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Somerset Historic Environment Record


Site Name: Motte and bailey castle, Montacute
SCHEDULED MONUMENT: Montacute Castle: a motte and bailey castle on St Michael's Hill [No:24014]
Civil Parish: Montacute
PRN 11302Excavation (1989), St Michael's Hill, Montacute
PRN 11303Survey (2000), St Michael's Hill, Montacute
PRN 28657Geophysical survey (2008), St Michael's Hill, Montacute
PRN 30312Watching brief (2010), St Michael's Hill, Montacute
PRN 54298Vineyard, St Michaels Hill, Montacute
PRN 54299Chapel site and tower, Montacute Castle, Montacute
Grid Ref: ST 4935 1699 (ST 41 NE)
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Image: Image of HER 54297 - WAT OAP ST4916/1/1 [SCCHER45727]. Photo by Somerset County Council
  HER 54297 - WAT OAP ST4916/1/1 [SCCHER45727]. Photo by Somerset County Council

Public access:

As far as we are aware all or part of this site is on National Trust land open to the public. (Open Access). [Information last updated on 20 December 2002]


The HER is currently being transferred to a new system. Please ask about this changed entry. {0}

Montacute castle was built on an isolated conical hill, now known as St Michaels Hill, but in Saxon times named something like Lodegaresbergh (there are a number of variants) and after the Norman Conquest Mons Actus. The hill was scarped to form an oval motte with an upper bailey on the SE and a lower bailey on a plateau encircling its lower part. The castle was the work of Robert, Count of Mortain, and was completed by 1086, in which year it was besieged during a revolt against the Conqueror. It presumably ceased to have any military importance after William, Count of Mortain gave it to his newly founded priory in the village (PRN 54294) about 1102. Leland records the castle in ruins. In 1518-19 the churchwardens of Tintinhull paid for two loads of stones from it, suggesting that the remains were still being used as a quarry. {1}

The early history of the site is possibly more complicated. Firstly, although a stone castle seems to be presumed, no doubt because of Leland's account (though this is mostly hearsay), there is very little firm evidence beyond the minor stone taking of 1518-19 and the castle may never have been more than a motte and bailey. Secondly, the earthworks are more complicated: St Michaels Hill from the OS plan has recognisably been carved into a motte or castle mound with a bailey on its ESE side and a wide terrace on the remaining sides but whether this terrace constituted a lower bailey is not certain - it could have merely been connected with viticulture (see PRN 54298). Again, from the OS plan, a bank around the base of the motte on the W side appears to be continued as a perimeter feature by terrace works within the bailey. These are incompatible with the bailey and might be more viticulture. On the other hand, these and the W bank could suggest an original ring-work, possibly pre-Norman (Leland mentions that tradition of a Saxon stronghold). The Saxon place-name could also have some relevance - its first element is thought to be a personal name and its second the OE "beorg" confused with "byrig" and "burh" and so causes some suggestion of pre-Norman defences. This suggestion is perhaps reinforced by the fact that the hill was important enough to be given an individual name There are no longer any extant masonry remains of Montacute Castle. The base of the motte is accompanied by a bank on the N and W sides. On the S and E a wide berm separates the motte from the natural slopes. {5}

An isolated conical hill, oval in plan with very steep sides. A plateau runs round the hill and forms a lower bailey. This is separated from the motte by a bank on the W and N. On the SE there is also an upper bailey several feet above the lower and defended by a steep scarp. {8}

The legend of the Invention of the Holy Cross, preserved in the C12 ms of Waltham Abbey, recounts that it was first found on St Michaels Hill after being revealed in a vision, and later conveyed to a church which became Waltham Abbey. The erection of the Norman Castle at this spot has been seen as a deliberate insult to the Saxons, whose battle-cry at Hastings had been "Holy Cross". {11}

A small excavation (PRN 11302) on the summit in 1989 found evidence for a building, thought to be the medieval chapel, and a layer of rubble with early medieval pottery, which may have been from the demolition of the castle. {13}

