Snodhill Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Snodhill, Peterchurch, Herefordshire, HR3 6BG


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Statutory Address:
Snodhill, Peterchurch, Herefordshire, HR3 6BG

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
County of Herefordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Earthwork, buried and standing remains of an C11 motte and bailey castle with later additions in the C12 to C14. There is an inner and outer bailey to the west, and a further enclosure to the east which is interpreted as a possible additional bailey or planned borough.

Reasons for Designation

Snodhill Castle is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: as one of a restricted range of recognised post-Conquest monuments it is particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and its later developments contribute to our understanding of the organisation of medieval England; * Rarity: as one of about 700 earthwork castles recorded in England, and one of about 100 known examples of a tower keep with additional rarity for being constructed on an earlier earthwork castle. It is also one of the earliest known examples in England of a tower keep with a polygonal form. * Survival: as a well-preserved example of an C11 motte and bailey castle with upstanding remains relating to its continued occupation and development in the medieval period; * Potential: investigations within the castle complex have demonstrated the survival of buried remains relating to its occupation since the C11, and there is high potential for further archaeological features and deposits. 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 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, occupation and modification. Within the baileys evidence for the structures and the activities that took place there will survive below ground; * Diversity: the castle has evolved over many centuries and includes a diverse range of features associated with its several phases of development and occupation which will provide invaluable information; * Documentation: although the history of the castle is not particularly well-documented and there are few contemporary records the significance of the monument is enhanced by recent archaeological investigations that form a resource of great importance.


The earliest castles in England appeared immediately after the Norman Conquest and were built rapidly across England in a variety of strategic positions. They often functioned as aristocratic residences and as the centres of local or royal administration proving to be a very effective means of subjugation and control and acting as garrison forts during offensive military operations. These early castles took two main forms: the less common ringwork – a simple enclosure with an outer ditch and an inner bank – and the more common motte castles which are flat-topped circular mounds. A simple addition was a bailey – a subsidiary area enclosed by a bank and ditch, within which ancillary buildings of the household could be held secure, and through which access to the ringwork or motte could be gained. Of these earthwork castles about 700 still survive. Between the mid-C11 and the mid-C13 a number of ringworks and motte and bailey castles were remodelled in stone, of which Snodhill Castle, an C11 motte and bailey castle is an example. The tower keep, a rare monument type with only around 100 recorded nationally, was added in the mid-to late C12, and is one of the earliest known examples of one with a polygonal form, as well as being one of the few examples of a tower keep being built on an earlier earthwork castle. Located on a prominent ridge to the west of the River Dore in the Golden Valley, with the land falling steeply away to the north, south and east, Snodhill Castle forms part of a chain of monuments along the Welsh border and is part of a wider landscape of power and display, which in the specific case of Snodhill Castle, includes the medieval deer park rising up the valley to the south-west, and the associated earthwork, identified as a possible moated pleasance, to the east.

There is very limited documentary evidence for the historic development of Snodhill Castle, and much is inconclusive, but it has been suggested that the motte and bailey castle was built in the C11 and came into the hands of the Chandos family in the C12. A charter from 1142 refers to Robert of Chandos ‘in his castle of Stradel’ and this is thought to be the earliest known direct documentary reference to the castle. It was in the mid-to late C12, during the ownership of the Chandos family, that the tower was rebuilt in stone. Robert of Chandos had been the Governor of Gisors Castle in France in 1123 and it is possible that this castle, that had a multi-angular form, had an influence on the polygonal form of the rebuilt tower at Snodhill. The wing walls may be earlier and contemporary with the stone wall that ran north to south, across the eastern end of the west bailey, forming a small defended enclosure. Within this enclosure is evidence for a stone building, about 3.8m wide.

In the C14 the castle experienced a period of decline and on the death of Roger of Chandos in 1353 the Inquisition Post Mortem noted his possession of the manor of ‘Snodhull’ including a ‘castle in ruins’. Reference to the castle in 1375, following the death of this son, Thomas, includes the first reference to a park as a distinct entity and the modifications to the west entrance are believed to have been done during Thomas’ ownership. After Thomas’ death the estate was held by Sir John Chandos and in 1403 he was ordered to fortify the castle of ‘Snowdoun’ against the Welsh, led by Owain Glyn Dwr, which indicates that the castle was in a good enough state of repair to be rendered defensible and usable at this time.

Following Sir John Chandos’ death in 1428 the castle passed to the Beauchamp family and was briefly held by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, in right of his wife Anne Beauchamp, who later gave it to King Henry VII. It remained in royal hands until Queen Elizabeth I granted it to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. It was said to have been bombarded by Scottish troops in the Civil War but there is no documentary or archaeological evidence to support this.

By the C17 the castle was in the ownership of the Vaughan family but in the mid-C17 it was sold, ending up in the hands of the Prosser family who owned the site, along with Snodhill Court, until the early C20. It had various owners in the following years and in 2016 the castle came into the care of the Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust. Snodhill Castle was first described by C J Robinson in ‘A History of the Castles of Herefordshire and their Lords’ (1869, 152-5). It was visited by The Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club in 1888 and described for them in their transactions of 1892 by the Rev Thomas Prosser Powell, the then owner of the castle. In the early 1930s the castle was surveyed by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and was consequently scheduled as an ancient monument. It has since been surveyed and described on numerous occasions. Following the transfer of the castle to the Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust in 2016 further survey work has been carried out revealing more information about the historic development of the castle.


Principal elements: the earthworks and buried and standing remains of an C11 motte and bailey castle with later additions in the C12 to C14. There is an inner and outer bailey to the west, and a further enclosure to the east which is interpreted as a possible additional bailey or planned borough.

