Pontesbury Castle

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

There are earthwork remains

NamePontesbury Castle
Alternative NamesCastle Pavement
Historic CountryShropshire
Modern AuthorityShropshire
1974 AuthorityShropshire
Civil ParishPontesbury

The ringwork south east of St George's Church is a well-preserved example of this class of monument. The limited archaeological excavations here have demonstrated the nature and extent of the structural remains and the associated buried deposits. These excavations have also provided important information about the initial construction and subsequent modification of the defences, and about the succession of buildings in the interior of the ringwork. The most prominent of these was the tower keep, which would have provided accommodation on several floors for the lord, his family and his retainers. Tower keep castles were built throughout the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid-15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. Although it has been largely demolished, this partially excavated example of a tower keep in association with a ringwork provides important evidence about the development of military architecture in the Welsh marches in the late 11th and 12th centuries. The structural remains existing here, together with the associated artefacts and organic remains surviving in the interior and within the external ditch, will provide valuable evidence about the activities and life styles of those who inhabited the ringwork. In addition, organic remains preserved in the buried ground surfaces beneath the ramparts and within the ditch will provide information about the local environment and the use of the land prior to and following the construction of the ringwork. The importance of the castle site is further enhanced by its proximity to the late Anglo-Saxon settlement of Pontesbury.

The monument includes the known surviving extent of the earthwork and buried remains of a ringwork and the buried structural remains of a tower keep, situated to the south east of St George's Church in the village of Pontesbury

Archaeological and place name evidence suggest that Pontesbury was a settlement of some importance in the Anglo-Saxon period. The existence of this settlement is believed to have influenced the siting of the ringwork, which occupies undulating ground above the base of the Rea Brook valley. From this position the ringwork would have controlled the movement of people along this and the adjoining valleys. The ringwork is now discernible as an oval shaped mound, which was formerly circular, approximately 50m in diameter at its base. In relation to the undulating ground which it occupies, and as a result of modern landscaping, the height of the mound varies from 0.7m at the north to about 3m along its western side. In 1960, 1961 and 1964 limited archaeological excavations were carried out on the site, and it was found that the ringwork was defined by a V-shaped ditch about 8m wide and 1.7m deep, which had cut through the natural boulder clay. Material excavated from the ditch had been used to build an internal rampart about 5m wide. These defences post-dated deposits containing charcoal, bone, and a riveted fragment of iron, although this earlier occupation was undatable. The rampart of the ringwork appears to have been slighted and a new one built shortly afterwards utilising the remains of the existing defences. Pottery found in association with the later rampart has been dated to the late 12th or early 13th century. In the interior of the ringwork the buried remains of a succession of contemporary timber and stone-built structures were revealed. The largest and best preserved of these buildings was a tower keep, built of stone with footings about 18m square, located in the eastern half of the ringwork. Pottery found in association with the tower keep suggests that it was constructed in the 12th century. Close to the tower keep a thick layer of charcoal and burnt wattle and daub was found, suggesting that the timber buildings, belonging to the final phase of the castle, had been destroyed by fire. The excavated evidence would seem to suggest that the castle went out of use by 1300. The rampart was subsequently levelled and was used to infill the ditch. According to the Domesday survey, in 1086 the manor of Pontesbury was held by Roger Fitz Corbett for Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. Documentary sources indicate that the manor continued to be held by Roger Fitz Corbett's successors as lords of Caus Manor until the 14th century. There is, however, no mention from the documentary sources of a castle at Pontesbury during this period. The only mention of a castle here is much later, when John Leland, in his tour of the region, recorded that the castle buildings were in ruins. A documentary source indicates that the tower keep was being used as a quarry for stone in the 19th century, which led to it being levelled at this time. (Scheduling Report)

A ringwork of three periods with a ditch some 6ft deep with a rampart corresponding on the inside. First occupation on natural ground level; no structures found in small area excavated. Period two marked by a secondary rampart of stones and clay piled against the back of the first. Associated with this second rampart were the remains of a wall of unmortared stones. The remains of period three consisted of a clay floor with four small postholes along its edge. No dateable finds from period One. Periods Two and Three dated by pottery to 1150 -1225 (anon 1961).

