Clifford Castle

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

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameClifford Castle
Alternative NamesClyfford; Castellaria de Cliford
Historic CountryHerefordshire
Modern AuthorityHerefordshire
1974 AuthorityHereford and Worcester
Civil ParishClifford

Clifford Castle, earthworks and buildings, stands on a small cliff or ridge on the right bank of the Wye, 1100 yards N.W. of the parish church. The castle was held by the Clifford family in the 13th century and later by the Mortimers. The surviving buildings stand on the large motte on the W. side of the castle; the walls are of local sandstone rubble with some dressings of the same material. They form an irregular polygonal court, with a gatehouse towards the N.E., a hall on the N.W. front and round towers at the other three angles. There is little indication of a difference in date, and the whole structure may well have been built at the beginning of the 13th century. Most of the dressed stone has been removed, but recent excavations, on a small scale, have revealed some of the ground plan.

The Gatehouse, of which the lower courses of the gate and S.E. flanking tower have recently been cleared, had an inner and outer archway, each of two orders, with a portcullis-groove between the arches; the stones have diagonal tooling. The S.E. flanking-tower is entered by a doorway of which only the base remains; in the outer wall are the reveals of a window or loop-embrasure; projecting from the internal angle of the tower is a short length of walling which perhaps supported an inner arch or extension of the gate-hall. The N.W. flanking-tower is still covered with earth, but there are remains of two embrasures. Both towers show a straight joint with the jambs of the outer archway and are presumably of rather later date.

The Hall (36 ft. by 17 ft.) appears to have been of two storeys. The outer face has a battered plinth capped by a rounded string-course; in the same wall are remains of a window-embrasure to the upper storey, and farther W. a projection or corbel on the outer face of the wall below the string. At the S.W. end of the hall are remains of a narrow passage with a segmental-pointed arch.

The W

Tower (Plate 86) is the best preserved of the three mural towers and has a plinth similar to that on the face of the hall; the base of the walls has piercings probably indicating the former existence of bond-timbers; the tower was of two stages and has remains of three window or loop-embrasures in the ground-storey, and a doorway with a segmental-pointed head. The upper storey had two loop-embrasures on the outward side, one retaining part of its loop; there is a third embrasure towards the court. Entered from the S.E. angle is a passage in the curtain leading to a garde-robe, of which the two discharge-holes with triangular heads remain on the outside face. High in the curtain is another discharge-hole, perhaps from the parapet walk. The S. Tower has been mostly destroyed above ground, but was of similar form and had a garde-robe entered from the N.W. angle. The interior of the S.E. Tower, also of similar form and mostly destroyed above ground, has recently been cleared and shows the remains of two embrasures in the outer wall and the base of a doorway towards the court.

The Earthworks consist of a circular motte, about ½ acre in extent at the base, with a large outer bailey on the N.E. and a smaller triangular-shaped court or bailey on the S.W., the whole occupying approximately 3½ acres. The motte, upon which the surviving buildings stand, rises about 36 ft. above the bottom of a dry ditch which flanks it on the N.E. and S.W. sides. On the N.W. and S.E. it was protected by steep scarps, as was also the small triangular bailey on the side towards the river and on the S. side; along the S. there is also a slight ditch with an outer bank. S.W. of this small bailey and ditch is a crescent-shaped platform which may have been used as an additional enclosure. The large, irregular-shaped outer bailey has surrounding scarps and traces of a rampart at the N. and S.E. angles; it is connected with the motte by a sloping causeway which crosses the motte ditch. Within the bailey is an irregular-shaped rectangular mound which suggests the foundations of a building with angle towers.

The whole of the N.W. scarp follows the line of the river and has been further steepened during the construction of the railway which runs parallel to it. (RCHME 1931)

The remains of a Motte and bailey castle, probably constructed between 1067 and 1070, with additional C13 fortifications in stone. The motte is 55m in diameter and 8m in height above the base of the ditches and 5m above natural ground level. It is surmounted by a shell keep the walls of which are 2m in thickness and 8m high. An earthen causeway connects the summit with a large bailey, some 2 acres in area, divided into two parts. Excavations in 1952 and 1953 revealed the outer gatehouse. (PastScape)

