Nether Stowey Castle

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

There are earthwork remains

NameNether Stowey Castle
Alternative NamesDowsborough; Staueiam
Historic CountrySomerset
Modern AuthoritySomerset
1974 AuthoritySomerset
Civil ParishNether Stowey

Despite part of the surrounding bank and ditch being damaged by quarrying Stowey Castle is a good example of a motte with two baileys and it retains some of its original building fabric in its stone keep. There are documentary references to the castle which establish its Norman foundation before 1154. The site of St Michael's Chapel is clearly associated with Stowey Castle, to which it is linked by a hollow way. Although there are no visible above ground remains of the medieval kiln site adjoining Stowey Castle, the site lies relatively undisturbed in pasture and is known from partial excavation to be an example of a stone built kiln type and will contain further archaeological remains relating to the kiln complex. The monument as a whole incorporates a number of structures and works of various dates and differing functions, all of which will retain archaeological and environmental evidence which will be informative about the lives of the inhabitants of Stowey Castle and some of the practices, such as the making of pottery, which were taking place in its shadow during the medieval period and later.

The monument includes Stowey Castle, a motte with the remains of a stone keep and two baileys, an adjacent medieval kiln site, the site of St Michael's Chapel, and the remains of a post-medieval mill and a mill pond, all of which are situated to the west of Nether Stowey. The castle site, located on a steep eastern outlier of the Quantock Hills, is oval in plan and includes a sub-circular motte or mound of natural rock with steeply scarped sides approximately 8m high above a surrounding flat-bottomed ditch which is an average of 5m wide across its base. Fronting the ditch is a counterscarp bank which has an average height of 5m. The remains of a keep, a Listed Building Grade I, constructed of coursed rubble stone about 20m by 15m with inner dividing walls, stands on the flat summit of the mound

A small structure of the same material is attached to the south east side of the keep and is probably the remnants of an entrance building. On the east side of the mound is a broadly triangular shaped bailey which is defined on its south and south east sides by a bank and ditch which together are approximately 18m wide. A second, smaller bailey, irregular in plan and with its north and east sides steeply scarped, is located on slightly higher ground immediately north of the larger bailey. The two baileys are divided by a ditch 4m to 5m wide which extends eastwards from the castle mound. An entrance on the south side of the site, adjacent to the west side of the larger bailey is considered to be modern although the precise location of the original entrance is uncertain. The earliest known documentary reference to Stowey Castle comes from a charter dated before 1154. However, it may have been founded on an earlier, fortified site of pre-Conquest date which was possibly developed by William fitz Odo during the 11th century. The site of St Michael's Chapel is also included in the monument. It is located on lower ground to the east of the mound on the outside of the southernmost bailey. The chapel was linked to the castle by a hollow way which survives as shallow ditch leading from the chapel to the castle and joining with the dividing ditch of the baileys. There are no visible above ground remains of the chapel but evidence for it comes from documentary sources which refer to a 1362 rental, which records that it was one of two chapels dependent on the Mother Church of St Mary. The site of the chapel is marked on early maps in the fork of Butcher's Lane and Castle Hill east of Stowey Castle. Fragments of Norman masonry have been found in the vicinity of the site and they include a 12th century cushion capital. Also included in the monument is a medieval kiln site located on the lower ground to the west and south west of Stowey Castle in an area historically known as Portery Field. The site occupies a broadly rectangular area of land aligned from north to south through which a tributary of the Stogursey Brook flows following the same north to south alignment. The kiln site was revealed in 1969 during the digging of a pipe trench. Medieval pottery dated to the 14th century, apparently of a type well known from the Bridgewater area, together with associated kiln debris was found. A subsequent limited excavation revealed a stone built kiln, oval in structure with a single flue. A documentary reference from 1275 which mentions fees paid by potters for the right to operate in Nether Stowey may refer to this kiln complex. The remains of a post-medieval mill and mill pond which are located within the area of the kiln site adjacent to the stream are also included in the scheduling. The surviving features of the mill site include part of the back wall of the wheel pit and an oak lined culvert. A stone lined pond located to the north and used as a feeder pond for the mill may be of medieval date and is possibly associated with Stowey Castle. (Scheduling Report)

Ditch around motte 9m wide and slightly over 2m deep, motte 6m high and flat topped with two large and two small mounds as the edge which may be sites of towers. Central area occupied by approximately square foundations 10m by 10m with internal divisions. Stone work showing through the turf at a few points. All in good condition, good turf cover and no erosion or poaching. Nettles growing in the pits between the foundations. Bailey also has good turf cover. (Somerset HER)

