Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Bishopton’s Castle Hill (NZ366209)

© Copyright HughMortimer and licensed for reuse 
under this Creative CommonsLicence.

The prominent set of earthworks known as Castle Hill, near Bishopton, a few miles west of Stockton, is one of the finest examples we have in the region of the classic Norman ‘motte and bailey’ design of fortification.

There is a 38ft high central, circular mound (or motte), surrounded by a ditch and earth bank. Around and about various earthworks may be found, providing clear evidence of a ‘bailey’, plus causeways and embankments (nice shot here). Nearby Bishopton Beck would have fed the moat, rendering the castle an island of sorts should the need ever arise.

Its origins are not known, but most probably lie in the early twelfth century. The site certainly seems to have been pressed into service during ‘The Anarchy’ of 1135-53, with Bishopton Castle being, possibly, the site chosen by Roger Conyers to defend himself against the Bishop of Durham when a dispute arose over the see. At its ‘peak’, it is likely that the fortification was little more than a timber fort – though with an elaborate outlying complex.

Local legend has it that the hill is haunted by fairies, and that every time someone tries to take soil from the site they are warned off by whispering voices. It hasn’t stopped some, though – as recently as the year 1800 the hill stood as high as 60ft, apparently.

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