Ghosts (please see note on this page about tours and other visits)
The Archaeology of Dudley Castle
By John Hemingway
These notes can be no more than of an interim nature until the General Site Report is written and published. In the meantime it is intended to reveal some of the evidence that has come out of varying excavations on and around the castle.
2. The different areas of the castle
Not all of the castle has been archaeologically excavated but the parts that
have were divided up into separate areas. These were:
3. Phasing of Excavations
|I||- 1071||The period prior to the death of Earl Edwin of Mercia|
|II||1071 - 1100||Ansculf's construction of the Motte and Bailey to the death of William FitzAnsculf|
|III||1100 - 1175||Succession of Fulke Paganel and the building of the first stone castle to the sleighting of the structure in 1175|
|IV||1175 - 1262||Occupation as an undefended site to Roger de Somery's return and him being compelled to cease re-fortification|
|V||1262 - 1321||Re-fortification of the castle and building project to the death of John de Somery|
|VI||1321 - 1397||Succession of the de Sutton family as Barons of Dudley, part one|
|VII||1397 - 1533||Succession of the de Sutton family as Barons of Dudley, part two|
|VIII||1533 - 1647||Succession of John Dudley and his building the Renaissance Range to the Castles sleighting in the Civil War|
|IX||1647 - 1750||Continued domestic use to the Great Fire|
|X||1750 -||A 'Romantic ruin'|
Although there is suspicion that there was an Iron Age occupation of the hill, there has as yet been little proof of it. Most of the excavations went down to the bed rock, and no Iron Age material was revealed. This does not prove that there was no Iron Age activity, as their occupation material could have been removed at a later time.
One piece of vessel glass was excavated in the Great Chamber and Chapel (Area 7) (Linnane Strat. Vol 2, p 92).
A few brown clay layers, pits, gulleys and dry stone walls immediately overlay the natural limestone. These underlay: the Stairwell (Area 1), South-East of the bailey (Area 2), The Stables (Area 3), North-East of the Keep (Area 6), Great Chamber and Chapel (Area 7) and have been considered to be of this period. This was supported by a Carbon 14 test on a sample of charcoal, obtained from Area 2 (Linnane, West Midlands Archaeology), which revealed a circa AD 700 date. This period of occupation seems to have come to an end as a turfline developed over it (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, p 94). An object that may have come from the end of this period found near the motte was part of a brooch, very similar to one found at York (Boland, p 47).
The motte was a large mound on which the builders erected a timber tower in order to get a good view of the surrounding country. It was also used as a last defence in times of the site being attacked. The moat was a deep circular area excavated around the motte. They probably recovered a great deal of material for the motte construction from the moat.
Parts of the moat side were revealed in excavation, but not enough to allow conclusions to be reached. The motte construction seemed to consist of a circular external rampart of clean clay, with an interior filled with limestone rubble. It is probable that the original top was capped with clay, but this was removed when they built the present keep in Phase V. An interesting feature that occurred within the limestone material was a construction platform with a clay top. This may have been the foundation of a lifting mechanism to bring the limestone up when the motte was being constructed. (Linnane, Strat. p 77).
This would have been surrounded by an embankment connected to the motte, with a palisade on top of it. How far the original embankment went is presently unknown, although parts of it were revealed in Area 2 and Area 7 and consisted of grey clays and limestone rubble (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, pp 83, 95).
The date of the construction of the stone castle is unknown, but we can guess that the defences were stone by 1138 when King Stephen laid siege to the castle. This is based on the contention that if it had been a timber construction he would have easily taken it. The fact that he left Dudley without getting in has prompted the conclusion that he found it too well defended.
The original defences have only been found in Area 2 and Area 7, where a coursed limestone with a brown clay bonding and yellow mortar were found. It is possible that this wall had a white plaster coat over it. Other features were found in Area 7, including an assortment of pits, trenches, layers and foundations. These will need fuller analysis to sort them out (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, p 96).
The most obvious feature of this period is the primary phase of the Triple Gateway and the large doorway and window on the north side of the Buttery wall Area 8A). Given that this is a large doorway, it must have related to a hall, though at the moment more than this must be conjecture.
There were few features or finds recognised concerning this phase of development. The most important evidence is the disruption in the construction of the 13th century curtain wall revealed in the collapse of the construction trench and a clay and rubble fill on top of the lower foundations. At the moment it is difficult to determine whether this may be the early part of this phase or relate to the latter part.
The re-fortification of the castle after 1262 led to rebuilding virtually everywhere. The second phase of the triple gateway was constructed in this period, as was the curtain wall.
The keep was a large stone tower. The one at Dudley Castle was of an 'old fashioned' design when it was built, as the new style was to do away with the keep idea altogether. This suggests that the Rogers de Somery intended it as a status symbol so that all who could see it were reminded of who lived there.
The motte top was sliced off in this phase in order to build this stone structure and a large pit was excavated to take the foundations. Large trenches were excavated on the east side of the mound, presumably to gain access for the primary build. The foundations were then constructed up to about a metre high. It would appear that it was then recognised that the weight was not being held on the west side as a crack had appeared. Consequently the superstructure of the then build was moved to the east to accommodate this. The eastern trenches were then backfilled with red mortar and limestone rubble.
