Crawford castle

Piers Dixon (RCAHMS) – South Lanarkshire

South Lanarkshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

South Lanarkshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Early Stone Castles of South Lanarkshire

I have been working as an Archaeological Investigator for RCAHMS since 1989 and currently as an Operations Manager in Survey and Recording. As a medievalist I have long been interested in castles in all their variety wherever they occur from Scotland to Greece, but opportunities for me to record and research them for RCAHMS only became available in 2000 with the Donside survey that led to the publication of In the Shadow of Bennachie (2007). This showed me that we have a lot to learn about the origin and development of castles, with a rash of motte-like structures, including the dramatic castle of Invernochty, Strathdon, with its ‘later’ stone curtain wall built by the ‘native’ earl of Mar, not all of which were medieval castles at all. Baileys, usually part and parcel of the castle earthwork, were absent, except at the Bass of Inverurie, but the mottes were often big enough to take a range of structures. More worrying was the absence of identifiable elite structures of the immediately preceding period.

View of Crawford castle from the air, showing the later stone castle on top of the motte. Copyright RCAHMS (DP153534)

View of Crawford castle from the air, showing the later stone castle on top of the motte. Copyright RCAHMS (DP153534)

The origins of castles in Scotland are generally assumed to derive from the influx of Anglo-French followers of King David and his successors bringing with them their notions of what was necessary for the centre of power of a lordship. Raising an earthwork or modifying a natural mound to make a place of strength was the quickest way of achieving this. South Lanarkshire provides a good test bed for this thesis since the documentation tells us that it was settled in the 12th century by Flemish knights, some of whom established themselves by building castles based on mottes or earthworks that defy easy definition. Some like Coulter motte in the care of Historic Scotland, or Crawford castle, a motte with a later stone tower, appear to have been typical conical mounded structures, but others like the earthwork at Castle Qua just outside Lanark, or that at Cadzow, not far from the later stone castle, take the form of promontories defended by earthworks with broad external ditches.  These were sites that were rejected as prehistoric settlement enclosures by the Royal Commission investigators in the 1970s, although a Roman coin found during excavations by Lanarkshire Archaeology Society of the Cadzow earthwork suggest a late Iron Age or Dark Age date.

Cadzow earthwork, showing the mound and south ditch. The old oak trees have been dated by dendrochronology to the 15th century when the site lay within a hunting park. Copyright Piers Dixon

Cadzow earthwork, showing the mound and south ditch. The old oak trees have been dated by dendrochronology to the 15th century when the site lay within a hunting park. Copyright Piers Dixon

Further investigation of these sites is clearly needed. That at Castle Qua has been the focus of some interest locally and the Commission has reviewed the possibility of further survey work at the site with Addyman Archaeology for the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership.  The site itself is a dramatic one with a cliff on one side dropping down to the Mouse Water more than 100 feet below. A substantial earthwork that displays traces of stone facings lies within broad ditch enclosing an area some 30m across with traces of structures near the cliff edge. A second ditch suggests the possibility of a bailey.

Plan of Castle Qua showing the suggested line of the outer ditch as an overlay on the RCAHMS plan. (Addyman Archaeology overlay and RCAHMS DP152072)

Plan of Castle Qua showing the suggested line of the outer ditch as an overlay on the RCAHMS plan. (Addyman Archaeology overlay and RCAHMS DP152072)

Archaeology has also thrown up spanners in the dating of mottes, for example, excavations by Chris Tabraham at Roberton motte in the 1970s produced a sherd of imported pottery from France dated to the 14th century from the base of the mound. This contradicts the established wisdom of dating the construction of mottes and other earthwork castles to the 12th and 13th centuries by incoming Flemish lords. Although there is a good correlation between the documented Flemish incomers and the eponymous villages of Roberton, Thankerton, Symington, Covington, Lamington and Wiston, for example, all settlements of potentially medieval origin,  earthwork castles have yet to be located at all of them.  There is clearly much work to be done here in understanding the development of castles and this area provides an excellent location for doing just that.

Castle Qua earthwork and ditch, much overgrown. Copyright Piers Dixon

Castle Qua earthwork and ditch, much overgrown. Copyright Piers Dixon

 

 

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