Iron Age Hillfort

Barwick-in-Elmet Castle was a fortification in the village of Barwick-in-Elmet, West Yorkshire, England to the east of Leeds, between the rivers Wharfe and Aire, north of the Aire’s confluence with the River Calder. The site of the castle was originally an Iron Age hill fort, the remains of which can be seen even today, and coins dating from the first and second century BC have been discovered in the area. The Romans constructed a bulwark on the northern part of the elevated ground that is nowadays known as Wendel Hill.

The Iron Age hillfort enclosed the tops of two adjacent hills, Wendel Hill and Hall Tower Hill. The motte and bailey castle, though lying inside the hillfort, occupied Hall Tower Hill only. The substantial remains of the bank and ditch that enclosed the hillfort survive in a well-preserved state round Wendel Hill, where it measures up to 4.5m from base to summit, and also to the south-west of the motte on Hall Tower Hill, though here it was modified in the twelfth century to form part of the medieval defences. In addition, the south circuit of this bank and ditch, where it circled round the south side of Hall Tower Hill and proceeded north-east to join the circuit round Wendel Hill, was found when houses were built next to the motte in the 1960s. The remains of a massive inturned entrance are visible in the northern circuit, on the north-west side of Wendel Hill, and much of the interior of the hillfort is preserved in the open areas behind the houses and premises along The Boyle. Here the remains of a variety of associated features will survive below ground and will include such features as the post-holes and trenches of buildings, storage pits and hearths, and a variety of small finds indicative of the occupations of people living within the hillfort.

Coins dating to the second century BC and first century AD have already been recovered.

The motte and bailey castle was built at the southern end of the hillfort and comprised the motte, which stands c.15m high and is surrounded by a deep ditch c.15m wide, and the bailey which extended to the north and east. The east side of the bailey, which originally extended beyond the limits of the earlier hillfort, has largely been built over by urban development within Barwick in Elmet, but sufficient remains to contain ample buried evidence of the domestic and garrison buildings that formerly occupied it. When the motte was built it would have been crowned by a timber tower and palisade, but there is as yet no evidence that this was ever replaced in stone. The castle was built by the de Lacy family, who held the Honour of Pontefract throughout most of the Middle Ages, and was the administrative centre of the northern part of the Honour; a role it took over from the ringwork castle at Kippax. The de Lacys also held the motte and bailey castle at Almondbury which, coincidentally, was also built inside a hillfort. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. They include all modern walling and fencing, the surfaces of paths, drives and yards, the buildings of the three houses on Elmwood Lane, the buildings of Wendel House and the buildings belonging to Shin Brothers, all garden fixtures such as greenhouses and sheds, and the farm buildings associated with Bank Cottage. The ground beneath these features is, however, included.

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