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Eardisley Castle

HER no. 1073, OS grid ref: SO 3110 4910

Fifty yards west of the church there is a motte and bailey earthwork, recorded in the Domesday Survey as a domus defensibilis, a fortified house. The castle is on one of the roads into Herefordshire from Wales, and must have been very vulnerable to attack by Welsh marauders. It is also in the centre of the district in which the Barons' Wars of the 1260s were waged.

Description of the site today

The earthwork is a roughly oval moated enclosure with a motte on the south-west side. The motte is c. 35½ ft in diameter at its base and rises 14ft above the bailey, from which it is not separated by a ditch. The moat is wet and encloses an area of c. 1.25 acres. Along the west and south-west sides is an outer bank, and further west a stream appears to have been used to form an irregular outer enclosure. A second stream and bank, again on the west side, form a second enclosure.

The moat is partly infilled, and only the south-west and part of the south arm, water filled, remain. These two streams appear to be connected to the watermill. 

The mound and wet ditches are the only traces of the ancient fortress - not even fragments remain.

Foundation and history of the site

1086: Eardisley is mentioned in the Domesday Survey as being held by Robert, from Roger de Lacy. The land did not pay tax, or any customary dues, and did not lie in any Hundred. A fortified house was there. In lordship there was one plough, two slaves and one Welshman who paid three shillings.

1183: Eardisley is known as a castle as early as this year, and in 1216, at the beginning of the reign of Henry III, it is found in a list of Herefordshire Castles.

1262: The Welsh were in open rebellion and, moving towards Hereford, plundered the castles of Weobley and Eardisley.

1263: Roger de Clifford was in possession and it was here that he imprisoned the foreign Bishop of Hereford, Peter de Aquablanca.

1272: William Baskerville was licensed to hold services in the chapel. The castle was probably the chief residence of the Baskervilles in 1272. The Baskerville family had two members of great note: Sir John who, as a boy, fought for Henry V at Agincourt; and James, who was one of three Herefordshire heroes made Knights Banneret by Henry VII after the Battle of Stoke in 1487.

1403: Henry IV ordered the castle to be fortified against attacks by Owain Glyn Dwr, even though by 1374 the castle had already been ruined.

1642-6: The castle was in the possession of Sir Humphrey Baskerville, a Royalist, and in the Civil War it was burnt down to the ground with only one of the gatehouses escaping ruin. A member of the Baskerville family was living in this ruin in 1670 in comparative poverty.

The Parish Register of Eardisley contains details of the burial of Benhail Baskerville in 1684, and attached to his name is the phrase "Dominus Manerii de Erdisley" ("Master of the Manor of Eardisley"). Benhail was the last of the male line of the Baskervilles, and the remainder of the property was sold to William Barnesley, bencher of the Inner Temple. He disinherited his son for marrying below his station and the estate became the subject of litigation (details of which can be found in The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 61). The son and his wife were successful, and inscribed on their gravestone is "- at length they overcame and died conquerors".

The heir of Barnesley was a lunatic and the castle and park were sold to Dr. Pettit, by whom they were later sold to Mr Perry who in turn bequeathed them to W. Perry Herrick, Esq. of Beaumanoir, Leicestershire.

Excavation

In 1990 a salvage recording was carried out at Eardisley Castle, following a planning application to convert a barn into four dwellings. The aim of the project was to observe and record archaeological deposits revealed during groundwork.

Six sections were recorded, and artefacts were recovered from most of the layers. In total, 46 sherds of pottery were recovered, of which 39 were medieval. Other finds included tiles, fired clay, ironwork, a Roman pottery sherd and a flint flake. The Roman pottery and flint flake were determined to be residual (probably stray) finds. As well as the pottery, fired clay daub fragments were also recorded. 

The ceramic remains that were uncovered dated mainly from the medieval period, within a date range of the 12th to the 14th centuries. The dating of this pottery is interesting since none of it appears to be later than 14th century, which suggests that the castle was disused until the 17th or 18th century, and yet historical evidence indicates that the castle continued to be inhabited until this period. The layers from which the fired clay daubs were recovered may date from the 12th century, when the village of Eardisley was burnt by the Welsh.