Whorlton Castle

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

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameWhorlton Castle
Alternative NamesPotto; Hwernelton; Wernelton; Wherlton; Cerveltune; Ferneltun
Historic CountryYorkshire
Modern AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
1974 AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
Civil ParishWhorlton

Remains of motte and bailey and later stone castle. These earthworks are of the early mount and bailey type, modified for the addition of a later stone keep. A ditch 60ft wide, and 11ft deep encompasses the motte, and a roughly rectangular bailey is attached to the north east and south east sides. Further earthworks may possibly indicate a settlement and fishponds. The gatehouse is C14 rectangular structure of dressed stone, with a projecting vice at the north west angle. About 24yds to the west are the remains of the castle comprising some vaulted cellars, the largest of which measures 29ft by 13ft 9 inches. The castle was described as ruinous in 1343 but the date of dismantling is not known. A two-storied dwelling house was built against the north west end of the gate house at the end of C16 or beginning of C17. (PastScape)

monument includes two groups of features; those relating to the medieval castle with its landscaped vista and those associated with the medieval village of Whorlton. The Norman motte and bailey, altered by the addition of a stone-built tower house, is situated at the top of Castle bank, while a series of garden earthworks, ponds and park pale occupy the slopes to the east of the castle; much of the land surrounding the castle had been cultivated during the medieval period and large areas of ridge and furrow are still visible. The remains of the village lie to the south, on Howe Hill, and represent an expansion of the settlement westwards from Whorlton Lane, along an old road to Swainby. Also included in the monument are the ruined parts of the Holy Cross Church, which has Norman origins. The motte is a flat-topped mound, squarish in plan and measuring 60m by 50m across, which is partly surrounded by a ditch up to 20m wide by 5m deep with a 2.5m high outer bank. Some of the cellars may date to the Norman period but most of the masonry, including the gatehouse tower, belongs to the 14th century tower house built on the site

To the south and east of the motte a relatively level platform, bounded by a steep 2m-3m high scarp with a 1m deep ditch at its foot, forms the outer court or bailey. A modern farm building in the northern half of the bailey is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it is included. A dried-up pond in the south east corner of the bailey is a later addition and is probably associated with the later garden landscaping; it drained into a second pond at a lower level outside the bailey which drained in turn, to a now boggy area beside the stream which flows west from Whorlton village. Immediately to the east of the bailey, the modern road is flanked by two roughly symmetrical rectangular enclosures, each 40m by 20m across bounded by 1m high banks; these were laid out as ornamental gardens, at the end of the medieval period. A sharply defined rectangular pond, 190m long by 20m wide and up to 3m deep, lies along the eastern side of the garden enclosures and is divided into two unequal parts by the modern road. This pond is one of the latest features to have been constructed when the castle grounds were landscaped. To the south of and east of the castle, a number of earthworks are visible which relate to the imparkment of the estate which was begun in the 13th century. A boundary feature or park pale runs from the northern end of the rectangular pond north eastwards for 340m where it meets a stream in a deep gully; it comprises a double bank with a ditch between and, although altered by agriculture, earthworks are still up to 0.5m high in places. Between the park pale and the modern road are a series of low parallel ridges and furrows which show that this area was once under arable cultivation but, apart from an area of ridge and furrow to the north of the rectangular pond, there is no evidence of medieval earthworks beyond the park pale. The road once ran slightly north of its present route and its original edge is indicated by a slight bank. Boundary features and cultivation earthworks are also visible in the graveyard of Holy Cross Church and in the land between the church and the village. The Church of the Holy Cross dates to the 12th century and, although only the 14th century chancel is in use, the original arcades of the ruined nave are still standing. The graveyard, now largely disused, will have been in use from the medieval period. The remains of the medieval village lie beside a hollow way which runs along the brow of Howe Hill, south west towards Swainby. The line of hollow way is visible as a parallel series of narrow linear terraces and south of this are the rectangular platforms of house plots or yards. Ridge and furrow earthworks are also apparent to the south of the village. At Domesday, Whorlton was recorded as belonging to the Manor of Hutton Rudby then held by Robert, Earl of Mortain. Accounts from the 13th century name the stronghold variously as 'Potto' and 'Hwernelton' castle and from the 12th to the 16th century, Whorlton remained under the control of de Meynell family and it was they who created Whorlton Park. The layout of the park and the village of Whorlton was recorded in detail on a map of 1628. Finds of Roman artefacts have been made close to the church, suggesting that the settlement may have had much earlier origins. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse of motte-and-bailey castle of which no other building survives but some vaulted undercrofts (q.v.). Late C14, altered in C16. Sandstone ashlar on high chamfered plinth; roofless and floorless. Rectangular plan shows central through-passage,with springing of a high vault remaining, and one large room at either side on each floor, surrounded by small mural chambers. 3 storeys, 3 wide bays. Segment-arched entrance in 2 planes, the outer curved, the inner chamfered. Modern wood lattice filling with wicket door. 3 shields in cusped panels above. Flanking first-floor cross windows in chamfered reveals and similar top-floor windows. Scattered slits and small single lights. Second-floor drip bands. Plainer rear elevations with 2 blocked doorways and scattered slits. One cross window at top right and a 2-light window (lost mullion) at top left. Drawbar tunnel in doorway and later pintles. Round-arched door to projecting staircase tower on left, which holds newel stair broken at the top. Interior: Caernarvon arches to several mural chambers, some of them garderobes, represent the original building period, as do the wide splays and segmental rere-arches of the smaller windows. Later, larger doorways and windows have Tudor rere-arches. Wall-passages missing in places, but first-floor and ground-floor fireplaces and chimneys remain. Ribs of the central vault have a single hollow chamfer, probably also original. Signs of later buildings, now gone, both inside and out. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

One of several castle that are sited on the edge of the higher lands of the North York Moors, such as Pickering and Helmsley. The name 'Cerveltune' comes from Stubbs edition of mappa mundi and 'Ferneltun' from the Smith edition of Leland's version of the same. Presumable the manuscript is particular difficult to transcribe here but no other castle site fits these spellings. The context of Gervase of Canterbury's list of the late C12 early C13 date would suggest masonry buildings at Whorlton at that time.

- 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 ReferenceNZ481024
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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
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
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved
Photograph by Philip Davis. All rights reserved

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  • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
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  • Matthews, E., 2009, 'A possible later medieval bath at Whorlton Castle near Stokesley, North Yorkshire' Durham Archaeological Journal Vol. 18 p. 99-106
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  • Wilkinson, Paul, 2005 May 28, 'Castle for keeps' Daily Telegraph online copy
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Primary Sources

  • Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 440 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. 502-3
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1913, Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III Vol. 8 p. 237 No. 344 online copy


  • Historic England, 2015, Heritage at Risk Yorkshire Register 2015 (London: Historic England) p. 37 online copy
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  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 Yorkshire and the Humber (London: English Heritage) p. 58 online copy
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  • English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009 Yorkshire and the Humber (London: English Heritage) p. 64 online copy
  • Constable, Christopher, 2003, Aspects of the archaeology of the castle in the north of England C 1066-1216 (Doctoral thesis, Durham University) Available at Durham E-Theses Online
  • Corbett, G.S., 1994, Whorlton Castle Gatehouse, Whorlton, N. Yorks (National Monument Record Centre)