Saturday, 23 June 2012

Bothamsall Castle and Sherwood Forest

This entry is taken from part of the recently published journal article by Andy Gaunt and James Wright : Gaunt, A. & Wright, J. 2011. Bothamsall Castle, Nottinghamshire An Archaeological and Historical Landscape Analysis. Transactions of the Thoroton Society Volume 115. 

This blog entry concentrates on the part of that paper relating to the landscape setting of Bothamsall Castle and its relationship to the boundary of Sherwood Forest. The full article including details and results of fieldwork; historic map regression aerial photography and documentary research plus an analysis and interpretation of the castle earthworks can be purchased from the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire.

Picture: Bothamsall Castle from the southeast
Bothamsall is a small village in central Nottinghamshire. The earliest historical reference to the settlement is in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it is mentioned as “Bodmescel” (Morris 1977, 281ab). The name Bothamsall derives from Old English and means a ‘shelf by a broad river valley’ (Mills 1993, 44), no doubt a reference to the location of the village on a ridge overlooking the valley of the River Meden. Such evidence suggests a pre-Conquest origin for the settlement.

Bothamsall Castle lies to the west of the village at the highest point of a steep-sided ridge known as Castle Hill (SK 67100 73200; 57m OD) forming the northern edge of the valley in which the River Meden flows. The surrounding landscape consists of gently rolling countryside characterised by the geology of the Triassic rocks of the lower part of the Mercia Mudstone Group with overlying pebble beds.

Castle Hill is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (List Entry Number: 1009299) identified as an adulterine motte and bailey castle of the midtwelfth century.

The site is dominated by a large motte c5m high, the top is  sub-circular and is defined by a 1m high rampart enclosing an area c22m in diameter. The motte is bounded to the north by a c5m wide ditch which is c2m deep (English Heritage 1992).

The ditch has been partially truncated by an  unclassified road known as Main Street which runs east–west through the site and links the B6387 to the A614 via the village of Bothamsall. To the north of the road are arable fields and a meadow, part of which are scheduled. To the south of the motte is a steep escarpment which drops to the valley of the River Meden. Between the motte and escarpment are a series of earthworks on sloping ground associated with the castle as well as later developments.

The castle site is bounded to the west by arable fields and to the east by Meadow Lane and the settlement of Bothamsall.

Picture: James Wright (left) and Andy Gaunt undertaking EDM Total Station Survey at Bothamsall Castle.

Archaeologists Andy Gaunt and James Wright conducted a topographic survey of the site over three weeks during October and November 2007. The survey was funded by Nottinghamshire County Council as part of a joint project to assess the castles of Nottinghamshire and research the archaeology of Sherwood Forest. The data was processed and presented by Andy Gaunt during January and February 2008. Both authors carried out map regression, documentary research, landscape analysis and other contextual research during autumn 2011.

The survey was undertaken to allow interpretation of the castle earthworks and to examine them through 3D modelling in their wider landscape setting.

Little is known of Bothamsall during the early Medieval period. The village place name derives from Old English, however it is not clear when the settlement originally developed. Prior to Domesday, the manor of Bothamsall was held by Earl Tostig and the value was set at £8 (Morris 1977, 281ab). Tostig was the son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex and younger brother of Harold Godwinson (later King Harold II). Following the death of Edward, and the ascendancy of Harold to the throne, Tostig raided the south and eastern coasts of England until his eventual defeat at the hands of his successor Morcar, Earl of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia. Tostig then took refuge in Scotland where he eventually made contact with Harald Hardrada of Norway whom he persuaded to invade northern England. Both Tostig and Harald were killed by the forces of Harold II at the battle of Stamford Bridge (Ashley 1977).

The landowner of Bothamsall in 1086 was King William I. The manor was worth only 60 shillings, a drop in value that may be related to the Saxon revolts in the Midlands and the north in the years after the Conquest. However, it is apparent that Bothamsall was still a reasonably prosperous manor with arable, pasture and woodland and a mill worth 8 shillings. Bothamsall also held land in soke at Elkesley, Morton, Babworth, Ranby, South Ordsall, Mattersey, Lound and Barnby Moor and comprised an important estate centre within the region (Morris 1977, 281ab).

