Barrow upon Humber; The Castles

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameBarrow upon Humber; The Castles
Alternative NamesGoxhill; Barrows Castle; Castellum de Barewa
Historic CountryLincolnshire
Modern AuthorityNorth Lincolnshire
1974 AuthorityHumberside
Civil ParishBarrow upon Humber

Although the monument has been altered by agriculture and building work, the motte and bailey castle at Barrow Haven survives reasonably well. Limited excavations have confirmed that the monument will retain evidence of the structures which stood within it and of the manner and duration of its usage.

The monument includes a medieval motte and bailey castle overlooking the River Humber and the stream known as The Beck which flows into it. It comprises an earthen motte and a series of earthwork enclosures including bailies and stock-pens. These enclosures are subdivided by a complex water-management system which was originally fed by The Beck which lies to the south of the monument. The motte stands up to 3m above ground level and is surrounded by a dry moat 2m deep and 15m wide. To the north of the motte, in this moat, is an earthen bank 20m long, 15m wide and 2m high which would originally have supported the wooden bridge between the motte and the bailey which lies to the north. This bailey is 100m wide from east to west and 70m long from north to south. It is enclosed by an earthen bank, up to 2m high and 10m wide, and a moat. The western arm of the moat has been in-filled and the bank almost levelled, surviving only as a slight rise up to 1m high and 35m wide. The construction of a farm house has disturbed part of the defences here. A second bailey, triangular in shape, lies to the south east of the motte. It is enclosed by a moat 7m wide and 1.5m deep which has a bank up to 2m wide high and 10m wide around its inner side. This bailey was later bisected from north to south by the digging of a further moat 10m wide and 1.75m deep. The greater part of this bailey is low-lying and waterlogged, the digging of this latter moat is thought to be related to the abandonment of the water-logged south eastern corner of this bailey

This abandonment is thought to have motivated the construction of the large northern outer bailey in response to a need for further enclosed space. This bailey is defined by an earthen bank and moat. Subsequently it was bisected by the construction of Hann Lane. To the south of Hann Lane, the moat which defines the northern bailey is 1.5m deep and 10m wide, and is a continuation of the moat which bisects the south eastern bailey. The bank is 1.5m high and 10m wide. To the north of Hann Lane the moat has been in-filled and the rampart levelled. Access to the castle was via an entrance cut through the eastern rampart of the outer bailey. No causeway crosses the moat and it is thought that access was provided by a wooden bridge. On the eastern side of the site, outside the moat, there are three earthwork enclosures interpreted as stock pens. They are 15m long, north-south, and 10m wide and are defined by earthen banks 0.5m high and 5m wide. The northern enclosure has been truncated by the construction of Hann Lane. The moats were water-filled during the Middle Ages and were filled from the tidal Beck which flows into the River Humber. Two channels to the west of the motte originally fed the moats. At their eastern ends these channels are up to 0.7m higher than the bottom of the moat which surrounds the motte, so allowing water into the moat at high tide, but not allowing it to flow out when the tide was low. The Beck is currently channelled and its water level is controlled by sluices. In the Middle Ages it would have been much wider and would have lapped against the southern defences of the castle. The Beck would have defended this side of the monument and the earthwork defences are not so strong to the south of the motte. The castle's builder is thought likely to have been Drogo de la Beuvriere, a follower of William the Conqueror, who was granted large parts of Holderness and north Lincolnshire in 1071. Some of these lands, including Barrow, were known Saxon estates belonging to Earl Morcar and it is possible that the existing castle replaced a manor of the earl. In 1087 the lands passed to Odo of Champagne whose son was the first of the Counts of Aumale, founders of Thornton and Meaux abbeys. The castle controlled the southern landing place of the Humber ferry. A charter of 1189 lists the castle at Barrow as belonging to Thorton Abbey. "The Castles" has suffered limited disturbance in the past, including excavation for the construction of an air-raid shelter in 1939 and treasure hunting in the 1940's. In 1964 W Varley carried out archaeological investigations at the monument. He found timber foundations and pottery which ranged in date from the 11th to the 14th century. This latter date is unusual for a monument of this type since motte and bailey castles which were not substantially rebuilt before the 14th century tended to be abandoned. It is thought that "The Castles" continued in use into the 14th century because of its role as a landfall for the Humber ferry. In 1982 the Humberside Archaeology Unit surveyed the monument and walked the fields around it. An area of the northern outer bailey which was under plough was also walked. A few medieval artefacts from the 11th and 12th centuries were recovered, while the great volume of finds dated from the 17th to the 20th century. This suggests that this bailey was abandoned during the late 12th century and was used as a pasture until it was ploughed in the post-medieval period. (Scheduling Report)

Motte and bailey, "Barrow Castles". Substantial earthworks survive, bailey to NW occupied by farm buildings, earthworks to E and NE enclose further areas. Scheduled. Northernmost part of earthworks (N of Hann Lane) levelled and ploughed, remainder under pasture, area nearly 4 ha. Excavations reported to have been undertaken on motte( ?) c. 1752, results not recorded (Sampson 1888, 359). Construction of air-raid shelter, 1939, in an outer bank revealed base of timber palisade at TA065226 (OSSI 1963). Excavations by E Varley, 1964 (trenches in motte and outer bailey), finds included Norman-14th cent. pottery, arrowheads, knife sharpener, Norman gaming device, no indication of stone-built defences (AN 1964, 38). Site occupies a small island of boulder clay, the extent of which is defined by outer earthworks. Field boundaries and geology suggest that the medieval coast was further south than its present line and that Barrow Haven extended further inland on SW side of site. The "Castles" would thus have directly controlled the haven. (Sampson 1888, 358-60; DOE AM List; OS 1 ;2500 resurvey 1963; CUAC obi. 1951, 1968; SM, B R/01 ) (Loughlin and Miller 1979).

