Wem Castle: a motte castle immediately south west of St Peter and St Paul's Church


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Wem Castle: a motte castle immediately south west of St Peter and St Paul's Church
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
Wem Urban
National Grid Reference:
SJ 51175 28821

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Despite the reduction in its height, the motte castle in the centre of Wem is a good example of this class of monument. Throughout its history Wem Castle has influenced the form and shape of the surrounding settlement. Its later modification should be seen in relation to the changes occurring to the town attributed to a renewal in economic prosperity. The motte will retain evidence of its construction and the organic remains preserved in the buried ground surface beneath the motte, and deposited within the remains of the encircling ditch, will provide information about the local environment and the use of the land prior to and following the construction of the motte. The small-scale archaeological excavation has helped to determine the nature and the degree of survival of the deposits forming the motte. The importance of the castle is also enhanced by documentary sources, providing information about the various phases of rebuilding and about ownership during the medieval period.


The monument includes the known surviving extent of the earthwork and buried remains of a motte castle situated next to the medieval church of St Peter and St Paul in the middle of Wem. The castle was at the centre of the Pantulf baronry and was used by the Pantulfs as their principal residence, or caput. A documentary source suggests that the castle was constructed by William Pantulf between 1135 and 1154. Around the beginning of the 13th century Hugh Pantulf, with the help of Richard de Slepe, rebuilt the castle by replacing wooden structures with stone buildings. In 1235 the castle passed by marriage to the le Botiler family. In 1290 it was in ruins and was rebuilt in 1313, at which time it was held for the le Botiler's by Hugh fitz Aer. In 1459 title to the castle passed to the de Audleys and it was dismantled shortly afterwards. In 1538 all that remained visible of the castle was the motte and an encircling ditch. In Garbet's History of Wem (1818) it is noted that the height of the motte had recently been reduced by quarrying and ploughing. In the mid-19th century the southern portion of the motte was further reduced in height and a brick-built retaining wall, aligned east-west, was built across the mound. The oval-shaped motte occupies a slightly elevated position with the surrounding ground lower to the south and west. The motte measures approximately 50m by 56m at its base, 28m by 35m across the top, and stands nearly 3m high. Where it has been reduced in height to the south it is about 1.7m high. According to Garbet's description of the castle, the encircling ditch was eight yards (about 7.5m) wide. To the north the ditch has been infilled and survives as a buried feature. To the south and west little is expected to survive of this feature because of extensive landscaping carried out here in the 18th and 19th centuries. To the east much of the area of the former ditch is occupied by the graveyard of the neighbouring church and is not included in the scheduling. A limited archaeological excavation was carried out in 1998 in relation to proposed repairs to the 19th century retaining wall, which defines the western and southern sides of the motte. Deposits of earth forming the original structure of the motte where found, sealed by layers of soil attributed to the landscaping of the site in the 18th and 19th centuries. The wall which cuts across the motte, the cobbled and paved areas, the gravel paths and the stone kerbs, all other modern ornamental garden features, including the fishpond, are excluded from the scheduling, although 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.

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Books and journals
'Marches Archaeology Report No 17' in Wem Castle, Wem, Shropshire, (1998)
Dalwood, H, 'Central Marches Historic Towns report' in Archaeological Assessment of Wem, Shropshire, (1996)
Brown, T, Wem Castle, 1987, Rev of doc sources, typescript in SMR


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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