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Guest Contribution: Survey and Investigation of Clifford Castle

Place name:

Golden Valley




In 2018 Historic England conducted a detailed survey and investigation of Clifford Castle in the Golden Valley and its environs as part of a grant-aided project to repair and preserve the remains of the structure and inform on-going conservation of a key border castle. We are grateful for their kind permission to make a complete copy of their report available for download as a pdf file via this link on our website. We have provided edited extracts from their report below by way of introduction to the subject matter and to create key word recognition for our own website search engine. Please refer to the original full text for research purposes and references/ bibliography. The material is copyright by Historic England and their terms of use should be respected.
Ewyas Lacy Study Group





Clifford Castle, Clifford, Herefordshire:

Archaeological, Architectural and Aerial Survey

and Investigation


Mark Bowden, Rebecca Lane and Eleanor Salkeld






Clifford Castle (NRHE 104883; SO 24 NW 1) lies in Clifford Parish on the east bank of the River Wye in Herefordshire, centred at SO 244 456 (Figure 1). It is a Scheduled Monument (1001774). The castle occupies a prominent ridge alongside the river which probably gave rise to the ‘cliff’ element in the place name. The ford part of the name comes from a crossing point on the river, which is still identifiable just to the northwest of the main castle earthworks (Figure 2). The underlying geology is Lower Red Sandstone. Clifford is a large parish even though a substantial part, Hardwicke, was separated off in the 19th century. It includes the village of Clifford itself, the dispersed settlement of Priory Wood – which appears to be encroachment on common land – and several farms, including one on the site of Clifford Priory (NRHE 104909; SO 24 SE 3), a Cluniac house which was founded by Simon fitz Richard, a son of Richard fitz Pons, in c1129.

Clifford was described as a borough at Domesday (NRHE 890426; SO 24 NW 27). The precise location of the borough remains uncertain though Hal Dalwood plausibly argued that it occupied the site of the current village, immediately to the north-east of the castle (2005, 2). The parish church (NRHE 1570570; SO 24 NE 80) occupies a hilltop site away from the main settlement and the castle; it has 12th-century origins. A number of park place names in the area suggest the presence of a deer park and there is one documentary reference which confirms it but its bounds have proved elusive. The motte-and-bailey at Old Castleton (NRHE 104842; SO 24 NE 2) is another early castle in the immediate area, though the only dating evidence is two sherds of pottery, which are thought to date to the 12th century, from a badger sett in the base of the motte (Phillips 2005, 281). This castle is in a rather similar topographical location to Clifford but it is a smaller site.

Clifford Castle has recently been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register. It is one of the four most significant sites identified by Anthony Streeten of English Heritage in the Marcher Castles Survey of 1999 and the last of those four to be subject to a repair programme. Consequently Historic England has been working with the owner to remove it from the Register. A number of building repairs to the fabric of the castle have taken place recently, with funding contributions from Historic England totalling over a quarter of a million pounds; the opportunity has been taken to instigate architectural and archaeological research (Baker 2018; Baker and Hoverd 2018; Roseveare 2017), which has also been funded by HE. The survey and investigation by Historic England reported here is also part of that effort, as an additional contribution in kind, taking the opportunity to develop understanding of this key border castle.  

Clifford is perhaps unique among English castles in that the most famous historical personage associated with it is a woman, Rosamund Clifford. Known in fable as ‘Fair Rosamund’, she was mistress to Henry II. Many romantic tales about her life and death have been told over the years, and her popularity with the Victorians in particular gave Clifford a unique allure. Many of the stories told about her life are unsubstantiated, but nonetheless persistent, not least the story of her living at the centre of a labyrinth created for her at Woodstock by Henry, where she was confronted by his jealous queen and forced to choose the method of her death.




This report presents the results of a programme of archaeological, architectural and aerial survey undertaken on the site of Clifford Castle and its environs. This work was intended to inform on-going conservation and research of the site. Clifford Castle is a substantial motte-and-bailey castle, almost certainly constructed by William Fitz Osbern between 1066-1071. The castle received further significant investment at some point in the early to mid-13th century, under either Walter Clifford II or Walter Clifford III. Although the defensive significance of the site would have been reduced after the conquest of Wales in 1295, there is some evidence that it continued in use until at least the early 15th century. The surrounding area includes significant remains associated with the castle, including the Priory. Other sites such as the deer park, borough and chapel are known from a mixture of documentary and place name evidence. Evidence of earlier settlement is also extant, including traces of several Roman forts associated with the important frontier of the River Wye.  




