Summary by Claire Scales
English Bicknor Castle – a whole new history!
Work for the School’s new classrooms has uncovered a lot more of the Castle then anyone suspected was there.
We already knew that there had been a Norman castle – a round tower – with a moat. This new discovery is of a medieval tower and walls underneath the play area for Reception and Year 1. It seems the castle was redeveloped with a tower on each corner and a wall joining up the towers to give a square castle – much like the shape of Skenfrith Castle.
The curtain wall is about 2 metres wide, built of rough stone with a rubble core. The room in the tower is about 2 metres square – at this level it is just foundations but above would have been proper usable space.
None of this new discovery will be removed, the archaeologists are recording it all then it will be preserved in situ under a membrane with top soil and grass above.
Headland Archaeology will be producing the technical report in a few months, and will present the school with a non-technical summary. They are also hoping to come and give a talk to the Local History Group about Bicknor Castle next year.
CS 7August 2014
Talk by Andy Boucher
English Bicknor Castle: Medieval Discoveries
Andy Boucher, Headland Archaeology
Meeting of 12 November 2015
Little did Andy expect when he came to Bicknor School to watch over the scheduled ancient monument during building works that he would tick off an item on his bucket list – finding a castle! The known castle was listed as a Norman motte and bailey. The new classrooms were to sit over the moat at the edge of the motte. There would be no excavation, just boreholes and a pit.
The c.1880 map of Bicknor shows a circular motte (a big conical mound), the remains of a leat to the north which may have fed the moat; and an inner and outer bailey (defensive wall). The church sat within the outer bailey – a religious site within a castle is unusual, but this is possibly beginning to emerge as a pattern for the Forest. Like other rural castles in the Marches it would have been sited on a natural ridge to give good views, and above a stream. (St Briavels, as an administrative centre rather than defensive, is slightly different). Ewyas Harold in Herefordshire shows most buildings huddled against the wall, with the lord’s palace against the mound and a garden around it (which shows in the archaeology as an empty space) – was ours like this?
At the time of the Norman Conquest Britain was fragmented into lots of small earldoms. Normans were here before the Conquest, and building castles – mostly of timber, later reinforced with stone. That there was a lot of conflict is shown by the amount of weapons and metalworking evidence in the area and of course the castles themselves.
When the soil stripping commenced in 2014 they found stone – and it was obvious that this was not an old garden wall, but castle! When the school house was built here in the 19th century stone walls were found and used to backfill the moat – so this stone was what had survived that. This discovery meant excavation of the area and moving the classrooms forward - one corner still rests on a pad on the castle wall.
Lidar (see previous article) results recently available show not only a similar layout to St Briavels castle and church but – and here is the big news – our castle is not motte and bailey, but the much rarer keep and bailey: a square mound with a square keep and a square tower at each corner. The towers ended in the moat and have 6 metre thick walls. Andy’s team had found one of these towers. Interestingly, there is no trace of any timber castle preceding the stone.
Andy will publish in The Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire & Archaeological Society. A copy of 2006 report by Ivan Woodward summarising some earlier research has been kindly offered to share - just e-mail me. CS