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Historic England Research Records

Thirsk Castle

Hob Uid: 55598
Location :
North Yorkshire
Hambleton
Thirsk
Grid Ref : SE4276082000
Summary : Probable motte and bailey castle, built sometime between circa 1092 and 1130 and destroyed in 1176. The site then became a manor house with dovecotes and was destroyed by the Scots in 1322. From 1376 it was used as a garden. The only remains of Thirsk Castle comprise a stretch of well-spread rampart, allegedly the bailey, enclosing the probable counterscarp of a ditched motte. However, the bailey so defined is incredibly small and alternative explanations of the bank - perhaps as part of undocumented town defence - must be considered, while the motte ditch does not seem to be congruent with the motte. Elsewhere all traces of the castle have been destroyed by modern development. Scheduled.
More information : (Area centred SE 4276 8200). Site of Thirsk Castle [G.T.] (A.D.975). (1)

Thirsk Castle was built before the Conquest, and demolished c.1175. Its precincts extended from the courtyard of the fort, still called Castle Yard eastward to Kirkgate and probably included the Market Place. A slight artificial mount indicates the site of the keep, while parts of the moat and ramparts and some subterranean vaults may still be seen. (2)

The foundations of Thirsk Castle were laid in AD 975. (3)

The only remains of Thirsk Castle comprise a well-spread rampart enclosing the probable counterscarp of a ditched motte. Both features are situated in a pasture field known as Castle Yard and have been re-surveyed at 1/2500. The rampart has been reduced in height and much spread by 1939-45 defensive work, but the counterscarp of the motte stands 1-2m high. From the bottom of the counterscarp the ground rises steeply towards the east and is covered by modern houses & gardens. This rising ground has been so much disturbed by building development, that to associate it with an original motte would be conjectural. Elsewhere all traces of the castle has been destroyed by further modern development. (4)

Thirsk Castle may have been erected by Robert de Stuteville circa 1092, although I'Anson (auth 5) says that the earliest reference to it is in Pipe Rolls 35 Henry I (1134-5) while VCH (auth 6) say it was built in 1130-1. Held by Roger de Mowbray against Henry II in 1174, it was surrendered in 1175 and dismantled in 1176. (The foundation of Thirsk Castle before the Conquest, as stated by 2 and 3, is not endorsed by modern authorities and EPNS do not give any derivation of Thirsk prior to Domesday Book). (5-6)

Thirsk Castle, motte and bailey, built c 1092 and destroyed in 1176. The site then became a manor house with dovecotes, that was destroyed in 1322 by the Scots. From 1376 the site was used as a garden. Scheduled, RSM 20454. (7)

Listed by Cathcart King. (8)

NZ (sic; presumably in error for SE) 428 819. In 1973 observation of excavations on the site of Thirsk Castle by F A Aberg and M Brown for the Dorman Museum, Teesside, resulted in the location of the bailey bank. It appeared to be c 9m wide but had been levelled to a height of only 1.22m. Stone cobbling was found in one area beneath the bank but no finds were made to assist dating. (9)

SE 4277 8201. From July to October 1994, A E Finney of MAP Archaeological Consultancy carried out excavations and a watching brief during the construction of a new electricity sub-station and the laying of underground cables in Castle Garth, Thirsk - part of the scheduled area of Thirsk Castle (OCN 711).

Trench 1 on the site of the new sub-station revealed a thick deposit of clay interpreted as the base of the castle rampart. This sealed a naturally derived deposit overlying a cobbled surface, but no dating evidence was recovered. Trench 2 (cable trench) aligned east-west also located the rampart bank plus a series of well-stratified deposits beneath and against it, but little good dating evidence. Other trenches sampled the rampart and castle interior, producing a sequence that started with a pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetery (SE 48 SW 24), progressed through layers of silt containing animal bone, daub, slag and Anglo-Saxon pot sherds, and continued through to medieval, post-medieval and modern garden soils.