In 1960, 1961 and 1964 limited archaeological excavations were carried out on the site. The ringwork was defined by a V-shaped ditch, cut through the natural boulder clay, which was then used to build an internal rampart. First defences on site were thought to have preceded by only a short time the second rampart, dated by pottery to late C12 or first half C13. Massive footings of a square tower or keep were identified. The tower, which was probably constructed at the same time although no positive chronological relationship was found, contained a layer of burnt wattle and daub with pottery of 1150-1300. Presumably, as no later pottery could be found, the tower went out of use by the latter date, and was possibly destroyed by fire. The footings identified were largely sandstone rubble, and the core of the wall was of Stiperstones quartzite, with pink mortar. No faced stones were recovered, and it was postulated that the walls were likely rubble faced and perhaps subsequently plastered (One regular cut stone was found in an excavation in 2008 (Frost 2008)). The tower keep was postulated to be around 40 to 50ft high based on the massive foundations, with standing walls at least 6 to 7ft thick. The ditch section showed it had been deliberately filled with clay suggesting the ramparts had been thrown into it. This back filling took place after the 14th century and possibly as late as the 19th century. The ruins were mentioned by Leland, and the tower was still being robbed of stone in the early C19 (Baker 1961-64).

Mound originally some 60m diameter has been destroyed on all but W side where it remains to a height of 1.5m. (OS FI 1971).

The present alignment of Chapel St, Castle Meadow, and Main Road, enclosing the ring-work, suggests that there was a large outer bailey (VCH 1968).

Gatehouse Comments

Large Domesday manor. The place-name is suggestive of a Saxon fortified site although a village defence probably represents this. However the ringwork may well represent the site of an earlier Saxon Hall. The lord in 1086 was the Saxon Ernwy of Pontesbury who had held the manor in 1066, although in 1086 the overlord was Roger fitz Corbet. Later lords of the manor were the fitzHerbert's.

- 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 ReferenceSJ401059
Latitude52.6484184265137
Longitude-2.88648009300232
Eastings340120
Northings305990
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink

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Books

  • Duckers, Peter and Anne, 2006, Castles of Shropshire (Stroud: Tempus) p. 129-30
  • Salter, Mike, 2001 (2edn), The Castles and Moated Mansions of Shropshire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 65
  • Higham, R. and Barker, P., 1992, Timber Castles (Batsford)
  • Jackson, M.J.,1988, Castles of Shropshire (Shrewsbury: Shropshire Libraries) p. 45-6
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 428
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 281
  • Gaydon, A.T. (ed), 1968, VCH Shropshire Vol. 8 p. 252
  • Wall (after Downham), 1908, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Shropshire Vol. 1 p. 387 (plan)
  • Eyton, R.W., 1858, Antiquities of Shropshire (London: John Russell Smith) Vol. 7 p. 129-143 (tenurial history) online copy

Antiquarian

  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England (Sutton Publishing) p. 393
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1908, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 26 online copy

Journals

  • Frost, P., 2008, 'Pontesbury, Cedarway' West Midlands Archaeology Vol. 51 p. 26-8
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1967, 'Masonry castles in Wales and the Marches: a list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 116 p. 71-132
  • King, D.J.C. and Alcock, L., 1969, 'Ringworks in England and Wales' Ch√Ęteau Gaillard Vol. 3 p. 90-127 (esp p. 107-8)
  • 1965, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 9 p. 191 download copy
  • Barker, P.A., 1961-4, 'Pontesbury Castle Mound Emergency Excavations, 1961 and 1964' Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. 57 p. 206-223 (Plans, Photos)
  • 1962-3, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 6-7 p. 323 download copy
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1963, 'Early castles in Wales and the Marches: a preliminary list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 112 p. 77-124
  • Anon, 1961, Keel Archaeology Group Newsletter No. 1
  • Chitty, Lily, 1949, 'Subsidiary Castle Sites West of Shrewsbury' Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society Vol. 53 p. 83-90
  • Cobbold, E.S., 1907, 'Shropshire Earthworks' Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 7 p. 173 (plan) online copy

Other

  • Frost, Pat, 2008, Cedarway, Chapel Street, Pontesbury, Shropshire: archaeological watching brief (Castlering Archaeological Report) 293. p. 6-7
  • Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, 1986, Scheduled Monument Report on SAM 21041