Foundation and the 11th and early 12th centuries

Clifford Castle was established by William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford, some time prior to 1071. The Domesday Book records that ‘Earl William built it on waste land, which Browning [Bruning] held before 1066’ (Thorn and Thorn 1983, 183). That it was built on land that had been waste indicates that the castle was a new foundation. The earlier name for the area was Llanfair-ar-y-Bryn (the church on the hill) – suggesting that the original focus of settlement in the area was further south around the church. Although the surviving church building is of 13th century and later dates it presumably represents the position of this earlier church. The name Llanfair-ar-y-Bryn was used interchangeably with that of Clifford for the parish until the 16th century (Bangor University Archives GB 222 WHC). It is likely that settlement in the area was always dispersed. Clifford is recorded in the Domesday Book as a ‘castlery’. This was a ‘well defined district’ with fees and other financial returns within the area specifically focused on maintaining the castle. Domesday specifies that ‘the castle is in the Kingdom of England and not subject to any customary dues’ (Thorn and Thorn 1983, 183).

It has been suggested that the castlery extended to the whole of the later parish of Clifford (that is the current parishes of Clifford and Hardwicke), some 10,500 acres with a number of sub-tenants holding estates in the area (Remfry 1994, 2). These are named as Roger, Gilbert, Drogo and Herbert. Remfry (1994, 2, following Marshall 1938, 153) has identified these tenants as Roger de Lacy, Gilbert Fitz Thorold, Drogo Fitz Pons and Herbert d’Aigeneux. Construction of the castle is widely attributed to the immediate post-Conquest period, that is 1066-7, as one of a series of castles built to secure the border with Wales. These castles, from Chepstow in the south to Wigmore in the north, became important places not just for defence but also as administrative centres. Shoesmith (2009, 87) places construction slightly later, in 1069-71, although it is not clear what evidence this is based on.

Earl William died in 1071 and after this date it was probably held by his son, Roger, who briefly became Earl of Hereford before forfeiting his lands after rebelling against the king in 1075. By 1086 the castle was held by Ralph de Tosny, fitz Osbern’s brother in law (Coplestone Crow 2017, 1), although the castle was in the hands of ‘Gilbert the Sherriff’, presumably the tenant Gilbert Fitz Thorold, who held it on the lord’s behalf. De Tosny had extensive lands in England and Normandy, and it is likely that he spent very little time in this country (Lewis 2004). The Domesday entry for Clifford records that by 1086 there was a ‘borough’ with 16 burgesses, 13 smallholders, 5 Welshmen, 6 male and 4 females slaves (Thorn and Thorn 1983, 183). This settlement is likely to have been established in association with the castle. There was also a mill (ibid). The castle appears to have remained with the de Tosnys into the early 12th century. Ralph de Tosny died in France in around 1102, and his holdings passed to his son, another Ralph (Lewis 2004). The second Ralph died in 1126. His son Roger succeeded to his lands, with his daughter Margaret married to Walter Fitz Richard who held land in Clifford castlery from the de Tosnys, either as part of the marriage settlement, or possibly from some years earlier (Remfry 1994, 3 quoting Clifford 1987, 18).  


Later History

[The report outlines a complex history of ownership of Clifford castle and associated lands, which were in the hands of Walter Fitz Richard (or Walter Clifford I) c1139 to 1190 who was succeeded by his son Walter Clifford II (1190 – 1221). The holdings descended in turn to his son, Walter Clifford III (1221-1268) and then to his daughter Matilda and John Giffard (1263-1299). It subsequently descended through the Despencer family and the Crown to Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March then to Richard Duke of York, before reverting again to the Crown. In 1513 the holding was granted by Henry VIII to Richard Cornewall, from whom it passed to Lord Clinton and then to a series of local landowners.]




[The report contains extensive description and discussion of the earthworks, the motte, the inner and outer bailey, the gatehouse, other landscape features including the track of the Herford, Hay and Brecon railway, the castle masonry, the landscape environs, and possible Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Medieval features.  Other specific references include Roman Forts at Clyro and Clifford; Priory Farm; Hardwicke; Old Castleton; Hardwicke Mill; Hardwicke Court and chapel; Whitney Castle; Whitney Old Court; Whitney ferry and toll bridge; The Moor estate and manor house; Moor Lodge; Nant-y-Glas-Dwr farm; Clifford deer park; Pen-y-park; Brecon, Hay and Eardisley tramway; Golden Valley Railway.]



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