- 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.
- East Devon (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- SY 21264 99476
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the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other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 Castle Hill represents an unusual mode of construction, being a modified natural feature rather than an artificial mound. If its identification as a fortification of Stephen's reign (1135-54) is correct, then it is a rare survival for the period in which it was constructed. Unlike similar strategically placed sites, Castle Hill has escaped later rebuilding of any fortification on the same site, and will provide information relating to its construction and use as well as the strategic military thinking of the period.
Castle Hill is a motte castle, of possible 12th century date, sculptured from
the natural hillside in a commanding position overlooking the ancient
settlements of Widworthy and Wilmington, both recorded in Domesday. Mottes are
usually constructed as artificial mounds thrown up by means of piling soil
and/or stone, but the motte at Castle Hill was created by the scarping of a
natural irregularly-shaped knoll which sits on the top of the hill. The knoll,
as modified, is sub-rectangular in shape, being near circular on its southern
and eastern sides whilst the north and west sides are nearly straight,
measuring about 31m and 27m in length respectively. The apex of the knoll has
been flattened to provide a platform about 35m across. The resulting platform
is about 5m in height with no encircling bank. It slopes at a 45 degree angle
on all sides to a ditch which survives as a faint trace, more visible to the
north than the south, with a width of about 3m. The tradition of the antiquity
and function of the site goes back at least until 1780 when it was known as
Castle Hill and its original use as a fortification is possibly confirmed by
the adjacent field name `Barbarry' which is perhaps a corruption of barbican.
Dr Robert Higham has suggested that Castle Hill may date from the second major
period of motte construction, during the civil wars of King Stephen's reign
in the 1130s and 1140s.
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:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: South Devon, (1952), 310
Haydon, E, 'The Devon Historian' in Castle Hill at Widworthy, , Vol. 50, (1995), 18-23
Hutchinson, P O, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in , , Vol. 2, (1867), 373-4
Ramsden, J V, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in The Hill Fort and Castle Hill at Widworthy, , Vol. 79, (1947), 193-6
Higham, R, The Castles of Medieval Devon (unpublished PhD thesis), 1979, Fig 39-40
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