Pickering Beacon Hill

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Ringwork), and also as a Possible Siege Work

There are earthwork remains

NamePickering Beacon Hill
Alternative NamesPenny Howe
Historic CountryYorkshire
Modern AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
1974 AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
Civil ParishPickering

buried and earthwork remains of a medieval ringwork siege castle constructed on a small natural hill to keep watch over Pickering Castle, which lies 550m to the east. It also includes the structural remains of at least two mid-20th century Royal Observer Corps posts. The monument forms a prominent mound, known as Beacon Hill, to the north west of the centre of Pickering. The Domesday Book of 1086 records that the manor of Pickering was held by the king, and an earthen motte and bailey castle, on the site of the existing stone castle, is thought to have been in existence by the time of Henry I in the early 12th century. The reign of the next monarch, Stephen (1135-1154), was marked by civil war and it is thought that the siege castle dates to an unrecorded siege of Pickering during this period. The first documentary records of Pickering Castle date from 1180-1187 and an inquiry into the state of repair of the castle in 1220 implies that Pickering had been besieged in 1216-1217 by supporters of Prince Louis of France. This suggests an alternative date for the siege castle. The earliest map on which the monument is shown is Jeffery's 1770 Map of Yorkshire which labels it as 'Beacon'. The earthworks were described and a plan drawn in 1874 by GT Clark. It was mapped in greater detail by the Ordnance Survey in 1910 and was first identified as a siege castle two years later. By January 1937 a Royal Observer Corps aircraft observation post had been established on Beacon Hill. In December 1952 Air Ministry records noted the requirement for a prefabricated building, known as a ground level Orlit post, at Beacon Hill. By November 1961 this had been replaced by an underground monitoring post which was finally sold off by the Ministry of Defence after the Royal Observer Corps was stood down in September 1991. In form, the siege castle is best described as a ringwork

It was constructed by modifying the natural topography of the hill, cutting back its sides to create a steep sided mound topped by a low bank and surrounded by a ditch and outer bank. The top of the mound is roughly oval in plan, approximately 30m north-south and 25m east-west. A bank up to 0.7m high survives around part of this area, especially on the north, north east and south west sides. The south to south eastern section, mapped in 1910, has been disturbed by the construction of the various Royal Observer Corps posts sited on the mound. The top of the bank is nearly 4m above the foot of the mound which is up to 70m in diameter. It is surrounded by a largely infilled ditch which in 1874 was described as being up to 10m wide and not over 1.8m deep. This ditch survives as an earthwork on the south side of the mound and elsewhere as an infilled feature. Around the outer edge of the ditch there are the fragmentary remains of an outer bank which survives up to 0.4m high on the ENE and WSW sides and is marked by a break of slope around the rest of its circuit. Clarke suggested that the castle had an entrance on the south eastern side. Evidence for this has been obscured by 20th century constructions, but the mound is approached on this side by a possible trackway. This survives as a curving hollow which extends uphill from a field boundary ditch to the south east. On the south western side of the centre of the siege castle mound is a low rectangular mound 0.3m high, 15m by 10m, orientated north east to south west. This covers an underground Royal Observer Corps post built between 1958 and 1961. Protruding from the top of the mound to the north east is an access hatch, with an air vent to the south west and two metal monitoring probes between. Below is an underground concrete room 6m by 3m which would have held monitoring equipment and a staff of three people. On the southern lip of the top of the siege castle mound there is a small hut, 3m by 2m, of precast concrete panels. This is a ground level Orlit Observation Post which was erected after 1952 and was subsequently replaced by the larger underground post. Two parallel brick walls lie immediately to the east of this structure. These are interpreted as remains of an earlier observation post. A wooden fence extends around the Orlit and underground posts, defining the area originally under military control. This fence and all the other remains of Royal Observer Corps posts are included within the monument. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Suggested as siege castle of the Anarchy (1135-54) or during minority of Henry III (1216-20). There is no history of a siege during the Anarchy but possible damage done to Pickering Castle in 1216/17 so more probably of that date. Clark cites this as a nameless mound in 1873 but in 1889 he seems to call it Penny Howe, although this name doesn't appear in any other source. It should be noted that Pickering was a castle particularly set up as a hunting centre. The mound and its surrounding landscape should also be considered in the light of the complexities of medieval hunting landscapes. However the form of this mound (a ringwork not a motte) is consistent with other unquestionable siege works.

- 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 ReferenceSE792844
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
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 Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved

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