Guest Contribution: Survey and Investigation of Snodhill Castle
Ewyas Lacy Study Group
Snodhill Castle, Peterchurch, Herefordshire:
Archaeological, Architectural and Aerial Survey
Mark Bowden, Rebecca Lane and Fiona Small
Snodhill Castle lies in Peterchurch parish towards the north-western end of the Golden Valley in Herefordshire at SO 322 403. The castle occupies a substantial and prominent ridge between the floor of the Dore valley and the valley of the tributary Snodhill stream, with the ground dropping away on north, east and south. Rising up the valley side to the south-west is a medieval deer park (SO 33 NW 12). Also possibly associated with the castle is a moated site at The Gobbets (SO 34 SW 12) to the east. A number of other features and buildings of interest are also found in the hamlet of Snodhill, which lies to the west and south-west of the castle.
This report presents the finding of a programme of archaeological, architectural and aerial survey and investigation undertaken on the site of Snodhill Castle and its environs. This work was intended to inform the conservation of the site, currently being undertaken by the Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust with financial support from Historic England. The report is also intended to inform future research on the site.
Snodhill Castle is a substantial motte and bailey castle, probably originally constructed in the late 11th or early 12th centuries. Continued investment in the site, particularly under the Chandos family, means that the surviving remains include structures of several phases. The surrounding area includes traces of a deer park, probably laid out in the 14th century, and other elements of a designed landscape have also been more tentatively identified.
Initial construction – 11th or 12th century
The initial phase of construction at the castle saw the construction of the earthworks of the motte and bailey, making use of the natural ridge on which the castle sits. This included the creation of the motte, almost certainly with a timber tower, possibly surrounded by a palisade, on top. The inner bailey would have been laid out simultaneously, the earth ramparts crowned by a timber wall or palisade and containing timber buildings, though there is also the possibility that a substantial masonry building was constructed at this time. There may have been an intention to lay out a borough adjacent to the castle at the outset.
THE CASTLE IN ITS CONTEXT
The early castle – 11th to 13th centuries
Documented castles of the immediate post-Conquest period in this area include Clifford, Ewyas Harold and Wigmore, all of which were in existence by 1070 (Higham and Barker 1992). Pounds notes the establishment of ‘petty lordships’ around the Black Mountains, including Dorstone, Kilpeck, Ewyas Lacy, Ewyas Harold and Abergavenny, with motte-and-bailey castles in the early years after the Conquest and, despite the lack of documentary evidence, includes Snodhill in this list (1990). Snodhill Castle is well positioned defensively, being situated at the high point of a ridge with steep slopes on three sides, though the apparent exclusion of the ridge end from the defensive circuit has to be explained. It is also the case that this location, if devoid of mature trees and scrub, would be a very prominent one, especially when viewed by a traveller coming up the valley from the direction of Peterchurch.
The documented castles at Dorstone and Ewyas Harold have been mentioned above but there are also earthwork castles at Newton, Mouse Castle, The Bage, Mynydd-brith, Nant-y-bar, Urishay, Cothill, Chanstone, Monnington Court and Newcourt (Bacton). Whether or not these are all contemporary – and there is no reliable dating evidence for any of them – their origins probably all lie in the late 11th or early 12th centuries. It has been suggested on the basis of visible remains or geophysical survey that some of them, like Snodhill, had masonry buildings; these include Newton, Dorstone, Chanstone, Newcourt, Mynydd-brith and Ewyas Harold (Phillips 2006). If this is true it is possible evidence for longevity but it needs to be further tested. Not all of these castles are as well positioned defensively as Snodhill and they vary greatly in size and form; they are the creations of independent petty lords within their own landholdings, not the result of a strategic masterplan. Snodhill probably owes its position to its role as the caput of an honour more than to any strategic considerations (Pounds 1990).
The later castle – 13th to 15th centuries
The 13th century saw a reduction in the number of castles and aggrandisement of those surviving (Pounds 1990). This would certainly seem to be the case in the Golden Valley. Despite the alleged evidence for stone buildings at several sites mentioned above, most of the earthwork castles were probably abandoned at an early date. There were continuing difficulties of provisioning castles in the Marches (ibid), which may be one reason for the abandonment of several sites. For those castles that continued in use, however, there were long periods of decay and frantic episodes of re-building; shoddy workmanship was often seen (ibid). Periods of decay and re-building are certainly recorded at Snodhill in both the documentary and physical evidence. The castle was in decay in the middle of the 14th century but capable of being put in a state of defence at the beginning of the 15th, when Ewyas Harold and, perhaps more surprisingly, Dorstone were also called upon to resist the Welsh. The various styles of masonry evident in the curtain walls and towers at Snodhill, as well as the earthwork evidence for stone buildings in the bailey, all attest to several phases of construction.
CASTLE HISTORY AND OWNERS
It has been suggested that the castle was founded by William fitz Osbern shortly after the Conquest, and then passed either to Hugh de l’Asne or to Walter de Lacy. Snodhill was held at Domesday by Hugh de l’Asne but Domesday does not include an entry for the name Snodhill. Walter de Lacy has been put forward as an alternative owner on the basis of the uncertainty over the holdings of de l’Asne. By the early 12th century at least part of the area appears to have been held by Henry I, who granted it to Great Malvern Priory. In 1127 Great Malvern Priory exchanged their lands in ‘valle de Strade’, originally given to them by Henry I, for property at Hatfield, near Leominster, with Roger de Chandos. This was confirmed by a further charter under Edward III when it is described as ‘terrae de Estradel’, the two terms presumably being used interchangeably to describe the same piece of land. The Chandos family thereafter appear to have held the manor until the 15th century, passing through a series of inheritances, mostly from father to son, although the precise genealogy is uncertain.