The excavator refers to another section cut through the rampart bank observed by Alison Clarke at a site to the north of Castle Garth, open apparently shortly after the MAP excavation. This other watching brief revealed that the rampart was constructed of sands and gravels capped by a thin layer of clay, and sealed earlier ditches and occupation-type deposits. (The excavator also suggests that the castle rampart may have a pre-Conquest origin, but her case is poorly argued and the logic of her argument hard to follow). (10)

The earthworks were investigated and sketch-surveyed at Level 1 by Marcus Jecock and Dave Went at the request of Dr Keith Emerick, Ancient Monuments Inspector for Yorkshire and the Humber Region, in response to a pre-SMC application enquiry.

A section of a broad ditch survives (silted and partly overgrown) immediately south of the Telephone Exchange fronting Picks Lane; it is traceable (albeit much infilled) through the garden of the property called Castle Villa, and emerges again as a reasonably well-preserved earthwork in the open space known as Castle Terrace behind Barnett's Yard and Kings Arms Court which run back from Market Place. However, the outer edge of the ditch here does not reflect the curve of the alleged motte side which is beginning to pull away to the east, but instead continues straight on towards the south. It could be argued that this is because of undocumented later quarrying - perhaps to widen the ditch and thereby create a level area for building in the area of Castlegate Mews - but this can be safely discounted because, if so, the ditch edge should cut through the counterscarp bank. It does not: rather, the bank replicates the ditch's straight course as far as the Electricity Sub-Station. Historic map evidence (auth 1) suggests that before the construction of the Telephone Exchange, the ditch also extended further north than it does now, as far as Picks Lane, but again the map evidence suggests the ditch continued straight rather than curving east to reflect the curvature of a motte as might be expected. In Castle Garth, on the western (outer) side of this ditch, are slight traces of a counterscarp bank, especially in the vicinity of the Electricity Sub-Station which is partly cut into the bank's outer face: it must be this feature which corresponds to the sterile layer of clay identified as 'the rampart of the castle' in archaeological excavations carried out in advance of that building's construction (auth 10). To the east, the edge of the ditch rises up steeply to a broadly level plateau that stands several metres higher than Castle Garth. This area (the 'motte' summit) includes the ground beneath Castle Villa, the undeveloped strip of land that adjoins the northern edge of that property and most of the property known as Bungalow. To the north, beyond Bungalow, the flank of the 'motte' has been cut away by building platforms terraced into the slope fronting onto Picks Lane and the southern end of Kirkgate, and in consequence is now defined by a series of high brick and concrete retaining walls. In contrast, the eastern and southern flanks of the 'motte' appear to have been graded (or else the 'motte' is a natural feature?), for the summit slopes gently down through Johnson's Yard, Kings Arms Court and Barnett's Yard towards the Market Place street frontage. There is no surface evidence for a ditch or counterscarp bank anywhere around the north, east or south sides of the 'motte'.

A 135m-length of degraded bank and ditch that occupies the eastern side of Castle Garth some 25m beyond the counterscarp bank is conventionally identified as part of the defences of an associated bailey. The extant earthwork is straight, but early 20th-century map evidence (auth 1) shows that it formerly extended further to the south and returned a short distance to the east through the yard area behind what is now Calvert's Carpets on Westgate. The same map also depicts the northern end of the extant earthwork as beginning to return to the east, but it is impossible to confirm this on the ground today due to subsequent interference and landscaping.

Slight earthworks visible within the garden of Bungalow and between the 'motte' ditch and 'bailey' bank are probably post-medieval property boundaries.

