Motte and bailey castle and bishops' palace


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Motte and bailey castle and bishops' palace
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
Bishop's Castle
National Grid Reference:
SO 32327 89080, SO 32329 89002

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Bishops' palaces were high status domestic residences providing luxury accommodation for the bishops and lodgings for their large retinues; although some were little more than country houses, others were the setting for great works of architecture and displays of decoration. Bishops' palaces were usually set within an enclosure, sometimes moated, containing a range of buildings often of stone, including a hall or halls, chapels, lodgings and a gatehouse, often arranged around a courtyard or courtyards. The earliest recorded examples date to the seventh century. Many were occupied throughout the medieval period and some continued in use into the post-medieval period; a few remain occupied today. Throughout its history the castle at Bishop's Castle has influenced the form and shape of the surrounding town, and the various alterations to the castle should be seen in relation to the town's changing status. It is a significant example of marcher castle which also functioned as a bishop's palace. It thus provides important evidence concerning the development of, and relationship between, military and high status domestic architecture in the Welsh Marches during the medieval period. Interpretations concerning the structural sequence have been aided by the small-scale archaeological excavations undertaken next to the outer ward wall. The upstanding structural remains and earthworks, the buried structural features, and the associated deposits containing artefactual and organic remains, together with the numerous documentary sources relating to the castle, will provide a detailed picture of the activities of the inhabitants of the site. This evidence can be used, alongside that existing for the town, to understand more fully the relationship between different sectors of medieval society. The castle site as a whole remains a prominent feature within the town. Parts of the monument are accessible to the public and as such constitute a valuable public amenity.


