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Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250: Nant-y-Bar

Place name:



1050 - 1250


This summary concerning Nant-y-Bar 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.


NANT-Y-BAR - Grid: SO 27852 41023




The site is reached by travelling east from Hay on Wye along the B4348. After passing through Cusop a small road to the left is sign-posted Dorstone. The road is followed to the top of the hill and as it starts to drop down into the valley a sharp right turn leads back up to the site of Mynydd-brîth. After continuing past Mynydd-brîth for about 0.5km, the road reaches Nant-y-Bar farm. The earthwork is at the top of the hill (Vol. 2. plate 185); the photograph shows the earthwork from the farmyard.


Just visible to the left of the image, where the trees touch the mound, is a slight change of slope which corresponds to the outer bank of the ditch. The site consists of a low rounded mound which is completely surrounded by a ditch. Some slight evidence of an outer bank is discernable in places. The top of the mound has a pronounced raised rim and the inside surface dips into a shallow dish shape. To the east is a sloped track which crosses the ditch with a narrow causeway. The aerial photograph, (Vol. 2. plate 186) shows quite clearly the eastern causeway and the surrounding ditch. To the west is a possible triangular bailey but it would have been very small. To the north the fields are regularly ploughed which would tend to have removed any possible earthworks. Unfortunately, the topography of the site would suggest that north of the earthwork would have been the likely place for a bailey.

Topographic survey: (Survey 36)

The site at Nant-y-bar is a badly eroded hill-top mound with a slightly dished top surface area. Two sections of the rim of the mound are raised, at one point as much as 1.27m, which with the dishing would tend to suggest that a shell-keep once surrounded the top. The remains of the possible shell-keep also suggest that the height of the mound is close to original. The top enclosed surface area is quite large at 431.494m² suggestive of a space large enough to accommodate a guard out-post including watch tower, and room for mounts. The entire mound is surrounded by a ditch but apart from this there are no other defensive outworks.

Interestingly, calculations on the volume of the mound showed a surfeit of 3143.964m³ of fill, if it was assumed that the fill came from the ditch. Even accounting for the fact that the ditch has silted up, it cannot have been deep enough to provide the fill for the mound. The earth therefore, was transported to the site which would tend to suggest either that it was important, as the transportation would be very time consuming, or alternatively, the mound was already there when the Normans arrived and they merely modified it for their use. This could explain the close proximity of the two mottes at Nant-y-Bar and Mynydd-brîth. Such a pre-existing mound at the site could have been a pre-historic feature such as a cairn or a chambered tomb.

Strategic position:

The location of the site has some natural defence as the hill on which it is situated is quite steep. However, other than as viewing point, the site would appear to have no observable strategic advantages.

Documentary evidence

Modern reference: HWCM1266

The site is not mentioned in Domesday but the land on which Nant-y-bar earthwork was built lay on the northern extremity of the Castlery of Ewyas Lacy (Marshall 1938. 150). The land which was waste was held by Walter de Lacy and then his son Roger. Marshall suggests that Nant-y-bar superseded Mynydd-brîth as it would have been a much stronger position. (Marshall 1938. 150) However, it is possible that the two mottes were contemporary, with both being outstations of the castleries of Clifford and Ewyas Lacy.

Additional references:

VCH 1908. 236.

RCHME 1931. 57.

King 1983. 205.

Interpretation: Possible motte (watch-tower) fortified-site (Unknown)

The interpretation of the site as a motte would be benefited by the existence of a bailey and it is possible that a small one existed to the north-west, but heavy ploughing would have probably eradicated it and there was no sign of it during the survey. The interpretation of the site was based on actual remains, topographical survey and location. Assessment of the site is difficult because configuration and size dictate that the site is late, possibly a fortified-site, however, its position allows for the site to have been an early watch-tower. Arguing against the watch-tower interpretation is the lack of defence from outside attack, as has been noted, but then a watch-tower does not need to be defended in the same way that a residential castle would. This is a site that has very limited data all of which is potentially contradictory; consequently it cannot be dated or classified from the available data.



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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