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Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250: Llancillo Motte

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1050 - 1250


This summary concerning Llancillo Motte 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.


LLANCILLO - Grid: SO 36697 25539




Llancillo motte is located on private farm land belonging to Llancillo Court. It is difficult to find which explains why this excellent example of a motte and bailey castle is so little known. It is reached by taking the A465 Abergavenny to Hereford road through the village of Pandy. About 6km north of Pandy is a private road to the left which crosses the River Monnow. After the bridge is a fork and the dirt road goes to the right across fields to the railway. Under the railway is a narrow bridge and the track goes right, towards Llancillo Court and the motte.


The earthwork at Llancillo is a large motte and bailey castle situated to the west of Llancillo Court, in a very narrow side valley between two ridges. The valley opens into the larger valley of the Monnow which contains the route between Abergavenny and Hereford. Photograph 1 shows the position of the motte and some of its associated earthworks (Vol. 2. plate 125). The telephone pole to the right of the motte stands on a line of different vegetation; this marks the line of a bailey rampart. To the left of the motte is another earthwork believed to be a bridge base. The map (Vol. 2. figure 70) shows a simplified layout of the area including the bailey bank and bridge rampart mentioned above. It also shows an earthwork to the left of the plan just above the church. The earthwork is still visible as a masonry platform. The cross section through the motte shows black blobs on the rim; these mark standing masonry walls. The second map (Vol. 2. figure 70) from the late 1940s shows much more detail than the first, most of which is still visible in the field today, the only exception being the rampart to the left which has now gone. The Kay map also shows an almost complete circle of masonry on top of the motte. Most of the circle has now, however, gone. Interesting is his interpretation of an opening to the west. In the course of this research emphasis has been given to access bridges to the top of the motte. The bank marked inner rampart has been interpreted during this survey as just such a feature, the ramp being a bridge base from which to span the moat. Photograph 2 (Vol. 2. plate 126) shows the bridge base to the left of the motte. It rises gently from the south and ends abruptly with the suggestion of a curve inwards. On the motte top opposite, where Kay interpreted the opening in the shell keep, is a depression which may have taken the bridging structure. The third picture shows the south end of the ramp (Vol. 2. plate 127). The ditch which still holds water was probably a wet moat fed from the nearby stream (Vol. 2. plate 128). The masonry around the rim of the motte is quite substantial, standing a few courses high in some places and embedded well into the surface as can be seen in photographs (Vol. 2. plates 129-131). There are, however, embellishments to the shell wall such as can be seen in the relevant photograph (Vol. 2. plate 132). The masonry blocks have been rebuilt into the form of a wall. Some of the blocks are rough whereas others have been carefully carved. To the left of the prism is a block shaped in section like the end of a house. This moulding does not belong in this position. There are four more above it and many more in the enclosure wall of the nearby church. Wherever these carved stones came from must have been a prestigious building, possibly a great keep on top of the motte or a hall from one of the baileys.

The bailey has not fared nearly so well but it is possible to infer from various ground ridges and the general topography of the site that at least one bailey existed to the north and west.

Topographic survey: (Survey 23)

The motte itself towers above the surrounding fields at a maximum height of 7.37m and an average slope gradient of 66.28%. The surface area of the top is quite large at 289.906m² and as the rim still retains traces of a surrounding masonry shell-keep it is likely that this represents the original size. The base of the motte, 1117.238m², is surrounded by a ditch which also tends to suggest that the motte retains its original proportions.

Strategic position:

The location of the site seems a little unusual in that it appears to be almost hidden away, situated as it is in a side valley. The ridges to the north and west, although quite high, offer no problem for defence as they are relatively distant, however, they do restrict the view from the castle. There is no natural defence provided for the site other than secrecy and no obvious strategic advantage.

Documentary record

Modern record:

Additional references:

VCH 1908. 228.

Renn 1961. 141.

Hogg and King 1963. 97.

King 1983. 208. 227

Interpretation: Motte and Bailey (Early)

The interpretation of the site is based on actual remains, topographical survey and location. The size of the motte, and the surrounding ditch, for internal defence of the motte, would suggest that this site is one of the early construction period castles. The location, however, is not consistent with the very visible projection of power associated with the Norman offence. The masonry shell-keep also suggests a castle that had reached a state of permanence rather than an ad hoc construction associated with a volatile and possibly mobile frontier. The large surface area of the top of the motte would be suitable for a number of buildings rather than just a tower suggesting a similar purpose to the function of Dorstone and Ewyas Harold noted above. Obviously both Dorstone and Ewyas have larger surface areas but this may reflect the importance of the overlord and in the case of Dorstone, a later date construction. The only problem with this interpretation is the lack of documentary evidence describing Llancillo as a caput or administrative centre. All things considered, the visible aspect of the motte must override the subjective deficiencies allowing the site to be classified as probably early.



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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