By the 1220s the manor had passed into the ownership of the Furnival family (Thoroton 1972, 363) a prominent family in north Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire (White 1875). The parish church was certainly established by this period as the Furnivals are recorded as having relinquished their rights over it in favour of Welbeck Abbey. Thoroton refers to a manorial court held at Bothamsall, and to Richard de Furneus and Richard de Baselyngthorp holding one knight’s fee of the earldom of Lancaster (Thoroton 1972, 363). Bothamsall seems to have remained an obscure rural manor throughout the Medieval  period and passed to a number of families until ownership was settled on the Dukes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then to the Dukes of Newcastle- under-Lyne in 1756.

Picture:Bothamsall Castle from George Sanderson's 1835 map of 20 miles around Mansfield

The earliest reference to the castle is on George Sanderson’s map of 1835 which shows the motte and identifies it as “Castle Hill”. It is not unusual to find a lack of primary documentary references to castles, particularly when considering the earthwork and timber castles of the East Midlands (Speight 1994, 58; Wright 2008, 50). Estate papers for many medieval families have not survived; castles may not have been referred to in texts unless a dramatic event occurred there, and many medieval documents and legal papers are concerned with the activities of lords rather than the landscape and structures (Wright 2008, 29).

The first attempt to classify Castle Hill occurred in 1889 when G.T. Clark identified the site as being a Saxon defended burh (Clark 1889, 209). Thomas Blagg also believed the mound to be of Saxon origin, postulating it to have been the location for the meeting place of the Wapentake of Bassetlaw (Blagg 1931, 1–3), although he also admitted that the recent weight of evidence pointed towards the site being a Norman castle (Stevenson 1906, 305). Oswald referred to the site as a motte with a bailey (Oswald 1939, 6) The 1899, 1900, 1921 and 1921 Ordnance Survey editions all identify to the mound as being a tumulus, and it was not until the 1967–77 survey that the word “motte” appears. The site was scheduled as a motte and bailey castle in 1951.

An archaeological watching brief was carried out in 1971 at Castle Hill by the Trent Valley Archaeological Research Committee in advance of a road-widening scheme on Main Street. The TVARC annual report describes the work: “Several visits were made to the motte and bailey site of Bothamsall. Part of the bailey was being destroyed by road widening. With the assistance of Nottingham University Archaeological Society, a survey of the earthworks was begun, and the exposed section of bailey bank was drawn. That part of the bailey which was under plough was field-walked.” Sadly the archive of this work no longer survives.

Latterly, both academic and popular descriptions of Castle Hill have all agreed that the site is a Norman motte and bailey castle (Pevsner 1979, King 1983, Groves 1987, Peters 1990, Salter 2002) although only Dr Sarah Speight has attempted any innovative thinking by raising the possibility of a late Saxon foundation subsequently developed by the Norman conquerors (Speight 1994, 62–3).

The results from the survey can be seen in the Thoroton Society transactions listed above.

Perhaps the most interesting finding amongst the interpretations of the earthworks is that the Motte was encircled within its Baliey defences. This point and the remainder of the results of the earthwork survey and their interpretation are covered in full in the report available from the Thoroton Society, but are not discussed in this blog entry.

A small number of motte and bailey castles are known from the late Saxon period (Richard’s Castle and Ewyas Harold, Herefordshire or the ringwork sites at Goltho, Lincolnshire and Sulgrave, Northamptonshire), however the form proliferated after the Norman Conquest of 1066 (Hill and Wileman 2002, 86–90).

The complete lack of stonework at Castle Hill indicates that the site was not built or developed beyond the mid-twelfth century when purely earthwork and timber castles became obsolete (McNeill 1992, 42).

The widespread pacification of the Anglo- Saxon populace, advances in military technology, legislation on castle-building by the monarchy, a desire of more comfortable dwellings and the status associated with grand stone structures meant that by the reign of Henry II earthwork and timber castles were no longer being constructed in England (Wright 2008, 9–13).

This allows a window of the century between c1050 and c1150 for the construction of the castle at Bothamsall.

