West Derby Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameWest Derby Castle
Alternative Names
Historic CountryLancashire
Modern AuthorityLiverpool
1974 AuthorityMerseyside
Civil ParishLiverpool

Only faint traces remain of the once important little castle. A circular depression marks the site of the moat around the castle mount. To the SW a contiguous elevated area is the interior of the bailey, which is encircled by a depression some 2 to 3 feet deep which is the course of the fosse. Circa 1817 the Lord of the Manor Mr Gascoigne, had the castle mount and bailey levelled by filling in the fosses; but their positions are still discernible. The Castle fell into disuse about the middle of the 13th century and never attained walls of masonry, and was probably only in use for some 180 to 190 years (VCH). The Castle site was excavated by Professor J P Droop in July-August 1927. Trenches were dug across the dividing ditch between the motte and bailey and across the bailey ditch. The first trench revealed that the dividing ditch was in fact two 'V' shaped ditches with a central 'island'. The other ditch showed that the banks on the sides of the bailey ditch had been artificially raised. Also a 3m 'square' oak beam framework was uncovered at the bottom of the ditch. S E Rigold in discussing the excavation identifies the oakbeam structure as a short bridge at the entrance across the bailey (Droop, 1928; Rigold 1975). Excavations on the site of West Derby motte and bailey revealed a substantial shallow negative feature running E-W, at least 26m long and 8m wide, this may have been associated with the motte ditch or an early mill site. In the 14th or 15th century a house with hearth and partition, remodelled with a stone fireplace or ?chimney, was built over the infilled ditch (Gainster, 1990). West Derby motte and bailey castle. Built c1100 AD by Roger de Poitou and subjected to repairs in 1197 and 1202. Between 1199 and 1216 it was known to have been defended by 140 footman and 10 knights and crossbowmen. Between 1218 and 1227 considerable expenditure was incurred by repairs to the drawbridge and garrison quarters in the bailey

The castle was abandoned by 1297 and levelled in 1817. (PastScape)

Despite the monument's present levelled appearance, the base of the motte, the bailey and enclosing moats at West Derby castle remain reasonably well preserved. Limited excavations have confirmed that significant archaeological remains survive at the site. These include ditches and an outer rampart around the bailey. The excellent survival of waterlogged material, including major timbers, in and adjacent to the moats are especially noteworthy. Further similar remains will survive across the monument.

The monument is the motte and bailey castle at West Derby. The site includes a flat open area bounded on all sides by roads. Within this open area lie the buried remains of the castle which include the western half of the motte, the bailey, a double ditch separating the motte and bailey, the outer ditch flanking the bailey, and remains of an outer rampart. The remainder of the motte and surrounding ditch originally lay to the northeast of the scheduled monument in the area crossed by Parkside Drive and the houses and gardens beyond this. This area is not, however, included in the scheduling as the extent of survival of archaeological remains here, if any, is uncertain. The monument was built by the Norman baron Roger de Poitou about 1100 and was subjected to repairs in 1197 and 1202. Between 1199 and 1216 it was known to be defended by 140 footman and 10 knights and crossbowmen. Between 1218 and 1227 considerable expenditure was incurred by repairs to the drawbridge and garrison quarters in the bailey. The castle had been abandoned by 1297 and the site levelled in 1817. Limited excavation of the monument in 1927 located well preserved timbers in the outer ditch that were interpreted as the drawbridge supports. Late 13th-14th century pottery, metal, leather and horn or bone was also recovered. Further limited excavation in 1956 and 1957 located in situ timber consistent with the position of a palisade around the bailey. Well-preserved organic material was also encountered in the ditches between the motte and bailey. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

The Pipe Rolls of 1213 records a garrison in West Derby castle of 140 foot soldiers, 10 Knights and 10 Crossbow men. This seems an exceptionally large garrison for a small castle, although this was the centre for the Hundred of West Derby and, perhaps, some of these troops were stationed elsewhere in the Hundred. However it may also be that this payment was for the costs of upkeep of these troops staying at the castle whilst awaiting military service in Wales or Ireland. The castle was superseded by Liverpool Castle in the C13.

- 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 ReferenceSJ397934
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  • Grimsditch, Brian, Nevell, Michael and Nevell, Richard, 2012, Buckton Castle and the Castles of the North West England (University of Salford Archaeological Monograph 2) p. 114
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles and Tower Houses of Lancashire and Cheshire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 39
  • Lewis, J., 2000, The medieval earthworks of the hundred of West Derby: tenurial evidence and physical structure (Oxford: John and Erice Hedges, British Archaeological Reports British Series 310)
  • Higham, R. and Barker, P., 1992, Timber Castles (Batsford) p. 357
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 247-8
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 317
  • Gibson, Leslie Irving, 1977, Lancashire Castles and Towers (Dalesman Books)
  • Davey, P.J., 1977, West Derby Castle' in Davey, P.J. (ed), Medieval Pottery from Excavations in the North West (Institute of Extension Studies (Liverpool)) p. 68-9
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 342
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 853
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Gardner, W., 1908, 'Ancient Earthworks:- Lancashire South of the Sands' in Farrer, William and Brownbill, J. (eds), VCH Lancashire Vol. 2 p. 543-45 (plan) online copy
  • Farrer, William and Brownbill, J. (eds), 1907, VCH Lancashire Vol. 3 p. 13 - online transcription
  • Fishwick, 1907, 'Castles and Fortified Houses' in Fishwick and P.H. Ditchfield (eds), Memorials of Old Lancashire (London: Bemrose and sons) Vol. 2 p. 17 online copy


  • Gainster et al, 1990, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 34 p. 202 online copy
  • Rigold, S.E., 1975, 'Structural aspects of medieval timber bridges' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 19 p. 64-5 online copy
  • Rigold, S.E., 1973 'Timber bridges at English castles and moated sites' Château Gaillard Vol. 6 p. 183-194
  • 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)
  • Eames, J.V.H., 1957, 'A short report on the excavations at West Derby Castle' Liverpool University School of Archaeology
  • 1928, Antiquaries Journal Vol. 8 p. 240
  • Droop, J.P. and Larkin, F.C., 1928, 'Excavations at West Derby Castle, Liverpool' University of Liverpool, Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology Vol. 15 p. 47-55, plates xv-xxiv

Primary Sources

  • Pipe Rolls 1196-7, 1216 (see Pipe Roll Society for published references)
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 283
  • DL44/369 (Survey of 28 Elizabeth) The National Archives reference


  • 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