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Peel Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
St Patricks Isle

In the parish of Peel.
On the Isle of Man.

OS Map Grid Reference: SC241845
Latitude 54.22645° Longitude -4.69894°

Peel Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Artillery Fort.

There are major building remains.

This site is a archaeological monument protected by law.


The military history of Peel Castle begins with documentary evidence of a probable timber built fort or "Peel" and royal residence of Magnus Barefoot, Norse King of Man in 1098 but the earliest surviving defensive works belong to the 14th century gatehouse and adjacent red-sandstone curtain wall of the Lords Montacute and Le Scroop castle.
Sir Thomas Stanley, First Earl of Derby, was responsible for enclosing 5 acres of St Patrick's Isle with a late 15th century slate-built curtain wall and internal towers which forms the major component of the present Peel Castle. The range of domestic buildings to the north of St German's Cathedral (SC 28 SW 5), of which the largest is 16th century overlie foundations of earlier structures (Craine 1967) located by trenching circa 1906. (Cowley 1935-7) The Half-Moon Battery and the Round Fort, with three gun embrasures, were built about 1540 and were part of the garrison of Peel Castle as were the later, 16th century armoury and 17th century barracks. The guardhouse (now the museum) and the gun battery date from the early 19th century.
Excavations on the flagstaff mound in 1929 and 1947 revealed no evidence earlier than the 15th century and the embankment behind the 15th century curtain wall was proved by Dr Bersu's excavation in 1947 {Unpublished} to be coeval with the wall. The mounds known as the Giant's Grave were also excavated in 1929 and found to be spoil heaps, probably associated with the contruction of the curtain wall (Craine 1967).
Evidently a two-part pottery kiln (Medieval?) was excavated in the south side bank of the 'Tilting Ground' circa 1906 (re-examined in 1929) and two circular potash kilns were also revealed in the 'TiltingGround' itself. Human remains were found below the floor of the Armoury (NE corner) in 1929 and were also present in the uneven ground mounds behind the Cathedral containing burials (marked of the Early Middle Ages Ancient Burial Ground on plan) (Craine 1967; Cowley 1935)
Detailed surveys in advance of consolidation of the standing remains at Peel Castle and excavations to interpret these remains were undertaken at the Half-Moon Battery by P S Gelling (Birmingham University) and the Earl of Derby's Apartments by D Freke (Liverpool University Arch Unit) in 1982-83. The success of the excavations prompted the formation of St Patrick's Isle Arch Trust in 1983 to support a five year programme for the total excavation of the Earl of Derby's Apartments, a review of earlier excavations, documentary research, architectural surveys and environmental studies.
The Half-Moon Battery: A small pit containing Mesolithic flints (see SC 28 SW 40) underlay a medieval cemetery, interpreted as the parish burial ground of St Patrick's Church (SC 28 SW 10); one grave contained the 14th century bronze signet ring of Sir Brian de Stapleton.
The battery, with gun port pointing, illogically, at the armoury, was explained by careful examination and proved to have been extensively reconstructed, presumably in the 19th century.
Earl of Derby's Apartments: A cemetery of lintel graves together with two 8th century carved cross-slabs were found under the later medieval apartments. The exclusively adult male burials suggested that this area was an Early Christian monastic cemetery;
The Norse timber building overlying the cemetery proved to have two building phases and was re-floored five times, the last being a suspended timber floor. A hearth on one of the earlier clay floors gave an archaeolmagnetic date of circa 1150 and showed that it was a domestic building, probably part of the residence of the Kings of man. A Viking hoard of forty-one silver coins of Sittric Silkbeard, minted in Dublin in the 1030's was also found in this area in 1982. Two later medieval structures were also discovered, one may have been a tower and the other continued seaward under the 15th century stone curtain wall, showing that the earlier ramparts must have been further out.
Continuing excavation in 1984 revealed a pagan Viking cemtery, either in or on the edge of the early Christian burial ground and inclused an important Viking female burial or "queen" associated with a cooking spit, three knives, scissors or shears, a comb, needle box and a necklace of sixty seven jet, amber and glass beads probably of late 9th or early 10th century date. Other pagan burials had buckles with them and one was associated with thirteen small silver balls, possibly tassels from a cloak. From other graves were found a number of buckles and ring-headed pins and also a mid-10th century coin of Edmund (Cowley 1935; Freke 1984) (PastScape)

Rocky island in mouth of harbour; an old sacred site with a cathedral and another church on it. Probably one of Magnus Barefoot's wooden forts of 1098 and known as 'Pile' as early as 1231. A gift to the Church in 1257, but the site was too important to be abandoned. Earliest existing defences lie on the approachable side towards the mainland; a square tower appears to be the earliest work, with a large square gatehouse, barbican, curtains and turrets, built soon after 1392. The other sides of the island enclosed in a remarkable line of walls in the later 15th century, flanked by various towers, mostly rectangular with round corners. Two of these are massively built, one forming a spur-work. Henrician additions are an extension of the spur with a rounded tower for artillery, and a round battery inside the castle. Likely to have been taken several times, e.g. 1313 and 1388; captured 1651. (King 1983)

Comments (by Philip Davis)

The supposition this was the site of one of the timber fortifications of c. 1100 built by Magnus Barefoot is supported by only slight archaeological evidence been seems entirely likely on the bases of the prestige and natural defensiveness of the site and the later historical evidence of this being a royal holding.
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This record last updated on Tuesday, April 18, 2017