Sunday, July 23, 2017

Swerford, Oxfordshire

Lumps and bumps

It was only by chance that I came across this place. I was on the lookout for the church, but what I’d taken to be the main village of Swerford, a cluster of houses at Chapel End, is not where the church is – it’s next to another cluster a few hundred yards away. And then, when I did find the church what caught my eye first were various lumps and bumps in the adjacent field. They are all that’s left of a castle: two main raised grassy partly tree-covered areas – the motte or mound and the bailey or courtyard – plus another smaller one that looks like a lesser bailey or outwork. The churchyard cuts into the nearest bump, which you can see in my photograph just beyond the churchyard wall, telling us that the graveyard, and no doubt the church, are later than the castle.

This small fortification was built during the 12th-century civil war between rival claimants to the English throne: Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and Stephen, his nephew. The local lords, the D’Oyleys, were related to Matilda and so on her side; their neighbours, the de Chesneys of Deddington, backed Stephen and threatened to take the D’Oyley lands. This small castle was built by the D’Oyleys to defend the ford over the Swere Brook, a key point on a local route.

The castle would have been built of wood and put up quickly some time after the death of Henry I in 1135, so that a small garrison and their horses could be based here. Twenty years later it was not needed, as the war had ended with Stephen on the throne but an agreement that Matilda’s son would succeed him when he died. That son, Henry II, had the unauthorised castles of the civil war dismantled when he came to the throne in 1154, and this one was probably taken down then. Some of the rubble from the mound may even have been used to build the church, which dates from some time after 1300. Archaeologists say that whether or not this was the case, the site was cleared fairly comprehensively and there have been few finds.


Michelle Ann said...

These hidden hints of history can sometimes be more evocative than actual buildings. Thanks for explaining at least one set of lumps and bumps on the landscape!

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

If only every "lump" or "bump" of putative motte, mound or bailey had some history to explain them! Wooden walls might have been put up quickly, although it takes an awful lot of straight timber to make a palisade, but the earthworks must have been rather more demanding: you would need a lot of young chaps with shovels. Unlikely that you could get enough man-hours just out of local villeins.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Michell Ann: Thank you! It's not always easy (to me!) to work out what such lumps and bumps are - but this time I had the benefit of some third-party information. I did a post on some more lumps and bumps at a place called Pinnock in Gloucestershire, which you can find by searching for it in the search box at the top of the blog's home page.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Indeed. There have been quite a few studies and estimates of how long it might have taken to build specific mottes (one small one that sticks in my mind involved a theoretical 50 men working for 40 long days). It couldn't be done in a hurryt unless you had a lot of people and good organization.