Internet – Archaeology Data Services [University of York]
Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250: Bacton
Golden Valley, Bacton
1050 - 1250
This summary concerning an earthwork at Bacton is an extract from a Doctoral thesis by Dr N Phillips, University of Sheffield (2005), entitled ‘Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng, AD 1050-1250’. This thesis is concerned with the earthwork and timber castles built in the southern March of Wales, addresses the presence of the castles and discusses their roles as weapons of conquest and structures of administrative control.
BACTON - Grid: SO 37097 33554
The earthwork of Bacton is situated approximately 800m north of Bacton church (SO 371 324), where it stands on the north-east edge of a ridge, 45m above the River Dore, which runs along the Golden Valley. To the north and south of the site lie two mountain streams which serve to delineate the boundary of the site. It can be reached from the B4347, Ewyas Harold to Dorstone road, taking the private lane to Newcourt Farm, 300m west of the river bridge.
The earthwork at Bacton has been cut into the top of a triangular spur of hill which extends east from a north-south ridge utilizing the natural slope of ground to produce a very defensive bank over 10m in height. To the south-east of the site there is a low mound defining the motte (Vol. 2. plate 28). The motte/mound itself is unusually rectangular and quite small which could imply that it may well be a fallen building and not an earthwork mound at all.
The bailey has evidence of rectangular building remains, parts of which are delineated by exposed masonry walls. The south-east edge shows evidence of a defensive bank cut into the natural surface (Vol. 2. plate 29). The western edge of the site, which is slightly below the crest of the main ridge, has been made defensive by the addition of a cross ditch and rampart about 3m in height. (Vol. 2. plate 30).
Topographic survey: (Survey 2)
The topographic survey of the site revealed that the motte/mound, which has a base area of 268.55m² is probably made up of a certain amount of tumble. Its top surface is only 82m² at a height of only 1.5m. The bailey is quite large in comparison with an enclosed surface area of 1231.979sq m.
The site is well positioned above the Golden Valley and any access route from Ewyas Harold to Dorstone and it is possible to see a considerable number of the Golden Valley sites from its vantage point. The mound is positioned on the most defensive side of the site which is suggestive of its purpose. The only weak point of the site would be from the south-west where the hill side rises but this has been adequately catered for by the addition of a ditch and rampart.
There is no known early reference to a castle at Bacton; indeed the only mention of Bacton is in Db H; Gilbert held the manor of Bacton from Roger de Lacy. Which Gilbert is not specified (Thorn and Thorn 1983. 184 a, b). A later mention was cited by Marshall of a letter by the Archbishop of Canterbury concerning the dispute between Llandaff and Hereford 1132-34 (Marshall 1938. 149-150). The letter was to a number of men in the area one of whom was entitled Roger de Bachingtona and his men of Possintone. Marshall interpreted Bachingtona as Bacton and Possintone as Poston which is on the opposite side of the Dore valley.
Modern reference: HWCM369
It was recorded early in the 20th century that the mound had a hollowed top (RCHME 1931. 20); evident elsewhere in the bailey are building platforms. Of the site itself VCH says ‘The work is curious and of little importance, nor could it ever have been of much consequence, even if well stockaded with timber or walled with stone’ (1975. p233). In Kay’s opinion Bacton was a small castle which never developed beyond wooden status (1941-47. III. 313). After a subsequent visit in 1952, Kay suggested that the form of the site could date it anywhere from the 6th century onwards, however, the mound was probably late 11th century and consequently Norman (1952. III. 407). Kay also provided a sketch of the site in 1952 (Vol. 2. plate 31) and an interpretative drawing as it may have looked (Vol. 2. plate 32).
Interpretation: Possible motte and bailey (watch-tower) (Late)
The location of the site, high above the valley, suggests that the site may have been of strategic importance as a lookout point along the Golden Valley. The size and shape of the motte would tend to suggest that it was of later construction rather than part of the early conquest as there is no inner defence for the motte, from the bailey. In all probability applied defensive measures such as palisade and timber tower would have surmounted the site as Kay’s interpretive sketch shows. The sunken nature of the motte’s centre could either be the result of illicit excavation or a possible low wall to take a building, unfortunately, it is not known if the sunken centre is an original feature, or even if the proposed building is a later construction. It is unlikely that the motte/mound could have been much higher than it is at present because there is not enough room to take a larger structure at this point of the site. The bailey shows signs of having had buildings inside its perimeter although there is no way of knowing at present if they are original or later additions. If the buildings were original then there is enough accommodation for a small garrison to be kept comfortable. Alternatively, the site could even be an enclosed farmstead, however, the ramp and ditch would tend to be over-elaborate for such a use.