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

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1050 - 1250


This summary concerning Longtown 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.


LONGTOWN CASTLE - Grid: SO 32057 29149




Longtown castle is situated in the Olchon Valley at the eastern foot of the Black Mountains. The castle stands at the northern end of the village of Longtown which can be reached from the A465 Abergavenny to Hereford road. The road to Longtown branches off the A465 to the north of Pandy.


Longtown castle is a large masonry structure which stands on a hill above the linear village of Longtown. The castle is dominated by circular masonry tower which surmounts an earthen mound. The earthen mound has an associated masonry rectangular wall enclosing a bailey. The whole of the masonry structure is further enclosed within a rectilinear earthen rampart. The masonry, round tower keep, sits on top of a large mound which is widely accepted as a motte (Vol. 2. plate 161). The second photograph shows the round tower on its mound behind its curtain wall (Vol. 2. plate 162). The gate way to the castle can be seen on the right and there are unusually no corner towers.

Topographic survey:

No survey was undertaken at this site as it was decided that the castle did not represent a motte and bailey construction.

Strategic position:

There is every probability that the larger earthen ‘playing card’ shaped enclosure is of Roman origin and Roman finds were reported in 1869 from the east bailey (Ellis 1997. 78). If the origin had been Roman then similarities could be drawn particularly between Longtown and Caerwent, although plenty of evidence exists for similar re-use such as Pevsney, London, Exeter and Winchester (Higham and Barker 1995. 58). The site itself offers little in the way of natural defence and other than as possible agricultural interest, does not appear to offer any reason for the choice of location.

Documentary evidence

Primary reference:

The first mention of Longtown castle could be 1187-1188 entries when a castle called novum castellum was built at Ewyas Lacy with Hugh de Lacy as the holder, (Pipe Roll. Ellis 1997. 67).

Modern record: HWCM 1036

It is generally accepted that the round keep is a later development in castle design. Its use was first experimented with in East Anglia during Stephen’s reign but it wasn’t until the 1170s that its use became widespread (Braun 1947. 49). A date range of 1185-95 was suggested for Longtown (Renn 1961. 133). Knight referred to Richard Hartley’s work at Longtown, where he suggested that the building hadn’t started before 1200 (cited in Hillaby 1985. 223). Hillaby, however, favours an even later date of between 1215 to 1233. He suggests that the castle was the work of Walter de Lacy who was sheriff of Herefordshire between those dates. Walter was in exile in Ireland before 1213 and lost his shrievalty in 1233 (Hillaby 1985. 223). In 1233 Henry ‘Turbleville’ was in payment of custody of Ewyas (Cal Close. 1226-1240. 235).

The late date for the castle is important to establish, for Longtown has the unusual fortune of having two castles. The other is a motte and bailey type situated less than a half a mile to the south at Pont Hendre. Documentary evidence for Longtown is never separated for the two castles because the two have never been referred to separately in old documents. This research will only assign evidence after 1170 to the new castle at Longtown, the reason being the safer criterion of typological design quoted in Braun. The earlier references will be assigned to the earlier castle at Pont Hendre.

The first map (Vol. 2. figure 77) shows the layout of the site with its outer ramparts attached to the motte in 1908. There is no apparent gap between the two, on either the east or south side and the whole perimeter of the earthen rampart is surrounded by a ditch. By the 1931 plan for the RCHME, a definite break can be seen on both sides of the earthen rampart where apparently there had previously been a join to the motte. (Vol. 2. figure 78). The discrepancy may simply be a result of idiosyncrasies of the two cartographers but it may provide evidence of landscaping around the motte. It has to be said that there is something altogether unusual about the shape of the motte on which stands such a large tower. The third photograph for this site shows the eastern masonry wall at the motte joining with the earthen rampart behind it (Vol. 2. plate 163). The third map of the site shows a much more up to date interpretation (Vol. 2. figure 79). It can be seen that the curtain wall only exists on the south and east of the inner earthwork enclosure. To the west, the earthwork bank forms the defence although the Kay plan, on the next map, shows masonry along the top (Vol. 2. figure 80). It is probable that the earthwork bank around the whole site is the original feature and that the entire masonry structure is a later addition. As well as his rough plan of the site, Kay provided a sketch of his interpretation of the castle in 1225 (Vol. 2. plate 164). If his interpretation is close to the original then Longtown was a very unusual castle.

The mound on which the castle stands is recorded in the SMR as a motte but this may not be the case.


The nature of the presumed motte has much in common with Caldicot, (see above). It is very symmetrical and steep, however, this may be the result of conservation measures or landscaping at some time in the past. It is also very tight to the base of the tower which would seem a little precarious as a support for such a large and heavy structure. Therefore, it is likely that the mound was added to the base of the tower rather than the tower having been built upon it. As the round tower type is very rare before the 1170s it would mean that the entire construction is a late build.

Interpretation based on field work and documentary evidence suggests the site is a late period masonry castle with no sign of the existence of a motte.



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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