Terraced bailey on SE with bank atop steep scarp, cut into by later quarry Between the bailey and the motte is an upper terrace which extends slightly beyond the bailey ditches to form an entrance platform either side of the castle. Terraced tracks lead up to these platforms from the outer terrace below, and they may have supported entrance works or barbicans. Earthworks hint at more than one phase of construction (possibly originally a ring work as suggested above). A ditch running around the base of the hill is probably a contemporary part of the castle. There are hollow ways and lynchets on the slopes around, but an association with the castle is uncertain The Saxon name Lodegarsburgh may have applied to the village or the hill, but there is the tradition of a stronghold. The Norman castle is one of two recorded in the Domesday book in Somerset, the other being Dunster. Leland records that no building of the castle remained, only a chapel set over the dungeon. This chapel to St Michael is first recorded in 1102, and according to Camden was built after the castle had been demolished. In 1246 the King granted the priory an annual three-day fair 'at their chapel of St. Michael of Montacute'. The priory was dissolved in 1539 and the fair seems to have lapsed at about the same time. The stone taken by the churchwardens of Tintinhull may have come from the quarry at the foot of the bailey rather than any remaining ruin. The chapel was last recorded in 1630, and in 1760 the present folly tower on the summit was erected. {16}

Scheduled area revised with new national number 16 June 1994 (was Somerset 101). {17}

In good condition with the woodland being carefully thinned. {18}

A desk top and photographic study and a collection of historic maps of the castle and its environs was undertaken as part of MA coursework. {19}

Immediately to the SW of the hill is the deserted medieval hamlet of Lower Warren (PRN 16252) on the slopes of Ham Hill hillfort (PRN 55103). English Heritage undertook a survey of the area in 2000 (PRN 11303).

The tower is also a grade 2 listed building, see PRN 56187 for more details. {20}

In March 2010, a watching brief (PRN 30312) took place at St Michael's Hill, Montacute, during the installation of a water trough on the middle terrace at ST 49242 16972. The water trough and pipeline installation demonstrated that the middle terrace of the hill is made-up of sand and clay mixed with some stone rubble quarried from the hill and redeposited. No significant finds or features were noted in the exposed deposits during the excavation work. {22}

The March 2010 watching brief (PRN 30312) took place after a period of frost and snow and before new spring growth. The ground surface was therefore easily accessible enabling some additional records to be made:

The Inner Ward curtain wall

There are few extant masonry remains of Montacute Castle, although recent scrub clearance work has revealed large rough blocks of stone jutting from the edge of the summit, particularly on the north-west side at ST 49327 16968. Three of these blocks measured c.0.8m by 0.5m by 0.25m. The ragged and pitted nature of the summit edge indicated that the stone had been quarried for use elsewhere. It is most likely that this masonry marks the line of the demolished Norman curtain wall. The massive stone slabs retain traces of lime mortar between them and are of Ham stone which has been brought to the site. Although this is a local stone it is not a natural outcrop of St Michael's Hill.

Curtain wall - 'the Bower'

On the south-east side of the hill there is evidence that the terrace known as 'the Bower' was once a Norman bailey defined by a curtain wall. The remains of a wall follow the terrace edge and could be seen in March 2010 extending for about 40m from the south corner of the earthwork at ST 49362 16912 continuing north-east gradually becoming less visible until it was completely buried by topsoil and woodland debris at ST 49393 16931.

The wall was clearest at the Bower south corner, standing up to 0.3m above the woodland floor and overgrown with moss. The wall was built of faced rough slabs of local stone fronting a rubble stone core. Traces of the inner north-west face of the wall were buried and the full width of the wall was not determined. However, the visible remains were 0.9m-1.0m wide and therefore the full width of the wall is likely to be at least 1.2m. Such a substantial wall is likely to be medieval in date and associated with the 11th century castle

Pottery scatter from badger setts: middle terrace

During the watching brief, the opportunity was taken to walk around St Michael's Hill and look at evidence of archaeological deposits that may have been exposed by erosion and burrowing animals.