Description: the steep-sided motte stands about 7.4m high above the west bailey, 9.7m above the 1.5m deep ditch to its east that separates the motte from the ridge, and as much as 14m above the terracing to the naturally steep north side. There is no sign of a ditch to the south where the natural slope falls away. The maximum diameter of the foot of the motte is about 44m. The summit which was possibly originally circular but is now roughly oval, measures about 15m east to west by 12.5m south to north, and appears to have been much modified by the building of the tower and elongated by the construction of a later masonry gate.

The remains of the roughly symmetrical, polygonal, two-storey stone tower keep, built in the mid-to late C12, has an external face of flat-bedded coursed stones with chamfered outer faces forming the batter, and a rubble stone core. The internal walls are of rubble stone with squared stone quoins. The dressings are of ashlar. Significant sections of masonry survive to the western and southern sides with more fragmentary remains to the east and the north. The ground floor was 12-sided with a substantial battered plinth to the south, east and north side. To the south-east corner is a deeply splayed window with a square head and lintel that appears to be original. To the north wall is evidence for a fireplace. Sections of the taller, irregular, 10-sided first-floor walls only survive to the south and west. The eastern jamb of the large south window is in-situ and toward the western end of the upper floor the remains of what was a full-height cross wall projects northwards from the surviving section of the south wall, and indicates a large central space at first-floor level, with a smaller ante-room at the west end over the entrance passageway.

The entrance to the tower keep was at the west end with one bay of the ground floor forming an entrance passage that appears to have run through the thickness of the ground-floor plinth. The quoins and the remains of a door jamb reflect adaptations to the building over time.

The west entrance was modified in the C14 with the addition of two drum towers; that to the north is no longer upstanding. The south drum tower is built up against the earlier wall, and to its north face is the surviving fragment of springing for a two-centred arched head marking the entrance to the tower keep, with a groove to the east of the opening for a portcullis.

There are rubble stone wing walls to the north and south side of the motte.

The south curtain wall has been built in three phases. The earliest central section is approximately 5.5m long and formed a small defensive enclosure with the wing walls, and at its western end are stone quoins for the return of the cross wall that ran north to south across the bailey. There is also evidence for a rectangular stone building to the east side of this wall that may correspond to a hall block. The western section is of coursed rubble stone and is up to 4m tall with no batter at the base. The eastern section is of fine ashlar blocks and continues to the east to form the base of the south-east tower that projects from the curtain wall, before returning to join the south wing wall. Within the remains of the south-east tower is a recess in the eastern wall which may have formed a cupboard and a pyramid stop to the base of the chamfered edge of the south-east window opening. Extending west from the south-eastern tower is a platform, 0.7m high, of a rectangular building.

The only other upstanding section of the curtain wall is a small fragment in the north-west corner of the upper bailey. This section is approximately 5.3m long and of core rubble stone.

The north tower sits about mid-way along the north side of the west bailey, with earthworks to either side which are probably associated with buildings or walling that has been systematically robbed for stone. The north tower is constructed of squared stone blocks, and is similar to the walling of the south-east tower, although not quite as fine. Both are later features that project as curving towers from the line of an earlier curtain wall.

The west bailey is defined by steep scarps, a modification of the natural slopes of the ridge. At the foot of the scarp are traces of a surrounding ditch to the west and north-west to a maximum of 0.4m. This ditch terminates directly beneath the north tower. It might have originally extended further to the east. There is no sign of a ditch to the south where the natural slope is particularly steep. To the west and north of the bailey are earthworks thought to represent a range of buildings, some containing fragments of well-cut masonry.

Below the inner west bailey is a relatively flat area bounded by natural slopes which has been interpreted as an outer bailey, with two possible building platforms to its western end. These may relate to the castle or represent a small farmstead. It is thought that the inner bailey was accessed from a track that leads in a north-easterly direction and opens into the terrace on the north side below the motte. From here a graded track leads up into the bailey and is thought to have been the original castle entrance. This track also appears to have continued to the east where it may have reached the eastern bailey.

Below this track, on steep northern slopes, are a series of tracks and quarries. The two large quarries have irregular forms, steep, almost vertical, faces and carefully contrived exit routes for removing material. The easternmost quarry is approximately 4.5m deep; the route from it leads to the east. The second quarry is slightly smaller but steeper and narrower and is about 6m deep. Its exit route leads out to the north-west and joins one of the tracks that run along this northern slope. The track at the bottom of the northern slope forms a hollow way up to 1m deep.

The motte is defended to the east by an approximately 20m stretch of dry ditch which is up to 5m wide and 2m deep. To the east of the ditch the ground drops away steeply before levelling out into a large area of relatively flat ground defined by steep slopes to north, east and south. It has been interpreted variously as a further outer bailey, a planned borough, a recreational area or a garden, and would have been further defended by a timber palisade around the top of the scarp slopes. Evidence for further structures within the bailey will survive as buried features.


The scheduling aims to protect the motte, the inner and outer west baileys, the terraces to the north, and the east bailey, as well as the standing remains of the tower keep, wing walls, curtain walls, south-east tower and north tower.


All modern fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Brooks, A, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Herefordshire, (2012), 553
Bowden, M, Lane, R, Small, F, 'Snodhill Castle, Peterchurch, Herefordshire: Archaeological, Architectural and Aerial Survey and Investigation', Research Report Series No 76-2017 (2017) Historic England
'Snodhill Castle, Peterchurch', SMR No 1557, (Herefordshire Historic Environment Record)


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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