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

Place name:

Golden Valley


1050 - 1250


This summary concerning Snodhill 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.


SNODHILL CASTLE - Grid: SO 32237 40358




Snodhill Castle is located towards the northern end of the Golden Valley on the eastern edge of the Black Mountains. It is about 2.5km south-east of Dorstone. The site is reached by travelling to Peterchurch on the B4348, Hay on Wye to Hereford road. On the northern outskirts of the village is a public house beside a lane to the west which leads to Snodhill.


The castle is on private land and it hasn’t been possible to contact the owners for permission to survey this site. Moreover, the site is very overgrown which would hinder any survey and which even makes photographing it very difficult. The description therefore is heavily reliant upon the writings of others. One of the castle’s more accessible angles can be seen in the photograph, showing the motte surmounted by the south-west tower of the gateway to the shell keep (Vol. 2. plate 237). The castle earthworks are very large covering about 4ha (Shoesmith 1996. 190).

The site was probably created by scarping a natural hill and raising the top area to create a motte, raised bailey and surrounding ditch; by estimate the motte stands at about 6m high. The inset of the plan gives some idea of the extent of the site (Vol. 2. figure 103). The masonry shell is shown as having 10 sides although today such detail is no longer obvious. The south-west gate tower and masonry, shown on the plan, and still standing. The motte itself is as noted above, very overgrown but it is possible to make out the bailey area on which it stands. There is no evidence of a ditch separating the motte from the bailey. The bailey itself is raised on a steep bank and has a surrounding masonry wall; some of the footings are still recognisable. It is reasonable to suggest that the whole site may have had a surounding ditch. An interesting feature of the castle is the masonry curtain wall that joins the shell keep by running up the motte. This feature was also observed at Longtown and at Caldicot although these were later examples with round keep towers.

Topographic survey:

No topographic survey was undertaken as it has not been possible to trace the owners. Strategic position:

The reason for the location of the castle may be the advantage of the small knoll on which it was built, offering as it would, some natural defence that could have been utilized. There is, however, no observable strategic advantage to the site and the close proximity of the large castle at Dorstone would seem to be a problem, if they were both contemporary, as documentary evidence suggests.

Documentary evidence

Primary reference:

Documentary evidence for the site may be found in Domesday but it is not conclusive. It was Robinson who first made the connection of Hugh L’ Asne with Snodhill. (1869 122). This interpretation was questioned by the Rev T.P. Powell who could find no mention of Snodhill in Domesday (1888. 288). According to Marshall ‘The interpretation is based on Wilmestune equating with Wilmastone on which Snodhill is built’ (Marshall 1938. 151). If the interpretation is right then the Db.H account suggests that Leofled held it and it had been waste. At the time of the survey it was held by Hugh L’ Asne (Thorn & Thorn 1983. 187 a,b).

Antiquarian reference:

An early visitor to Snodhill was John Leland who wrote of the castle which ‘stands in a walled park on “South Hill”: the castle which used to belong to the Chandos family is somewhat ruinous’ (Chandler 1998. 227). Another visitor, Kay, when he made his second visit to the site in 1952, made an interpretative drawing which is useful in understanding its size (Vol. 2. plate 238).

As well as his contribution on the Domesday record above, Robinson also made an interesting point concerning the name Snodhill, suggesting a derivation from the Anglo Saxon Snoed which signifies a piece of land separated from a manor, a description which could be applied to Snodhill (1869 121). Snodhill became an honour to which a number of manors scattered in other hundreds did service (Marshall 1938. 145).

Robert de Chandos was probably the first person to hold the honour of Snodhill (Robinson 1869 121). It would seem that the honour was passed down the family as Marshall made mention of a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Robert de Chandos (Lord of Snodhill) sometime between 1132-1134 which would tend to confirm the Chandos claim (1938. 149).

Robert’s son Roger was granted a license from Henry III, to hold a fair at Fownhope, within the honour of Snodhill in 1221 (Robinson 1869 121).

Modern reference: HWCM1557

Additional references:

VCH 1908. 243-245.

RCHME 1931. 212-213.

Renn 1963. 313.

Hogg and King 1963. 121

King 1983. 285.

Interpretation: Motte and bailey (Early)

The interpretation of Snodhill based on actual remains and documentary evidence would suggest that the castle was originally a motte and bailey, probably constructed early in the conquest period. This interpretation rests on the shape and size of the motte which is steep, round and high, on its raised bailey, to allow for private fortification. The angular shell-keep and curtain wall would appear to be later constructions for, although they look impressive, their rather precarious nature would suggest afterthought rather than fore-planning.



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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