« PreviousContinue »
THE EARLY NORMAN CASTLES OF
THE BRITISH ISLES
The study of earthworks has been one of the most neglected subjects in English archæology until quite recent years. It may even be said that during the first half of the 19th century, less attention was paid to earthworks than by our older topographical writers. Leland, in the reign of Henry VIII., never failed to notice the “Dikes and Hilles, which were Campes of Men of Warre,” nor the “ Hilles of Yerth cast up like the Dungeon of sum olde Castelle,” which he saw in his pilgrimages through England. And many of our 17th- and 18th-century topographers have left us invaluable notices of earthworks which were extant in their time. But if we turn over the archæological journals of some fifty years ago, we shall be struck by the paucity of papers on earthworks, and especially by the complete ignoring, in most cases, of those connected with castles.
The misfortune attending this neglect, was that it left the ground open to individual fancy, and each observer formed his own theory of the earthworks which he happened to have seen, and as often as not, stated that theory as a fact. We need not be surprised to find Camden doing this, as he wrote before the dawn of scientific observation ; but that such methods should have been carried on until late in the 19th century is little to the credit of English archæology. Mr Clark's work on Medieval Military Architecture (published in 1884), which has the merit of being one of the first to pay due attention to castle earthworks, counterbalances that merit by enunciating as a fact a mere guess of his own, which, as we shall afterwards show, was absolutely devoid of solid foundation.
The scientific study of English earthworks may be said to have been begun by General Pitt-Rivers in the last quarter of the 19th century; but we must not forget that he described himself as a pupil of Canon Greenwell, whose careful investigations of British barrows form such an important chapter of prehistoric archæology. General Pitt-Rivers applied the lessons he had thus learned to the excavation of camps and dykes, and his labours opened a new era in that branch of research. By accumulating an immense body of observations, and by recording those observations with a minuteness intended to forestall future questions, he built up a storehouse of facts which will furnish materials to all future workers in prehistoric antiquities. He was too cautious ever to dogmatise, and if he arrived at conclusions, he was careful to state them merely as suggestions. But his work destroyed many favourite antiquarian delusions, even some which had been cherished by very learned writers, such as Dr Guest's theory of the “Belgic ditches” of Wiltshire.
A further important step in the study of earthworks was taken by the late Mr I. Chalkley Gould, when he founded the Committee for Ancient Earthworks, and
CLASSIFICATION OF EARTHWORKS
drew up the classification of earthworks which is now being generally adopted by archæological writers. This classification may be abridged into (a) promontory or cliff forts, (6) hill forts, (c) rectangular forts, (d) moated hillocks, (e) moated hillocks with courts attached, (f) banks and ditches surrounding homesteads, (8) manorial works, (h) fortified villages.
We venture to think that still further divisions are needed, to include (1) boundary earthworks ; (2) sepulchral or religious circles or squares ; (3) enclosures clearly non-military, intended to protect sheep and cattle from wolves, or to aid in the capture of wild animals.
This classification, it will be observed, makes no attempt to decide the dates of the different types of earthworks enumerated. But a great step forward was taken when these different types were separated from one another. There had been no greater source of confusion in the writings of our older antiquaries, than the unscientific idea that one earthwork was as good as another; that is to say, that one type of earthwork would do as well as another for any date or any circumstances. When it is recognised that large classes of earthworks show similar features, it becomes probable that even if they were not thrown up in the same historic period, they were at any rate raised to meet similar sets of circumstances. We may be quite sure that a camp which contains an area of 60 or 80 acres was not constructed for the same purpose as one which only contains an area of three.
We are not concerned here, however, with the attempt to disentangle the dates of the various classes of prehistoric earthworks. Such generalisations are for the most part premature; and although some advance is being made in this direction, it is still impossible to decide without excavation whether a camp of class (a) or (6) belongs to the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, or the Iron Age. Our business is with classes (d) and (e)
1 In the paper on Earthworks in the second volume of the Victoria County History of Yorkshire, this subdivision of the promiscuous class X., is used.
( of Mr Gould's list, that is, with the moated hillocks. We shall only treat of the other classes to the extent which is necessary to bring out the special character of classes (d) and (e).
Let us look more closely into these earthworks in their perfect form, the class (e) of the Earthwork Committee's list. They consist, when fully preserved, of an artificial hillock, 20, 30, 40, or in some rare instances 100 feet high. The hillock carried a breastwork of earth round the top, which in many cases is still preserved ; this breastwork enclosed a small court, sometimes only 30 feet in diameter, in rare cases as large as half an acre ; it must have been crowned by a stockade of timber, and the representations in the Bayeux Tapestry would lead us to think that it always enclosed a wooden tower. As a rule the hillock is round, but it is not unfrequently oval, and occasionally square.
The base of the hillock is surrounded by a ditch. Below the hillock is a court, much larger than the small space enclosed on the top of the mount. It also has been surrounded by a ditch, which joins the ditch of the mount, and thus encloses the whole fortification. The court is defended by earthen banks, both on the scarp and counterscarp of the ditch, and these banks
1 Since the above was written, Mr Hadrian Allcroft's work on Earthwork of England has furnished an admirable text-book of this subject.
2 See Frontispiece.