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Kirkoswald Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Kirkoswald.
In the historic county of Cumberland.
Modern Authority of Cumbria.
1974 county of Cumbria.
Medieval County of Cumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NY55954100
Latitude 54.76216° Longitude -2.68620°

Kirkoswald 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 2 listed building protected by law*.


The standing and earthwork remains of Kirkoswald Castle, a medieval enclosure castle with a surrounding moat. The standing fabric includes the north western corner turret of the north eastern tower with small fragments of the adjoining curtain wall, great hall and north east tower. The south eastern tower survives to first floor level and part of the ground floor of the south western tower remains, though much of the south wall has fallen into the moat in recent years. The north eastern tower, the great hall, the curtain wall to the east and west and the guard chambers flanking a gateway in the western curtain wall are all represented by earthwork remains. The castle stands on a moated island, the north western corner of which has been made into a separate island by the cutting of an L shaped ditch which connects the north and west moat arms. The moat measures between 9 and 12 metres wide and is crossed by a bridge near the south eastern corner. An outer bank flanks the northern and western moat arms. (scheduling report) The square projection to the north-west may indicate the outline of a former motte and bailey layout (Renn). Remains of the castle consist of amorphous turf-covered mounds of collapsed masonry from which no coherent ground plan can be recovered. The moat is largely overgrown but is still partially water-filled. It is reasonable to assume that it is an extension of the small complex in the NW corner, where a flat-topped mound some 12m square and 1.8m high surrounded by a ditch probably represents a truncated motte. A similar inset in the moat at the SE corner is conditioned by the topography (Field Investigators Comments–F1 BHP 09-JUN-72). (PastScape)

Despite its ruinous and overgrown appearance, substantial upstanding and buried remains of Kirkoswald Castle still survive. Its location close to the Scottish border meant that it functioned as the first line of defence against attacking Scottish armies and as a focal point for English military campaigns against the Scots in the late 13th/early 14th centuries. As such it provides an insight into the constantly changing design and defensive strategies employed in medieval castles. Additionally the waterlogged parts of the moat will preserve organic remains.
The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of Kirkoswald Castle, a class of medieval castle known as an enclosure castle, together with the surrounding moat, the island created by the moat, a stone bridge near the moat's south eastern corner, and an outer bank flanking the northern and western sides of the moat. It is located on slightly rising ground a short distance south east of Kirkoswald village. A timber tower is thought to have been erected here by Ranulph Engaine in the mid-12th century. The first documentary evidence for the castle is a licence to fortify granted to Hugh de Morville in 1201. In 1314 the castle was destroyed by Robert Bruce but had been rebuilt six years later. Towards the end of the 15th century a great hall and chapel had been added and the moat dug by the then owners, the Dacre family. By the end of the 16th century the castle was reportedly in need of repair, however, such work does not appear to have been carried out for in 1604 the owner, Lord William Howard began dismantling the castle. Demolition continued for the next 30 years during which time material from Kirkoswald was sent to another Howard property, Naworth Castle, Lowther Hall, and many of the buildings in Kirkoswald village. The remaining upstanding medieval fabric is of red sandstone and includes the north western corner turret of the north eastern angle tower which still stands almost to its original three storey height and contains architectural features such as doorways and small lancet openings or windows. Small fragments of the adjoining curtain wall, great hall and north east tower also remain above ground. The south eastern angle tower survives to first floor level and contains a round-arched doorway, window and vaulted ceiling. Parts of the ground floor of the south western angle tower still survive above ground level but much of the south wall has collapsed outwards into the moat in recent years. Earthwork remains consists of the lower courses of the north eastern angle tower, the great hall with a turret on its northern side, the curtain wall on the castle's east and west sides, and guard chambers flanking a gateway in the west curtain wall. The castle sits on an irregularly-shaped island, the north west corner of which has been made into a separate island by the cutting of an 'L'-shaped ditch to conect with the north and west arms of the moat. The moat remains waterlogged in places, measures 9m-12m wide with traces of stone revetment, and is crossed by a sandstone bridge close to its south eastern corner. The original access across the moat may have been over the west arm where faint traces of a causeway are suggested. Flanking the north and west arms of the moat is an outer bank. This bank varies in width, being approximately 5m wide on the west side, however, it measures up to 17m wide in places on the north side but reduces markedly in both height and width towards the north east corner. (Scheduling Report)

Castle in ruins. Late C15 incorporating earlier buildings for the Dacre family. Large blocks of Penrith red sandstone ashlar on chamfered plinth. Remains of 3 towers and part of the hall, with other foundations below ground level, proved by excavation. 3 storey angle garderobe tower has pointed ground floor entrance and small lancet openings on 2 faces; facing stones have individual mason's marks. Inner wall has various garderobe entrances, one with chamfered lintel. Fragments remain of the adjoining hall walls. One other angle tower stands 2 storeys high with vaulted basement and first floor window, but all facing stone removed above ground level. Vaulted basement of a similar corresponding angle tower remains, but no walls are visible above ground. Encircling moat is early C16 and is complete. Building abandoned in late C16 and demolition began in 1604, with materials taken to Naworth Castle and other stone finding its way into many buildings in Kirkoswald. (Listed Building Report)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1201 March 10 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).


Greatly expanded c 1485, with a deep ditch being added and the residential apartments being totally remodelled. Abandoned after Rising of the North and it was dismantled between 1610 and 1688.
The reference to a motte here are not strong and may represent later features. A Norman castle could have been at the Kirkoswald moated site, nearer the church. Hugh de Morville received a licence to crenellate his manor house here in 1201 and this may have been at this site or the 'moat', in which case the form of the 'moat' may have been altered at that date. The castle is recorded as being destroyed by the Scots in 1314 and if the earlier castle site was at the moat then a new castle was built on a new site leaving the old site free for church use.
(N.B. It is the strong suspicion of Gatehouse that the licence to crenellate was for a house on the moat site but pending stronger physical evidence it is attribute it to an earlier house on this site as is usually done by most authorities.)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:29

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