Barwick Earthworks - a National Monument

Barwick Earthworks - a National Monument

from The Barwicker No.44

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On 27 August 1993, I received by post a package of nine sheets of memoranda, including a map, of the Barwick earthworks known previously as 'Hall Tower Hill' and 'Wendel Hill'. On 1 April 1974, the County number was West Yorkshire 324. On 10 July 1992 the scheduling was updated and given a new National number 13299 and a new name.

On 3 October 1994, I received a telephone call from English Heritage to say the 'monument' would be visited on 27 August 1994 by Mr Keith R Miller BA (Hons), Field Monument Warden. We spent an hour together in 'The Slip' which is the ditch and rampart on the south and south-west side of Hall Tower Hill, the part in my ownership. Before leaving to visit the rest of the ancient monument, Mr Miller expressed a wish to bring a senior colleague from London to have a look at what he himself had seen.

This second visit took place on 3 December 1994. Again we spent an hour together in 'The Slip'. I was amazed to hear that the outer ditch and rampart round Hall Tower Hill and Wendel Hill go back in time to 600-200BC. When I asked if any excavation might be carried out to see if anything could be found, the answer was a definite 'No!'. With new technology they would soon be able to see what was below the surface without damaging anything.

Again I asked, "What about buildings?". In addition to planning permission you need English Heritage consent and a qualified archaeologist has to be present when any digging is done. Whatever is covered by a building is safe from further damage. The same applies to paths and roadways; perhaps the time is not too distant when all will be revealed.

The correspondence of August 1993 has been sent to the owners or occupiers of part or all of the site. It describes the latest action under 'The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, as amended', with respect to the Barwick earthworks. The provisions of the Act are now administered by English Heritage which is currently reviewing all known sites and monuments so that those which are of national importance can be considered for statutary protection. The Barwick earthworks have been reviewed and the scheduling under the Act has been confirmed. The monument remains protected under the Act and it has been assigned a National Monument number rather than a Yorkshire number. Its importance as a monument has therefore been enhanced. The name of the monument has been changed from 'Hall Tower Hill and Wendel Hill, Barwick in Elmet' to 'Barwick in Elmet large univallate hillfort and motte and bailey castle'. A univallate hillfort has a single defensive ring of bank and ditch.

The correspondence includes a 'Guide for owners and occupiers of scheduled monuments' which covers the main provisions of the Act. This requires them to submit applications to the Secretary of State for National Heritage for consent to carry out work which will have the effect of demolishing, destroying, damaging, removing, repairing, altering, adding to, flooding or tipping material onto the monument. The duties under the Act are detailed for those responsible for archaeological excavations, farming, gardening, public health and planning. The owners or occupiers are not required to carry out additional maintenance of the monument or to give public access but locally based Field Monument Wardens will, with permission, visit the site and give advice on management of the monument. It is an offence for anyone to use a metal detector on the monument without the permission of English Heritage and a more serious offence for anyone to remove from the monument any object found by a metal detector.

The correspondence also includes a much more detailed description of the monument than that given in the previous scheduling and also an assessment of the importance of the site, both given in full below. See the plan of the site made in the first decade of this century.


"Barwick in Elmet lies between the rivers Wharfe and Aire, north of the Aire's confluence with the River Calder. The monument comprises two areas which include the remains of a large Iron Age univallate hillfort and a twelfth century motte and bailey castle."

"The Iron Age hillfort enclosed the top of two adjacent hills, Wendel Hill and Hall Tower Hill. The motte and bailey castle, though lying inside the hillfort, occupied Hall Tower Hill only. The substantial remains of the bank and ditch that enclosed the hillfort survive in a well-preserved state round Wendel Hill, where it measures up to 4.5m from base to summit, and also to the south-west of the motte on Hall Tower Hill, though here it was modified in the twelfth century to form part of the medieval defences. In addition, the south circuit of this bank and ditch, where it circled round the south side of Hall Tower Hill, and proceeded north-east to form the circuit round Wendel Hill, was found when houses were built next to the motte in the 1960s. The remains of a massive inturned entrance are visible in the northern circuit, on the north-west side of Wendel Hill, and much of the interior of the hillfort is preserved in the open areas behind the houses and premises along The Boyle. Here the remains of a variety of associated features will survive below ground and will include such features as the post-holes and trenches of buildings, storage pits and hearths, and a variety of small finds indicative of the occupations of people living within the hillfort. Coins dating to the second century BC and first century AD have already been recovered."

"The motte and bailey castle was built at the southern end of the hillfort and comprised the motte, which stands c.15m high and is surrounded by a deep ditch c.15m wide, and the bailey which extended to the north and east. The east side of the bailey, which originally extended beyond the limits of the earlier hillfort, has largely been built over by urban development within Barwick in Elmet, but sufficient remains to contain ample buried evidence of the domestic and garrison buildings that formerly occupied it. When the motte was built it would have been crowned by a timber tower and palisade, but there is as yet no evidence that this was ever replaced in stone."

"The castle was built by the de Lacy family, who held the Honour of Pontefract throughout most of the Middle Ages, and was the administrative centre of the northern part of the Honour; a role it took over from the ringwork castle at Kippax. The de Lacys also held the motte and bailey castle at Almondbury which, coincidentally, was also built inside a hillfort. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. They include all modern walling and fencing, the surfaces of the paths, drives and yards, the buildings of the three houses on Elmwood Lane, the buildings of Wendel House and the buildings belonging to Shinn Brothers, all garden features such as greenhouses and sheds, and the farm buildings associated with Bank Cottage. The ground beneath these features is, however, included."


