Sunday, January 27, 2013

An Archaeological Overview of Weoley Castle, Birmingham

An Archaeological Overview of Weoley Castle, Birmingham

An Archaeological Overview of Weoley Castle, Birmingham

by S. J. Linnane, Quita Mould and Stephanie Rátkai with Richard K Morris

The Site

Weoley Castle is a fortified, medieval manor-house situated four miles to the southwest

of Birmingham city centre in the parish of Northfield within the historic county of

Worcestershire (National Grid Reference SP 02158275). The surviving ruins consist of a

stone curtain wall with square towers and the foundations of internal buildings, all

surrounded by a wide moat. No trace of a documented outer bailey survives above


Fig. 1: Aerial view, looking north of the castle after post-war consolidation (Scan 009c)

The Project

By the beginning of this century the castle was on the Monuments at Risk register. This

provided the impetus for an extensive project, the

Weoley Castle Development Project,

which was jointly funded by Birmingham City Council, The Heritage Lottery Fund and

English Heritage. The principal aims of the project included the consolidation of the

standing fabric, the development of the castle as a community and educational resource

and a re-assessment of the surviving finds and excavation records. This last strand of the

project formed the basis of

An Archaeological Overview of Weoley Castle, Birmingham,

undertaken by Barbican Research Associates, managed by Stephanie Ratkai and

monitored by Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

Site History

In the early medieval period the manor formed a part of the estates of the de Paganel, and

de Somery, Barons of Dudley. Excavation has proved that a large timber hall stood on the

site in the 12th century with surrounding ditch, bank and palisade. Somewhat later a wellbuilt,

ashlar, stone hall was constructed in the north-eastern part of the enclosure with a


wooden kitchen to the south. The kitchen is notable for the excellent preservation of its

timbers due to waterlogging. It was a weather-boarded structure connected to the stone

hall by a raised causeway with timber pentice. The kitchen is probably one of the best

preserved, excavated, timber buildings of the period.

In 1264 Roger II de Somery obtained a Licence to Crenellate. This resulted in rebuilding

at Dudley Castle under Roger III de Somery and John de Somery and it is probable that

the construction of the stone defences at Weoley belongs to this period also. All the

earlier buildings within the ditched enclosure were sealed by upcast from the excavation

of a new, large moat and the castle defences completely rebuilt in stone. Excavations

from before the Second World War and from 1955 to 1962 have effectively uncovered

nearly all of the outlines of the stone buildings. The resulting plan can be usefully

compared with a survey of the site, dating to1424, listing the buildings and their function.

Weoley Castle passed from the Barony of Dudley on the death of John de Somery in

1322, when the estates were divided between his two sisters. His sister Joan (and her

husband Thomas de Botetourt) retained Weoley as part of her moiety. In the early 15th

century the castle passed from the Botetourts, to the Berkeley family, although a series of

disputes and a superfluity of claimants meant that this was not a smooth transition.

Alterations to the defences in the form of well-constructed turrets, circular and octagonal,

and buttresses indicate the continued appreciation of the site as a high-status dwelling –

which the finds collection confirms.

The life of the castle as an aristocratic residence came to an end in the early 16th century

when the castle was sold to Richard Jervoise, a wealthy London merchant. It remained in

the Jervoise family until the 19th century, although during the entire Jervoise tenure it

had been sublet to various individuals. Excavations suggest that those buildings

remaining were increasingly used as farm out-buildings during this period.

Results of the Project

A wealth of archival and artefactual information exists for the castle, most of which has

not been studied since the early 1960s. Records for the pre-war excavations, which were

never published, were destroyed by fire in the Second World War, although a substantial

photographic archive survives. The loss of the paper record has left a large collection of

well-preserved, but largely unprovenanced, artefacts and pottery.

Excavations between 1955 and1962 also produced significant amounts of material. Some

of this has been published but the greater part has not. Records from these excavations

have survived but they are incomplete and details of the excavations can only be partially

reconstructed. Nevertheless the 'overview project' has revealed a wealth of information

of regional and national importance.

The site itself

The pre-war excavations were conducted by G. M. Bark for Birmingham City Council

(see fig. 2) and were effectively a wall-chasing exercise, concentrating on clearing

overgrowth and excavating within the moat to expose the exterior of the red-sandstone


curtain walls with fine ashlar towers and buttresses. Within the interior, overburden was

removed to medieval surfaces in order to expose wall footings which allowed the

excavator to interpret each building in light of information from the 1424 survey. The

locations of the hall, solar block, kitchen and chapel were all convincingly demonstrated.

