Maiden Castle Motte, Old Durham

Has been described as a Rejected Timber Castle (Motte)

There are no visible remains

NameMaiden Castle Motte, Old Durham
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDurham
Modern AuthorityDurham
1974 AuthorityCounty Durham
Civil ParishDurham

Motte and bailey entirely destroyed 1800-60. Was drawn in 1785 and appeared to be typical Motte and Bailey measuring 146m by 155m with a surrounding ditch 11m wide. (Jackson)

OLD DURHAM. In 1785 John Cade wrote of a work here which he called Maiden Castle, and quoted Stukeley's description; but the latter appears to relate to the early promontory camp on the opposite side of the Wear. It must be admitted that Stukeley is obscure, and apparently confuses east with west. The point of interest to us is that Cade's paper is accompanied by an engraving of the earthwork showing it to have been distinctly of the mount and court type. We cannot learn that anything is now left to record. (VCH)

I saw a camp, called Maiden-castle, which I judge to be theirs: it is almost incompassed too by a rivulet falling into the river from the east: it is of an oblong form, 500 foot long, very steep on three sides; the neck is guarded by a rampart, and without that, at some little distance, with a ditch. The prospect is large, more especially eastward. (Stukeley)

Gatehouse Comments

Stuckley's description would place this 'camp' somewhere near NZ285418 between the River Wear and the Old Durham Beck. This is now a flood plain with no evidence of earthworks. His description is that of Maiden Castle at NZ283417 on the other side of the River Wear. Hutchinson and the VCH appear to believe Stukely's description contained errors. Hutchinson (writing in the late C18) is markedly critical of Cade's 1785 illustration writing "This supposed vallum is at present so much levelled, that if ever it was forced, it now appears no otherwise than the swift slope of the bank on the side of the brook, and the mount is only a natural swell or rotundity of the back ground. The plot of ground chosen by the gentleman for the station or camp, on the north-west side nearest to old Durham, and where the brook doth not run, shews some deeps trenches and high earth fences; but the whole is so irregular, that it is not possible to derive any distinct figure from the remains of the works." Quite what happens here is unclear. Did Stukeley mix east and west, as suggested by the VCH, in which case what did he mean by 'incompassed too by a rivulet', something not applicably to the Maiden Castle fort. It does seem Cade's illustration is far from reliable but were Hutchinson's 'deep trenches and high earth fences' something other than old river courses? Earlier versions of the Gatehouse database accepted Jackson and recorded this as a lost motte and bailey. After study of the sources the site is now (March 2012) rejected.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNZ285418
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  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles and Tower Houses of County Durham (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 47
  • Jackson, M.J., 1996, Castles of Durham and Cleveland (Carlisle) p. 30-2
  • Gould, Chalkley, 1905, 'Ancient Earthworks' in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Durham Vol. 1 (London) p. 354 online copy
  • Surtees, R., 1816-40, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham Vol. 4 p. 89-90
  • Hutchinson, Wm, 1823, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham Vol. 2 p. 393-8 online copy
  • Stukeley, Wm, 1776, Itinerarium Curiosum Vol. 2 p. 70 online copy


  • Cade, John, 1785, 'Conjectures concerning some undescribed Roman Roads, and other Antiquities in the County of Durham' Archaeologia Vol. 7 p. 75-6 online copy