Ryton, County Durham

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameRyton, County Durham
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDurham
Modern AuthorityGateshead
1974 AuthorityTyne and Wear
Civil ParishGateshead

The motte 50m north of Holycross Church is a well preserved example of this class of monument. The top of the mound and the ditch, where graves have not disturbed it, will preserve deposits relating to the motte's construction and use. The monument includes a medieval motte mound and associated ditch, occupying the north end of a spur to the north of Holycross Church, Ryton, commanding a view over the River Tyne. The mound is 30m in diameter at its base, 4m high and 9m in diameter at its top. The top of the mound is triangular in plan with corners on the north, south east and south west. A 1m wide linear depression running across the top of the mound may indicate an unrecorded excavation. The ditch curves round the south side of the motte, cutting across the spur. There is no evidence of a ditch on the other sides of the mound where the ground falls steeply away. The ditch is 2m wide at its base, 12m wide at its top and 1.6m below the level of the ground to the south. The ditch and the foot of the slope of the mound contain some pre-20th century graves, which are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included. The relationship between the mound and the steep slope will be preserved to the west of the mound where there has been no discernible disturbance caused by the presence of the graveyard. (Scheduling Report)

The motte is a well-defined, flat-topped mound on the north side of Ryton church, within the churchyard. It measures 30 m across the base, 8 m across the top and is 4 m high. The ground falls away sharply to the north, but on the south side of the motte there are the remains of a ditch, c. 12 m wide across the top, and 2 m wide across the bottom which is c. 1.6 m below the level of the ground to the south. If a bailey ever existed then it presumably lies under the churchyard, church and even the one-time rectory

There are traces of a very narrow trench across the top of the mound, possibly the remains of an excavation into what was presumed until comparatively recently to be a Bronze Age tumulus. It is now accepted, and protected, as a motte. (Tyne and Wear HER)

Gatehouse Comments

Seems to have only been recognised as a motte in the 1960s. David Cathcart King called this a 'possible' motte (a term he used for doubtful sites). His Castellarium Anglicanum was published in 1983 but represented decades of earlier fieldwork and his record for the site might date from before the 1971 change in scheduling report. The site overlooks the Tyne at a point where it is still tidal and, therefore, navigable by large (by medieval standards) vessels. The Tyne has been straightened in the C19 and is not now fordable at this point but it was fordable in 1640 (When it was the focus of the Battle of Newburn Ford and probably fordable earlier. The location is a naturally strong promontory. Indeed given the location, and the fact this mound was well known, the only question is what was the reason for it taking so long to recognise this site as a motte castle. The tenurial history is that by 1183 the land was held the Prince Bishop but with no suggestion of it being a residential manor, despite being quite wealthy and having several fisheries.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNZ151648
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  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles and Tower Houses of County Durham (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 56
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 115 (slight)
  • Jackson, M.J.,1992, Castles of Northumbria (Carlisle) p. 152
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 139 (possible)
  • Gould, Chalkley, 1905, 'Ancient Earthworks' in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Durham Vol. 1 (London) p. 363 online copy
  • Bourn, W., 1896, History of the Parish of Ryton p. 29
  • Gibson, W., 1848, Northumbrian Castles, Churches and Antiquities part 1 p. 50 online copy
  • Surtees, R., 1820, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham Vol. 2 p. 259- online transcription
  • Brayley, E. and Britton, J., 1803, Beauties of England and Wales; Durham Vol. 5 p. 182
  • Hutchinson, Wm, 1785-94, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham Vol. 2 p. 437, 552 online copy


  • Young, R., 1980, 'An Inventory of Barrows in County Durham' Transactions of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland Vol. 5 p. 10


  • Constable, Christopher, 2003, Aspects of the archaeology of the castle in the north of England C 1066-1216 (Doctoral thesis, Durham University) Available at Durham E-Theses Online