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Groby Castle Hill

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Tourhull; Grobi

In the civil parish of Groby.
In the historic county of Leicestershire.
Modern Authority of Leicestershire.
1974 county of Leicestershire.
Medieval County of Leicestershire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SK52390764
Latitude 52.66399° Longitude -1.22684°

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

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Medieval motte and bailey castle surviving as an earthwork. The Castle was built in the late C11 by Hugh de Grantmesnil and was destroyed in 1172. Excavations in 1962-3 showed the motte was built around an existing stone structure of function, possibly a tower. Fishponds to north destroyed by road by-pass. The oval castle motte is 5 to 6m high with a flattish top and measures 38m east to west and 25m north to south. To the east is a flat bailey area extending for 20m and enclosed by a ditch surviving for a length of 35m and 15m wide and 2m deep. On its outer east side it has a slight bank 1m high. (PastScape)

Norman Castle (built c.1086) with a possible Saxon manorial precursor. The castle was apparently destroyed by order of Henry II in 1176 and seems to have been replaced by a more impressive castle before a manorial complex developed to the south in the C13th.
The site is essentially a Norman castle that remained an important manorial complex throughout the medieval period.
The motte survives behind Groby Old Hall next to the A50 bypass. It is c.30m across and 7m high. Little survives of the bailey but a map of 1757 shows an elogated oval enclosing the motte and an area to the west. The motte has a gazebo on it.
The building of the castle is said to have been by Hugh de Grantemesnil and it was destroyed by order of Henry II in 1176. Ditches were filled with earth by Thomas, 2nd Marquis of Dorset, intending to make a herbere out of it. Nichols also mentions 'a very antient stone wall' some 10-15 yards long c.100yds above the site of the keep.
In 1962/3 excavation took place in advance of the bypass. The bailey ditch was rock-cut and very deep. The motte had been built around a stone building 20' by 16', with walls standing at least 6'-7' high. This tower, predating the medieval castle may be an Anglo-Saxon tower, perhaps representing a late Saxon manorial precursor to the castle site. The material (including pottery) is in the HBMC stores and the excavation is unpublished (Creighton 1997).
Following a survey in 1984 Groby Castle was described as, "a kidney-shaped mound, up to 7 metres in height, which used to be surrounded on its north and east sides by a semi-circular section of bank flanked by inner and outer ditches" (Hartley 2008).
Geophysical survey work was carried out by the Time Team in 2010. The three sides of the keep were well defined. The northern side had been quarried away. Breaks in the response were thought to relate to the stairs and a doorway recorded during the 1960s excavation. There appeared to be revetment stones and a possible structure extending to the south of the keep (Adcock and Wood 2011).
Trial trenching by the Time Team, following the geophysical survey, did not find any evidence for Saxon activity on site. It was thought that the keep was built in the C12th/C13th following the demise of the first castle. Two trenches were opened up on the motte; they recorded the stone keep, built directly onto the bedrock, wth the motte built up around it. A large outer wall was constructed around the keep. There was no evidence for the destruction of the castle - the northern wall of the keep was quarried away during the post-medieval period. (Also, there are C18th images showing a building still standing.) A trench across the bailey, to the east, recorded banks and an outer ditch. The ditch appeared to have been backfilled in the late C15th/C16th, presumably so that a garden could be laid out for the newly built Groby Old Hall (Wessex Archaeology 2011).
A watching brief undertaken in 2011 to the east of the site, adjacent to the farmyard but within the Scheduled Monument, noted a demolition layer dating to the 19th or early 20th Century. This layer became softer and noticeably sank towards the eastern part of the stripped area, coinciding with the alignment of the castle ditch and confirming the ditch continued into the proposed development area (Richards 2011). (Leicestershire and Rutland HER)

Now largely destroyed and some of the bailey perimeter beneath embanked road. Creighton speculates, based on Davidson's excavations in the mid 60s, that the motte was built over a pre-existing, already somewhat ruinous, Saxon residential tower and represents a continuity of use of a manorial site. The TimeTeam excavation (of just three days) found no evidence of a Saxon tower or earlier site, although a timber thegnal site remains probable. The bailey enclosure is suggested to have included a large chapel. The motte was found to been thrown up around C12/C13 tower (as at Lydford, Devon) although no effort seems to have been made to identify the form of the motte and it is not know if motte was revetted (as at Farnham, Surrey). The site had a major episode of demolition and reconstruction c. 1300 as a great manor of the Ferrers/de Grey family within the bailey. The Time Team investigation did much interesting geophysics giving some idea of the layout of the C14 manor.
A Close Roll entry of May 1344 describes the manor and notes a garden called 'le Tourhull' (Towerhill), an ancient ditch called 'le Slade' and a house called 'le Baillyfeshous'. The motte top is flat and could have had a small compact pleasure garden on it.
While it is certain there was a castle of some form on the site in 1175 and even a Saxon thegnal manor (although if so probably of timber buildings) it is not impossible the motte thrown up against the tower is a late C13 feature designed to make that tower look like a tower on an ancient motte. That is the works of c. 1300 actually included the construction of a motte designed to give, or re-establish, 'ancient' kudos to the site. Equally it may be the excavation report that the motte was thrown up against the tower is somewhat misleading and the tower was built within an existing motte (but going down to the bed rock). The form of dismantling of the castellum de Grobi order by Henry II in 1175 is unclear; the latin used in the chronicle is sternere which may imply levelling, although may also be a bit of licence on the part of the writer (the same term is used for Leicester castle where the motte survives intact), certainly, apart for the mound, there are no significant ditches or embankments surviving. The motte, as it now stands, is kidney shaped as part of it has been dug away. It has been speculated this represents the attempt to demolish it but it may just be latter digging, either 'treasure' hunting or just for a ready supply of soil.
The C14 manor house complex of courtyard form (described, with not untypical TV hyperbole, as a 'palace' by TimeTeam) was demolished and replaced by the late C15 brick Old Groby Hall on a slightly different site, although may have been a gatehouse for an outer court of this house.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:48

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