The castle, which superceded the castle at Over Stowey was built in a strong natural position on an outlier of the Quantocks. The standing remains are consistent with a 12th century date for its construction, which date is also suggested by the documentary evidence. They consist of a motte and two baileys, with the foundations of a keep and a possible entrance building on top. The foundations were revealed by Peregrine Acland in the 19th century and he reported walls up to 6'6" thick, from which nearly all the usable building stone had been removed (Gresswell, 1897). The site was being let for pasture after 1485, and much of the castle stone may have gone into the manor buildings. The banks and ditches of the baileys have also been affected by quarrying. The site was reputedly garrisoned by Royalists in the Civil War (according to Morris' 1872 directory) and burnt to the ground by Parliamentarians. There have been no properly published excavations at the castle, and we do not really know whether it was ever residential (Greswell 1897), or whether anything remains of the supposed 17th century conflict. (Gathercole 2003)

Gatehouse Comments

Norman Pound, very early in his career, wrote 'Is an undistinguished castle mount of no historical importance. Built c. C12 and all the masonry had probably disappeared by the C16.' Actually this seems a fine example of a motte and bailey and certainly not 'undistinguished'. Some stonework for the castle is reused in local houses and the masonry castle seems also to have been a fine building. This may be the castle of William fitz Odo taken by Henry de Tracey by surprise and guile in 1139.

- 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 ReferenceST187395
Latitude51.1495704650879
Longitude-3.16388010978699
Eastings318700
Northings139580
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
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
Copyright Bob Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Bob Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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Books

  • Riley, H., 2006, The historic landscape of the Quantock Hills (Swindon: English Heritage) p. 91-2
  • Prior, Stuart, 2006, A Few Well-Positioned Castles: The Norman Art of War (Tempus) p. 68-109
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 79
  • Dunning, Robert, 1995, Somerset Castles (Somerset Books) p. 43-4
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 222
  • Dunning, R.W. (ed), 1985, VCH Somerset Vol. 5 p. 194-5 online transcription
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 443
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 263
  • Aston, M. and Leech, R., 1977, Historic Towns in Somerset (CRAGGS Survey 2) p. 110-11
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 252
  • Burrow, Edward J., 1924, Ancient Earthworks and Camps of Somerset (Cheltenham and London) p. 122
  • Bothamley, 1911, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Somerset Vol. 2 p. 515-6
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 64-5 online copy

Journals

  • Guy, N. et al., 2010-11, 'Castle Studies Group Conference 'Castles of West Wessex'' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 24 p. 4-146 esp 114-118
  • Dunning, R.W., 1981, 'The Origins of Nether Stowey' Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 125 p. 124-6
  • Pounds, N.J.G., 1934-8, 'The old castles of Somerset' Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society p. 130-32
  • Greswell, W.H.P., 1897, 'Nether Stowey Castle' Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Vol. 43 p. 29-35 online copy

Guide Books

  • Clark, Ian, 2005, Welscome to Nether Stowet Castle! (orientation leaflet) online copy

Primary Sources

  • Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 53 online copy (The newer edition and translation by Potter, K.R. (ed), 1976 (2edn), Gesta Stephani (Oxford University Press) should be consulted for serious study. See also Speight, S., 2000, 'Castle Warfare in the Gesta Stephani' , Château Gaillard Vol. 19 [see online transcription > http://web.archive.org/web/20101229213751/http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/articles/speight.htm])
  • Cronne, H.A. and Davis R.H.C. (eds), 1968, Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, 1066–1154 Vol. 3 Regesta regis Stephani ac Mathildis imperatricis ac Gaufridi et Henrici ducum Normannorum, 1135-54 p. 143 No. 373 online copy

Other

  • Prior, Stuart, 2004, "Winning Strategies" An Archaeological Study of Norman Castles in the Landscapes of Somerset, Monmouthshire and County Meath, 1066-1186 (PhD thesis; University of Bristol) Vol. 2 p. 139 Download via EThOS
  • Riley, Hazel, 2004, Nether Stowey Castle Survey Report (English Heritage Survey Report series AI/16/2004)
  • Gathercole, C., 2003, An Archaeological Assessment of Montacute (English Heritage Extensive Urban Survey) p. 7-8 online copy