Barbican Research Associates
providing an integrated post-excavation service for the archaeological community
Wigmore Castle (Herefordshire, NGR SO 408693, HSMR no 179 ) was founded shortly after the Norman Conquest and lies some 12km to the south-west of Ludlow Castle, Shropshire. The castle is strikingly located on a natural eminence. Comparatively little of the standing fabric remains and the castle has been conserved as a 'Romantic Ruin' and is open to the public.
From about 1086 the castle was held by the Mortimer family. It remained in the possession of the same family until the 15th century when it passed to Richard Duke of York and thence to the Crown.
It was taken in Guardianship by the state in 1995. In 1996 and 1998, as part of the consolidation works on the standing fabric within the Inner Bailey, Marches Archaeology were commissioned by English Heritage to excavate three areas of the castle. Two areas, one along the Southern Curtain Wall and the other in and around the East Tower were excavated. The actual excavated areas were quite small but in the case of the 1996 excavation (the Southern Curtain Wall) very deep - some 8m of deposits were removed. The third area, an undercroft, was never excavated because of roosting bats.
Marches Archaeology prepared two interim reports with specialist contributions. In 2008 Barbican Research Associates were commissioned by English Heritage to prepare a post-excavation assessment and research design for the publication of the excavation results, and subsequently were commissioned to produce the final report. This work has now been completed.
The castle was of major strategic importance as a Marcher Castle and the first line of defence from Welsh incursions. Excavation has revealed that the first castle did indeed occupy the present site (previously a matter of debate) since a series of clay dumps, either levelling or remains of a defensive bank were found associated with pottery of the later 11th century. A rare coin of William II (1087-1100) was also found, confirming early occupation of the site.
A 12th century timber building with a domestic hearth has been identified. The building and hearth were associated with good deposits of fish bone and eggshell, and the remains of cattle and game.
Periods of 'industrial' activity have also been noted; iron working associated with the earliest castle construction and with the 16th century, a period when there were repairs to the, by then, somewhat dilapidated castle; lead melting in the 14th century associated with a period of demolition and reconstruction.
There is much evidence of demolition, destruction and reconstruction. The evidence points to three phases of construction of the curtain wall. Evidence from the excavations suggests that Wigmore was not 'abandoned' in favour of Ludlow Castle in the 14th century. There also appear to have been extensive works in the 15th century, a period when the castle is traditionally seen as in decline. Further repairs also occurred in the 16th century under the aegis of the Council of the March. The castle was finally largely destroyed during the Civil War by the owners, the Harleys of Brampton Bryan, who were staunch Parliamentarians in a mainly Royalist county, to make it untenable by Royalist forces.
The small 'snapshots' of the castle afforded by the two excavations, have revealed both familiar and unfamiliar aspects of life in the castle. The dietary evidence is particularly good and demonstrates the importance of cattle as a major food source throughout the life of the castle and also highlights the use made of wild resources - game and wildfowl - and sea fish such as cod and herring. Despite the recorded existence of fishponds, remains of freshwater fish were very rare. Environmental evidence suggests that oats rather than barley were malted for use in ale making.
The pottery from the site consists mainly of cooking pots and undecorated jug sherds, although a 16th century watering pot is an unusual find and hints at gardens within the castle, a conjecture supported in part by the environmental remains. A wide variety of artefacts was recovered including a notable number of plate armour fragments and other militaria.
A number of different building materials have been found and include stone roof tile, ceramic roof tile and ridge tile, decorated floor tile, worked stone, painted window glass and painted plaster.
There is a good documentary record for the castle and for its Mortimer owners, including the infamous Earl of March, presumed regicide, lover of the dowager Queen and 'guardian' of Edward III, ultimately executed by Edward.
The publication consists of specialist chapters dealing with the history of the castle (Carol Davison-Cragoe), the stratigraphic record (Stephen J.Linnane), the pottery (Stephanie Rátkai), the ceramic and stonebuilding material (Phil Mills, Ruth Shaffrey), the portable finds (Quita Mould) the faunal remains (Richard Thomas, Stephanie Vann and Greg Campbell) and the environmental evidence (Mariangela Vitolo). There are two final discussion chapters. The first integrates all the specialist elements to paint a picture of the various building campaigns and aspects of daily life in the castle. The final chapter explores Wigmore in terms of other Marcher Lordships and Castles, and the symbolic role Wigmore might have held for the Mortimers and the House of York.
The volume has been published by the Society for Medieval Archaeology in their Monograph Series and is available from Oxbow.
Rátkai, S. (ed.) 2015. Wigmore Castle, North Herefordshire: Excavations 1996 and 1998, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph 34.
Wigmore Castle 1996. Early days in the excavation showing the exposed curtain wall looking south (CP 6: 2816005. Marches Archaeology)
Wigmore Castle 1996. Showing the depth of the excavation, looking south. (CP21:29. Marches Archaeology)
Wigmore Castle 1998. The Eastern Tower mid-excavation. (CP 4271. Marches Archaeology)
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