The earthworks were surveyed by W.S. Heselden and 'Mr Rawson the surveyor' c. 1845. Heselden noted that the earthworks were '..intersected by on of the new occupation roads, made upon the enclosure in 1979, and such part of the banks as lay north of this road has now got so levelled with the land, that their course is only just discernible; the works south of this road are yet in their uneven state, though the ditches round their different mounds are now nearly filled up.' The 'new occupation road' would be West Hann Lane. Hesleden mistakenly linked the earthworks to the Anglo-Saxon period and the battle of Brunanburgh (Hesleden)

The earthworks were surveyed by Caroline Atkins in 1982 and published in Lincolnshire History and Archaeology in 1983.

The article included an assessment of the historical background : 'There appear to be no 11th or early 12th-century documents which mention a castle at Barrow, but is possible to trace some of the holders of the manor of Barrow on Humber during this period. The first well-documented Norman holder of this manor was Drogo de la Beuvriere, who had arrived in England as a soldier with William the Conquerer. He was then granted virtually all of the Holderness estates and twenty-four estates in Lincolnshire, when they became available in 1071. Of the lands in Lincolnshire, Barrow-on-Humber, Castle Bytham and Carlton-le-Moorland (in the far north, south and west of the county) were by far the most valuable, to judge from the Domesday assessments. Apparently all three of these manors together with smaller estates had previously belonged to Morcar, the Earl of Northumbria, until his revolt against William and consequent forfeiture in 1071, as had Drogo's principal estates in Holderness.: It therefore seems likely that Barrow was already an estate centre, quite possibly with a ringwork, before Drogo was granted Morcar's lands.

In 1087, William re-granted first Holderness, and then the Lincolnshire estates, to Odo of Champagne, Drogo having fled from England because he had accidentally killed his wife, a relative of William's. Count Odo's estates were eventually inherited in 1102 by his son Stephen, who then became the first of a long line of Counts of Aumale to hold these Lincolnshire estates. A 'charter of confirmation' dated 3 July 1189 lists 'Castellum de Barwe' amongst the possessions of Thornton Abbey, an Augustinian house founded in 1139 by William le Gros, Count of Aumale.

...The Norman Counts owned the ferry between Paul and Barrow Haven, which connected their estates in Holderness and Lincolnshire, and it may well be that the motte and bailey castle was specifically built to protect the southern landfall of this ferry.' (Atkins). (North Lincolnshire HER)

Gatehouse Comments

Renn tentatively suggest this as a possible site of the castle of Peter of Goxhill mentioned in 1140's although he also suggests may have been a castle at Newhouse, a more likely identification in the opinion of Gatehouse. The grant to Thornton Abbey of a mill next to the Castellum de Barewe, in the time of Richard I (reigned 1189-1199 ) is a more certain reference to this castle. This has been suggested as the site of a Danish (Viking) fortification. The location is not impossible for such a thing and the site certainly could have started as a D shaped enclosure, with later modification into a low motte and bailey. The coast line did lie further south in the medieval period and The Beck will have been more substantial and navigable for Viking long ships. It is possible these existing earthworks and landing place is the reason for the relatively unusual location of this castle, away from the parish church. Certainly the landing place must be the reason for the continuation of the use of the site post-Conquest.

- 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 ReferenceTA065225
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  • Osborne, Mike, 2010, Defending Lincolnshire: A Military History from Conquest to Cold War (The History Press) p. 26, 31, 34
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of the East Midlands (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 44
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 148 (slight)
  • Roffe, David, 1993, 'Castles' in Bennett, S. and Bennett, N. (eds), An Historical Atlas of Lincolnshire (University of Hull Press) p. 40-1
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus and John Harris; revised by Nicholas Antram, 1989, Buildings of England: Lincolnshire (Harmondsworth) p. 180
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 259
  • Loughlin, Neil and Miller, Keith, 1979, A survey of archaeological sites in Humberside carried out for the Humberside Joint Archaeological Committee p. 184
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 196
  • Stukeley, Wm, 1776 (2 edn), Itinerarium Curiosum (London) Vol. 1 p. 100 online copy


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 317
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1909, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 4 p. 119 online copy


  • Atkins, C., 1983, ' “The Castles”, Barrow-on-Humber' Lincolnshire History and Archaeology Vol. 18 p. 91–3
  • Youngs, S.M., Clark, J. and Barry, T.B., 1983, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1982' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 27 p. 183-4 online copy
  • 1905, Transactions of the East Riding Antiquarian Society Vol. 12 p. 21-22I
  • Sampson, J.E., 1887-8, 'Notes on the Barrow Castles' Associated Architectural Societies' reports and papers (Lincoln, York, Northampton, Bedford, Worcester, Leicester and Sheffield) Vol. 19 p. 358-60 online copy
  • Hesleden, W.S., 1846, 'Account of Ancient Earth Works At Barton-on-Humber, and Conjectures Relating to the site of The Battle of Brunanburh' Transcations of the British Archaeological Association, 2nd annual congress p. 221-34
  • Hesleden, W.S., 1822, Gentleman's Magazine Pt. 1 p. 3-6 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Warner, G.W. and Ellis, H.J. (eds), 1903, Facsimiles of royal charters in the British Museum Vol. 1 no. 24 online copy
  • Dugdale, William (Caley, J., Ellis, H. and Bandinel, B. (eds)), 1817-30 (originally pub. 1655-73), Monasticon Anglicanum (London) Vol. 6.1 p. 326-7 No. 2 (grant of mill next to the castle tempus Richard I) online copy


  • Creighton, O.H., 1998, Castles and Landscapes: An Archaeological Survey of Yorkshire and the East Midlands (PhD Thesis University of Leicester) p. 372-3 online copy