The post-war excavations were undertaken by Adrian Oswald for Birmingham Museum

and Art Galleries (see fig. 3) and consisted of a sequence of trenches and test pits which

were sometimes expanded to create larger areas of excavation. To the west the

excavations revealed, the bakery and a granary occupied and modified throughout the

later life of the castle. In the eastern part the excavator intended to explore the earlier

medieval deposits and was fortunate to find, at the base of deep trenches, that

waterlogged deposits preserved significant elements of the structural timbers intact

allowing of detailed re-construction of the earliest timber hall, slightly later kitchen and

ancillary buildings.

Oswald also worked on significant moat deposits, left undisturbed by the pre-war

excavations, revealing not only an interesting sequence of deposits and associated finds

but also the well-preserved remains of two timber bridges; the main bridge leading to the

Gatehouse in the northeast and, to the east, a lesser bridge crossing the moat from a

postern gate in the curtain wall.

Fig. 2. G.M. Bark excavating pre-war in the northwest corner of the castle, looking east (Scan



Fig. 3 .

Adrian Oswald excavating iron window grill in the north-east corner of the castle

(Scan 595c)

Excavated architectural details

Reports on the loose architectural stone, the roof tile, decorated floor tile and painted

window glass, show the castle to have been well appointed. The floor tiles, dating to the

14th century, were from the chapel and consist of larger than average sized tiles with

encaustic decoration. The only parallel for these can be found at Maxstoke Priory. The

painted window glass, again dating to the early 14th century, finds its closest parallels in

Merton College, Oxford. A small fragment, with painted lion paw, appears to come from

a heraldic design showing the de Somery coat of arms (or, two lions passant azure). This

can be directly paralleled by excavated glass from Dudley Castle and by a complete

example in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow. Roofs were evidently of lead, and of ceramic

tile made in Birmingham. The tiled roofs were surmounted by 'horned' and crested ridge

tiles, and by decorative finials (see fig. 4).

A mysterious category of finds was composed of small pieces of slate, roughly the same

dimensions and shapes as the surviving window glass fragments. These had been painted

with linear designs in orange, red, yellow and white. They are at present unparalleled but

may represent practice pieces for glass painting or may even have been used in repairing


broken damaged panels. Within the excavated stonework were gargoyle-headed water

spouts and other decorative details suggesting architecture of considerable

embellishment. An iron window grate with associated wooden shutter and stone surround

(see fig. 3) was excavated from the northeast corner of the moat suggestive of a violent

collapse of at least a part of the nearby tower.

Fig. 4. Architectural detail. Left - a red sandstone gargoyle-headed water spout from the

pre-war excavations (Scan 271). Right – ceramic roof furniture.

There was also architectural detail from surprisingly late in the castle’s occupation. Eight

fragmentary fluted pieces appear to come from a columnar chimney dating to around the

mid 16

th century and paralleled at Lacock Abbey and Burghley house. It is possible that

the chimney was built under the patronage of Richard Jervoise, sheriff of London and

member of the Somerset circle, who took possession of Weoley in the 1530s.


An impressive collection of artefacts, nearly all of which have been completely

conserved, survives.

Although in general the finds are typical of high-status castle sites, they contain several

rare items such as a tin communion cruet (fig. 5), a copper alloy netting needle and silver


inlaid shears. The site is remarkable for the number of complete or near complete

artefacts which have apparently been discarded into the moat. Amongst these are a

number of copper alloy skimmers, copper alloy tankards, pewter flatware and a pair of

gilded rowel spurs (fig. 6). The significance of the discard of complete but undoubtedly

recyclable items seems thus far to have been unremarked.

Fig. 5. Pewter communion cruet (Scan 228)

Waterlogging in the south-east corner of the site and in the moat has also favoured the

preservation of organic materials including shoes and other leather items, a wooden

bagpipe chanter and bucket, and possible basketry.

An extensive collection of medieval coins and tokens were also recovered from the site.

The study of these did not form part of the project brief. It seems clear that there must

have been a counting-house on the site and the loss of so many coins finds an echo in the


discard of good-quality metal artefacts.

