Chirbury Kings Orchard

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Ringwork), and also as a Possible Urban Defence

There are earthwork remains

NameChirbury Kings Orchard
Alternative Names
Historic CountryShropshire
Modern AuthorityShropshire
1974 AuthorityShropshire
Civil ParishChirbury With Brompton

Chirbury Castle, the ancient burh built by Ethelfleda (Aethelflaed) in 915 AD and mentioned in the Saxon Chronicle, lies in a field called "Castle Field" or sometimes "King's Orchard". It is situated west of a bend in the stream and 25 feet above it (VCH 1908).

Although the burh is now destroyed its site is clear. This is an elevated platform, contained between two heads of a stream, lying SW of, and very near the church and divided from it by a deep valley. (Clark notes that the field is called "Castle Field" and is near to the "King's Orchard") (Clark 1877)

The site of Chirbury Castle occupies a commanding position in a field now known as the "King's Orchard", between the heads of a fair-sized brook which unite below, thus protecting the three northern sides. On the spur are the remains of a rectangular (and therefore Roman) encampment, of which only two sides remain, one having been removed for the deep cutting of the high road and the other eroded by the encroachment of the brook (Macleod 1906)

King's Orchard, Chirbury, excavated July 1958 by Dr FT Wainwright.

The excavations of 1958 into the bank surrounding two sides of the rectangular enclosure marked on OS maps as "Castle (site of)" revealed it to be a slight rampart of thrown-up earth and stones, with no sign of a palisade. The associated ditch appeared to be designed more for drainage than for defence. The earthworks had the appearance of being unfinished or of never having been used and an examination of the interior produced no evidence of occupation

No positive dating evidence was found, but taking into account its defensive position, its relation to an ancient gap in the nearby Offa's Dyke, its control of a main route into (and from) central Wales, and its place in the national system of defence devised against the Danes, it is possible to conclude that the so called "castle" at Chirbury is probably the fortress built by Ethelflaed at Cyricbyrig or Cyriburh in 915 AD (Wainwright 1960)

While the rectangular enclosure in "King's Orchard" at SO25889846 may represent the remains of Aethelflaed's burh, in view of the fact that Wainwright could find no dating evidence nor evidence of occupation, and considering the comparatively greater proportions and larger enclosed areas of the earthworks of known Saxon burhs in this country, these earthworks may in fact be no more than what they at first appear to be, i.e. old field boundary banks of Md or post Md date, and that the site of Aethelflaed's burh must be looked for elsewhere probably beneath the present village of Chirbury.

The enclosure has sides of 60m., and is bounded on the N by a bank, 3.0m in width, 0.3m in height, with an outer ditch, 3.0m in width, 0.2m in depth; on the W side by a scarp, 4.0m in width, up to 6.3m in height with traces of a bank above it; on the E side by scarping of the natural slopes that fall to the brook and on the S side by a modern road cutting. An earthen ramp up the scarp on the W side may be an entrance to the enclosures. No other relevant features were noted within King's Orchard or around the village of Chirbury (F1 ASP 23-MAR-73). (PastScape)

Despite modification to parts of the defensive circuit, the ringwork 260m west of St Michael's Church is a reasonably well-preserved example of this class of monument. Rectangular or square ringworks are very rare nationally, the majority being circular or irregular in plan. Within this example the remains of the structures that once stood here are expected to survive as buried features, which together with the associated artefacts and organic remains, will provide valuable evidence about the activities and life styles of those who inhabited the ringwork. In addition, organic remains preserved in the buried ground surfaces beneath the ramparts and within the ditches will provide information about the local environment and the use of the land prior to and following the construction of the ringwork. The importance of the ringwork is further enhanced by its proximity to the late Anglo-Saxon settlement of Chirbury.

The cultivation remains surrounding the ringwork and within its interior demonstrate the nature of the agricultural practices in this area in the post-medieval period.

The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a ringwork and associated cultivation remains on the outskirts of the village of Chirbury, to the west of St Michael's Church. The area which is now occupied by the core of the village is considered to have been the site of a fortified enclosure, or burh, and is possibly the place referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as Cyricbyrig, which was founded by Aethelflaed (Ethelfleda), sister of Edward the Elder, in AD 915. The existence of this settlement is believed to have influenced the location of the ringwork, which occupies a commanding ridge top position on the opposite side of the steep-sided valley to the west of the village.

