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Clifford Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Clyfford; Castellaria de Cliford

In the civil parish of Clifford.
In the historic county of Herefordshire.
Modern Authority of Herefordshire.
1974 county of Hereford and Worcester.
Medieval County of Herefordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SO243456
Latitude 52.10429° Longitude -3.10589°

Clifford Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Clifford Castle, earthworks and buildings, stands on a small cliff or ridge on the right bank of the Wye, 1100 yards N.W. of the parish church. The castle was held by the Clifford family in the 13th century and later by the Mortimers. The surviving buildings stand on the large motte on the W. side of the castle; the walls are of local sandstone rubble with some dressings of the same material. They form an irregular polygonal court, with a gatehouse towards the N.E., a hall on the N.W. front and round towers at the other three angles. There is little indication of a difference in date, and the whole structure may well have been built at the beginning of the 13th century. Most of the dressed stone has been removed, but recent excavations, on a small scale, have revealed some of the ground plan.
The Gatehouse, of which the lower courses of the gate and S.E. flanking tower have recently been cleared, had an inner and outer archway, each of two orders, with a portcullis-groove between the arches; the stones have diagonal tooling. The S.E. flanking-tower is entered by a doorway of which only the base remains; in the outer wall are the reveals of a window or loop-embrasure; projecting from the internal angle of the tower is a short length of walling which perhaps supported an inner arch or extension of the gate-hall. The N.W. flanking-tower is still covered with earth, but there are remains of two embrasures. Both towers show a straight joint with the jambs of the outer archway and are presumably of rather later date.
The Hall (36 ft. by 17 ft.) appears to have been of two storeys. The outer face has a battered plinth capped by a rounded string-course; in the same wall are remains of a window-embrasure to the upper storey, and farther W. a projection or corbel on the outer face of the wall below the string. At the S.W. end of the hall are remains of a narrow passage with a segmental-pointed arch.
The W. Tower (Plate 86) is the best preserved of the three mural towers and has a plinth similar to that on the face of the hall; the base of the walls has piercings probably indicating the former existence of bond-timbers; the tower was of two stages and has remains of three window or loop-embrasures in the ground-storey, and a doorway with a segmental-pointed head. The upper storey had two loop-embrasures on the outward side, one retaining part of its loop; there is a third embrasure towards the court. Entered from the S.E. angle is a passage in the curtain leading to a garde-robe, of which the two discharge-holes with triangular heads remain on the outside face. High in the curtain is another discharge-hole, perhaps from the parapet walk. The S. Tower has been mostly destroyed above ground, but was of similar form and had a garde-robe entered from the N.W. angle. The interior of the S.E. Tower, also of similar form and mostly destroyed above ground, has recently been cleared and shows the remains of two embrasures in the outer wall and the base of a doorway towards the court.
The Earthworks consist of a circular motte, about acre in extent at the base, with a large outer bailey on the N.E. and a smaller triangular-shaped court or bailey on the S.W., the whole occupying approximately 3 acres. The motte, upon which the surviving buildings stand, rises about 36 ft. above the bottom of a dry ditch which flanks it on the N.E. and S.W. sides. On the N.W. and S.E. it was protected by steep scarps, as was also the small triangular bailey on the side towards the river and on the S. side; along the S. there is also a slight ditch with an outer bank. S.W. of this small bailey and ditch is a crescent-shaped platform which may have been used as an additional enclosure. The large, irregular-shaped outer bailey has surrounding scarps and traces of a rampart at the N. and S.E. angles; it is connected with the motte by a sloping causeway which crosses the motte ditch. Within the bailey is an irregular-shaped rectangular mound which suggests the foundations of a building with angle towers.
The whole of the N.W. scarp follows the line of the river and has been further steepened during the construction of the railway which runs parallel to it. (RCHME 1931)

The remains of a Motte and bailey castle, probably constructed between 1067 and 1070, with additional C13 fortifications in stone. The motte is 55m in diameter and 8m in height above the base of the ditches and 5m above natural ground level. It is surmounted by a shell keep the walls of which are 2m in thickness and 8m high. An earthen causeway connects the summit with a large bailey, some 2 acres in area, divided into two parts. Excavations in 1952 and 1953 revealed the outer gatehouse. (PastScape)

Castle, ruined. Late C13 with some C19 and C20 repairs. Rubble with ashlar dressings, the latter heavily robbed. Irregular polygonal court on motte, gatehouse to north-east with circular towers, hall on north- west front, 3 round towers at south and west angles. Hall of 2 storeys, battered plinth capped by rounded string course, remnants of a first floor window to east end of north (external) wall; stack at east end with ground floor hearth. West tower is only one surviving above one metre; 2 storeys, plinth as hall, 2 loop embrasures on first floor; curtain wall to south-east of tower contains 3 garderobes, external vents with triangular heads. Base of gateway includes remnants of portcullis slot. Ruins of barbican with 2 round towers standing about one metre high about 50 metres to east of motte. (Listed Building Report)

Clifford Castle was built by William fitzOsbern shortly after 1066 on "waste land", and the castle and borough of Clifford were held by Ralph de Tosny in 1086 when 16 burgesses were recorded. It is generally accepted that the castle and borough recorded in 1086 were located at Clifford itself (Robinson 1872, 25; Noble 1964, 64; Stanford 1991, 145; Stirling-Brown 1991, 27); there does not seem to have any supporting evidence for the suggestion that the borough was actually located at Old Castleton in 1086 and only later moved to Clifford. It has also been suggested that the borough was confined to the bailey of the castle, but a site to the north of the castle is more likely (Stirling-Brown 1991). The medieval settlement pattern was dispersed: the parish church of St Mary's is located at Llanfair, 1km southeast of the castle; and south of Llanfair lay the small Cluniac priory of Clifford. The castle formed the centre of a marcher lordship held by the Cliffords in the 12th and 13th centuries, and by the Mortimers in the 14th century (Davies 1978, 55; Hillaby 1985, 246-8). The early post-Conquest castle was replaced by a stone castle, probably in the early 13th century (RCHME 1931, 39), although it has been suggested that this replaced an earlier stone castle (Stirling-Brown 1991, 27-8). The castle probably declined in military importance from the end of the 13th century although it was repaired in 1377-8. It was garrisoned briefly in the early 15th century (Bannister 1928, 148). Although constables are recorded up to the 16th century it is uncertain how long it was inhabited (Robinson 72, 28; Trumper 1889, 367-8), although artefactual evidence indicates some occupation in the post-medieval period. (Dalwood and Bryant, 2005)

The condition of the upstanding remains has been assessed by our engineers and the monument is considered to be at high risk by Historic England due to the poor state of some of the masonry remains and undergrowth. The standing remains are suffering from ivy growth and invasion by vegetation, propping have been introduced to stabilise elements in the keep but the undermining of Rosamund's Tower is of ongoing concern.
Historic England is working with the owners on an improvement plan to record and assess the site more fully so masonry consolidation can be undertaken. Rectified photography has been done and is the basis of ongoing interpretation. (Bill Klemperer 2016)

The castle has had a series of recent owners who had great interest in the castle, although not all these owners have done things which have been to the benefit of the long term conservation of the castle remains. The current owners continue to have a keen interest in the castle, which lies in their domestic garden, and are working with Historic England to preserve the castle which, it is to be hoped, will be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in the near future.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:52

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