(Taken from English Heritage's Archaeological Investigation Report Series A1/14/2002)
The place-name, Wigmore, is of some interest. The second element is relatively common, occurring in approximately 100 names in England; it is derived from the Old English "mor", which is understood to mean "low-lying marshy ground". However, the first element (OE word "wicga") is more noteworthy since, when combined with the second element, it may indicate a specialised term for an unstable marsh in which "blister" bogs appear and disappear. Wigmore is therefore aptly named since to the east of the castle is Wigmore Moor, a remnant of a once more extensive glacial lake that covered much of the low-lying ground and where the geology is of alluvium. Small tributary streams issue from the moor, some of which have been canalised, and flow north to the river Teme. Aside from the streams, ditched field boundaries assist in drainage. However, despite the best efforts of agricultural improvers, the moor still floods after periods of heavy rain. The moor would therefore have presented an evocative picture with pockets of water appearing and disappearing as well as more extensive sheets of water, and would have been a striking image as the castle was approached, or indeed when viewed from the castle with the abbey on a promontory at the edge of the moor.
Militarily, the castle's strategic importance may not be readily apparent; however, since it lies almost centrally between the rivers Teme and Lugg, c. 4km to the north and south respectively, it would have commanded the wide area between the two.
Hugh de Mortimer founded Wigmore Abbey, in the neighbouring parish of Leintwardine, in 1179. The abbey, an Augustinian house of Victorine canons, was initially established at Shobdon, but moved to Aymestrey, then to Wigmore, then to Byton and then back to Shobdon before finally settling at Adforton on the northern edge of Wigmore Moor. The construction of the abbey was aided by other grants from local landowners, including Brian de Brampton, who granted materials for the work from his woods and quarries. The monastic church, like the church at Wigmore, was dedicated to St. James and, as principal patrons to the abbey, the Mortimers were invariably buried here.
The small market town of Wigmore appears to have prospered during the 13th and early 14th centuries. In 1304 there were 102 tenants who held 140 and 1/4 burgages. There was a weekly market and a fair, which was held on the feast of St. Andrew (30th November). These events were probably held below the church. The importance of Wigmore as a trading centre was undoubtedly influenced by its lord and his castle, and would have attracted much local and regional business; however, its prosperity probably waned in the later 14th century when Ludlow became the principal residence of the Mortimers.
Beyond the castle and town were two deer parks. The earliest reference to a deer park at Wigmore is in 1301, and in 1304 two parks are mentioned, one named Wygemore and the other Gatelith, which can be identified with Gatley Park. The park at Wigmore was bordered by a hedge 746 perches long (c.3800m), which enclosed an area of c.83ha (an area of 200a (83 ha) was recorded in 1324 and 300a (125ha) in 1325). It held 100 deer in 1324 and lay "by the castle". Field names, such as Great Lawns, Little Lawns and The Lawns, which are recorded on the 19th century map, indicate that the park included the lower ground to the east of the castle and extended as far as the modern road between Wigmore and Adforton, and north to the parish boundary. The remainder of the park lay to the north and north-west of the castle on Wigmore Rolls and Lawns Coppice, and probably bordered the stream on the western side of the castle.
The second park was at Gatley, on the high ground to the north-east of Leinthall Earls. It was similar in size to Wigmore Park, covering an area of 250a (104ha) (although the area was 350a (246ha) in 1325) and held 100 deer.
Herefordshire Archaeology is grateful to English Heritage and to the contributors, G. Brown, M. Bowden and D. Parker. A full copy of the report can be obtained direct from English Heritage: contact National Monuments Record Centre, English Heritage, Kemble Drive, Swindon, SN2 2GZ or e-mail email@example.com.