Pickering Castle: 11th century motte and bailey castle and 13th century shell keep castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 79860 84545

Reasons for Designation

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprise a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In the majority of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte and bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations and as strongholds. In many cases they were aristocratic residences and the centres of local or royal administration. Between the Conquest and the mid 13th century, usually during the 12th century, a number of motte and bailey castles and ringworks were remodelled in stone. In the case of mottes, the timber palisade was replaced by a thick wall to form a `shell keep'. If the tower on the motte was of timber, this may also have been replaced in masonry and, if a bailey was present, its ramparts were often strengthened with a curtain wall. Within the keep, buildings for domestic or garrison purposes were often constructed against the inside of the keep wall. Although over 600 motte castles or motte and bailey castles are recorded nationally, examples converted into shell keeps are rare with only about 60 sites known to have been remodelled in this way. As such, and as one of a restricted range of recognised post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. In view of this, all surviving examples will normally be identified as nationally important.

Pickering Castle is an important example of a major early motte and bailey castle which developed into an equally important shell keep castle whose administrative and economic significance lasted throughout the Middle Ages and its judicial role lasted into the post-medieval period. It is well-documented and its standing remains are particularly well-preserved owing to its being one of only a few castles unaffected by the Wars of the Roses and the Civil War of the 17th century. The buried remains of a wide range of structures and features relating to all phases of its history will survive in its two baileys.


