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Dorstone: Castle, west of Mynydd-Brith

HER no. 1241, OS grid ref: SO 2805 4147

3.2km west of Dorstone village, and immediately south-west of Mynydd-Brith Farm, is an oval mound with surrounding ditch and scarped, flat enclosure, which includes farm buildings and a possible deserted medieval village (DMV). The DMV (HER 11183) includes the earthwork remains of hollow ways, building platforms and an area of medieval cultivation remains.

Description of the site today

Mynydd-Brith is located halfway between the castles of Dorstone and Mouse Castle, Cusop, on a steep north-east facing slope above the Pont-y-Weston Brook.

The castle remains comprise an oval earthen motte mound, which measures c. 31m east-west and c. 28m north-south at the base. Its steep sides rise 5m on the east side and 2.5m on the west, reaching a flat summit up to 18m in diameter. A low stone wall runs part of the way around the mound's rim; this wall is mostly modern, but it is thought to directly overlie the remnants of earlier structures.

On the north side of the motte a path has been cut into the mound material; this is probably an original access to the top. The outer edge of this path has a stone wall revetment.

Evidence of a surrounding ditch can be seen as a shallow depression c. 8m wide on the south of the motte; it is less well defined on the east and west. On the north-west, the ditch has been replaced by a gently sloping area, while to the east it has been damaged by the construction of Mynydd Brith House and its gardens. The ditch extends to the south-west as a hollow which widens at the southern boundary of the site. This probably represents the remains of a hollow way, which gave access to the motte from the nearby lane.

Foundation and history of the site

At the time of the Domesday Survey (1086), Mynydd-Brith was known as Ruuenore, which in the Herefordshire Domesday Survey is annotatedFagemeneda.  Ruuenore means "at the rough ridge" and Fagemeneda is an English/Welsh hybrid of this name meaning "variegated mountain". Mynydd-Brith is a Welsh version of this meaning and means literally "speckled mountain". (Bruce Coplestone-Crow, Herefordshire Place-Names, British Archaeological Reports British Series 214, 1989, p. 74)

In the Domesday Survey Mynydd-Brith is recorded as "1 hide. Drogo has 4 ploughs in lordship; 7 villagers and 2 smallholders with 3 ploughs. 4 slaves and a mill at 2s. A priest and a smith." No mention is made of a castle in the parish, but it is suggested that it is of early origin and can perhaps be attributed to William fitz Osbern or one of his followers in the 11th century. It probably remained in use until the 12th century and was most likely superseded by the castles at nearby Dorstone.

Survey

In the winter of 1994 a survey was undertaken by the County Archaeological Service of Hereford and Worcester on behalf of English Heritage and the landowners. A previous survey had been undertaken in 1952, and the aim of the 1994 investigation was to determine the extent of the changes that had occurred in the interim years. The results of the survey were to enable the monitoring of the monument to facilitate the implementation of a management agreement.

The survey found a number of changes that had occurred since the 1952 survey. Most notably there were a number of exposed walls visible on top of the motte, the most substantial of which enclose the top area of the motte and may well represent the remains of a shell keep.Within this wall a number of less substantial walls remain, defining interior rooms. The lower courses of these walls are mortared but the upper ones are not.

A number of changes had also occurred in the bailey. Several piles of loose stone, outcropping lengths of wall and wall faces, as well as eroded hollows and depressions, were observed, none of which was noted in the 1952 survey. The eastern boundary of the site had also shifted several metres to the west due to the extension of the adjacent garden. There was also generally more scrub and small tree growth.

It was concluded that generally the site was in a stable condition, but that control of the scrub and small trees should be monitored to avoid further erosion of the surviving features.