Motte and Bailey Castle 400m South East of Bishopton
County Council (Unitary)
Darlington Borough Council
SE367367 (436678, 520897)
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Motte and bailey surrounded by extensive subsidiary earthworks, possibly built from 1143. There are also remains of a moated site. The motte stands to a height of approximately 11.8 metres above the bottom of its surrounding ditch. It is conical in shape with a near circular top measuring 12 metres north to south and 13 metres east to west. The base of the motte measures 55 metres north to south and 54 metres east to west and the ditch, 10 metres wide and 1.4 metres deep on the east side and 15 metres wide and 3.4 metres deep on the north side. The bailey on the north west measures 80 metres north east to south west and 40 metres north west to south east. Two causeways lead north and east (see attached note) from the earthwork to the modern road. No traces of masonry are to be seen. 'Roger Conyers... is referred to as having fortified his castle ...... about 1143.' Whether there was here, as seems possible, a previously existing fortress cannot be said. (1)
The site was visited by RCHME during a survey of scheduled
monuments in County Durham.
These earthworks are as described by Authorities 2 and 3. However, in addition a substantial moat lies on the east side of the site (contrary to Authority 6) crossed by the two previously recorded causeways. The moat survives up to some 70 m wide in places and is 1.5 m deep. Prominent feeder channels have tapped the Bishopton Beck and flow in to the broad moat. The precise outflow point is unclear, but may have been obscured by recent housing development. The feeder channels survive as ditches up to 2.3 m wide and 0.6 m deep. The causeways which cross the moat are no more than 1.3 m high. The west defences of the site run parallel with the Beck, and consist of a double ditch system, the outermost ditch of which would also seem to have been linked to the Beck and flooded. Within the east part of the north bailey lie the turf-covered remains of a rectangular building up to 28 m long by 9.5 m wide and surviving up to 0.4 m high. A second incomplete foundation abuts the north perimeter of this bailey standing up to 0.5 m high. (2)
'Parish of Bishopton', The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham: volume 3: Stockton and Darlington wards (1823), pp. 67-69.
The most observable matter at Bishopton is the ancient mound or stronghold in a field at the East end of the village. This mound or agger is nearly a regular cone, with a flat or truncated summit, formed of the common clay and coble-stone of the country thrown together. Its base is surrounded by a deep circular trench: a second, or outward fosse, runs at the distance of a bow-shot to the East and West, but approaches the inner ditch much nearer on the North and South, forming an irregular square; and on the South of the station flows the Bishopton beck, by means of which the trenches might be easily inundated. The site of this little stronghold is a narrow area of low plashy meadow, completely commanded by the rising ground to the North-west, occupied by the village and church. It is evident that the chief confidence of the occupants against assault or surprise, must have rested on the facility with which they could flood the trenches, a mode of defence extremely common amongst the lower order of castelets, or fortified manor-houses; and sometimes even adopted in castles of the highest class in preference to all more obvious advantages of situation. (3)
The earliest account, as well of Bishopton as of its stronghold, occurs in the Continuation of Simeon.—'There arose a feud betwixt Cumyn and Roger de Coyners, from whom he could never extort either homage or fealty, as from the other barons. Roger, therefore, in self-defence, began to fortify his house at Biscoptun for very fear of William. Cumyn made an attempt with a strong force to surprise the place, but was repulsed and obliged to retreat; and here the Bishop found a safe residence, and received the homage of such of his vassals as returned to their duty.' The words of the historian, though they imply that Conyers had a previous residence at Bishopton, certainly seem to prove that it was then first converted into a place of strength, 'Cessit ergo Rogerus ad sui munimentum, domum suam munire apud Biscoptun;' and I am strongly inclined to refer, if not the construction of the mound or agger itself, at least the formation of the trenches, to the owner's seasonable precautions on this occasion. Yet the central strength may most possibly have existed long before, and like the Capitular Seal of Durham, which bears the head of Jupiter Tonans, circumscribed with the legend of St. Oswald, may have been a Roman agger, a circular Danish fort, or a Druidical tumulus. (3)
(1) The Victoria history of the counties of England (I C Gould) 1905 Page(s)353-4
(2) Peter Topping/03-DEC-1991/RCHME: Durham SAMs Project
(3) From: 'Parish of Bishopton', The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham: volume 3: Stockton and Darlington wards (1823), pp. 67-69.
Antony Cairns, 15 December 2013
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