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history : a walk through the archaeology of Castle Bytham : the castle

added 27/07/04

There is a small footbridge leading into the land around the base of the Castle (the fortifications themselves are on private land). There are about 600 Motte and Bailey castles like this one in the country; most were built with great speed soon after the Norman Conquest. The Bayeux Tapestry illustrates one being thrown up at Hastings immediately after the battle.

The motte or mound is the conspicuous feature here and is built on the tip of a natural spur. Despite the huge quantity of earth moving necessary, historical records show that these castles were often constructed in a week or less. It is known that forced labour was often used. Around the motte, to the rear of what we can see from the footbridge, lies the remains of the bailey, an enclosed area of raised ground where the lumps and bumps visible from aerial photography suggest the earth-covered remains of buildings.

The bailey seems to have contained an inner and an outer courtyard and the building would have included domestic, agriculture and service buildings such as stables, barns, brew-houses and lodgings. The entrance to the bailey is via a causeway across its enclosing ditch, and further bumps in the land surface suggest the presence of the buried remains of a gateway.

It is thought that in the first instance Norman mottes were topped by raised wooden platforms. Later these were often replaced by more permanent stone built towers. At Castle Bytham the remains suggest a four sided wall at the top of the motte surrounding a stone tower. Between the motte and bailey and no doubt protecting the causeway between the two is a further enclosed circular mound that has been interpreted as the remains of a hexagonal tower or barbican.

The area between the present water course and the castle is the area known as Castle Yard. Two causeways cross this area which is thought to have served as contained further ponds, serving both the defensive and symbolic purposes of separating the castle from the rest of the village.

The castle itself was archaeologically excavated early in the 19th century. The excavations showed the survival of stone structures below the now earth mounds and indicated at least two periods of destruction by fire - one of which no doubt related to the seige of the castle in 1221.

Motte and Bailey castles were essentially military works in the initial conquest of England after 1066 and survived for the next few hundred years as centres from which the feudal overlords of the country were able to dominate and exploit the surrounding medieval landscape. By the 14th century they were becoming increasingly outdated and those which did survive as elite residences fell into disuse and collapse as the incresaingly centralised state that characterises the late Middle Ages began to emerge.

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Heritage Lincolnshire is an independent charitable trust working to promote and enhance Lincolnshire's rich heritage for the benefit of local people and visitors.

The Trust is supported by County and District Councils, national heritage bodies and through commercial activities and sponsorship.

Acknowledgment ...

The text shown on this page has been reproduced from a booklet written by Dan Ratcliffe, from the Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire, to accompany a walk around the village of Castle Bytham which he led as part of the Midsummer Fair in June 2004.

We are grateful for their permission to reproduce the document on this website.