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Shaftesbury Castle Hill

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Shaftesbury.
In the historic county of Dorset.
Modern Authority of Dorset.
1974 county of Dorset.
Medieval County of Dorset.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST85662284
Latitude 51.00477° Longitude -2.20574°

Shaftesbury 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.


There seems to have been a castle on Castle Green, a little west of St. Mary's. The site is also called Boltbury and is the traditional site of the old town. Castle Hill is a small steep promontory at the west end of the hill on which Shaftesbury stands. A deep artificial ditch has transformed the promontory into a triangular enclosure. There is an inner bank along all three sides. The interior is level, except for a large pit, dug much later than the rest of the earthworks. It has sometimes been suggested that the pit was caused by the removal of a free-standing tower. There is no sign of a motte and no documentary evidence of a properly constituted castle. The enclosure was trenched by E.Jervoise, 1947-9, and the following finds made, now in Shaftesbury Museum:- The remains of three tripod pitchers of C12-13. and a halfpenny of Stephen; the latter came from a trench dug in the bottom of the pit - Cobbler's Pit. From the finds the site would seem early Md., possibly C12. The earthwork is surrounded by steep natural slopes on all but its eastern side where a ditch up to 18.0m. wide and with an average depth of 2.0m. has been cut to complete the all round defence. The inner bank in this quarter varies between 13.0 and 17.0m. wide and has an average height of 1.0m. Elsewhere it is considerably weaker and fades to nothing in parts. The pit referred to is steep sided and is up to 3.0m deep. There is no visible indication of a motte, entrance or stonework. The position and nature of the fortification, the dateable material found and lack of documentary evidence suggest that this was an adulterine castle. It is under grass. (Field Investigators Comments-F1 DE 30-JAN-56) This is the site of a fortified Norman farm-house with three walls and two angle towers. It has been excavated and is now a garden. A small motte and bailey existed to the east (ST85742283) (Annotated Record Map-N.Teulon-Porter, 18.2.60). (PastScape)

Medieval fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richer and more powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic and military elements. The nature of the fortification varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers. The buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic and administrative purposes with kitchens and storage areas. Some medieval fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables, granaries and barns were located. The principal of building a fortified house dates back to the periods such as the first English Civil War when 'adulterine castles' were constructed privately without licence and to the period between the reigns of Edward I and Edward II when there were increased levels of issued licences to crenellate. Despite partial excavation, the medieval fortified house at Castle Hill survives comparatively well and will contain further archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, function, longevity, domestic arrangements, strategic significance, abandonment and overall landscape context.
The monument includes a medieval fortified house, situated on a small steep promontory of the prominent Castle Hill in Shaftesbury. The medieval fortified house survives as a triangular enclosed area defined by steep natural slopes topped with a bank up to 17m wide and 1m high on two sides and by an 18m wide and 2m deep ditch and rampart on the third. Within the interior is a central steep-sided circular depression up to 0.3m deep. Other earthworks within the interior include a low bank on the south west; a roughly rectangular mound of up to 0.3m high to the east; and several roughly rectangular platforms of varying size. The central pit also known as 'Cobbler's Pit' is thought to have marked the site of a central free-standing tower which was completely removed. Excavations by Jervoise in 1947-9 found a cut half-penny of Stephen in the bottom of the 'pit' with 12th -13th century pottery and beyond the defences to the south east the footings of several stone structures, including a circular building with rectangular chambers to the east. A human skull was found nearby. The lack of documentary evidence coupled with the dates of the finds suggest this is an adulterine castle, built without a Royal licence to crenellate during the first English Civil War between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda in 1135 - 1154. It is also known locally as 'Boltbury' and is according to tradition the site of the old town. (Scheduling Report)

After the Conquest Shaftesbury Abbey jointly held held the manor and town of Shaftesbury and this site must represent the holding of a sub-tenant, of knightly status. This site is not unusually in form from the many small mottes of the welsh marches but it is unusual in a larger town, but this may be because other such sites in larger towns have all been built over and destroyed.
No one else seems to have noticed Teulon-Porters 'small motte and bailey' which are presumably some sort of disturbed ground. A small motte of symbolic function would not be unusual for such small castles but Gatehouse suspects, in this case, this is a misidentification.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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