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Kilpeck Castle

HER no. 714, OS grid ref: SO 4442 3046

Kilpeck is 7 to 8 miles south-west of Hereford. The earthworks of the castle lie between the small ornate church of c. 1140 to the east and a hollow to the west. The graveyard of the nearby church is now beginning to encroach on the castle site.

Description of the site today

The earthworks consist of a motte with a base diameter of c. 50m, rising 8m to a summit 28m in diameter with a large kidney-shaped inner bailey to the east, between the castle and the settlement. The motte is completely surrounded by a ditch. 

The inner bailey has the remains of a rampart along its north and south sides. It was entered from the south-east where a gap in the rampart is flanked on one side by a small mound, perhaps once a small gatehouse.

There are two outer baileys which survive on the south and west, surrounded by either ditches or scarps. The Royal Commission for the Historical Monuments of England (Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Herefordshire, Volume I: South-West, 1931, p. 158) noted a third outer bailey to the north when it surveyed the site, but this has since been destroyed.

The outer bailey is roughly square and lies to the south. It has an outer ditch and the remains of a rampart on its north and south sides. The bailey is entered from the south-west, where there is a gap in the rampart surrounded by a small mound, which could cover the remains of a gatehouse.

On the motte summit are two fragments of a shell keep wall about 2m thick and 5m high. The shell keep is thought to be polygonal in shape and perhaps large enough to have had a wall walk. This wall would have enclosed an area c.70m-80m in diameter. A deep well has also been discovered within. The remains of two round-backed fireplace flues, of the former internal lean-to buildings, are also visible within the wall fragments.
On the west of the site a stream has been dammed by a continuation of the north bank of the western outer bailey. This was presumably intended to form a fishpond.

History of the castle

The Book of Llandaff, a 12th century compilation of Anglo-Saxon charters, indicates that south-west Herefordshire was part of the British kingdom of Ergingor Archenfield, and suggests that a church existed here as early as the 8th century. Archenfield had many connections with Celtic religion and was the centre of the work of Dubricius, a Celtic saint born at Madley in the 5th century.

1086: In the Domesday Survey Kilpeck (registered as Chipeete) was given by William the Conqueror to William fitz Norman. The castle is thought to have been built around 1090 as the administrative centre of Archenfield. According to the Domesday Survey, Kilpeck had "3 ploughs, 2 serfs and 4 oxmen and there are 57 men with 19 ploughs" (Frank and Caroline Thorn (eds.), Domesday Book 17, Herefordshire, Phillimore, 1983, 1,53). 

1134: The castle is mentioned when Hugh de Kilpeck gave its revenues to the newly-founded priory some 350m south-east of the church. Hugh also gave the nearby church of St. David and the chapel of St. Mary within the castle grounds to the Abbey of Gloucester. Hugh was probably responsible for the building of the church at Kilpeck and for the re-building of the castle some time before he died in 1169.

1200: John de Kilpeck and his heirs were granted the bailiwick (jurisdiction) of all the forests of Herefordshire in perpetuity by King John.

1204: Hugh's grandson John died young, leaving his son Hugh as heir. Due to the very young age of Hugh, William de Cantilupe, sheriff of Herefordshire, was appointed by the king to take control of the Kilpeck estate.

1209: Hugh came of age, but William de Cantilupe continued to administer the estate. Hugh did eventually take over his estate.

1211, 1212 and 1214: King John was entertained in the castle. His host was William de Cantilupe. These regular royal visits suggest that Kilpeck Castle had sufficiently luxurious accommodation by this time.

1244: Hugh died, leaving two heiresses. His eldest daughter Isobel married William Walerand and took Kilpeck as her dowry.

1259: The king granted a weekly Friday market and annual fair to Kilpeck.

1273: William Walerand had no direct heirs, and on his death Kilpeck passed to his nephew Alan de Plugenet, who owned vast estates around Hereford and who was one of the principal benefactors of the Abbey of Dore, 6km west of Kilpeck. He was also present at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.

1295-1297: Alan de Plugenet was summoned to Parliament as a Baron.

1299: Alan de Plugenet died; he was succeeded by his son Alan.

1309: Alan was granted the right to hold a weekly market at Kilpeck as well as a two-day fair twice a year.

1311: Alan Plukenet II was made a Baron at Parliament.