Castle Hill has been identified as an adulterine castle (English Heritage 1992; Nottinghamshire Historic Environment Record M4450) dating to a period known as the Anarchy of Stephen (1135–54). This tendency to allocate motte and bailey castles with no documentary evidence of foundation to the period of the Anarchy has a disappointingly long history (Coulson 1994, 67–92) and should be treated with suspicion.

Motte and bailey castles were constructed by the Norman monarchy and aristocracy in order to suppress the newly conquered lands, as reprisals for Saxon rebellions, as a mechanism to establish local manorial power within emerging estates, to provide dwellings for an itinerant aristocracy and to act as a structure symbolic of lordship, authority and power (Liddiard 2005, 1–11). The establishment of a castle for specific military purpose during the Anarchy is uncertain, and even within the period of the Anarchy castles were not necessarily being built purely for a military contribution to the war.

The landscape setting of Bothamsall is key to its dating.

The castle sits at the highest point of a long east–west ridge as a western adjunct to the linear village of Bothamsall. The parish church sits at the far eastern side of the village and has no morphological interaction with the castle at all.

The relationships between castles and churches is well established (Speight 2004, 271–280, Creighton 2002, 110–132). Castles established within a domestic seigneurial estate are often constructed in close association with the parish church (Nottinghamshire examples of this form are Lowdham,  Egmanton, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Strelley and Greaseley).

However, castles built at a distance from the church and manorial centre often utilise high ground and were intended to stamp their military as well as social dominance on a landscape (e.g. Annesley, East Bridgford, Laxton). Crucially these castles have a focus outside of their manors and look to the wider landscape. Bothamsall certainly fits this latter profile and relates to a period of Norman military dominance within the region.

Rivers and streams are not a common feature of central and northern Nottinghamshire and the presence of the River Meden in the valley immediately to the south of the castle must be seen as worthy of note. Rivers in this area were important and they often formed important geographical and political boundaries.

Especially significant is the fact that a major north–south arterial road to York crosses the River Meden at Coningswath Ford in close proximity to Castle Hill (see picture above).

Coningswath was an important northern boundary marker of Sherwood Forest and is included usually as the starting point on many of the surviving medieval perambulations of the forest (Boulton 1965 35, 40).

The route of this road for much of its length is followed by the modern A614 although the current road deviates to the west of Rufford Abbey. The old route followed the high ground to the east of the Abbey and to the west side of the town of Wellow before passing between the villages of Ollerton and Boughton (Mastoris 1998 82).

The road crossed the river Meden at Coningswath in the current Conjure Alders wood following the route of the modern Robin Hood Way. This road was known as the King’s Highway (Morris 1977 280a) during the Medieval period and “Coningswath” derives from the Old Scandinavian for “King’s wade” or ford (EPNS 1942 69–70).

Therefore Bothamsall Castle directly overlooked a river-crossing with royal associations which acted as a boundary marker for what would become (and may already have been) a royal forest.

The fact that the manor of Bothamsall was retained in the ownership of William I further emphasises the strategic importance of Castle Hill to the Norman monarchy and it is considered that the establishment of the castle was part of an aggressive campaign of post-Conquest Norman dominance within the region.

Bothamsall fits into a pattern of castle-building within Nottinghamshire that has a relationship with the area of Sherwood Forest.

The distribution of medieval fortified sites in Nottinghamshire illustrates that the area of the forest reflects a negative distribution, with castles grouped around the forest boundaries.

The forest boundary as known from medieval perambulations comes from the 13th century, and was a reduction of the size of the of the forest following the issuing of the forest charter in 1217 and the ensuing disputes of that century (Crook 1979 36–45). It is suggested here that the forest retreated back within an older boundary, perhaps to its original extent.

Did this forest footprint of the 13th century represent an older castlery or area of jurisdiction of the castle of Nottingham? The absence of castles from the area may suggest a policy of the monarchy to dissuade castle-building within this area.

Annesley Castle is listed as being a boundary marker of Sherwood to the west of the forest (Boulton 1965 37, 41), Lowdham Castle sat adjacent to the forest boundary of the Dover Beck.

