Morpeth Haw Hill

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are earthwork remains

NameMorpeth Haw Hill
Alternative NamesHa' Hill
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishMorpeth

The earlier of Morpeth?s castles lies on Haw Hill, now within Carlisle Park and immediately to the south of the river .Haw Hill is an earthwork castle in a good position to guard the crossing over the Wansbeck, probably built soon after the granting of the barony of Morpeth to William de Merlay, one of William the Conqueror?s followers, around 1080. The first contemporary reference to it is in 1095 when it was captured by William Rufus during the rebellion of William de Mowbray. It is again mentioned in 1138 when Ranulph de Merlay 'received into his protection in his castle of Morpeth, certain monks of Fountains who, under his patronage, founded the Abbey of Newminster' (John of Hexham cited in Hodgson 1832a, 20). The castle at Morpeth was captured - possibly burnt - by King John in 1216 during his suppression of the Northern barons. Whether this action refers to Haw Hill or the later castle is uncertain. The motte at Haw Hill remains prominent today, whilst the location and even the presence of a bailey is tentative . Tyson (1976, 189 ) suggested that it lay to the south west of the motte on the site of the later castle, but as the two are separated by a steep sided valley this see ms unlikely. A survey of the site carried out in 1999 by Lancaster University Archaeological Unit (Event Nos: 51 and 52) has clarified much about the nature of the earthworks . This work divided the site into two major components i. the motte and ii. the lower hill, the latter frequently considered the site of the bailey. The motte consists of a platform, an embankment and a small knoll . The lower hill is for the most part a natural feature, albeit with a number of artificial enhancements involving the building - up of the northern slope, the creation of a narrow walkway at the eastern end, the formation of a hollow - way access to the ridge, and finally the construction of a bank across the narrow ridge

The morphology of the lower hill does not suggest that it was ever used as a bailey as there is no level area to accommodate one . Possibly, a bailey lay on level ground to the east in an area which has now been developed. Structural remains were found on the summit of the motte by William Woodman during investigations in 1830 . These included the scalloped capital of a column and Norman voussoirs (Hodgson 1832a, 20 ). Woodman also exposed the stone foundations of a long narrow building on the 'east side of the hill'. He considered it may have been a chapel. (Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey)

Despite limited excavation in the mid-19th century the motte and bailey castle on Haw Hill survives reasonably well and retains significant archaeological deposits. It will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the Norman Conquest of northern Britain.

The monument includes the remains of a medieval motte castle, with an associated bailey or outer enclosure. The castle is situated on a natural hill defending the crossing of the River Wansbeck and overlooking the town of Morpeth which both lie to the north. The motte and bailey were created by the artificial scarping of the north east end of a narrow ridge. The motte is sub- oval in shape with steep vertical sides to the north, east and west; the southern side is separated from the bailey or outer enclosure by a steep sided ditch, up to 3.5m deep. The artificially enhanced motte measures 80m east-west by 80m north-south, and the natural mound on which it is constructed has maximum dimensions of 88m north-south by 108m east-west. The northern part of the summit of the motte has a raised level platform, standing to about 0.2m high and measuring 16.5m by 17m. Partial excavation in 1830, by William Woodman, recovered carved stones including scalloped capitals and wedge shaped arch stones. The foundations of what was interpreted as a long narrow building were also uncovered. These stone fragments suggest that there was a stone keep on the motte in the 12th century. The site of a bailey or outer enclosure occupies the central part of the ridge to the west of the motte. This has also been created by the artificial scarping of the ridge and its western edge is defined by a shallow gulley which had been cut across the ridge in a north-south direction. The western edge of the bailey is enclosed by a bank 2.3m wide and standing up to 0.2m high. The interior of the bailey is irregular in shape and has maximum dimensions of 40m by 12m. Remains of at least two internal banks, aligned north-south across the ridge, stand up to 0.35m high. The castle is believed to have been built by William de Merlay, who was granted the barony of Morpeth in about 1080. The earliest documentary reference to the castle is in 1095 when it was captured by William Rufus. It was burned by King John in 1216 and eventually replaced in the 13th century by a new castle to the south; this later castle is the subject of a separate scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

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 ReferenceNZ199856
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  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 213-4
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 80
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  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 249
  • Graham, Frank, 1976, The Castles of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Frank Graham) p. 240
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  • Sanders, I.J., 1960, English Baronies. A study of their origin and descent 1086-1327 p. 65
  • Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 171 online copy
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Hodgson, J., 1832, History of Northumberland (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Part 2 Vol. 2 p. 384- online copy
  • Scott, W., 1814, Border Antiquities of England and Scotland p. 2 online copy


  • Quartermaine, J. and Bell, J., 2000, 'Haw Hill, Morpeth' Archaeology in Northumberland Vol. 10 p. 17
  • 1960, Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 23 p. 10
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Hunter Blair, C.H., 1944, 'The Early Castles of Northumberland' Archaeologia Aeliana (ser4) Vol. 22 p. 116-70 esp 150-2 (plan)
  • Murphy, 1903-5, History of the Berwickshire Naturalist Club Vol. 19 p. 279 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Hardy, T.H and Martin, C.T. (eds), 1889, Lestories des Engles solum la translacion Maistre Geffrei Gaimer (London: Rolls Series 91) p. 194 online copy of translation
  • Arnold, T. (ed), 1885, ‘Historia regum, A. D. 616-1129’ Symeonis Monachi Opera Omnia (London; Rolls series 75) Vol. 2 p. 299


  • Northumberland County Council, 2009, 'Morpeth' Northumberland Extensive Urban Survey doi:10.5284/1000177 [download copy >]
  • 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