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Knaves Castle

In the civil parish of Walsall.
In the historic county of Staffordshire.
Modern Authority of Walsall.
1974 county of West Midlands.
Medieval County of Staffordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SK04960646
Latitude 52.65588° Longitude -1.92826°

Knaves Castle has been described as a Timber Castle although is doubtful that it was such.

There are no visible remains.

Description

Earthwork, now destroyed, close by Watling Street. Earliest known mentions are late 17th century. Robert Plot describes it as a triple ditched enclosure, 40-50 yards in diameter; in the middle of which was a 'round hill, now excavated'. He speculated that it was a guard post against robbers or a robbers' stronghold. John Aubrey recorded that 'it is circular and hath some three ditches about it. I believe the diameter of it is not above twenty yards at most. The midst of it is not above two or three yards square, and hath a breastwork about it in the nature of a keep. One gate or entrance south'. The site is marked on Joseph Browne's map of Staffordshire of 1682 and on Morden's county map of 1695 but no detail is shown. Yates' county map of 1775 shows a circular earthwork with what may be a large tree in the centre, while the Ordnance Survey Surveyor's Drawing of 1816 shows a circular earthwork with a further earthwork inside. Neither map is at a sufficiently large scale to show detail, however. The first map to show the area in detail is the 1st edn Ordnance Survey map of 1884. There is no tithe map as the site is in Ogley Hay, part of Cannock Forest, and was extra parochial. In 1884 only the east side of the earthworks survive. A circular mound, only 6m in diameter, is shown. It is surrounded by a bank around 40m in diameter, which only survives on its eastern side. On its western side a house, called Knaves Castle, and orchards have been built. The situation is the same on the 2nd edition plan of 1902. By the time of the 3rd edition of 1919 the earthworks are no longer shown and hence may have been flattened. By the time of the 4th edition of 1938 a house has been built on the east side also. Duignan says that the site was very clear in c 1840 but was almost obliterated and enclosed in a garden by 1902. Reece says that the site was sold in 1902 and that the mound and ditches were levelled. No trace of the earthwork now survives and the site is occupied by 23, 25, 25a, 27 and 29 Knave's Castle. The earthwork has been interpreted as a Neolithic or Bronze Age burial mound, the tomb of a boy or servant (knave), a Roman encampment, a Roman guard house, a castrum aestivum (summer fort), a Roman signal station, a Roman barrow, and a medieval castle mound. In August 1971, extensive widening of Watling Street cut through segment of natural hillock near the site. No sign of a ditch or burial was seen on original land surface. The earthwork's true use can only be speculated upon. Triple-ditched enclosures are perhaps more likely to be Iron Age than anything else. Other possibilities are: a motte and bailey, though the mound looks rather small for this; and a forester's lodge for the keeper of Ogley Hay. More recently the discovery of the Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon metalwork has given rise to suggestions that it was an Anglo-Saxon fortification of some form. Ogley Hay was originally an estate. Its bounds are given in a charter of 994 when it was given to the minster at Wolverhampton by Lady Wulfruna. At Domesday it belonged to the canons of Wolverhampton, forming part of the Deanery manor. By 1291 the estate had passed to the Crown and was a hay of Cannock Forest. (Cockin). (Walsall and Wolverhampton HER)
Comments

It should be noted that the early writers, who saw the site in good condition, emphasised the enclosure ditch(es) and noted the mound as small. Later writers have considered the site as a mound and seem to have ignored the enclosure ditch(es) with their discussion confined to the nature of the mound. The tenurial history and the location within a common along with the small size of the mound, suggest a medieval castle is unlikely. However this was a small ditched and embanked enclosure of a size not too dissimilar from some ringworks and close to a river crossing on Watling Street, so cannot totally be excluded as having some short term medieval use in the immediate post-Conquest period as a control point. The morphology, as shown on the 1887 OS map, is not that of a barrow and ditch. The suggestion has been made that the site is natural (see PastScape). Such an utter dismissal of the recording of antiquarian writers and OS surveyors is quite unjustified. This was clearly an artificial earthwork, although it may have been based on a modified natural feature.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER            
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 23/02/2016 10:03:53

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