Two garderobe gulleys on the west side of the motte were also cut through the motte material. These had been originally vaulted features and were connected to the shafts constructed in the north-west tower of the keep. There were numerous backfill layers inside the structure, one of which showed a working floor with mortar splashes close to the walls; ghosts of pieces of timber scaffolding were sometimes observed in this. In the centre was what has been interpreted as a roofed working area with pieces of chipped stone signifying a mason's finishing off process. A hole in the south-east section looked as if the keep was intended to support a well, but it is unlikely that this was ever finished.
Two piers had been started in the middle of the motte material and clay and rubble had been backfilled to the ground door level. At this stage it was realised that one was in the wrong place, so a trench was dug and filled with a large block of mortared limestone in the correct position. After the ground floor was constructed a deviation occurred on the first floor as the anti-clockwise stairwell suddenly detours to a clockwise direction. Whether this was an originally planned feature is not known (Hemingway).
A new access to the Keep was built which ran along the curtain wall from the Triple Gateway and came up through a doorway in Area 3. Interestingly there was a bridge abutment on the west curtain wall in Area 6B; a pertinent question might be, were these entrances ever used together? In this area there seemed to be evidence that the internal moat was being remodelled; backfilled with with green clay, this suggested that as it was less deep it was not being considered as an important defensive feature anymore (Linnane, Strat.Vol 2, p ).
The footings of a timber post building above stone foundations lay in this area. This structure had remnants of a floor and doorway and a number of finds associated with it. As the doorway led straight into a corridor next to the east curtain wall, it has been preliminarily interpreted as a barracks or guardhouse, with access up onto the wall (Linnane,Strat. Vol 2, p 84). There is evidence it was subsequently destroyed by fire (Boland, p 33).
These features are still extant today.
This was revamped sometime in this phase by the building of a revetment wall up against the motte and the introduction of a new stairway. A new superstructure with arrow loops was added to this arrangement.
A wall was constructed around the base of the keep in this period, which has been called the chemise wall. Associated with this is the building of a postern gate through the west curtain wall, giving access to the area between the chemise and the keep. The vaulting of the gulley of the garderobes was removed and the space backfilled with green clay and brown loams, presumably at the same time as the construction of the chemise wall. This would tend to suggest that there was little intention to occupy the keep itself at this time.
A garderobe shaft was constructed in the Great Chamber, Area 7 (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, p 99).
A black loam seems to have developed in some of areas of the castle in this phase signifying an absence of new building. The exception is the construction, in the late 15th century, of the Kitchen Annex to the north of the Keep doorway. Access was via the present pathway to the Keep to a small door in its east wall. It then accessed the keep by a narrow flight of steps on its south side.
A bread oven was inserted in the west curtain wall and there was a central hearth indicating the building was of a single storey. Evidence of frequent repair suggests heavy usage at this time.
For further details, see the article "The Kitchen Annex" by Steve Linnane, originally published in Ramparts, Vol 9, No 1.
Three new partition walls were inserted into the keep at the end of this period. Two were angled across the western drum towers, whilst the third divided the eastern quarter of the keep from the west. This wall had two buttresses on the western side, suggesting a doorway had once stood here. A new floor of white plaster was laid (Linnane, Strat. Vol 3, p 35). The fireplace to one side of the south wall had new bricks and kerbs placed in it at that time.
One of the intriguing things that has only just been revealed is that the natural rock of the bailey does not appear to be level. Marches Archaeology discovered in a trench, towards the north-west side of the area, that it went down over 1.8 metres - the lowest area we have ever found in the bailey. The archaeologists did not go down any deeper than this, but loose limestone at the base had been dumped into the surrounding area from the late medieval period to the 1530's. Is this evidence that the original bailey was a split level area? (Nick Taverner, Dudley Castle & Zoo, Marches Archaeology MAS 301).
The building of a new range by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland was begun in the 1540's. It was in the Italianate Renaissance style and John employed Sir William Sharington of Laycock Abbey to design the structure. On the east side of the bailey it mostly survives. There are exceptions however; in Area 2 the foundations of a building of this date which slotted in between the existing Chapel and the Triple Gateway have been excavated. This was demolished when the castle was sleighted during the Civil War.
The ground plan of the Chapel and the Great Chamber was not affected by this change, but they were heavily remodelled. A notable change was in the Chapel which became plainer to go with new Protestant thinking. The vault of the undercroft was rebuilt and many of the decorated medieval floor tiles were lifted and thrown into a space in the basement of the Great Chamber complex. The medieval stained glass windows were removed. The southern part of the Great Chamber and Chapel seems to have undergone destruction in 1647, presumably as an attempt to demolish the curtain wall.