The monument includes the known surviving extent of the earthwork, buried and upstanding structural remains of a motte and bailey castle and bishops' palace, which lie within two separate areas of protection at the northern end of the town of Bishop's Castle. The first area of protection forms the majority of the monument and includes remains of the northern part of the castle and bishops' palace. To the south of this lies the second area of protection which includes remains of the southern part of the castle and palace. All the upstanding sections of the castle and palace walls are Listed Buildings Grade II and are all included in the scheduling. The motte and bailey castle was built by the bishops of Hereford, probably between 1085 and 1127, and lay within the large episcopal manor of Lydbury, which had belonged to the bishops of Hereford since the late eighth century. After the Norman Conquest the bishops of Hereford controlled the manor as marcher lords. The first documented reference to the castle is in the mid-12th century when the castle was seized by Hugh de Mortimer from Bishop Robert de Betun. Ecclesiastical control was probably restored by Betun's successor, Bishop Gilbert Foliot. In 1167 the castle was re-fortified at a cost of 20 marks. It is considered that this work involved replacing timber buildings with structures built of stone. A settlement became established close to the castle, which in 1203 was granted a market charter by Bishop Giles de Broase. This act is believed to have been the impetus for the establishment of the planned town to the south of the castle. In 1263 the castle and the town were attacked and the castle was captured by John FitzAlan, Lord of Oswestry and Clun, and Earl of Arundel. Records indicate that the estimated total cost resulting from the damage to buildings in the town and the castle was in excess of 200 marks. The castle served as a palace of the bishops of Hereford throughout the medieval period, and it was also the centre of administrative and legal control for the area. It is recorded that Bishop Cantilupe stayed here often in the mid-13th century, and it was one of the episcopal palaces maintained as residences by the bishops of Hereford after 1356. It continued to be used by the bishops until the 16th century. Records indicate that from 1170 to 1610 constables were appointed to maintain the castle, and a reference by Leland in 1530 described it as being of good strength. A survey of the castle undertaken in the reign of Elizabeth I records that there were 13 rooms covered with lead, a tower on the outer wall, a stable on the eastern side, and two rooms covered with tiles. A gatehouse, a prison tower and two other rooms referred to as a `new building', were also noted. An 18th century illustration based on an Elizabethan drawing shows a square keep within an inner ward defined by a curtain wall and adjoining towers occupying the area of the motte. Along the outer ward wall a gatehouse, a round tower and a rectangular building are shown, with a further rectangular structure within the interior. In 1603 the castle was granted by James I to the Howard family. During the 17th century it was allowed to fall into ruins and was used extensively as a quarry for building materials by the inhabitants of the town. Following the adandonment of the castle, The Square, in the south eastern part of the outer ward, was created as an extension to the market place occupying the central street within the town. The Castle Hotel, opposite The Square, was built in 1719. The Square and The Castle Hotel are not included in the scheduling. During this period much of the outer ward and the defended area immediately to the west of the outer ward wall were used as agricultural land. On the levelled remains of the keep and the inner ward a bowling green was created in the 18th century. The adjacent summerhouse, built in the late 18th or early 19th century, is a Listed Building Grade II. The castle is situated at the southern end of a spur overlooking the town. The roughly circular motte occupies a high point on the spur, and measures approximately 56m at its base and 44m across the top. The height of the southern portion of the motte is accentuated by the sloping ground on which it stands and is about 5.7m high. To the north, where the ground rises more gradually, the motte has been reduced in height in order to create a level surface for the bowling green. The bailey was located on the lower ground to the south of the motte. Its exact dimensions are unclear, but it was probably of a similar size to the later outer ward, about 0.5ha, that occupies this area. All the upstanding sections of walling defining the outer ward are roughly coursed and consist mainly of locally derived stone. The wall marking the western side of the outer ward is 2m wide and stands to a maximum height of 3.7m. The southern and eastern sides of the outer ward are defined by substantial retaining walls standing up to 7m high, built onto, and revetting deeply excavated sections of bedrock. The wall along the southern side is strengthened by stone buttresses. At the north eastern corner of the outer ward are the remains of a rectangular projection with rounded ends, which is considered to be the base of a tower. At the south eastern corner, close to what is believed to be the site of the gatehouse to the outer ward, the retaining wall takes the form of a rectangular recess. Within this recess are three projecting sandstone corbels and an associated scarcement (a ledge built into the wall). Together these features would have provided support for a balcony 3.6m above the present ground surface. Small-scale archaeological excavations carried out in 1937-38 and in 1988, close to the south western part of the motte, appear to confirm the existence of the rectangular inner ward which was depicted on the 18th century copy of the Elizabethan drawing. The investigation undertaken in 1988 also found that this section of the inner ward wall was sealed beneath a sizeable dump of masonry from the demolished castle buildings. A limited archaeological excavation carried out in 1999 next to the southern portion of the outer ward wall found evidence of post-medieval stone structures abutting, and running parallel to, the wall. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: all paths, paved areas and yard surfaces, all modern free-standing walls, all fence and gate posts, all ornamental garden features, the bowling green and the adjacent summerhouse, the clubhouse and the sheds, the flag pole and the electric lights around the bowling green, the picnic table together with an information board and the concrete plinths for seats located to the west of the outer ward wall, the house known as Middle Bailey as well as the adjacent garage and driveway, the garage and the oil storage container within the garden of 2 Welsh Street, the dwelling known as The Castle Gatehouse located above the southern retaining wall of the outer ward, all extant outbuildings of 18th century and later date adjoining the southern and eastern retaining walls defining the outer ward, however, 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
Lawrence, A, The Bishop's Castle, (1998)
Dalwood, H, 'Central Marches Historic Towns Report' in Archaeological Assessment of Bishop's Castle, (1996)
Eyton, R W, 'Antiquities of Shropshire' in Bishops Castle, , Vol. XI, (1860), 199-206
Lavender, F, 'Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society' in The Castle at Bishop's Castle, , Vol. XLIX, (1938), 245-49
Lavender, F, 'Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society' in The Castle at Bishop's Castle, , Vol. LI, (1943), 157-59
Walmsley, C, 'The Journal of the SW Shropshire Historical and Archaeol Society' in The Castle of Bishop's Castle: a reinterpretation, , Vol. 4, (1992), 7-11
Note on record card, SMR Record Card 145, (1984)
photocopy of illustration in SMR, Bishop's Castle from a drawing in the possession of Lord Clive,
Walmsley, C, (2000)


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.

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