Fig. 6. One of a pair of gilded rowel spurs from the moat

The Pottery

The stratified pottery falls into two distinct groups; that associated with the timber

moated manor (Periods I-III) and that associated with the backfill of the moat of the stone

castle. There are some inconsistencies in the stratigraphy and pottery seriation for the first

three periods of occupation, so it has not been possible to construct a totally reliable

development of pottery use in the 12th and 13th centuries. Nevertheless, this has been

more than off-set by studies in pottery function, pottery distribution across the site,

pottery sources and by comparison with pottery assemblages in the Bull Ring,


The later pottery from the moat was described by the original excavator as having come

from three distinct groups, the remaining moat fills having been mostly sterile. Although

it was possible to allocate some of the pottery to these three groups (the south-east corner,

the north-east corner and the area around the North Tower), it was not possible to

reconstruct these groups in their entirety. However, it is clear that the moat fills date from

the early 14th century through to the early 16th century. The downgrading of the castle

after its purchase by the Jervoise family is clearly visible in the ceramic assemblage, the

latest pottery in the moat being cistercian ware, probably dating to

c. 1480-1525, with

17th-century and later pottery seemingly associated with one area of the site, which is

thought to have been an agricultural building.

The pottery assemblage is notable for several reasons. There are Continental imports from

France, Spain and the Rhineland. Continental imports are not common in the West Midlands

and the medieval French whitewares found at Weoley, including a Rouen-type jug (fig 7),

are extremely rare. Another rare item is a distilling base and aludel (both more or less complete)

which were found together in the Moat. The base was found to contain traces of mercury

and this ties in quite nicely with a mercury jar (of unknown provenance) found on the

site (see fig. 7).

Fig. 7. A—distilling apparatus found within the Moat. B—Rouen-Style jug associated

with the demolition of the first stone hall c 1260. C- Mercury Jar found during

Oswald's excavations but exact provenance unknown




The assemblage also produced examples of medieval London-type ware. This is

extremely significant since Deritend Ware jugs, which were made in Birmingham in the

13th and early 14th centuries, are either direct copies of London-type ware or were made

by immigrant potters from the south-east working in Birmingham. However, to date, no

London-type ware has been found in central Birmingham, and the Weoley sherds are the

one direct link between the two wares.

Fig. 8. Deritend Ware Jug with white slip decoration and roller stamping, from the pre-

War excavations


More generally, the pottery from the Moat indicates a number of non-local sources such

as the Welsh Marches and the East Midlands, which seem to mirror the familial and

seigneurial connections of the Lords of Weoley Castle.


In summary, there are still many aspects of the castle that deserve further investigation

and interpretation. The castle seems to have served not just an economic function for the

collection and storage of produce from the manor but appears also to have been used as

an aristocratic residence of some substance.

What next?

The project was completed in August 2011. The wider dissemination of the project

results was not part of the project brief but they clearly deserve to be brought to a wider

audience. The first step to accomplish this will be the storage of all the reports and

catalogues on ADS and details will be posted on the Barbican website when known.

However, the ultimate aim is to synthesise the project results into a separate volume.

An Archaeological Overview of Weoley Castle, Birmingham

consists of the following


Archaeological Archive

Weoley Castle – an appraisal of the surviving Archaeological Archive by Stephen

J. Linnane

Weoley Castle – the reduced archive, 2.0 Pre-war Excavations

Weoley Castle – the reduced archive, 3.0 Post-war Excavations, 3.1 The Trenches

Weoley Castle – the reduced archive, 3.0 Post-war Excavations, 3.2 The Moat

Weoley Castle - the reduced archive, 3.0 Post-war Excavations, 3.3 The Western


Weoley Castle – the reduced archive, 3.0 Post-war Excavations, 3.4 Periods I-III

Weoley Castle - the reduced archive, 3.0 Post-war Excavations, 3.4.7 The Wooden



Weoley Castle: A Reappraisal of and Report on the Pottery by Stephanie Rátkai

Appendix 1: Early Cooking Pot Fabrics

Appendix 2: Deritend Ware

Appendix 3: Iron-Poor Wares

Appendix 4: Iron-Poor Fabrics: Whiteware

Appendix 5: Sandy Micaceous and Micaceous wares

Appendix 6: Late Medieval Wares

Appendix 7: Midlands Purple Ware and Later Fabrics

Appendix 8: Cistercian Ware

Appendix 9: Regional Imports

Appendix 10: Continental Imports


Small Finds

An appraisal of the portable finds from Weoley Castle, Birmingham by Quita


Weoley Castle: small finds catalogue by Quita Mould

Structural Finds

Weoley Castle: The Ceramic Building Material by Stephanie Rátkai

Weoley Castle: The loose architectural stones, an assessment by Dr. Richard K.


Weoley Castle: The decorated window glass by Stephen J. Linnane

Weoley Castle: The Medieval Floor Tiles by Stephen J. Linnane