The ringwork would appear to have been originally roughly square, enclosing an area of approximately 0.3ha. The defences are visible as upstanding earthworks on two sides: on the western side by an earthen bank about 10m wide, which stands to height of 1.3m externally and 0.4m internally; and on the northern side by an earthen bank about 5m wide, which stands to a height 0.9m externally and 0.4m internally. The material used for the construction of these banks was obtained from external ditches, approximately 8m wide. Apart from a slight depression along part of the northern side, these ditches have been infilled during the subsequent cultivation of the area and now survive as buried features. The eastern extent of the ringwork is defined by the valley side. Running along the edge of the steepest part of this slope is a low bank, 5m wide, which is considered to be part of the defensive circuit and which was subsquently used as a plough headland (a strip of land defining the edge of an area of cultivation). Along the southern part this side, where the ground slopes more gently, the defences have been levelled by cultivation. Although this part of the defensive circuit is no longer visible at ground level, the buried remains of a bank and an external ditch, both about 8m wide, are thought to survive. The defences defining the southern extent of the ringwork have been modified to some extent by the steep-sided hollow way of the neighbouring road. The original access into the interior of ringwork was via a 4m entrance passage through the western bank. It is associated with an external raised causeway, about 5m wide and 0.7m high, which appears to be a later addition.

In 1958 a small-scale archaeological excavation was undertaken to examine the nature of the defences and to provide evidence for date of occupation although this proved inconclusive. Extensive remains of post-medieval cultivation strips surround the ringwork on its western and northern sides. A sample of these remains, 15m wide to the north and defined by the later hedge boundary to the west, are included in the scheduling to preserve the relationship between them and the ringwork. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

My impression was that of a massive bank in front of the river to the west of the town (facing Wales). The monument is a long bank on both sides of the road, but a roughly 190ft square area to the north of the road has been delimited by a scarp, and in places, a faint bank. I would suggest the square area may possible be an attempt at a castle using part of a pre-existing earthwork (or it may just be a simple enclosure for an orchard) but that fundamentally this monument is the recorded Saxon burghal defence. (Philip Davis)

- 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 ReferenceSO258985
Latitude52.5790901184082
Longitude-3.09517002105713
Eastings325800
Northings298570
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All Rights Reserved

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Books

  • Duckers, Peter and Anne, 2006, Castles of Shropshire (Stroud: Tempus) p. 58
  • Salter, Mike, 2001 (2edn), The Castles and Moated Mansions of Shropshire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 87 (slight)
  • Fryde, E.B., 1996, Peasants and Landlords in Later Medieval England c.1380-c.1525 (Stroud and New York) No. 887 (Philip de Middleton constable in 1336)
  • Jackson, M.J.,1988, Castles of Shropshire (Shrewsbury: Shropshire Libraries)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 435 (reject)
  • Bird, A.J., 1977, History on the Ground (University of Wales Press)
  • Rowley, Trevor, 1972, The Shropshire Landscape (Hodder and Stoughton) p. 56-57
  • Rees, W., 1933, Historical map of South Wales and the Borders in the C14
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 134
  • Wall (after Downham), 1908, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Shropshire Vol. 1 p. 378-9 (plan)
  • MacLeod, n.d. c.1890, History of Chirbury p. 8 and plate
  • Eyton, R.W., 1860, Antiquities of Shropshire (London: John Russell Smith) Vol. 11 p. 57- (tenurial history) online copy

Journals

  • King, D.J.C. and Spurgeon, C.J., 1965, 'The mottes in the Vale of Montgomery' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 114 p. 78
  • Wainwright, F.T., 1960 Feb, 'The Chirbury excavation (1958)' Shropshire Archaeological Society newsletter Vol. 10
  • Renn, D.F., 1959, 'Mottes: a classification' Antiquity Vol. 33 p. 106-12
  • 1958, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. 56 p. 5
  • Chitty, Lily, 1949, 'Subsidiary Castle Sites West of Shrewsbury' Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society Vol. 53 p. 83-90
  • Macleod, Flora A., 1906, Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society Vol. 6 p. 228, 234
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 210 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1877, 'The moated mounds of the upper Severn' Montgomeryshire Collections Vol. 10 p. 335-6 online copy

Other

  • English Heritage, 2001, Scheduling Papers (Revision, 09/05/2001)
  • Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, 1986, Scheduled Monument Report on SAM 20085