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Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250: Cusop Castle

Place name:



1050 - 1250


This summary concerning Cusop Castle 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.


CUSOP CASTLE - Grid: SO 33922 41393




Cusop earthwork is located about 1km south-east of the town of Hay on Wye and is signposted from the B4348. On leaving Hay, towards Dorstone, a turning right is taken through the village of Cusop followed by a second turning left. The road takes a sharp turn in front of a house which is built in the ditch of the earthwork. Following this road to a dead end, the castle is on the right. As can be seen from the inset map the site lies on the border of the research area.


The appearance of the site is at first unimpressive because it is largely flat and the features are well rounded (Vol. 2. plate 81). On closer inspection, however, a rather unusual site reveals itself. In the photograph, to the left of the horse can be seen a raised platform which appears to slope off to the right. The platform is actually fairly level; it is the foreground that slopes to the left. This is where the present access path leads to the top, and there is every reason to suspect that this was the original entrance way; the road having led to this spot from the circuit of the ditch. In the foreground, in front of the nettles and leading to the left, is a slight bank which follows the edge of the platform. This bank probably marks the remains of a defensive perimeter. Within the earthwork are some depressions that mark probable buildings. The far rise marks the edge of a large structure, possibly a hall. The aerial photograph shows the layout of the site quite well (Vol. 2. plate 82). The Hall is located towards the top of the earthwork with the dark curved line forming both the edge of the structure and the tapered entrance ramp. The other side of the building is visible from the ground as a slight rise. The bailey is located at the bottom of the earthwork and it is possible to see the defensive bank along the left and bottom edge. On top of the bailey are various rectilinear structures as well as a track-way. The side towards the top of the picture is raised some height above a ditch and bank. The bank then falls off quite steeply to a stream. The photograph shows the depth of the bank and ditch on this side (Vol. 2. plate 83).

Topographic survey: (Survey 11)

The site of Cusop has a very large oblong mound which is situated to the south of the bailey and raised above it by around 0.5m. The mound has a large surface area of 978.028m² and contains 173

traces of masonry which is possibly the reason for its existence: not a motte but a mound of tumble from a former building. This theory is supported by the fact that the two sides facing towards the bailey are linear suggesting walls rather than a motte base.

Strategic position:

The site has good natural defences being high on the edge of a steep sloping ridge, however, the east and north are weak points; the east actually rises above the level of the site. The raised bailey does offer some level of protection on these sides. Strategically, there appears to be no obvious reason for the location of a motte and bailey here and its position is made more problematic by two early mottes which exist near by at Hay and Mouse Castle.

Documentary record

Antiquarian reference:

There is no documentary evidence available for Cusop castle within the period of this study. The earliest mention is the 8th year of Edward II, 1315, when the manor of Cusop was held by the Clanowe family (Duncumb 1812. 286). It is interesting to note that Duncumb recorded ‘in the centre are quantities of loose stones, which are the only remains of the original mansion’ (Duncumb 1812. 286). In Robinson’s opinion the site was a structure ‘suitable for defense against a band of marauders but not capable of withstanding a siege’ (Robinson 1869. 40).

Information on the name of Cusop was offered by Trumper:

‘The name of this parish has been variously written, such as Ceushope, Caushope, Keusope, & c. but the etymology in the British language, from Ceu or’ Cau, hollow, and a second word implying a hill fully describes the situation of Cusop, it being placed in the hollow formed by mountains on the east and west sides, which unite towards the south.’

(Trumper 1889. 369).

Modern reference: HWCM1229

Additional references:

VCH 1908. 225-6.

RCHME 1931. 47.

King 1983. 204. 174

Interpretation: Possible motte and bailey/fortified-site (Late)

The present earthwork itself is of a design more suited to that of a fortified-site than a castle. This view is strengthened by the angular form of the mound and lack of any separation ditch between the mound and the bailey, although, the possibility that a motte may have been removed from the site, thereby covering the ditch during levelling operations should be considered. The matter might be resolved by geophysical survey or excavation.

The interpretation of the site, based on actual remains, topographical survey and location suggests that this site is a late construction with a function as a fortified-site probably associated with land tenure and agricultural holdings.



The material is copyright by the author, and is reproduced here from the Archaeology Data Service website of the University of York for research purposes under their terms of use


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