Maiden Castle Fort, Durham

Has been described as a Possible Uncertain

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

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

Maiden Castle Iron Age hillfort is situated astride a precipitous promontory above the River Wear, protected on all but the western side by steep natural slopes. Orientated east-west, the fort measures a maximum of 180m by 75m and is protected on the western side, where natural defence is weak, by an earthen rampart with an external ditch. The rampart is visible as a scarp 3m high and is separated from the ditch by a broad berm. Slight traces of a counterscarp bank are visible inside the rampart towards its southern end. An original entrance is thought to lie at the northern end of the western side where there is a break in the ditch. Limited excavation of part of the western rampart in 1956 revealed that it was originally constructed of clay, revetted with cobbles and capped with a wooden palisade. At a later date the inner side of the rampart was removed and a stone revetting wall was built and subsequently wooden stakes were added to the wall in order to strengthen it; these stakes were burnt when the fort was later abandoned. A medieval mason's mark was discovered on one of the stones which formed the later stone revetment wall, implying some form of reuse of the prehistoric hillfort during the medieval period. (Scheduling Report)

Maiden Castle classified as an Iron Age promontory fort, covering 2 acres, and protected on all but the west side, by steep natural slopes. The west rampart is 18 ft wide and 7 ft high, with an external ditch, still 4 ft deep, and the remains of a slight inner bank at the south end. The original entrance may have been at the north end of this side, where there is a break in the outer ditch (Thomas). Limited excavation in 1946 on the west rampart revealed three phases of construction:

1. The original clay rampart was revetted with cobbles, externally and at the top where a wooden palisade was also provided.


The inside of the rampart was cut away and a stone revetting wall built; at least one of the stones bearing a Medieval mason's mark.

3. Wooden stakes were added to the retaining wall for strengthening. When the rampart was finally abandoned these stakes were burnt. 'Clearly the last two of the three phases .... must belong to the Middle Ages; it is possible, though not likely, that the original construction was prehistoric'. The only finds came from the topsoil; the earliest being 15th or 16th century pottery fragments. The nearest parallels to this site are the defended (rather than fortified) farm or manor sites of Medieval date, in Roxburghshire. (PastScape ref. Jarrett)

Gatehouse Comments

Nothing to suggest this was a manorial site or a farmstead held for military service. So defenses almost certainly for stock control and domestic security. Did the nearby pilgrim centre of Durham Cathedral,with numbers of strangers in the district, increase concerns about crime?

- 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 ReferenceNZ283417
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Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved

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  • Thomas, N., 1960, A Guide to Prehistoric England p. 111
  • Gould, Chalkley, 1905, 'Ancient Earthworks' in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Durham Vol. 1 (London) p. 348 online copy
  • Hutchinson, Wm, 1785-94, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham Vol. 2 p. 393-8 online copy


  • Jarrett, M.G., 1965, Transactions of the Archaeological and Historical Society of Durham and Northumberland Vol. 11 p. 124-7
  • 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