An Archaeological Overview of Weoley Castle, Birmingham
by S. J. Linnane, Quita Mould and Stephanie Rátkai with Richard K Morris
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
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 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-
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.
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
Weoley Castle – an appraisal of the surviving Archaeological Archive by Stephen
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
An appraisal of the portable finds from Weoley Castle, Birmingham by Quita
Weoley Castle: small finds catalogue by Quita Mould
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