Pilsbury Castle Hills

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NamePilsbury Castle Hills
Alternative NamesPillesbury
Historic CountryDerbyshire
Modern AuthorityDerbyshire
1974 AuthorityDerbyshire
Civil ParishHartington Town Quarter

This imposing site comprises a high motte, two baileys with ditches and internal banks, and outworks. To the east a steep-sided natural knoll is utilised and the whole takes advantage of a high spot in the valley bottom. The earthworks would originally have been surmounted by timber structures; there are no traces of any rebuilding in stone. Medieval artefacts were found 'under' the site in a 'passage like a cave' in c. 1880-1885, including a 13th century coin - these do not certainly date from the period the castle was in use, but may be later. The eastern bailey is slightly larger than the other, measuring c. 55 by 45 metres across. It is defined to west and north by a ditch, to the south by a ditch with slight internal bank, and to the east by a natural knoll with near-sheer sides and a height of over five metres. The only viable points of entry to the bailey are through a narrow gap in the south-east corner or via wooden bridges from the south and/or from the motte to the west. The southern bailey measures c. 40 metres across and is semi-circular. It is separated from the motte by a deep ditch and elsewhere is defined by a ditch with internal bank. There is a probable original entrance approached by two hollow ways. It is possible that the southern bailey may be an early Norman ringwork built before the motte and bailey. A comparable ringwork exists in the Peak District at Camp Green, Hathersage (SMR 7414). An outwork occurs below the motte to the west. This rectangular area measures c. 40 by 20 metres and is defined by a low bank to the north, a low bank and ditch to the south and what is probably an old river course to the west. The western half of the interior of the outwork is level and could have held a timber building or buildings. Little or nothing is documented for Pilsbury Castle - the only possible reference states that Edmund, Earl of Lancaster had a 'capital mansion' at Hartington in the reign of Edward I

However, this seems a late date for a timber castle, most having been abandoned or rebuilt in stone by this time, and there are other possible candidates in Hartington for the 'capital mansion'. The castle and possible earlier ringwork are probably of 11th or 12th century date, by analogy with castles elsewhere, and take advantage of a natural rise, in a position that controls access along the Dove Valley. (Derbyshire HER ref. Barnatt)

Pilsbury Castle Hills is an extensive and extremely well-preserved example of a complex motte and bailey site with important historical associations. It has suffered very little disturbance since it was abandoned and therefore retains intact archaeological remains throughout. These include the buried remains of buildings not only on the motte and in the three baileys, but in the outwork to the south and the open occupation area to the north.

The monument is a medieval motte and bailey castle whose remains include a conical motte or castle mound, three baileys enclosed by ramparts and ditches, an outwork on the south side and an open area on the north side containing a variety of earthworks interpreted as the remains of pens and structures associated with the castle. The castle is situated on a spur overlooking the River Dove and utilises the steep natural slope on its north-west side as part of its defences. From this side the motte is c.12m high and the ramparts up to 10m high. From inside the castle, the motte is c.5m high and 30m wide across the top. The breadth of the summit indicates that it was the site of a shell keep; a type of castle keep in which timber buildings were arranged round the inside of a circular wall or palisade. Internally, the ramparts vary between 2m and 5m high. Internal ditches flank the ramparts of the central and south-west baileys and vary between 3m and 5m deep and 5m to 10m wide. A 15m wide ditch encloses the foot of the motte on its east and south sides and branches north-eastward along the north-west side of the north bailey where it reaches a width of 10m. The motte ditch also branches to create a 10m wide external ditch round the south side of the north bailey, where it varies between 2m and 3m deep. The north bailey is the largest and most massively defended of the three enclosures. Its ramparts are up to 5m high and a similar width across the top. Projections facing north and eastward were the sites of towers. Blocks of limestone on the surface of these projections are the remains of their foundations or, alternatively, of the curtain wall that formerly enclosed the bailey. Access into the north bailey was via a gateway through the defences on the south-east side. A gate tower would have guarded this entrance and a curving ramp leads down into the interior of the bailey which is roughly square and has an area of 0.25 hectares. The strength of the north bailey indicates that it was the location of the main living accommodation of the lords of Pilsbury Castle, and would have included the lord's hall and its various service buildings. The smaller central and south-west baileys, with areas of 0.15 hectares and 0.09 hectares respectively, would have contained a variety of workshops, stabling and ancillary buildings, and were most likely enclosed by timber palisades. They are separated from the north bailey by a wide ditch. A drawbridge would have existed to connect the two areas and is believed to have been located at the south-west corner of the north bailey where there is a corresponding earthwork on the opposite side of the ditch. In this way, the highly defensible motte and north bailey could be isolated in the event of attack. The main approach to the castle was via a sunken track that leads from the deserted village of Pilsbury to the south and from Crowdecote to the north. This track passes the entrance into the north bailey and is overlooked by the outwork on the south side of the castle and by the projecting towers in the curtain wall. Traffic wishing to enter the service areas of the castle - that is, the central and south-west baileys - would have circled the castle to the north and approached via a second entrance which lay to the west of the motte. Here a ramp leads from the occupation area north of the castle to a gateway into the south-west bailey. This gate is overlooked by two earthwork mounds interpreted as the sites of towers. The central bailey was then entered by turning east through another gate located at the head of the rampart dividing the two baileys. This rampart would also have carried a palisade. The precise history of the castle is uncertain but, in addition to commanding the Dove Valley between two crossing points, it may, in the last quarter of the thirteenth century, have been the centre of the Hartington estates of Edmund, Earl of Lancaster. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Probably built by Henry de Ferrers in C11 along with Tutbury and Duffield. Possibly on site of Iron Age fortification as the place name means fortified site in Celtic (pil), Saxon (bury) and Norman (castle). The site is now quite isolated but in medieval and earlier times was probably astride a routeway along the Dove valley and near a crossing point of the Dove. However, it was clearly never a major castle and probably lightly garrisoned even at the height of its use. There may have been a hunting forest nearby and Pilsbury may have been used as a hunting lodge.

- 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 ReferenceSK114638
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Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Copyright Matthew Otter All Rights Reserved
Copyright Matthew Otter All Rights Reserved
Copyright Matthew Otter All Rights Reserved

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  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of the East Midlands (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 26
  • Weston, P., 2000, Hartington: a Landscape History (Derbyshire Libraries & Heritage Dept)
  • Smith, Michael E., 1992, Castles and Manor Houses in and around Derbyshire (Derby)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 110
  • Hart, C.R., 1981, The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey to AD1500 (Derbyshire Archaeological Trust) p.
  • Millward, R. and Robinson, A., 1975, The Peak District (London: Eyre Methuen) p. 115, 121-2
  • Cox, J.C., 1905, 'Ancient Earthworks' in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Derbyshire Vol. 1 p. 385-6 (The plan on p. 385 is wrong. The actually plan of the site is marked 'Staden Low' in error, and is on p. 373.) online copy
  • Lysons, D. and S., 1817, Magna Britannia Vol. 5 Derbyshire p. 175 online transcription


  • Speight, Sarah, 2008, 'Castles as Past Culture: Living with Castles in the Post-Medieval World' Cha^teau Gaillard Vol. 23 p. 385-94 (slight)
  • Landon, N., Ash, P. and Payne, A., 2006, 'Pilsbury: a forgotten castle' Derbyshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 126 p. 82-102
  • Turner, W., 1903, 'Notes on Buxton and District' Derbyshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 25 p. 159


  • Barnatt, J., 1991, Pilsbury Farm, Hartington Town Quarter. Derbyshire Archaeological Survey 1991 (Derbyshire sites and monuments record)