Thirsk Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameThirsk Castle
Alternative NamesCastle Garth; Castle Yard; Tresk; Threske; Thruske; Treske
Historic CountryYorkshire
Modern AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
1974 AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
Civil ParishThirsk

Probable motte and bailey castle, built sometime between circa 1092 and 1130 and destroyed in 1176. The site then became a manor house with dovecotes and was destroyed by the Scots in 1322. From 1376 it was used as a garden. The only remains of Thirsk Castle comprise a stretch of well-spread rampart, allegedly the bailey, enclosing the probable counterscarp of a ditched motte. However, the bailey so defined is incredibly small and alternative explanations of the bank - perhaps as part of undocumented town defence - must be considered, while the motte ditch does not seem to be congruent with the motte. Elsewhere all traces of the castle have been destroyed by modern development. (PastScape)

The western rampart, the undeveloped area of the bailey and the motte of the Norman castle at Thirsk. The monument is situated on fairly level ground to the west of Market Place. The bailey rampart is located in Castle Garth and comprises an earthen bank 1.5m-2.5m in height by 140m in length with an outer ditch which, although it has become infilled over the years, is estimated to be at least 10m wide and 2m deep. The western edge of the ditch is thought to lie beneath the shallow-founded buildings and metalled areas in properties to the west of Castle Garth while, at the northern end, it runs beneath the grounds of the 19th century Masonic Hall; the southern end of the ditch and rampart are thought to have been destroyed in recent years by the construction of a new building to the rear of 15 Westgate. A small-scale excavation carried out in the 1960's recorded a section through the bank and noted an earlier cobbled surface beneath it. To the east of the rampart is an open area, measuring up to 140m long by 40m wide, which is the interior of the bailey; this contains a number of low rectangular earthworks (less than 0.3m high) which indicate the layout of building plots and gardens within the enclosure

Along the eastern edge of the bailey, a 2m deep scarp plunges into a broad ditch about 20m in width and to the east of this the ground rises to give a large mound, the top of which is roughly 3m above the surrounding land surface. Although altered over the last 100 years by building works and garden landscaping, this mound comprises a motte which was separated from the bailey by the ditch. Decorated stonework is reported to have been found during the construction of the house at Castle Villa in the 1890's. Built-up areas to the east of the motte obscure the eastern extent of the castle but, by comparison with other mottes and baileys, it is estimated that Thirsk Castle originally lay within the area bounded by Westgate, Castlegate, Kirkgate and Masonic Lane and thus it is estimated that the surviving remains represent at least half the area of the castle. Although it was once held that Thirsk Castle was built in AD 975, there is no substantive evidence for pre-Conquest foundation and it is now thought that the castle was erected by Robert de Stuteville in about 1092. Roger de Mowbray held the castle against Henry II in 1174 but in 1175 it was surrendered to the King who ordered its destruction in 1176. The de Mowbray family still held a manor on the site in the 13th century and there is a reference to the destruction of a house and dovecotes by the Scotts in 1322. For a period from 1376 Castle Garth was used as a garden but by the end of the century was laid to grass. Deeds record that in 1658 the land passed to Mr Reginald Bell. (Scheduling Report)

The excavation by MAP and the watching brief by A Clarke has provided valuable and interesting information on the early history of Thirsk. It is therefore suggested that Thirsk Castle does have a pre-Conquest origin and that what remains today is only a very minor remodelling by the the Normans of an already fortified site. (Finney 1994)

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 ReferenceSE427820
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  • Finney, A.E., 1994, 'Recent Work by MAP Archaeological Consultany Ltd' CBA Forum (newsletter for CBA Yorkshire) p. 31-33 (Excavation Report)
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Primary Sources

  • Stubbs, Wm. (ed), 1867, Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi Benedicti Abbatis; Chronicle of the Reigns of Henry II and Richard I. A.D. 1169-1192 (London: Rolls Series 49) Vol. 1 p. 48, 126 online 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
  • Creighton, O.H., 1998, Castles and Landscapes: An Archaeological Survey of Yorkshire and the East Midlands (PhD Thesis University of Leicester) p. 226-9, 627-8 online copy
  • MAP Archaeological Consultancy Ltd. 1995. Thirsk Castle Thirsk North Yorkshire SAM No.20454 Archaeological Excavation and Watching Brief online copy
  • Clarke, A., 1991, Development at Calvert's Carpet Yard, Thirsk, Scheduled Ancient Monument County No. 711: Town Banks and Castle (Watching Brief: N. Yorks. SMR) online copy