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Richard's Castle

HER no. 1661, OS grid ref: SO 4830 7020

"Richard's Castle standeth on the top of a very rocky hill, well wooded. The keep, the walls and the tower yet stand but are going to ruin." (John Leland,Itinerary, c. 1538)

The castle can be found on top of a high hill to the north-east of the modern village of Richards Castle. It is situated next to the 12th century church of St. Bartholomew. From this height the castle had commanding views over the valley to the south.

Description of the site today

Richards Castle parish straddles the Shropshire/Herefordshire border. 

The castle's earthworks consist of a very strong motte and bailey, both surrounded by a continuous deep ditch.

The motte, on the west side of the site, is 55m in diameter at its base and has a top measuring 14m across. The top of the motte is 27m above a ditch on the west; elsewhere the ditch between the motte and bailey has been filled in.
 
The kidney-shaped bailey measures 85m north-east - south-west by 60m north-west - south-east, and would once have had a perimeter wall. Fragments of this wall survive up to 5m above the ground; some of these fragments have been covered in debris to form a rampart.

There are traces of several D-shaped towers around the perimeter and one rectangular tower, which was probably residential and attached to the hall. The entry to the bailey was in the south-east side, represented by a fragment of the gatehouse which survives on the south side. The ditch was crossed by means of a causeway. 

On the north-east corner of the bailey are traces of an outer embankment, curtain wall and ditch, which lead away from the bailey. It is thought that these may have once surrounded the church and the village, which grew up around the castle. Defences can be recognised to the north of Church House as a steep scarp slope. This falls 5m level with Farm Lane, which runs 120m around the northern edge of the site.

Foundation and history of the site

1052: Richard's Castle is thought to take its name from Richard, son of Scrob or Scrope, a Norman favourite of Edward the Confessor. Richard, son of Scrob, had settled in Herefordshire by 1052. It is thought that he laid the first foundations for his castle around this time, which would make Richard's Castle one of only four pre-Conquest castles in England.

1086: Richard's Castle was first mentioned in the Domesday Survey under the name of Aureton (modern day Orleton). Even though it was in another Hundred, the church of Orleton is only two miles south of Richard's Castle. 

Richard, son of Scrob left his castle and lands to his son Osbern fitz Richard, who held them at the time of the Domesday Survey.

c. 1200: The importance of the castle increased as it came into the hands of a branch of the de Mortimer family. Unfortunately, its importance as an independent Marcher Lordship began to decline as the seat of the Wigmores was only seven miles away and Richard's Castle began to become redundant.

1216: King John granted Richard's Castle a charter allowing the lord to hold a weekly market and yearly fair there. However, the proximity of Richard's Castle to Ludlow and Wigmore and its remoteness for commerce combined to make Richard's Castle less and less important as a centre of power.

1301: Hugh de Mortimer was granted the rights of common at Richard's Castle.

1364: At the death of Hugh de Mortimer Richard's Castle held 103 burgage plots, which was a good number for those days, but how many were occupied is unclear.

1380: The Talbot family holds the castle until 1380, and from this point the ownership becomes unclear.

At some point the castle was held by John Vaux, and then it formed part of the Papal Estates in England.

1537: At the Dissolution, Richard's Castle reverted to the Crown.

1545-6: Richard's Castle is granted to the Earl of Warwick, grandfather of Lady Jane Grey.

1548: On 12th October 1548 the Earl of Warwick granted a 200 year lease to William Heath, a relative of Nicholas Heath, Bishop of Worcester. William Heath did not hold it for long, as it was transferred to Richard Cornewall and then to John Bradshaw, who held it for 100 years.

1558: The lease was under Roland Bradshaw who married Mary, the daughter of Arthur Salwey, into whose family it passed. The Salwey family are the present owners of the site.

1610: Speed's map shows Richard's Castle as being in an area of parkland.

1841: The Tithe Map of this date does not show the castle but it does show the shape of the outer earthworks. There is also a large number of fishponds recorded on this map, which may have formed a possible source of revenue for the lords of the castle.

Excavations and finds

In 1962-4 excavations were carried out by Dr. Thompson from the University of London. From these excavations he was able to distinguish five periods of construction:

  1. A motte and bailey 35ft high and 70ft across which dated from c. 1050-1
  2. A 12th century octagonal tower, 50ft in diameter with walls 2ft thick. This survives to the height of the first floor.
  3. An early 13th century curtain wall and a large square residential tower on the eastern curtain wall.
  4. A late 13th century curtain wall thickened in places. The north-western side was completely rebuilt and furnished with semi-circular wall towers.
  5. In the later Middle Ages the castle became a sort of farmyard with a dovecote being inserted in one of the towers. 

Although these excavations have provided us with useful information on the foundation and subsequent periods of rebuilding of the castle, they unfortunately left many of the foundations of the walls uncovered, which resulted in the subsequent collapse of remaining structures.