Knaresborough Town Defences

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are no visible remains

NameKnaresborough Town Defences
Alternative NamesChenaresburg
Historic CountryYorkshire
Modern AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
1974 AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
Civil ParishKnaresborough

The remains of a ditch and rampart, forming a rectangle 900 by 600 ft. and possibly a Roman fort, can be traced at Knaresborough (Hargrove, 1832).

There are no remains of this feature. Hargrove's plan can be seen by ground inspection to enclose the highest and oldest part of the town. It is probable, therefore, that this former earthwork represented the boundary of the burgus to Knaresborough Castle, and not a Roman fort (F1 RWE 11-JAN-63). (PastScape)

Chenaresburg in Domesday.

Place name means 'Cenheard's fortification (EPNS). (North Yorkshire HER)

Anciently called Knaresburgh, (i.e. a fortress on a craggy rock) situated on the Eastern bank of the river Nidd, eighteen miles from York, in the West-Riding of Yorkshire, diocese of Chester, and wapentake of Claro, is a town great antiquity, and formerly a place of considerable strength being well fortified by natural inaccessible cliffs next to the river and on parts by a high rampart, the remains of which yet discernible.

The terrace at the Crown Inn, and several other is in the gardens on that side of the town, were raised upon this ancient rampart; from each of which is a very extensive view of a beautiful country, bounded on one side by the Yorkshire Wolds, and on the other by the dark mountains of Hambleton, including a large variegated tract of waving enclosures, woods, and villages; amongst which is seen the city of York, at the distance of eighteen miles. The most complete piece of this fortification now remaining is in the garden adjoining upon Grace-Church-Street; it is a considerable height from the street and was strengthened by several artificial mounts, one of which still remains

These were probably placed within bow-shot on each other, the whole length of the rampart, from where is the garrison might watch the motions of an enemy, and repel every hostile approach.

This mode of fortification was peculiar to the Saxons, though we find very little mention made of this place before the Norman conquest. Yet wrong its facility to the Roman road, and the advantages of the situation, it could scared escape the notice of that warlike people, and it is a well known the Saxons erected their castles or forts, when they call it on Roman foundations, and gave them the name of Burgh or Brough. (Hargrove 1843)

Gracious Street. Because there have been several places are worship on or near Gracious Street it has been incorrectly assumed that 'gracious' is an appropriate name derived from the presence of chapels and churches. The name, however, is derived from Anglo-Saxon gracht hus (literally 'ditch houses'), and referes to houses built on what Hargrove described as the town's main ditch, or defensive moat, which became an open sewer. This ran along what is now Gracious Street, and what in the nineteenth century was even called Grace Church Street. (Kellet )

Gatehouse Comments

Bond places this in his 'New post-Conquest medieval defensive circuits consisting only of gates and/or earthen defences' list. However the place name suggests a Saxon defensive site at Knaresborough. Was the lost ditch and rampart a Saxon communal burh into which a Norman Castle was placed in one corner or was the Norman castle a rebuilding of a Saxon thegnal burh onto which a burgus enclosure was added? or both? or neither? The Crown Inn is on the corner of Finkle Street and High Street 220m north of the castle's great tower. Grace Church Street, now Gracious Street, lies south-east of the castle. The line of the defences presumably ran parallel to High Street and Gracious Street. This would give an area of the potential original Saxon burh of c. 7000-8000 sq. m. (of which the castle now occupies about 2000 sq. m.). The parish church of St Trinity is outside the line of these defenses. As with many places in Yorkshire and the north-east the 'gate' road names in Knaresborough (i.e. Kirkgate) are derived from the Danish gata meaning road and do not refer to lost gates. NB. As Gatehouse reads Hargrove he seems to be suggesting the ditch and rampart he saw was Saxon, not Roman. Map reference for junction of High Street and Gracious Street presumably the eastern most corner of the defenses.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSE351569
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  • Kellet, A., 2009, A to Z of Knaresborough History (Stroud; Amberley Publishing)
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 268
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles and Tower Houses of Yorkshire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 54
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 download/view online
  • Smith, A.H., 1961, The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Part 5 Upper and Lower Claro Wapentakes (English Place-Name Society 34) p. 110
  • Armitage and Montgomerie, 1912, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Yorkshire Vol. 2 p. 4-5
  • Hargrove, E., 1843, A brief description of places of public interest in the county of York p. 66 online copy
  • Hargrove, E., 1832, History of Knaresborough p. 4
  • Allen, T., 1831, History of Yorkshire Vol. 3 p. 395
  • Bigland, J., 1815, Yorkshire; or, Original delineations ... of that county p. 635 online copy
  • Hargrove, E., 1782, History of the castle, town, and forest of Knaresborough p. 2-4 online copy


  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Ch√Ęteau Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86