey to the west and an outer enclosure extending eastwards below the level of the bailey. It is recorded as being in the hands of the crown in 1195-7, and was restored to Robert de Chandos in 1197. The keep dates from around 1200, and some remodelling of the masonry defences was carried out by the Chandos family in the 14th century. In 1403 it was ordered to be held against Owain Glendwr. The manor and castle of Snodhill were granted by Elizabeth I to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who sold the estate to a branch of the Vaughan family. When they sold it to Thomas Prosser of London the castle was ruinous, and Prosser moved into a nearby house known as The Court. The remains of the motte and bailey castle include an earthen motte mound, which is roughly oval in form, and has a maximum diameter of 35m. The motte is steep sided and c.3.5m high, and is defended to the east by a c.20m stretch of dry ditch which is up to 5m wide and 2m deep. A path up the west side of the motte now leads to the ruinous gateway of the shell keep, and was probably the original access to the motte's timber tower. East of the ditch the ground drops away steeply before levelling out into a roughly triangular area defined by artifical steepening of the hillslope, a feature which is most clearly visible around the north east and south east quarters. The enclosure thus defined would have been further defended by a timber palisade around the top of the scarp slopes. The sub-rectangular bailey was formed by terracing the natural hillside to the west of the motte, and measures roughly 25m east-west by 18m transversely. Below this terrace the bailey is surrounded to south, west and north by a second level terrace, which has a maximum width of c.10m on the western side. A slight causeway is visible leading from this terrace up to the bailey terrace in the south west quarter, which may represent the original access to the castle. Below the outer terrace the already steep slope has been artificially scarped to the north where it drops away through a wooded area to the road beyond. Roughly one third of the way down this slope, on the north side of the eastern enclosure, is a series of rectilinear fishponds aligned east-west and terraced into the hillslope. The three ponds are contained by an earthen bank up to 1.5m high. They measure roughly 25m x 8m, 30m x 10m, and 35m x 10m, the smallest being the most easterly. The fishponds are separated by earthen banks forming dams which will originally have housed sluices. These dams are roughly 10m and 15m wide, and survive up to 1m high. The western end of the largest fishpond is formed by a substantial earthen bank up to 3m high, with an opening at the north west corner of the pond which was probably an outlet channel running past the west end of the east-west retaining bank. The density of vegetation in the pond makes the exact relationship of these features unclear, however it is likely that this outlet also housed a sluice, evidence for which will survive buried within the earthen banks. The cracked surface in the bottom of the ponds suggest they are still seasonally wet and were probably spring-fed. As well as providing a food supply for the occupants of the castle, these fishponds would have been a further indication of the high status of its owner. Downslope of the fishponds the hillside is crossed by a number of roughly level trackways, which will have provided access to the ponds and perhaps to the castle itself. The most easily visible of these appears as a terrace running east-west for some 200m, passing immediately downslope of the retaining bank of the fishponds and continuing down to the modern road. At the foot of the slope to the west of the bailey, outside the intermediate terrace, is a platform with scarped sides, with the earthwork remains of at least two structures built into its western end, near the modern access to the castle from the road. The scarp which defines this platform can be seen continuing south east through the adjacent pasture field, eventually becoming indistinguishable from the steep natural slope around the southern side of the castle hill. The standing remains of the shell keep are Listed Grade II*, and include the ruins of an irregular ten-sided keep of stone rubble construction. Its external plan was an irregular ten-sided polygon, with a gateway in the west side flanked by two circular towers. A stone curtain wall followed the line of the bailey and ran up the motte to join the keep at its north west and south west corners. On the southern side the south west circular tower remains standing to a height of c.3.5m. The tower retains the jambs of the outer and inner doorways, a portcullis groove and the corner of a pointed archway above, and a slot for the drawbar of the inner door. A low stretch of wall connects the tower to another tall section of masonry which has a small square headed window at basement level. A later buttress survives in this angle, while round to the north and north east only low portions of wall survive to show the outline of the keep. Contemporary with the keep is the bailey wall which replaced the original timber defences. The southern stretch of this wall survives at a low level to the south. The eastern end was demolished in the 14th century and a new wall erected with a circular bastion at the south east angle, where the wall runs down the side of the motte. This later stretch survives almost to its full height and is ashlar faced. Parts of two square headed recesses can be seen inside the remains of the bastion. The western and northern stretches of bailey wall are represented, for the most part, by a bank within which the masonry foundations will survive. At the north angle of the west section a block of masonry with dressed quoins survives, while at the north west angle of the northern section, part of a 14th century bastion stands to a height of c.3.5m. Some 2m inside the bank which marks the northern bailey wall is a second roughly parallel bank, which may represent its original line, or one side of a building within the bailey itself. Evidence for further structures within the bailey will survive as buried features. At the foot of the causeway up the west side of the motte is a depression c.5m across with a bank on its north and north west sides, which may represent the foundations of a guardhouse defending the gateway above. Snodhill Castle is one of a concentration of medieval defensive monuments at the head of the Golden Valley, and forms part of a chain of similar examples strategically placed above the River Dore. Its nearest neighbour is the motte and bailey castle at Dorstone, 1.5km to the north west, with Urishay Castle some 3km to the south. Both these monuments are scheduled separately. The monument is a notable landmark. All fences round the monument are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them 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.

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Books and journals
Cathcart-King, D J, Castellarium Anglicanum, (1983), 210-17
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Herefordshire, south west, (1931), 213
Skelton, R, 'Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club' in Deserted medieval villages, , Vol. 44, (1983), 257
Hereford County Record Office, Herefordshire County Archives, Snodhill Papers Ref F94,
observation from AP, Musson, C, (1990)


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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