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Internet – Archaeology Data Services [University of York]


Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250: Whitehouse Camp

Place name:

Michaelchurch Escley


1050 - 1250


This summary concerning Whitehouse Camp 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.


WHITEHOUSE CAMP - Grid: SO 29572 35684




The earthwork at Whitehouse Camp is inaccessible by road, situated as it is, high on a ridge above the River Monnow and the Escley Brook. It is reached by turning west at Vowchurch, which is located on the B4347 Ewyas Harold to Dorstone road, towards Michaelchurch Escley. The site is on top of the mountain to the north-east of the village.


The earthwork at Whitehouse Camp is situated on the top of a ridge and consists of a low mound surmounted by a smaller mound and two sections of crescentic rampart. The upper mound is to the south, towards the higher part of the hill and takes the form of a rectangular earthwork which has evidence of masonry. The first photograph shows the north-west view of the site where the hollowed out mound takes the form of two crescentic banks on the edge of a heightened platform (Vol. 2. plate 265). The second photograph shows the south-east side; the trees are on top of the rectangular mound (Vol. 2. plate 266). There are no outer earthworks and nothing to offer any serious form of defence at the site; therefore, judging from the present remains, the site is unlikely to have had a military function. It is impossible to estimate how much of the site may have been lost but judging from the size of the present footprint for the platform it can’t have been anything more than a small lookout. The rectangular mound probably held a small building, raised above an enclosed court.

Topographic survey: (Survey 53)

The rectangular mound is at most 1.96m high having a top surface area of 64.35m². The mound would appear to have a very stony fill consistent with a fallen building. The two crescentic ramparts are joined to the base of the upper mound and follow both the east and west rims of the mound base, towards the north where they terminate leaving a gap of about 12m. Between the ramparts and the oblong mound is an enclosed area of about 293.771m².

Strategic position:

The site shows no sign of any natural defence other than its height above the surrounding valleys. A track-way to the south takes the form of a greenway and there is every reason to suspect that it may have Roman origins or earlier as it seems to respect two barrows a little to the north-east. Whatever the period, the track could have a bearing on the placement of the earthwork.

Documentary evidence

Modern reference: HWCM166

Kay visited the site in 1952 and produced a sketch plan of the site (Vol. 2. figure 120). Although accurate in most respects the map does not show just how small the entire site is, less than 20m². The cottage ruins have disappeared and the map shows a larger change of slope around the entire site which could signify a defensive bank, but no evidence survives today to examine. The photograph, (Vol. 2. plate 265) shows no change of slope where Kay recorded one.

Shoesmith suggested that the site was a miniature motte and bailey but was more inclined to see it as a defended homestead (1996. 180).

Additional references:

VCH 1908. 230.

RCHME 1931. 52.

King 1983. 212.

Interpretation: Camp Fortified-site (Late)

The interpretation of the site, based on actual remains, survey and location is that the low mound represents a fortified-site of late construction date, probably associated with land tenure, held for part of a knight’s fee. The dating relies on the shape of the mound, the large surface area of the top, the lack of bailey and the lack of defence.


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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