Clitheroe Castle; medieval enclosure castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

Ribble Valley (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SD 74231 41659

Reasons for Designation

An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they developed considerably in form during the 12th century when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The majority of examples were constructed in the 13th century although a few were built as late as the 14th century. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, 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 with respect to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

Despite the absence of upstanding remains of the medieval buildings which were located within the bailey, the medieval castle keep and parts of its curtain wall survive reasonably well and contain considerable upstanding medieval fabric and architectural details. Additionally buried remains of the castle's gateway and buried remains of the buildings which stood within the bailey, including the 12th century chapel of St Michael de Castro, will survive within the area occupied by the bailey and beneath the present structures therein.


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of Clitheroe Castle, an enclosure castle constructed during the late 11th to early 12th centuries. It is strategically located in the middle of the vale through which the River Ribble runs and is situated on a steep limestone rock outcrop which rises some 39m above the valley floor; thus the castle effectively bars the pass and commands extensive views over the surrounding area. The surviving medieval parts of the castle include the stone keep, situated at the highest northern end of the rock outcrop, and the adjacent curtain wall which surrounds the keep on all sides except the south. A bailey lies to the south of the keep at a lower level and was originally surrounded by a curtain wall, parts of which still survive in modified form. The bailey now contains 19th century buildings which incorporate fragments of medieval stonework. Additional defences consisting of a ditch, now infilled, existed on the west side of the castle. The keep, the second smallest stone keep in England, is presently roofless and floorless and was originally a three storey building topped by a parapet which does not now survive. The main entrance is on the north east side and this led directly to the second floor which was the central focus for the keep. Apart from the main room, the second floor also contained a smaller barrel-vaulted mural chamber, the doorway of which still survives, together with the doorway to the spiral staircase in the northern angle which gave access to the third floor as well as to the parapet. The second floor also contains another door on the south west side which gave access to the curtain wall. The second floor was lighted by two loopholes, one in the south east and one in the north west walls, both of which are preserved but have been widened from their original state. Three original loopholes which lit the stairway still survive. The ground floor was a storeroom with access through a trap door in the second floor. It was originally lit by loopholes in the south west and south east walls, both of which were later widened into doorways. The third floor would have acted as the bedroom for some of the castle's inhabitants. The bailey would have contained a number of domestic buildings such as kitchens, workshops, storerooms and the chapel of St Michael de Castro. Entrance to the bailey was through a gatehouse, now demolished, situated at the north east angle of the curtain wall. Documentary sources dated to 1102 confirm the presence of a military structure, presumably a castle, at Clitheroe by this date. Another charter, dated 1122, indicates the presence of the castle's chapel. This chapel had reinforced walls and formed part of the inner bailey walls. During the mid- 12th century some new construction was undertaken by Robert de Lacy II and throughout the 13th century the castle was garrisoned by a small number of men. It acted as the seat of the Honour of Clitheroe owned by lords of the Manor, the de Lacy's, and functioned as a court and small prison. During the early 14th century repairs were carried out to buildings within the castle and a new gate was built. Further building repairs were undertaken the following century and a new chamber was built in 1425. By the early 17th century the castle, although continuing as the centre for the hundred court, was declining both militarily and structurally and was described as being `very ruinous' with some parts having collapsed. During the Civil War the castle was garrisoned for a short time by Royalists who repaired the main gateway, and in 1649, following the Royalist defeat, the castle was reoccupied by members of the Lancashire militia who refused to disband. These rebels were quickly dispersed and Parliament decided that Clitheroe Castle should be rendered unusable to prevent a similar occurance. By 1660 the chapel was in ruins and an engraving by Buck of 1727 shows the ruinous state of the keep. This engraving also shows the curtain wall of the castle and some roofed buildings within the bailey. A ground plan of 1723 gives the location of the chapel along with other buildings within the bailey including a dwelling house, the court house and a stable. Although the castle was in ruins it still functioned as the administrative centre for the Blackburn Hundred until 1822. In 1848 three of the four walls of the keep were buttressed to prevent collapse and major rebuilding and restoration work was undertaken on the buildings within the bailey. Clitheroe Castle is Listed Grade I, all buildings within the bailey including the Castle Museum, the outbuilding and stable block to Clitheroe Castle are Listed Grade II. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all buildings other than the keep and curtain wall, all post medieval walls and railings, all notice boards, a war memorial, all toilet blocks, all seats and benches, all greenhouses, and the surfaces of all paths and access drives; the ground beneath all 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.

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Best, D, Clitheroe Castle, (1990), 1-23
Farrer, , Brownbill, , The Victoria History of the County of Lancashire, (1910), 523-4


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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