Authority 4's note of caution about the authenticity of the 'motte' seems justified. Mottes come in a variety of sizes, but are normally circular in plan. In addition, baileys are conventionally curvilinear and classically enclose a sub-triangular or keyhole-shaped area attached to the motte by wing walls continuing the line of the bailey defences up the sides of the mound. Thirsk displays none of the expected characteristics. The slight degree of curvature of the 'motte' side at Castle Terrace - if at all representative of the original form of the monument - is indicative of a mound with a large diameter or, given that its perimeter is unlikely to have intruded into what is now Market Place (probably a planned development laid out adjacent to the castle), one which is in some way sub-circular. The 'bailey' bank is so close to the alleged motte that the bailey so defined would be incredibly small. Without further work, it is therefore impossible on the evidence available to be sure if the scheduled earthworks represent a motte-and-bailey or some other form of castle. Alternative interpretations for some or all the earthworks are possible, including that the motte is some form of fortified natural mound and that the bailey bank is a stretch of (undocumented) town defence. Given the location of Thirsk in an area that was subject to incursions and raids by Scottish armies as late as the 14th century, the provision of town defences is a not unreasonable proposition. In passing in this regard, it is worth noting the constriction in the width of Kirkgate south of its junction with Picks Lane. Such constrictions can often be indicative of the existence of a pre-existing but now vanished feature in the landscape, perhaps in this case a gate into either castle or town. (The gate element of the street name here and in Castlegate is misleading: in both cases it is most probably a Scandinavian element meaning 'street', and does not refer to a gateway).

An internal report has been reproduced. (11)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 25" 1912
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : History and Topography of the North Riding of Yorkshire Vol.2 p.150 (T.Whellan) 1851.
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 11
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Marcus Jecock/21-JUN-2011/EH: Thirsk Castle Assessment
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : History of Thirsk (Jefferson) 1821 p.80
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 RL 14-JUN-62
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 5
Source : The Yorkshire archaeological journal
Source details : (W M I'Anson)
Page(s) : 390-3
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 22 - 1913
Source Number : 6
Source : The Victoria history of the county of York, North Riding, volume two
Source details :
Page(s) : 59
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1923
Source Number : 7
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : English Heritage SAM Record 11-Feb-1993
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 8
Source : Castellarium anglicanum : an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Volume II : Norfolk-Yorkshire and the islands
Source details :
Page(s) : 527
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : Feb-83
Source Number : 9
Source : The Yorkshire archaeological journal
Source details : The Yorkshire Archaeological Register 1973 (F Thorp)
Page(s) : 149
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 46
Source Number : 10
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : CBA Forum: The Annual Newsletter of CBA Yorkshire and Humberside, 1994, 31-3
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Early Medieval
Display Date : Early Medieval
Monument End Date : 1066
Monument Start Date : 410
Monument Type : Fortification, Rampart
Evidence : Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date :
Monument End Date : 1322
Monument Start Date :
Monument Type : Manor House, Dovecote
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : 1092-1176
Monument End Date : 1176
Monument Start Date : 1092
Monument Type : Motte And Bailey
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date :
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date : 1376
Monument Type : Garden
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NY 711a
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NY 711b
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NY 711c
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NY 711d
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NY 711e
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NY 711f
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 20454
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SE 48 SW 2
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SE 48 SW 2
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1962-06-14
End Date : 1962-06-14
Associated Activities : Primary, THIRSK CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1973-01-01
End Date : 1973-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, THIRSK CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1994-01-01
End Date : 1994-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, 2A-4 CASTLEGATE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 1996-01-01
End Date : 1996-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT 33 MARKET PLACE
Activity type : DESK BASED ASSESSMENT
Start Date : 2000-01-01
End Date : 2000-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND OFF MASONIC LANE
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2000-01-01
End Date : 2001-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT 33 MARKET PLACE
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2000-01-01
End Date : 2000-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CASTLE GARTH, THIRSK CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2002-01-01
End Date : 2002-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT 9-17 CASTLEGATE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2004-01-01
End Date : 2005-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT CASTLE GARTH
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2005-01-01
End Date : 2005-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND AT CASTLE GARTH
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2008-01-01
End Date : 2008-12-31