Wakefield Lowe Hill

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameWakefield Lowe Hill
Alternative NamesClarence Park; Law Hill; Low Hill; Lawe Hill; Thornes
Historic CountryYorkshire
Modern AuthorityWakefield
1974 AuthorityWest Yorkshire
Civil ParishWakefield

Remains of motte and bailey castle situated in the middle of Thornes Park. Possibly an adulterine fortification constructed by the 3rd Earl de Warenne during the Civil War of 1138-1149. Comprises motte, inner bailey, outer bailey and an apparent third bailey to the extreme east, which was probably in fact a platform constructed to accomodate an octagonal Victorian bandstand, the foundations of which are still visible.

Trial trenching carried out by the Wakefield Historical Society in 1953 recovered only a small amount of pottery, mostly C12 in date, in the fill of the ditch surrounding the motte. Excavation of the portion of the bailey nearest the mound revealed a hearth area underneath the Bailey Bank, associated with more C12 pottery, an iron spur and a decorative iron and bronze stud. No evidence was found of stonework or timberwork, but excavation was not extensive and the area of the motte top had been badly eroded. The limited number of Norman/medieval artefacts recovered was taken by the Site Director to indicate only a limited period of occupation after the Castle's construction in the mid 12th century. The impression gained from these cuttings was that the few finds represented rubbish left by the builders of the castle, not by any subsequent occupier. However, the castles of Wakefield and Sandal are referred to in a royal edict of 1324. A tradition recorded by Leland held that the castle was destroyed by 'violence of wind' - possibly the great gale of 1330?

The distinction between the inner and outer bailey has been lost on the most recent OS map. (West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service)

Lowe Hill motte and bailey castle is located in Thornes Park on the hill top overlooking the River Calder and the Thornes area of Wakefield. The monument includes the motte and two baileys

An apparent third bailey, situated on the north-east side, does not at present form part of the scheduling as current thought is that it is a platform built to accommodate a Victorian bandstand, the foundations of which can still be seen, not a bailey. The motte, on which would have been built a timber keep, stands c.9m high, has a base diameter of c.25m and is surrounded by an infilled ditch visible as a shallow depression c.5m wide. A scarp on the west and north sides of the motte continues eastward to create the north side of the inner bailey which is a roughly square enclosure measuring c.40m across. Low banks, c.1m high and 3m wide, follow the edge of the scarp and would have formerly been the site of a timber palisade. The smaller outer bailey lies at a slightly lower level to the north-east and is also enclosed by a scarp and bank. Like the inner bailey, the level area inside would have been the site of ancillary and garrison buildings and would have contained corralling for horses. The remains of these structures will survive well and extensively throughout the monument as disturbance to the site has been limited to a small scale excavation carried out in 1953, when a hearth and small quantities of metalwork and twelfth century pottery were found. The early history of the site is unclear as little documentary evidence survives. One theory, based on the date of the pottery found so far, is that it was an adulterine castle constructed by the third Earl Warenne during the war of 1138-49 between Stephen and Mathilda. Licence to build fortifications could be granted only by the king and an adulterine castle was one built without his authority during times of civil strife. On the opposite side of the River Calder, approximately one mile to the south-east, is Sandal Castle, first mentioned in c.1240. Although the exact relationship between the two is not yet known, it is likely, since both are mentioned in a royal edict of 1324, that together they controlled movement along the river. Traditionally, Lowe Hill castle is believed to have been destroyed by the great gale of 1330. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

The motte is heavily overgrown as are most of the ditches. The castle was by tradition destroyed by a great wind. The scheduling record that this was the great gale of 1330 but this is speculation about what great wind (Leland did not specific a date). If the castle was destroyed by a wind, particularly if a spectacular but localised destruction (such as the tornado in Birmingham in 2005), then this may well have been taken as a sign of God's ill will and lead to the early abandonment of the site, whereas a more general gale would not have been seen in such a way. The comments about the castle being unlicenced and adulterine in the scheduling report is received wisdom not supported by evidence - in reality all C12 castles were 'unlicenced' and these only became adulterine if they were tainted by use by a rebel.

- 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 ReferenceSE326196
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Photo 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
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved

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  • Turner, Maurice, 2004, Yorkshire Castles: Exploring Historic Yorkshire (Otley: Westbury Publishing) p. 245
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles and Tower Houses of Yorkshire (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 107
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 527
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 312
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 337
  • Hope-Taylor, B.,1953, Report on the excavation at Lowe Hill (Wakefield Historical Society)
  • Illingworth, J.L., 1938 (republished 1970), Yorkshire's Ruined Castles (Wakefield)
  • Walker, J.M., 1934, Wakefield, its History and People (West Yorkshire Printing Co.) p. 46
  • Armitage and Montgomerie, 1912, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Yorkshire Vol. 2 p. 42


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 530, 569
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1910, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 5 p. 38 online copy


  • Constable, Chris, 2007, 'Earthwork castles in West Yorkshire Part Two' Archaeology and Archives in West Yorkshire Vol. 24 p. 5-6 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 215 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1879-80, 'Observations on some moated mounds in Yorkshire' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 6 p. 109-112 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Howlett, R. (ed), 1889, ‘The Chronicle of Robert of Torigni' in Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I (Rolls series 82) Vol. 4 p. 192-3 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


  • 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
  • Green, D., 2001, Lowe Hill motte and bailey recommendations for site management