Most significant is the location of East Bridgford to the south-east of the forest. The motte, and its small northern bailey, sits at a distance of half a kilometre from the village core on the shoulder of an escarpment directly overlooking the ford where the Roman road known as Bridgford Street crossed the River Trent. Bridgford Street was historically the section of road which linked the ford to the Fosse Way and is the precursor of the modern A6097 that joined the Kings Highway mentioned previously further to the north.

Picture: Pancake Hil East Bridgford, Motte and Bailey Castle.

The motte and bailey at Pancake Hill is effectively the twin of Bothamsall – both guard major strategic crossings of rivers by an arterial medieval road at either end of Sherwood Forest, or as previously speculated a castlery of Nottingham with jurisdiction up to these crossings.

The fact that William I spotted the strategic importance of Bothamsall and chose to construct a very strong motte and bailey castle there could well have been pre-empted by the late Saxon aristocracy.

Speight has pointed out that Earl Tostig is a vital player in this piece. Castles were established in many of his northern manorial estates, particularly in the Lune Valley, Cumbria. The implication is that castles were established as a deliberate policy upon sites which had previously been defended enclosures owned by the troublesome former earl, who was after all brother to the recently defeated Harold (Speight 1994, 62).

The archaeology of the imposition of Norman castles upon private Saxon
fortifications is still a developing subject yet the groundbreaking work at Goltho, Lincolnshire categorically demonstrates that such a sequence could take place (Beresford 1987).

The form of the earthworks at Bothamsall are anomalous. Motte and bailey castles are more usually characterised by a mound or ringwork with attached enclosures. The form of such castles is diverse and baileys can be appended in an almost limitless manner of combinations. However it is immensely rare to discover a mound surrounded by a concentric (as opposed to appended) enclosure. Comparative sites which present this form include Old Sarum (Wiltshire), the British Camp (Herefordshire), Doncaster (South Yorkshire),
Cardiff and Barwick-in-Elmet (West Yorkshire), however in all of these cases the motte was added to a pre-existing enclosure such as an Iron Age hillfort
or Roman fort. It is therefore not beyond the realms of possibility that Castle Hill may reflect a site that was already considered to be strategically  important and had a strongly defined hilltop enclosure to which a massive  motte was added by William I in the years immediately after the Conquest.

This is of course highly speculative and it would be impossible to prove without archaeological evaluation, however the circumstantial evidence based on topography, comparative sites and documentary analysis does indicate that the castle may have been developed on the site of an earlier, possibly late Saxon aristocratic enclosure.

The history of castle studies within England has witnessed an ebb and flow of argument for or against the military interpretation of castles. Early scholars such as Ella Armitage favoured a militaristic viewpoint that castles were built specifically to enforce the Norman Conquest, this viewpoint was developed and qualified during the post war period by Allen-Brown and Cathcart- King amongst others. However, by the mid 1960s scholars such as Davison had begun a backlash stipulating that castles owed less to the Normans and more to the late Saxon privately fortified ringworks.

Debate raged.

Meanwhile  Charles Coulson suggested an interpretation based on the visual language of lordly symbolism as opposed to military functionalism. More recently a  thematic approach to castles has seen a healthy literature develop incorporating groundbreaking subjects such as earthwork and timber castles (Higham & Barker 1992), socio-cultural interpretations (McNeill 1992) and landscape studies (Creighton 2002).

The current interpretation of Castle Hill is therefore based on a rich fabric of engaging and vibrant debate within the field of castle studies.

Castle Hill, Bothamsall is but one of around one thousand castles built prior to the thirteenth century. Castle construction afforded an almost limitless variety of design form and there is no site which exactly mirrors the morphology of Castle Hill. However, the similarity of landscape context and purpose of establishment between East Bridgford and Bothamsall is stark.

Both castles seem to have been created as part of a deliberate royal policy to dominate river crossings by a major arterial road into the royal forest of Sherwood, or at the perimeter of the jurisdiction of a possible castlery of Nottingham.

This is the raw power of the Norman Conquest writ large in both military and symbolic terms upon the very landscape of Nottinghamshire. This expression of power was also played out by physically claiming the former manor of one of late Saxon England’s most important figures – Earl Tostig.

The establishment of a castle in what was potentially Tostig’s own aristocratic enclosure is another instance of both the physical and symbolic demonstration of the Conquest.

For more information on James Wright please follow the link.