"Large univallate hillforts are enclosures defined by a single line of earthworks located on or near the tops of hills. The scale and function of the earthworks, which may comprise a rampart, a ditch and a counterscarp bank, is massive and assumed to be defensive though large univallate hillforts may have been built on the sites of earlier non-defensive enclosures such as slight univallate hillforts. In area large univallate hillforts vary between 1 and 10 hectares. Most large univallate hillforts were built between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, though a small number were built as early as the sixth century BC. Between 50 and 100 examples are recorded nationally, most occurring in southern England with a smaller number being located in central and western England and a very few being found in West and North Yorkshire. Common features of large univallate hillforts include one or two inturned entrances, internal quarry scoops or ditches, guardrooms and approach roads, while the interiors of large univallate hillforts reveal a high density of structural features such as roads, roundhouses, raised granaries, pits, drains and fencelines. These reflect the high status and permanent occupation of large univallate hillforts whose massive defences are also thought to have provided a deliberate reminder of the power of the inhabitants. Large univallate hillforts therefore provide an important commentary on the nature of settlement and social organisation in the Iron Age and are one of the rarer classes of monument belonging to the period. All examples with surviving archaeological deposits are considered to be of national importance."

"Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications of a type introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and stone or timber tower and adjoined by an embanked enclosure, the bailey, which contained additional buildings. Motte and bailey castles had several functions. They were strongholds, acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, were often aristocratic residences and were the centres of local and royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside they generally occupied strategic positions, dominating their immediate locality. Over 600 are recorded nationally, with examples from most regions. As such, and as one of a restricted range of early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a short time, they continued to be built from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, in some cases forming the basis of the stone castles of the later Middle Ages."

"The monument at Barwick in Elmet is a good and reasonably well-preserved example of a large univallate hillfort. It lies outside the main distribution and is one of only a small number outside Wessex whose internal area is above the middle of the scale of 1 to 10 hectares. Very little of the surviving remains have been disturbed, making it of great importance to the study of this class of hillfort. Equally important are the well-preserved remains of the motte and bailey castle."

The massive earthworks at Barwick and the continuation of the same profile alongside the River Cock to Aberford and beyond point to it being a place of importance as a large hillfort of some 15 acres. There were several hillforts in northern Britain when it was inhabited by a celtic tribe called the Brigantes. To the south-west of Barwick-in-Elmet was Almondbury, another large hillfort. To the north was Aldborough, a smaller hillfort, and further to the north was Stanwick, another large hillfort.

The late Dr Herman Ramm of York tells us something about these hillforts, set in the hills and valleys east of the Pennines. It meant that the Brigantes were divided into small groups and were more difficult to control than in southern Britain. Sir Ian Richmond in 1954 had placed Almondbury as the seat of Cartimandua, leader of the Brigantes at the time of the Roman conquest but this was shown later not to be the case and we must look elsewhere.

The Stanwick fortifications were identified by Sir Mortimer Wheeler as the fort from which Venutius, Cartimandua's former husband and successful rival, made his last stand against the Romans. It lies between the Swale and the Tees and it was well placed for north to south communications and to control the northern Brigantes. Equally it could deny control of the north to a power sited further south in the Vale of York, where logically we should expect to find Cartimandua's home base.

Herman Ramm says that if we look for a suitable hillfort in the Vale of York not too far from the later centre of Aldborough, then the stronghold of Barwick-in-Elmet is the obvious place, a large 15 acre hillfort.

Do not let us forget that this Barwick of ours was an important centre in the Ancient Kingdom of Elmet, which existed in the so-called Dark Ages between the collapse of Roman rule and the taking over of England by the Saxons.

Let us now move on to the time of the Normans in the twelfth century and what effect it had on Barwick. It was Ilbert de Lacy the Norman who erected the motte and bailey castle known as Hall Tower Hill on the southern end of the hillfort. This Ilbert de Lacy did the same works at Almonbury inside the hillfort there.

The writer and historian Wace, who was at the court of Henry II, says that the Saxons were defeated by the wonderful staff work of the Normans. He goes on to tell us that the Normans "sailed from S. Valeri with seven hundred ships less four and there were boats and skiffs to carry arms and harness and when they started the Duke placed a lantern on the mast of his ship that the other ships may follow and hold their course after it".

The Normans brought with them prefabricated timber castles and palisades with holes already bored to receive wooden pegs brought in large wood barrels, everything ready for assembly when they landed in England, so that before evening had set in they had finished a fort, which we call a motte and bailey castle.

The ditch of the motte encircled the bailey where there were stables, barns, kitchens and barracks. In Barwick, most of the bailey to the east of Hall Tower Hill has been built on and destroyed.

When we attend the maypole festival in Hall Tower Field and see all the splendour of that event, it would be well to remind ourselves of the time when the Norman invader put on a different kind of event in Hall Tower Field.

After the war in 1946 when I became the owner of the ditch and rampart on the south side of Hall Tower Field, which extends from Elmwood Lane to The Boyle, the earthworks were clear of any encroachment. It was the same with the Wendel Hill earthworks. There was no encroachment and you could walk the full length of the ditch.

Today, fifty years on in 1996, the same cannot be said, With the population increase and more housing required there has been considerable encroachment on the earthworks, so much so that in places the ditch has been damaged. Rubbish has been tipped in the ditch on the east side of Wendel Hill and part of the ditch has been filled in.

If in another fifty years the same encroachment and tipping of rubbish continues, Barwick can say goodbye to its earthworks. They will be just a line drawn on a piece of paper showing where they used to be.


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