Elsdon Mote Hills

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

There are earthwork remains

NameElsdon Mote Hills
Alternative NamesElsden
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishElsdon

Mote Hills is exceptionally well preserved and is considered to be the best example of a motte and bailey castle in Northumberland. Such monuments are rare in Northumberland and the association of this one with the well documented Umfraville family is of particular importance; it will add to our knowledge and understanding of the spread of Norman occupation in Britain.

Mote Hills motte and bailey is situated in an elevated position on a natural spur, which has been modified in order to construct the earthworks. The motte, roughly circular in plan with a flat top, stands to a maximum height of 15m and is 80m in diameter across the base and 46m across the top. The motte is surrounded on the north and east sides by a strong earthen rampart ranging from 1.5m to 3m high, while the western side is protected by steep natural defence. The bailey is situated to the north of the motte and is separated from it by a broad crescent shaped ditch 15m wide. The bailey is roughly rectangular in shape and has maximum internal dimensions of 72m east-west by 48m north-south; it is strongly defended on all sides by a massive earthen rampart, on average 20m across and 10m high. A shallow outer ditch 15m wide surrounds the entire complex. The motte and bailey is considered to have been constructed by Robert de Umfraville in the 11th century AD and is thought to have been the predecessor of the Umfraville seat at Harbottle. Limited excavation of part of the motte in the early 18th century uncovered a Roman inscribed stone in two pieces; it is believed to have been brought from the Roman fort at High Rochester to be re-used as building material. Unconfirmed reports also attest to the 19th century discovery of a pottery vessel containing burnt bone, the location of which is not known

(Scheduling Report)

Whatever the precise date when the Umfraville liberty was established, it has generally been assumed that its initial seat was the great earthwork castle at Elsdon Mote Hills, comprising a ringwork set on a motte with an outer bailey to the north (Hunter Blair 1944, 132-4; Cathcart King & Alcock 1969, 119; Quiney 1976, 177-8; Welfare 1995).

Virtually nothing is known of the history of this castle. It must have gone out of use by the mid-13th century at the latest, for it is not mentioned as a capital messuage in the Inquisition Post Mortem for Gilbert de Umfraville in 1245 (Cal IPM i, 12 no. 49; CalDocScot i, no.1667), nor is there any record of land held in demesne by the Umfraville lord at Elsdon in the feudal return of 1242/43 (Liber Feodorum ii, 1121).

At that stage held by three landowners are recording ploughland in the vill, each possessing a carucate (roughly 120 acres), one of whom, Robert de Umfraville, was a younger brother of the then lord, Gilbert (ibid.). This would be consistent with the theory that the demesne land at Elsdon was alienated by the previous lord, Richard de Umfraville, between 1195-1226, following the final abandonment of the castle, part of this land being settled on his second son, Robert (cf. Hedley 1968, 210).

The complete lack of documentary evidence relating to the castle's foundation or occupation, in itself emphasises that the castle was in use at a very early stage in the life of the liberty and not later (cf. Cathcart King 1983, 332). It is likely, however, that the castle was sited at the pre-Norman estate-centre (caput) of Redesdale. (Northumberland National Park)

The motte and bailey, constructed by Robert de Umfraville not long after the Norman Conquest, occupies the spur of a hill with the mound some 50ft high from the road which borders on the west side. The top is 150ft in diameter. On the north and east sides the bank is 5 to 10ft high enclosed by a ditch some 30ft deep from the top of the bank. The strongly defended bailey is to the north, and the total area of occupation is about 3 1/2 acres (Dodds 1940; Headlam 1939; Bateson 1895).

A Roman inscirbed stone, now in two pieces, was found in the motte, and probable originated from Bremenium (Rochester) and was used as building material. Now in the Chapter House Library, Durham. Animal bones and an urn containing a cremation have been found in part of the motte (Anc Mons Eng & Wales 1967 83).

Remains of a motte and bailey, constructed from a natural mound, now a turf covered and showing no traces of stonework or internal occupation.

A crescentic ditch separates the motte from the bailey which is to the north. The top of the mound has been levelled and the spoil thrown up into a massive rampart around the north and east sides. The entrance is through the south side. The bailey has been similarly levelled with a rampart on its north and east sides.

The outer ditch around the whole work, except on the west side, is of no great depth (F1 ASP 17-MAY-57).

Elsdon was the Anglian capital of Redesdale, their Moot being located here. After the Conquest, Redesdale was created a liberty with Elsdon as its capital messuage. he motte and bailey was constructed soon after the Conquest and is the best-preserved in Northumberland. in 1384 it became the headqurters of the Middle March. In 1547 the Liberty of Redesdale ceased, administration passing to the sheriff of Northumberland (Dodds 1999). (PastScape)

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 ReferenceNY937935
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Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved

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Latitude 55° 14' 7.44" Longitude -2° 5' 58.91"

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Photo by Philip Davis. All Rights Reserved

() above

Latitude 55° 14' 7.44" Longitude -2° 5' 58.91"

View full Sized Image
Copyright Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image
Copyright Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image

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  • Welfare, A., 1995, 'The Mote Hills, Elsdon' Northern Archaeology Vol. 12 p. 45-50
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  • The Archaeological Practice Ltd., 2004, 'Elsdon Northumberland an archaeological and historical study of a border township' Northumberland National Park Historic Village Atlas (The Northumberland National Park Authority) p. 33-6 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