Castle, ruined. Late C13 with some C19 and C20 repairs. Rubble with ashlar dressings, the latter heavily robbed. Irregular polygonal court on motte, gatehouse to north-east with circular towers, hall on north- west front, 3 round towers at south and west angles. Hall of 2 storeys, battered plinth capped by rounded string course, remnants of a first floor window to east end of north (external) wall; stack at east end with ground floor hearth. West tower is only one surviving above one metre; 2 storeys, plinth as hall, 2 loop embrasures on first floor; curtain wall to south-east of tower contains 3 garderobes, external vents with triangular heads. Base of gateway includes remnants of portcullis slot. Ruins of barbican with 2 round towers standing about one metre high about 50 metres to east of motte. (Listed Building Report)

Clifford Castle was built by William fitzOsbern shortly after 1066 on "waste land", and the castle and borough of Clifford were held by Ralph de Tosny in 1086 when 16 burgesses were recorded. It is generally accepted that the castle and borough recorded in 1086 were located at Clifford itself (Robinson 1872, 25; Noble 1964, 64; Stanford 1991, 145; Stirling-Brown 1991, 27); there does not seem to have any supporting evidence for the suggestion that the borough was actually located at Old Castleton in 1086 and only later moved to Clifford. It has also been suggested that the borough was confined to the bailey of the castle, but a site to the north of the castle is more likely (Stirling-Brown 1991). The medieval settlement pattern was dispersed: the parish church of St Mary's is located at Llanfair, 1km southeast of the castle; and south of Llanfair lay the small Cluniac priory of Clifford. The castle formed the centre of a marcher lordship held by the Cliffords in the 12th and 13th centuries, and by the Mortimers in the 14th century (Davies 1978, 55; Hillaby 1985, 246-8). The early post-Conquest castle was replaced by a stone castle, probably in the early 13th century (RCHME 1931, 39), although it has been suggested that this replaced an earlier stone castle (Stirling-Brown 1991, 27-8). The castle probably declined in military importance from the end of the 13th century although it was repaired in 1377-8. It was garrisoned briefly in the early 15th century (Bannister 1928, 148). Although constables are recorded up to the 16th century it is uncertain how long it was inhabited (Robinson 72, 28; Trumper 1889, 367-8), although artefactual evidence indicates some occupation in the post-medieval period. (Dalwood and Bryant, 2005)

The condition of the upstanding remains has been assessed by our engineers and the monument is considered to be at high risk by Historic England due to the poor state of some of the masonry remains and undergrowth. The standing remains are suffering from ivy growth and invasion by vegetation, propping have been introduced to stabilise elements in the keep but the undermining of Rosamund's Tower is of ongoing concern.

Historic England is working with the owners on an improvement plan to record and assess the site more fully so masonry consolidation can be undertaken. Rectified photography has been done and is the basis of ongoing interpretation. (Bill Klemperer 2016)

Gatehouse Comments

The castle has had a series of recent owners who had great interest in the castle, although not all these owners have done things which have been to the benefit of the long term conservation of the castle remains. The current owners continue to have a keen interest in the castle, which lies in their domestic garden, and are working with Historic England to preserve the castle which, it is to be hoped, will be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in the near future.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSO243456
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Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image
Photo by Therron Welstead. All Rights ReservedView full Sized Image

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  • Brooks, Alan, 2012, Buildings of England: Herefordshire (Yale University Press Pevsner Architectural Guides)
  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 62-3, 181
  • Shoesmith, Ron, 2009 (Rev edn.), Castles and Moated Sites of Herefordshire (Logaston Press) p. 87-90
  • Phillips, Neil, 2005, Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250 (University of Wales) p. 161-5 Download from ADS
  • Salter, Mike, 2000, Castles of Herefordshire and Worcestershire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 21-2 (plan)
  • Emery, Anthony, 2000, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 2 East Anglia, Central England and Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 476
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 94
  • Remfry, Paul M., 1995, Clifford Castle: a short guide (SCS Publishing: Worcestershire)
  • Remfry, Paul M., 1994, Clifford Castle 1066 to 1299 (SCS Publishing: Worcestershire)
  • Stirling-Brown, R., 1989, Herefordshire Castles (privately published) p. 2, 6
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 203
  • 1981, Herefordshire Countryside Treasures (Hereford and Worcester County Council) p. 90
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 209
  • Davies, R.R., 1978, Lordship and society in the March of Wales, 1282-1400 (Oxford)
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 144
  • RCHME, 1931, An inventory of the historical monuments in Herefordshire Vol. 1: south-west p. 39-40 No. 4, p. 234 (plan) online transcription
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 148
  • Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 128-9 online copy
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Gould, I. Chalkley, 1908, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Herefordshire Vol. 1 p. 234 (plan)
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 98-100 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 393-7 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 2 (London) p. 508-10 online copy
  • Robinson, C.J., 1869, The Castles of Herefordshire and Their Lords (London: Longman) p. 25-30 online copy



