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

added 27/07/04


Castle Bytham lends its name to one of the most important ancient river systems in Britain for the study of very early human occupation. Evidence of a major river that flowed over 500,000 years ago was first identified in a quarry in Castle Bytham and this now extinct system is known to archaeologists as the Bytham River. Stone tools made by early humans who gathered wild foods and hunted in this river valley have been found in several places along the course of the former valley. The valley itself is no longer discernable in the present land formations having been obliterated by the ice sheets of the Anglican glaciation over 400,000 years ago.

The transition from a hunting and gathering way of life to one of settled farming is thought to have developed in this part of the country around 3500BC. The communities that developed these early agarian landscapes used pottery food vessels and grew hulled wheat, barley and flax; while sheep, cattle, goats and pigs were domesticated and exploited for protein. Little evidence of these prehistoric farmers has been located in Castle Bytham, the earliest find in the village being a Bronze Age arrowhead from around 2500-750BC. The lack of finds may be the product of the lack of a detailed survey in the area or it could be that the area remained heavily wooded until later in the prehistoric period.

By Anglo Saxon times the area is known to have become a centre of settlement. An Anglo Saxon burial (explained in more detail in later sections) was found in Castle Bytham in the 19th century while the first documentary evidence of a settlement here is from the great Domesday Book compiled (in Lincolnshire in 1085) to give King William I a full survey of the taxable holdings of the old Saxon kingdom.

The survey recorded that West Bintham (the Castle prefix was added later), was previously held by the Saxon Lord Morcar but had now been awarded largely to a new Norman Lord called Drogo. Interestingly the survey records three iron forges and seven foreigners in the village - historians have seen this as evidence that the large motte and bailey castle in the village was under construction at this time; foreigners, principally French, were often engaged in such works.

During the reign of King John the castle was leased to William de Colvile (from 1180 to 1216) who was eventually dispossessed after a power struggle between King John and the barons led to the signing of the Magna Carta. The village was then awarded to William de Fortibus who had backed the tyrannical king.

With the death of John in 1216 the new King Henry III ordered the return of the property to its previous owner. Fortibus resisted this and is recorded as having used the Castle at Bytham as a power base from which to dominate the surrounding settlements and countryside. The king eventually marched an army to Bytham in 1221 and laid the Castle to siege with engines of war for up to two weeks before overrunning its defences and employing miners to weaken its defences and pull down its keep. Restored to the Castle the Colviles rebuilt the castle and were in residence at Bytham until 1369.

The Castles last known occupant was Lady Alice Basset (grandmother of Henry V) who lived in the village during the late 15th century. It seems to have fallen into ruin some time in the 15th century, most likely used as a quarry to provide stone for the village as it recovered from the horrors of the Black Death.


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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.