1325: Alan Plukenet II died without heir; his sister Joan was married to Edward de Bohun, and they inherited Kilpeck. At this time Kilpeck had a total value of £62 0s 6d - a considerable sum. Edward de Bohun granted Kilpeck to his brother-in-law, James Butler, Earl of Ormond. As the Earls of Ormond lived outside of the county the castle began to decay. The value had dropped by two-thirds when the Earl of Ormond died in 1338.

1349: The famines and Black Death of this time appear to have greatly affected the settlement that had been built up around the castle. The priory was often unable to pay its debts and was dissolved in 1428.

1467: Kilpeck remained with the Butlers until the 5th Earl was beheaded in March of this year. Kilpeck manor reverted to the Crown. King Edward IV granted it to Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, in reward for his services to the House of York.

1469: William Herbert was captured in battle at Edgecote, Banbury and beheaded for deserting King Edward. Edward restored Kilpeck to John, the 6th Earl of Ormond. John died in the Holy Land on his way to Jerusalem. He was described as the "goodliest knight and finest gentleman in Christendom".

John's brother Thomas, who was called as a Baron to the English Parliament, succeeded John. His elder daughter took Kilpeck as dower to James St. Leger.

1530s: When John Leland visited the castle he recorded that "sum ruins of the walls still stand".

1545: James St. Ledger and his wife's son, George, was lord of Kilpeck but the family terminated in heiresses.

1635-1645: Although the castle was by this time pretty much in ruins, it was still garrisoned in the Civil War, but was never attacked. The Parliamentarians, to ensure that it would never stand as the castle it had once been, slighted it at the end of the war.

17th century: Kilpeck passed to the Pyes of Saddlebow and the Mynde.

Kilpeck Castle had been built with an appreciation of the surrounding landscape. King John enjoyed the area when he hunted in Haywood Forest and it contained private gardens and ponds. Although the castle was abandoned in the 14th century, the park was still valued and mentioned as late as the middle of the 17th century. It is an excellent example of a planned medieval settlement where the village has grown up around the castle.


In 1912 the graveyard of the church of St. David was extended into part of the inner bailey of the castle. By 1982 this area was almost full and the Parochial Church Council wished to extend into an area to the north. To determine whether this extension was a threat to the remaining archaeological record a 5m wide area along the western boundary of the proposed extension was stripped to the first archaeological layer and a 1m wide trench was excavated. At least seven different periods were identified.

The first period excavated was the pre-rampart deposits; they were constant at a horizontal level and lay over the natural red-brown clay and sandstone. This layer was interpreted as pre-castle ground surface.

The 2nd period was the rampart construction, which was composed of re-deposited clay and sandstone, which appeared to have come from the digging of the ditch. No associated features - such as palisade postholes or any stone walling - were found on the rampart.

The 3rd period consisted of a layer of stones covering an area c.15m north to south, lying over the tail end of the rampart to the north. It was made up of small fragments of sandstone onto which larger sandstone blocks had been placed. It was interpreted as a stone trackway or yard. 

Period 4 was cut by eight pits and four postholes. Nearly all of these continued beyond the boundary of the excavation, and so their exact shape and function is unclear.

Period 5 included three circular postholes, all on the same alignment and of approximately the same dimensions. They contained large packing stones and had probably contained the large vertical posts of a timber building.

Period 6 contained the remnants of two stone walls, and two stone surfaces were recorded within the area of the 5m wide excavation. One wall and stone area lay against the rampart at the north end and the other wall and stone area lay against the southern end. Both walls were composed of irregular flat sandstone pieces, with occasional pieces of limestone bonded together with clay. Due to the small area excavated it is unclear whether these walls were connected. Behind the wall at the north end, the gap between it and the rampart had been filled in with roofing tiles, some of which had been glazed. The stone layer at the south end was compacted and worn, and was interpreted as the remains of a yard surface.

Period 7 was composed of a thick orange-brown silty clay that covered the walls of period 6. This layer was probably derived from the weathering of, and downwash from, the rampart since the abandonment of the castle in the 15th century.

The finds

There were only a few finds recovered. Medieval cooking pots and glazed jug fragments were recovered from periods 1-6 and suggested a date range from the 12th to the 14th/15th centuries. A number of stone roof-tiles were recovered. Part of a spur, a knife blade and an iron buckle were recovered from the stone surface of period 6, and half a large sandstone grinding stone was found on the face of the eroded rampart.