On the west side of the bailey another Sharington Building was found in 2003, the west foundation of which had been used as a path right up to the 20th century. An associated feature was the flue of a chimney observable in the west curtain wall. The building had had a flagged floor - rather poor in quality. It is possible that this structure was part of the 16th century working area - possibly a smithy? A pit to the north-east of this structure revealed that Sharington had reused the earlier stone, and having cleaned the mortar from it, just dumped the spoil in this part of the bailey (Nick Taverner, Dudley Castle & Zoo, Marches Archaeology MAS 301).
It was during the 1540's that the internal moat around the motte was completely backfilled and a retaining wall was constructed leading up to the Kitchen Annex, Area 6A and 6B.
The internal area of the keep was utilised in the Civil War and the hearth was repaired and used for casting lead bullets. During the First Siege of Dudley Castle a Parliamentarian cannon fired shot at the castle. One cannon ball must have entered a window on the first floor and then ricocheted around the building before burying itself beneath the plaster floor on the ground floor. Before the demolition started in 1647 a great deal of soft material was dumped into the garderobes. This included the celebrated condoms (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, p 35).
The kitchen annex was completely remodelled. The bread oven was blocked up, a new floor was laid and the central hearth was moved to create an inglenook fireplace in the north wall. This meant that the upper storeys might be added (endorsed by 18th century engravings of a lofty chimney) and there could be access to the Keep at a higher level through one of its north facing 'window' apertures. The steps up to the Keep were made much wider and the small entrance door in the east wall was blocked. Excavation revealed the interesting detail of a clay pot buried in the floor next to the fireplace. Whether this was for liquids used in cooking or was a primitive mouse trap is not clear. Use of the building as a kitchen is evidenced by the vast amount of animal bone excavated from the adjacent motte side, Area 6B. By the time of the Civil War this area was used for military purposes. Pits dug into the floor and iron waste suggest it was used as a smithy (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, p 53).
For further details, see the article "The Kitchen Annex" by Steve Linnane, originally published in Ramparts, Vol 9, No 1.
Due to the garderobe chutes being full, a pit was dug to empty them, probably in the early stages of the Civil War. The lower chute was emptied again during the war, but not the upper. Ashes from the keep and kitchen annex were dumped in this area with a rich deposit of Civil War finds. The keep, the south and west curtain walls and the kitchen annex were partly demolished in 1647 and surrounding areas were covered with the demolition debris (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, p )
By about 1700 it was decided to build a highly decorated stable block in the now open space between the Triple Gateway and the Motte side. The stairwell entrance was blocked up and a two storey structure erected. That it was a stable was revealed in the brick and stonework of the floor with its indication of stalls. Presumably this came to an end when the castle was enveloped in fire in 1750 (Linnane, Strat. Vol 2, p 26).
For further details, see the article "Dudley Castle Dissected: The Stables " by S J Linnane, originally published in FoDC Magazine, Vol 4, No 1.
A narrow wall was found running parallel to the west curtain wall. In 2003 it lay on top of the 1647 destruction rubble with a flagged path at its base. This would appear to be a garden feature, possibly of the early to mid 18th century. It was backfilled by the end of the century. (Nick Taverner, Dudley Castle & Zoo, Marches Archaeology MAS 301)
Between 1799 and 1805 the third Viscount Dudley & Ward employed a number of men to remove the vast heap of limestone which filled up the central area of the keep (Blocksidge (1885) Dudley, p 61). He also rebuilt some parts of the curtain wall (Area 2, 6B) and the crenellations of the north-west tower of the Keep. A series of post-holes were placed around the keep, presumably for scaffolding at the time of this work. At a later stage the two south drum towers were blocked up and Crimean War cannon were placed there. There is some evidence that the Earl of Dudley did a further clean-up job about 1900. After the creation of the Zoo in 1937 a timber kiosk was erected in Area 2 and the Chapel undercroft was used as an aquarium. They both disappeared in the 1980's.
1. "An introduction and summary of excavations 1983-85", (1986), Peter Boland
2. "A proposed design for research and publication of the Dudley Castle Archaeological Project in 3 vols", Steve Linnane, Strat Vol
3. Various reports published West Midlands Archaeology by Steve Linnane, Birmingham Archaeology, Marches Archaeology, WMA Journal various
4 . "Dudley Castle and Zoo", Nick Taverner, Marches Archaeology MAS 301
5. "Watching brief; Gt Hall; Area 2; Stables", Catherine Mould, Ramparts Vol 6, No 2, p 13
6. "Crop marks within the bailey", Adrian Durkin, Ramparts Vol 8, No 1, p 15, Ramparts Vol 12 No 1, p 9
7. "Plant remains from the garderobe at Dudley Castle", Lisa Moffat, FoDC Vol 3 No 1, p 3
8. "Archaeology of private life - Dudley Castle condoms", P Boland, D Gaimster, S Linnane, C Cartwright, WMA Vol 30, p 129-142
9. "Dudley Castle medieval floor tiles Pt 1 & Pt 2", Martin Locock, FoDC Vol 1 No 1, p 8, FoDC Vol 2 No 1, p 13
10. "Dudley Castle medieval stained glass and associated lead", Joan Tyson
11. "Textiles from Dudley Castle", P Walton Rogers, FoDC Vol 4 No 1, p
Please see also the video section of this web site.