The first direct reference to a castle at Snodhill appears to date from soon after the Chandos’ acquisition of land in the area from Great Malvern Priory. Dates for this vary through the 1130s and early 1140s. The most firm documentary evidence is dated to 1136, and this is the most frequently cited date for the first reference to the castle. In 1196 there is a reference to the castle in the Pipe Rolls as ‘Strate (cum pertineciis cum castello)’and in 1196 the ‘keeper’ of Snodhill Castle was paid 39s per annum, a relatively small sum for such a post, which possibly reflects the poverty of the honour of Snodhill.
This landholding covered a relatively large area, including Snodhill but stretching further east and south down the Golden Valley, covering the rest of Peterchurch, and adjoining parishes including Vowchurch, Preston and Madley. Snodhill Castle is associated with the early references to a castle within this landholding, but the precise justification for this is unclear.
The lands pertaining to a Roger de Chandos and his honour of ‘Snodhull’ were listed in 1242-3 in the Liber Feodorum (PRO 1923, 814). They were Fownhope (Fagehop), Turnastone (Turneston’), Wellbrook (Wirkebroc), Lyonshall (Wlmeston’), Trenant Farm (Thurlokeshop’), Urishay (Haya Wiri), Stretton (Stretton’), Credenhill (Credehulle), Kenchester (Kenecestre), Wellington (Welinton’) and a place called Wddeton’ which has not been identified. In 1353, on the death of one Roger de Chandos, the Inquisition Post Mortem noted his possession of the manor of ‘Snodhull’ including a ‘castle in ruins’ (Inquisitions Post Mortem Edward III X, 131). The manor passed to his son Thomas who in turn died in 1375. His principal manor is again referred to as ‘Snodhull’ and the castle and manor are mentioned, along with the park (Inquisitions Post Mortem Edward III XIV, 106). This is the first reference to the deer park as a distinct entity. The estate was then held by Sir John Chandos, who appears to have been the last Chandos to hold the estate. He died without heirs in 1428, and the castle was passed to the Beauchamp family via the children of his sister Margaret.
Sir John Chandos appears to have been prominent in the defence of the area against the Welsh, particularly in the revolt of Owain Glyndwr. In 1403 he was ordered to fortify the castle of ‘Snowdoun’ against the Welsh (Calendar of Close Rolls Henry IV). This was in conjunction with the refortification of a number of other sites up and down the Marches, including (in the local area) Dorstone, Ewyas Harold and Goodrich (ibid). The chapel was functioning a few years later, when Sir John Chandos made a series of grants of the land to other prominent local landowners, including the Sherriff of Herefordshire, Richard de la Mare. In these the site is referred to in the same form identifying ‘the castle, manor and lordship of Snodhull, co. Hereford, and the park, warren, mill and fishery in the water of the Dora and view of frank-pledge pertaining to the same’ (Cal Pat Rolls 1416-22, 238; Pounds 1990).
In the 15th century the castle was held briefly by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, in right of his wife Anne Beauchamp, who later gave it to King Henry VII. In 1540 John Leland described Snodhill: ‘There is a castell a mile and more benethe Dorston apon the right ripe of Dour. It is called Snothil, and ther is a parke wallyd, and a castle in it on a hill caulled Southill, and therby is undar the castle a quarrey of marble. The castle is somewhat in ruine. Ther is a Fre Chappell. This castle longyd to Chandos’ (Toulmin Smith 1964). Notable in this description are the park within which the castle stands and the ‘quarrey of marble’.
Snodhill remained in royal hands until Queen Elizabeth granted it, with other former Warwick properties, to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The castle is said to have been bombarded by Scottish troops during the Civil Wars. Robinson gives some circumstantial detail. The castle, he says, ‘suffered so severely from a bombardment by the Presbyterian army … that it is even surprising that so much of the structure has survived. Either the head-quarters of the troops or the battery from which the numerous cannon-balls found within the ruins were projected was at a place called Scotland, about two miles higher up the valley’ (1869, 155). However, there seems to be no contemporary documentary record of any such event and no reason to suppose that it took place.
By the 17th century the castle had come into the hands of the Vaughan family, but in the mid-17th century it was sold, eventually ending up in the hands of the Prosser family, who owned the site until the early 20th century. The Prosser and Powell families owned the castle and the manor until the early twentieth century. The Powell family married into the Prosser family; in 1835, the Rev Thomas Powell (1802-86), a former East India Company surgeon and rector of Dorstone (1843-86), married Clera Prosser (1811-78)
At the time of the tithe assessment of the 1840s, the castle (‘Castle Tump’), the adjoining fields to the north (‘Ten Acres under the Castle’) and west (‘The Castle Piece’) and Snodhill Court were owned by Anne Prosser and occupied by Edward Snead who may have been the farm manager for the Prossers In November 1940, nearly 1,400 acres in the parishes of Peterchurch and Dorstone were sold by auction The castle and the adjoining fields south of the road were part of Lot 16, comprising nearly 95 acres (38.4 hectares). The vendors were various members of the Powell and Prosser families. In 1986, the manorial title and the Castle were sold by auction (The Times, 2 October 1986, 5). In 2016 the castle came into the hands of a dedicated Preservation Trust.