Motte and Bailey Castle

Ellesmere Castle is a good example of an ‘motte and bailey’ type castle: the earliest type of earth and timber castles constructed by the Norman aristocracy after the Conquest of 1066. The ‘motte’, or castle mound, is a large circular earthwork, the top of which is now occupied by the bowling green. Originally, this is likely to have been higher and occupied by a large timber tower or ‘donjon’. This would have provided both a strong point and look-out post across the surrounding landscape and also the main domestic accommodation for the castle’s lord.

The castles ‘bailey’ is a roughly rectangular fortified enclosure which occupies the high ground immediately to the east of the motte. It would have been occupied by kitchen, stables and other lower status accommodation and ancillary buildings. There has been some suggestions that the St. Mary’s church may have been built within the second, larger bailey of the west side of the motte, although this has long since been engulfed by the town and has yet to be proven archaeologically.

The castle is understood to have been built by Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, soon after 1086. Roger was one of the foremost Norman lords and a trusted lieutenant of William the Conqueror. However, his son Robert de Bellême rebelled against Henry I in 1101, after which the Crown confiscated his lands and castles, including Ellesmere. Henry continued to hold the castle until 1138 to William Peverel of Dover. In 1174 it was granted to a Welsh prince, Dafydd ab Owain, upon his marriage to Henry II’s sister, Emma. During the early and mid-13th century it passed in and out of royal control until it was granted to Hamo le Strange in 1263. It was then held by the le Strange’s, one of the foremost land owning families in northern Shropshire, until it passed by descent to the Stanleys, the Earls of Derby. It is not known when the castle was abounded but few, if any buildings, survived when the antiquarian John Leland visited in the 16th century, and the top of the motte has been in use as a bowling green since the 18th century.”