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Peterchurch: Urishay Castle

HER no. 598, OS grid ref: SO 3230 3756

Peterchurch is a parish some 12 miles to the west of Hereford. Urishay is almost two miles west again from Peterchurch and sits close to the top of the ridge that separates the Dore and Escley valleys.

The remains at this site consist of a distinct motte and bailey castle set in private grounds.

Description of the site today

There is a broad ditched motte, which has been much altered and on which a 17th and 18th century house is situated. The house is now ruinous.

The motte is large, approximately 50m in diameter at the base and rising 6.5m above the surrounding ditch. A small stream, which runs from west to south directly behind the farmhouse, may have once been redirected to feed the ditches.

The ditch surrounding the motte is wide and very clear. There are two causeways crossing the ditch to the west and south-east. The south-east crossing has a culvert. There are also the remains of a bridge on the north-east side of the motte. On the outer bank of the ditch is what appears to be a rampart.

The bailey, which lies to the east of the motte, has been almost totally destroyed. The land to the east of the bailey has been landscaped, and steps have been built into the side of the motte. 

Terracing and the remains of a rampart represent the outer enclosure. Within this outer enclosure stands the 12th century chapel.

Whatever fragments once remained of the castle were almost certainly incorporated into the house which now caps the mound.

History and foundation of the site

The first part of the name Urishay comes from Ulric or Urrio, who was a tenant of the estate in the 12th century under the Mortimers. The second part of the name comes from Hay (the Old English (ge)hæg) which meant a hedged enclosure in open woodland in which deer or other wild game could be trapped. (Bruce Coplestone-Crow, Herefordshire Place-Names, British Archaeological Reports British Series 214, 1989, p. 165)

The estate was held partly under the Mortimers and partly under the de la Hays of Snodhill.

The site appears to have been more of a dwelling house that had been made defensible against its turbulent neighbours rather than a castle for administration or control.