The comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales, the Islands.
The listings
Other Info
Print Page 
Next Record 
Previous Record 
Back to list 

Skipsea Castle Hill

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Albermarle Hill and the Baile Welts; Skypse

In the civil parish of Skipsea.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of East Riding of Yorkshire.
1974 county of Humberside.
Medieval County of Yorkshire East Riding.

OS Map Grid Reference: TA16215507
Latitude 53.97868° Longitude -0.22961°

Skipsea Castle Hill has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Skipsea Castle is situated in Holderness, north of the village of Skipsea Brough and 2km inland from the present North Sea coast. The monument includes the well-preserved earthworks of a large and impressive motte and bailey castle and the earthwork remains of the inland harbour controlled by the castle. While the bailey is located on a natural ridge of boulder clay, during the Middle Ages the motte stood on an island of sand and gravel within a lake known as Skipsea Mere. The mere was drained in c.1720 and the resultant reclaimed land allotted to various owners. This area is also included in the scheduling due to the important environmental and organic remains preserved in its waterlogged silts. Further remains relating to the castle and its harbour, and also to the failed borough founded by William le Gros in 1160, will also survive outside the area of the scheduling. However, their extent and state of preservation is not fully understood at present and so they are not included in the scheduling. The motte, which is built of sand and gravel, measures c.100m wide at the base by 11m high. It is encircled by a defensive bank currently measuring c.5m wide by c.1.5m high and a ditch measuring between 7m and 10m wide. Originally, the gravel bank would have been higher and the ditch much deeper, but erosion and silting over several hundred years have caused the levelling out of the earthworks. On the east side, a slight earth bank shows the line of the causeway which crossed the former mere and connected the motte with the higher land on which the church is situated. The lack of foundations on the top of the motte indicates that the keep was of timber and had not been rebuilt in stone by the time the castle was destroyed in the early 13th century. However, a short section of mortared stone wall on the south-east side of the motte has been interpreted as part of a gatehouse or similar structure. The bailey lies to the west of the motte and was originally divided from it by the mere. It comprises a crescent-shaped area measuring c.400m from north to south by c.100m east to west. On the north, west and south sides it is enclosed by a substantial defensive bank whose lower parts are believed to be undisturbed boulder clay while the upper parts were built from redeposited clay, creating a rampart which averages 2.5m above the bailey floor and, in some places, stands c.4m high. An outer ditch measuring c.10m wide runs parallel with the bank and, before it became silted up, would have doubled the effective height of the rampart on that side. There were two opposing entrances to the bailey, one through the north side of the rampart and one, still known as Bail Gate, on the south side. Other breaks have been caused by the cutting of modern drainage channels while another, known as Scotch Gap and situated to the south-west, is believed to have been created during the destruction of the castle. The inturned entrance at the southern opening, and a platform indicating the site of a gatehouse, suggest that Bail Gate was the main entry into the castle. In addition, it opens onto a complex of platforms and terraces which has been interpreted as the main area of activity within the bailey, being the site of garrison buildings and warehouses. The remains of a track linking the south gate with the north gate can be seen running along the eastern edge of the bailey. It ends at another area of platforms which overlook the mere, lying across the water from a small peninsula formed by part of the rampart round the motte. Together, buildings in these two places controlled the mouth of a wide channel which curved south between the motte and the bailey. This channel formed part of the inland harbour whose position, within the castle defences, is an indication that the control and storage of trade goods entering and leaving Holderness was one of the main functions of the castle. The channel acted as an outer harbour for ships entering the mere via a navigable watercourse which is believed to have connected the mere with the coast during the Middle Ages. The route and state of survival of this navigation has not yet been fully determined and so it is not included in the scheduling. At its southern end the channel narrowed to form the inner harbour which followed the curve of the bailey from west to east and measured c.25m wide by c.200m long. On its north side, this inland harbour was divided from the mere by a bank which also acted as a causeway extending as far as the motte. On the south side lay the bailey which, at this point, would have contained the wooden wharves and jetties where goods were loaded and unloaded. There is no channel leaving the inner harbour at its east end and this area has been interpreted as a boatyard where boats were repaired and overwintered. The whole of the south-eastern half of the mere, enclosed as it was by causeways to north and south, is believed to have been fresh water while the rest of the mere was salt. Because of this, it may have been used as a fishery, fish being a very important part of the medieval diet and economy. This, however, has yet to be confirmed through the analysis of the silts and organic remains which survive there. In the western part of this area traces of the earthworks left by ridge and furrow ploughing dating to the period after the 1720s when the mere was drained, can be seen. Skipsea Castle was built by Drogo de Beavriere in c.1086 and, until the early 13th century, formed the administrative centre of the Lordship of Holderness. However, following the suspected death by poisoning of Drogo's wife, a niece of William the Conqueror, Drogo fled and Holderness was granted by the king to Odo, Earl of Champagne and Aumale. Aside from a brief period between 1096 and 1102, when it passed to Arnulf, youngest son of Earl Roger of Salisbury, the castle stayed with the Aumale family until 1221. Then it was slighted on the orders of Henry III following the part played by Count William de Forz II in the rebellion against the young king. When it also became an inland harbour has not been precisely dated. However, trade was clearly flourishing by the mid-twelfth century as, in 1160, Count William le Gros founded a market borough. Despite its key location, however, the borough did not survive, though why it declined is not yet understood. The centre of settlement in the Skipsea area shifted east of the church and all that remains inhabited of the borough is Skipsea Brough. In the 1720s, if not before , the area of the monument was given over to agriculture and part of it is now in the Guardianship of the Secretary of State. (Scheduling Report)

A report in The Guardian (3rd Oct 2016) reports Jim Leary, from the University of Reading's The Round Mounds Project as saying his coring method of investigation has shown the motte of the castle to be of Iron Age date, presumably originally a burial mound. This would be a large burial mound of a type rare in England although the sand and gravel for the mound may have been water sorted and not too difficult to dig from the mere banks and it may not represent a particularly colossal effort on an Iron Age communities part. Additionally most of the mound is natural and only the top 8m is manmade. The other earthworks of the castle (the long bailey embankment to the west) have not been dated but are also probably Iron Age. This leaves some questions as to the choice of founding the castle at this site. Was the mound seen as a useful potential redoubt and the castle sited to make use of this resource? Does the mound show that Skipsea has been a community centre in the East Riding marshes for over 2000 years of unbroken occupation and the castle was just sited at the local regional centre?
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling        
Maps >
Streetmap   NLS maps   Where's the path   Old-Maps      
Data/Maps > 
Magic   V. O. B.   Geology   LiDAR   Open Domesday  
Air Photos > 
Bing Maps   Google Maps   Getmapping   ZoomEarth      
Photos >
CastleFacts   Geograph   Flickr   Panoramio      

Sources of information, references and further reading
Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from ANY site without proper recording and reporting.
Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.
The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of Historic England, County Historic Environment Records and other individuals and organisations. It may also contain information licensed under the Open Government Licence. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown. Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.
This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:01

Home | Books | Links | Fortifications and Castles | Other Information | Help | Downloads | Author Information | Contact