  • Neil Guy, 2016, 'CSG Annual Conference - Hereford - April 2016 - Clifford Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 30 p. 57-65
  • 2002-3, 'Clifford Castle' Castle Studies Group Newsletter Vol. 16 p. 35 (news report)
  • Harfield, C.G., 1991, 'A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book' English Historical Review Vol. 106 p. 371-392 view online copy (subscription required)
  • Stirling-Brown, R., 1991, 'Field meeting at Clifford' Herefordshire Archaeological News Vol. 56 p. 28
  • Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 312
  • Tonkin, J.W., 1982, 'Herefordshire Castles' Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club Vol. 44.1 p. 31
  • King, D.J.C., 1974, 'Clifford Castle' The 121st Annual Meeting in South Brecknock, 1974, CAA p. 36-7
  • 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
  • Noble, F., 1964, 'Medieval boroughs of west Herefordshire' Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club Vol. 38.1 p. 62-70
  • Renn, D.F., 1964, 'The first Norman Castles in England 1051-1071' Château Gaillard Vol. 1 p. 125-132
  • 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
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • 1956-8, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club Vol. 35.2 p. 153
  • Iron, D., 1955, The Field Vol. 205 p. 576-7
  • Iron, D., 1952-3, 'Excavations at Clifford Castle' Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club Vol. 34 p. 27-8, 82-4
  • Bannister, A.T., 1928, 'Clifford Castle' Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club p. lxvii-lxviii, 147-8
  • Watkins, Alfred, 1925, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club p. 151
  • Armitage, E., 1904 April, 'The Early Norman Castles of England' English Historical Review Vol. 19 p. 209-245, 417-455 esp. 224-5 online copy
  • Hope, W.H.St J., 1903, 'English Fortresses and Castles of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 60 p. 86 online copy
  • Trumper, T.W. Walwyn, 1889, 'Clifford - The Castle, Fair Rosamund, the Church and the Priory, with plan' Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club p. 366-72 (plan)
  • Clark, G.T., 1871, The Builder Vol. 29 p. 984-5 (reprinted in MMA)

Guide Books

  • Mrs Charles G. Parkinson, n.d. (before 1970), typed A4 sheetgiving a 'potted history' of the castle reproduced in Guy 2016

Primary Sources

  • 1086, Domesday Book Di, 183a. 2 (1086 – probably built 1067-70 but may refer to Old Castleton) [online copy >]
  • Giraldus Cambrensis, c.1183, Description of Wales view online transcription
  • 1906, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1232-47) Vol. 3 p. 25, 41 online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1904, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward II (1321-24) Vol. 4 p. 179-80 online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1895, Calendar of Close Rolls Edward II (1318-1323) Vol. 3 p. 575 view online copy (requires subscription but searchable) [alternative online copy >]
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 238-9
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1905, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry IV (1401-05) Vol. 2 p. 296 online copy


  • Historic England, 2016, Heritage at Risk West Midlands Register 2016 (London: Historic England) p. 1 online copy
  • Klemperer, Bill, 2016, Castle Studies Group Annual Conference 2016 conference guide
  • Historic England, 2015, Heritage at Risk West Midlands Register 2015 (London: Historic England) p. 1 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 West Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 1, 10 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 West Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 1, 8 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 West Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 18 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 West Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 18 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 West Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 16 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009 West Midlands (London: English Heritage) p. 27 online copy
  • Arnold, G., 2008, Clifford Castle, Herefordshire: archaeological excavation and monitoring' (199. Archenfield Archaeology: Archenfield Archaeology) online copy
  • Dalwood, H. and Bryant, V. (eds), 2005, The Central Marches Historic Towns Survey 1992-6 Download online copy
  • Parkinson, Mrs Charles G., typewritten sheet