Pickering Castle is situated on the southern edge of the North York Moors on a limestone bluff which formerly overlooked the meeting point of two of the main highways through the north of England: the east-west route along the Vale of Pickering and the north-south route through Newton Dale to Malton. The monument consists of a single area which includes the site of the 11th century motte and bailey castle and the 13th century shell keep castle. The former was built by William the Conqueror either during or shortly after the 'harrying of the north' in 1069-70. It consisted of an earth motte crowned by a timber palisade, flanked on the north-west side by a crescent-shaped inner bailey and, on the south-east side, by a contemporary or slightly later outer bailey. The inner bailey measured c.120m by c.35m and was bounded to the north by a steep natural slope surmounted by a palisade and to the south by deep 15m wide ditches linked to the ditch encircling the motte. The outer bailey, which measured c.185m by c.25m, was protected on the north side by these same ditches and, on the south side, by a 5-8m high palisaded bank with an outer ditch. To the immediate east of the outer bailey ditch a further earthwork bank may have provided additional defence on this side; alternatively it may be part of a medieval defence system associated with the adjacent settlement. The motte is c.20m high and has a base diameter of c.60m. It is not yet clear whether this is the original 11th century motte or a later medieval reconstruction. In the latter case, the earlier motte will have been preserved inside the later while, in addition, the buried remains of a wide range of domestic and service buildings will survive within the open areas of the baileys. The reconstruction of the castle in stone largely took place between 1180 and 1236. There were three main phases to the work at this time, the earliest involving the late 12th century replacement of the palisade round the inner bailey with a curtain wall and also the probable construction of the first shell keep on the motte. In its present form the shell keep dates to the early 13th century but the foundations of the earlier wall will survive underneath. The remains of the early curtain wall still stand round the inner bailey, surviving best where the curtain was incorporated into later buildings. The earliest buildings so far identified are the early or mid- 12th century Old Hall, a free-standing residence whose surviving foundations show it to have been half-timbered, and the Coleman Tower, constructed at the same time as the inner curtain and an integral part of it. The Coleman Tower guarded the entry across the inner bailey ditch and was also a prison; hence its earlier name, the King's Prison. It was square in plan and had its entrance on the first floor, the level underneath being where the prisoners were kept. On the east side are the remains of a small building and also a stairway leading onto an adjacent wall. This wall, built across the motte ditch in the late 12th century, replaced an earlier palisade and provided access to the summit of the motte. A similar and contemporary length survives on the opposite side of the motte, crossing the ditch and joining the curtain alongside the later Rosamund's Tower. The keep consisted of a rubble wall enclosing a roughly circular area 20m wide. A wall walk would have lined the inside of the wall above a series of garrison buildings. The foundations of some of these buildings survive but it is not certain whether they date to the 13th or the 14th century. In some cases they will have replaced earlier timber structures whose buried remains will also survive. Also of uncertain date are the foundations of a number of buildings in the inner bailey, including a service range to the south-west and a group of buildings referred to as the Constable's Place in the accounts of the years 1441-43. The latter were half-timbered and some sections predate the inner curtain though others were clearly added later. A survey of 1537 lists a number of distinct structures, including the Constable's hall, a kitchen, buttery and pantry, and quarters for staff and servants. At the southern end of the group were a number of storage buildings, one of which is believed to have been the wool house. Two additional service buildings lay adjacent to the Old Hall and are thought, originally, to have been contemporary with it. To the south of these is the chantry-chapel which dates from c.1227 and is still complete though in a much altered state. To the west of this is the early 14th century New Hall, initially built as a residence for Countess Alice, wife of Earl Thomas of Lancaster. This was later used as a courthouse which gave rise to it being named King's Hall or Motte (moot) Hall in later surveys. It was a penticed or lean-to building of two storeys which utilised the inner curtain for its outer wall. The inner walls were timber-framed and, as much of the surviving stonework is late 12th or early 13th century, it clearly replaced an earlier building. The upper chamber or solar of the 14th century hall was an elaborate plastered room with a decorated fireplace. The last major programme of building dates to 1324-26 when Edward II ordered extensive works to be carried out which included replacing the whole of the timber palisade round the outer bailey with a stone wall. This outer curtain included three projecting towers, a gatehouse with a drawbridge over the outer ditch and a postern gate which led from the north-east arm of the inner bailey ditch, underneath Rosamund's Tower and out onto the rampart. A second gate and drawbridge, built at this time alongside the Coleman Tower, had fallen out of use by the 16th century and can now no longer be seen. The three projecting towers, named from north-east to south-west, Rosamund's Tower, Diate Hill Tower and Mill Tower, are all square in plan and all would have led out onto the wall-walk along the inside of the curtain though, in the case of the Mill Tower, the curtain to either side has not survived sufficiently well to demonstrate this. The ground-floor entrance to the Mill Tower consisted of two doors linked by a short passage, in which the first door opened inwards and the second outwards indicating that the tower was built as a prison, a role it took over from the Coleman Tower. North of the Mill Tower, the outer curtain crossed the inner bailey ditch which can also be seen outside the castle walls on the west and north sides. This section of the ditch was part of the original 11th century defences and was quarried out of the rock on which the castle was built. A levelled area alongside the inner edge indicates that quarrying of the rock-face continued after the ditch was cut. The quarried stone would have gone towards the construction of at least some of the castle buildings. Aside from its strategic and administrative roles, Pickering Castle had two other functions: to guard and manage the large forest which lay adjacent and to provide a court and place of detention for those found guilty of offences against it, such as poaching, unauthorised clearance and the theft of timber. The forest was an extremely important economic resource during the Middle Ages and its particular importance at Pickering can be seen in the great use made of wood in the castle buildings and also, most significantly, its continuous use in the defences down to the 14th century. Also important to the castle economy during the 14th century was the sale of wool, and it also had responsibility for managing the royal stud created by Edward II in c.1322. Possibly the stables known to have been located against the outer curtain at this time, between the gatehouse and Diate Hill tower, were connected with this. According to the Domesday Book, in 1086 the manor of Pickering was held by the king, that is, William the Conqueror. The castle established at this time as part of the subjugation of the rebellious North remained in royal hands until 1267 when it was conferred with the title Earl of Lancaster on Edmund Crouchback, younger son of Henry III. Edmund's son Thomas succeeded to both title and estates in 1296 but was executed for treason by Edward II in 1322, whereupon his estates reverted to the king. Following the unsuccessful Scottish campaign of the same year, and the ensuing retaliatory attacks on the north of England by Robert the Bruce, Edward ordered the building works noted above, clearly intending to keep Pickering a royal castle. However, in 1326 his son Edward III confirmed Henry, the younger brother of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, in his brother's titles and estates, and, in 1351, the castle became part of the Duchy of Lancaster when that title was created. Upon the elevation of the House of Lancaster to the throne in 1399, and in 1413, the succession of Henry V, the Duchy reverted to the Crown and Pickering became a royal castle once again. It has been in State care since 1926. A number of features within the protected area are excluded from the scheduling. These include the ticket office/sales point and its paved base and steps, all English Heritage fixtures and fittings such as bins, bridges, safety grilles, signs, railings and interpretation boards, the surfaces of all modern steps and paths inside and outside the castle walls, lighting and the modern walls and fences round the outside edge of the protected area but the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Thompson, M W, Pickering Castle, (1958)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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