Motte and bailey castle and shell keep castle at Harbottle


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020386

Date first listed: 26-Nov-1932

Date of most recent amendment: 10-Oct-2001


Ordnance survey map of Motte and bailey castle and shell keep castle at Harbottle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Harbottle


National Grid Reference: NT 93255 04818


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Motte and bailey 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-bailey 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 and villages and open countryside, motte and bailey 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 or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particulary important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were built and 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle. 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 strenghtened 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. The motte and bailey castle and later shell keep at Harbottle are exceptionally well-preserved and this, along with the important strategic location and the archaeological deposits which the site contains, make it one of the most important medieval fortifications in Northumberland.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes an exceptionally well-preserved Norman motte and bailey castle and later shell keep situated in a strategic position guarding one of the main crossings of the Cheviot Hills. The motte and bailey was constructed in the early 12th century by the then Lord Redesdale when he moved his capital from Elsdon to Harbottle. The conical motte stands to a height of approximately 10m and measures 90m across at the base and 22m across its circular top. It is surrounded by a ditch which is on average 18m wide and has a maximum depth of 1.8m. The accompanying bailey lies to the north, east and west of the motte and is delineated by a massive earthern rampart 2.4m wide which stands up to 10m above the bottom of a ditch 12m wide. The bailey measures a maximum of 140m east to west by 100m north to south with a causewayed entrance through the eastern side approached by a sunken roadway. A shell keep was constructed on the motte later in the 12th century accompanied by a castle yard. Over the subsequent centuries this has been damaged and restored several times; today the visible remains are fragmentary, comprising the lower courses of the shell keep and parts of the curtain wall which are best preserved on the west where it stands in parts to over 6m. The castle is Listed Grade I.

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: 20959

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hope-Dodds, M , The Victoria History of the County of Northumberland: Volume XII, (1940)
Ryder, P F, Harbottle Castle: a short Historical and Descriptive Account, (1990)
Northern Archaeological Associates, Harbottle Castle: Arch. recording & rectified photography, 1991,
St Joseph, J K,

End of official listing