Tong Castle in the mid 12th century

This article forms part of Alan Wharton's Report No. 4 on the Tong Castle excavation published in September 1986. The text and illustrations do not form part of the Discovering Tong book.

Mid 12th Century Castle

At first the Norman Castle at Tong was designed as a base for a small body of mounted soldiers and, under a single leader, it was possible to range over the area and in the event of an attack, the soldiers could return to a well protected base.

This base would contain a hall, kitchen, well, sleeping quarters and stables along with workshops for the smith and armourer and even perhaps a chapel. All were surrounded by a ditch outside a bank or rising slope. The entrance would be a bridge across the ditch to a gap in the bank and the gap would be further strengthened by a high timber fence. This constituted the bailey and the later addition of a watch tower gave added protection from attack outside and disturbance from within. For more safety and height, the tower was raised on a mound.

The earliest appearance of the true mound or motte is disputed and low mounds around the base of Roman towers have been found in Europe. However, the high motte appears in the late 11th century England and the motte top had its own fences or gangway against the slope. The size of the motte and bailey was mainly dictated by the need of the garrison and available resources, and such a motte and bailey castle was cheap and quick to build. Where a geographical feature was available, such as a rising hill or promontory, this was even a better place to build a castle as half the work in raising a 'mound' had been done.

A castle of permanent importance needed long-term buildings and defences, and its function was often as a centre of local government and the occasional residence of individuals of importance in the feudal world. Timber in contact with the soil rots quickly and therefore buildings would be raised on stone sleeper walls, either timber framed or of stone. The first such structure to be built of stone was often the tower.

The principal tower is usually called the Keep or Donjon and such a Keep provided the Lord of the castle with a place of privacy, safety and a prison for his captives, with a strong room for his treasures and documents. The Keep often held out after the rest of the castle had been overrun. A Keep would consist of three or four main rooms with small rooms built into the thick walls, and the rooms stacked vertically and the various floors would be linked only by a ladder or spiral staircase.

The arrangement was for the lowest floor to form a storage basement and often there was a well independent of that in the castle bailey. There was an entrance floor reached by an outside staircase of timber or stone with a gap in it crossed by a moveable bridge i.e. a drawbridge. The entrance door or series of doors would be strengthened and a form of lobby was frequently built to provide a landing or ancillary accommodation. Often the upper part of this fore-building formed the chapel. This or the next floor formed the hall for public business and above this was the private suite of the owner or his resident agent.

Walls were built above the roofs to protect them against missiles and a walkway behind the parapet was used for a lookout. A parapet on the inner side of the wall was called a parados, with a crenel or gap in a parapet. Slits were common near ground level, with the slits being used by archers to defend the Keep.

The inheritance of the Tong Estate by Phillip de Belmeis saw a great deal of ecclesiastical activity in Shropshire by the Lord of the Manor who, along with his brother Richard, founded the Abbey at Lilleshall as well as being a chief benefactor to Buildwas Abbey and accordingly would have required a suitable residence during this period in his Manor at Tong.

The reign of King Stephen saw the building of many castles in the county and Tong Castle was one of them. The sandstone built castle was inside the line of large timbers of the 11th century defensive area and was the first and possibly the only building in the site that could be classified as a castle. However, the biggest change to the site was the change of use from a communal to a private defence for the Lord of the Manor.

The Keep building and encompassing outer curtain wall was built of red sandstone excavated from an enlarged and deepened inner ditch which, with its vertical side on the western edge going down to a depth of 6 metres, and being some 8 to 10 metres wide, could be described as a perfect defensive ditch. There was evidence of the quarrying in the bottom of the ditch and this left the bottom uneven, presumably after having had sufficient sandstone removed for building.

The building of the curtain wall across the original entrance to the defensive area, moved the entrance to the now Keep area from the south and west to the east side and evidence from the ditch filling suggests a stone gateway with a timber bridge across the middle, and narrowest, part of the inner ditch. The curtain wall would have been a revetted dry stone wall sloping inwards and upwards on the outside, to some 3 to 4 metres high on the inside, with the top being of sufficient width to provide a walkway for the patrolling guards and a crenellated wall built on the outside for protection and defence.

The Keep building would have been at least two stories high to serve firstly as a watch tower, with its high vantage point, and secondly as a further means of defence and the flat-top roof of the building surrounded by a crenellated wall to provide protection for, and also help, the defending archers. The actual shape of the Keep Building was hard to ascertain from the excavations as apart from the south wall of the Keep building being part of the curtain wall, subsequent buildings in the same area destroyed most evidence of the foundations.

Evidence of burning in various areas within the Keep building suggests that all the fires and cooking were within the walls of the building itself. There would have had to be a well within the Keep area to complete its defensive role, but as to whether the later 14th century well had been a cleaned out, and re-cut 12th century well is still subject to much debate in the absence of locating any earlier well so far in the Keep area.

Excavation of post holes for two timber framed buildings in the area to the east of the ditch, the later front courtyard area, suggested their use as domestic shelter or accommodation and an adjacent rubbish pit produced artefacts dated as being of the mid-12th century.

Click here to go to the late 12th century castle - the next in the sequence of Tong Castles or here to go to the index page with information about the Tong archaeological excavation.

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