On the middle terrace, 90m south-east of the water trough site (ST 49291 16880), there is a long established badger sett covering an area roughly 20m long and 12m wide. The low vegetation enabled the spoil from fresh burrowing to be examined. Finds of pottery and bone were found to have been disturbed, particularly from the burrows along the south-west edge of the terrace. 1 small iron object was found, initially thought to be a nail but with an irregular three lobed club-shaped head 20mm wide. 6 bone fragments were found. Two were burnt and one bone joint had been sawn at an angle. 42 sherds of pottery were recovered. Most were small body sherds measuring between 3.5mm thick. The fabric was generally a dark red brown to black colour with some sherds being a more pinky light brown biscuit colour. They were of a hard fired earthenware fabric with moderate to occasional quartzite stone inclusions 0.5mm-1mm. Of these, 1 body sherd was roughly decorated with a band consisting of three scored lines. There was one base sherd and three rim fragments. Each rim had a slightly everted bead-like lip. One of these rim sherds had a distinctive band of colour changing from brick red to pinky buff colour. 2 body sherds were of a softer material and were 7-10mmn thick, mid-brown to black in colour with a fabric containing very few inclusions but with voids suggesting that the temper had been vegetation of some sort. This material may be from a later medieval use of the site but the fabric and form of the pottery would indicate that it was deposited when the castle was in use between 1066 and 1102. {23}


0 Compiler comment - Webster, CJ (Chris). Somerset Historic Environment Record (12/02/2016). Location: Verbal, electronic or direct entry, no source retained.
1 Mention - Dunning, RW (ed). Victoria History of the County of Somerset.  Vol. 3 (1974), 210 and 215.
2 Mention - Page, W. Victoria History of the County of Somerset.  Vol. 1 (1906), 515-6.
3 Mention - Smith, LT (ed). Leland's Itinerary in England and Wales.  Vol. 1 (1964), 157-8.
4 Mention - Turner, AGC. Notes on some Somerset place-names. Somerset Archaeology and Natural History.  95 (1950), 112-24 [page 120-21]
5 Detailed records - Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division record card. Record ID: ST 41 NE 7 (1975) Location: HER files under PRN 54299.
6 Mention - Aston, M and Leech, R. Historic Towns in Somerset.  (1977), 104.
7 Site visit report - Anon. Somerset County Council (16/2/1979) Location: HER files.
8 Detailed records - Various. Department of the Environment and English Heritage (1980s) Location: HER collections.
9 Aerial photographs - WAT OAP ST4916.1.1 (SCC Planning Department)
10 Mention - Page, W. Victoria History of the County of Somerset.  Vol. 2 (1911), 515-6.
11 Mention - Dunning, RW (ed). Victoria History of the County of Somerset.  Vol. 3 (1974), 212.
12 Detailed records - Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division record card. Record ID: ST 41 NE 47 (1978) Location: HER files.
13 Excavation report - Adkins, L and Adkins, R. Excavation on St Michael's Hill, Montacute. Somerset Archaeology and Natural History.  133 (1989), 125-129
14 Aerial photographs - RAF CPE/UK/2491 3251 and 3250. (11/3/1948) Location: Somerset Studies at Somerset Heritage Centre.
15 Mention - Two Cartuleries of the Augustinian Priory of Bruton and the Cluniac Priory of Montacute. Somerset Record Series  8 (1984) (page 131) Copy available in SANHS library at Somerset Heritage Centre.
16 Detailed records - Preece, A. Montacute Castle, a motte and bailey castle on St Michael's Hill.  (13/10/1993) unpublished Monuments Protection Programme report for English Heritage. Location: HER files.
17 Correspondence - English Heritage to Somerset County Council. (27/7/1994) Location: HER files.
18 Site visit report - Graham, A [Alan]. English Heritage Field Monument Warden (17/1/2000) Location: HER files.
19 Description - Prior, S. A Desktop Study and Photographic Survey of a Motte and Bailey Castle and its environs at St Micheal's Hill, Montacute, Somerset.  (1999) Unpublished MA coursework, University of Bristol. Location: HER files
20 Verbal communication - Nicholas, M [Matthew]. Somerset County Council, Heritage Service (29/08/2003). Location: Verbal, electronic or direct entry, no source retained
21 Description - Prior, SJ. Strategy, symbolism and the downright unusual: The archaeology of three Somerset castles. In Costen, M (ed). People and Places: Essays in honour of Mick Aston.  (2007) at 76-89 [specifically 82-84].
22 Description - Papworth, M. St Michael's Hill, Montacute: Report on watching Brief during the installation of new water trough with observations on remains of the Norman castle.  (2011) Location: HER files under PRN 30312.
23 Description - Papworth, M. St Michael's Hill, Montacute: Watching brief during the installation of new water trough.  (2011) Unpublished report. Location: HER files under PRN 30312. HER digital source: 29624.

Record created in December 1984

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