Knaves Castle (site Of); By Watling Street
- HER Number: 2664
- Site Name: Knaves Castle (site Of); By Watling Street
- Associated Periods:
- Summary: Earthwork, now destroyed, situated beside Watling Street. Described in the 17th century as a triple-ditched enclosure with a round hill inside. Its purpose is uncertain, though its location by Watling Street may be significant. A detailed analysis of the evidence for Knaves Castle affordshire hoard, concludes that the earthwork could have dated from any time from the prehistoric period to the early 14th centruy. Its elevated position may suggest that at its core may have been a Bronze Age barrow which was incorporated into a later structure. One possibility, given its proximity to Watling Street, is a Roman signal tower or watch tower. Given the common re-use of earlier monuments for high status Anglo Saxon burials around the time of the deposition of the Staffordshire hoard (7th century?) the site may also have been used as an Anglo Saxon burial mound. Certainly it is likely to have remained as a prominent feature at the time of the deposition of the hoard.
- Format: Monument
- Description: Earthwork, now destroyed, situated beside by Watling Street on a prominent site with commanding views. Earliest known reference is found in a deed of c 1308 (‘…a place called Cnaven castle’). The first descriptions of the site date to the late 17th century. John Aubrey described it as a triple ditched circular enclosure around 20m diameter with a square central feature around 2-3m in length, perhaps surrounded by a low bank, and an entrance to the south. Robert Plot’s description agrees that it was a triple ditched enclosure but says that it was 40m-50m in diameter and that the central feature was a 'round hill, now excavated'. He speculated that it was a guard post against robbers or a robbers' stronghold. (1) (2) (3)
The site is marked on Joseph Browne’s map of Staffordshire of 1682 (4) and on Morden’s county map of 1695 (5) but no detail is shown. Yates’ county map of 1775 shows a circular earthwork with what may be a large tree in the centre (6), while the Ordnance Survey Surveyor’s Drawing of 1816 (7) shows a circular earthwork with a further earthwork inside. Neither map is at a sufficiently large scale to show detail, however.
There is no tithe map as the site is in Ogley Hay, part of Cannock Forest, and was extra parochial. Hence the first map to show the area in detail is the 1st edn Ordnance Survey map of 1884. At this time only the east side of the earthworks survived. A circular mound, only 6m in diameter, is shown. It is surrounded by a bank around 40m in diameter, which only survives on its eastern side. On its western side a house, called Knaves Castle, and orchards have been built. (8) The situation is the same on the 2nd edition plan of 1902. By the time of the 3rd edition of 1919 the earthworks are no longer shown and hence may have been flattened. By the time of the 4th edition of 1938 a house has been built on the east side also.
An early 20th century plan and profile shows a single wide bank with external ditch. (9) Duignan says that the site was very clear in c 1840 but was almost obliterated and enclosed in a garden by 1902. (10) Reece (11) says that the site was sold in 1902 and that the mound and ditches were levelled. No trace of the earthwork now survives and the site is occupied by 23, 25, 25a, 27 and 29 Knave’s Castle.
The earthwork has been interpreted as a Neolithic or Bronze Age burial mound, the tomb of a boy or servant (knave), a Roman encampment, a Roman guard house, a castrum aestivum (summer fort), a Roman signal station, a Roman barrow, and a medieval castle mound. (10) (11) (12)
In August 1971, Gould visited the site during extensive widening of Watling Street. He says that the road cut through a natural hillock at this point and that there was no sign of a barrow ditch or original land surface. (13) The Ordnance Survey card suggests that he is implying the earthwork as a whole is natural; presumably this refers to the mound at the centre of the feature. (14)
The earthwork’s true use can only be speculated upon. Triple-ditched enclosures are perhaps more likely to be Iron Age than anything else. Other possibilities are: a motte and bailey, though the mound looks rather small for this; and a forester’s lodge for the keeper of Ogley Hay. More recently the discovery of the Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon metalwork around 1.3km to the east has given rise to suggestions that it the earthwork was an Anglo-Saxon feature; if so a function as a meeting place is perhaps a possibility. (15)
Knave = boy or servant. Horovitz suggests that the name may be ironical in that earthworks were commonly called castles and Knave's Castle may thus be named the castle of a boy or servant because of its small size. (16)
A detailed analysis of the evidence for Knaves Castle, particularly in its relation to the Staffordshire hoard, concludes that the earthwork could have dated from any time from the prehistoric period to the early 14th centruy. Its elevated position may suggest that at its core may have been a Bronze Age barrow which was incorporated into a later structure. One possibility, given its proximity to Watling Street, is a Roman signal tower or watch tower. Given the common re-use of earlier monuments for high status Anglo Saxon burials around the time of the deposition of the Staffordshire hoard (7th century?) the site may also have been used as an Anglo Saxon burial mound. Certainly it is likely to have remained as a prominent feature at the time of the deposition of the hoard and there may be a connection between the two but this is unproven. (1)
- Terms:Motte And Bailey
- Terms:Forest Lodge
- Terms:Meeting Place
- Terms:Watch Tower
Ref. Details 1 Bibliographic reference: Horovitz, David. 2013. Knaves Castle: A Lost Monument on Ogley Hay. Trans Staffordshire Archaeol Hist Soc 46, 33-71. 2 Bibliographic reference: Plot, Robert. 1686. The Natural History of Staffordshire. Ch 10, Sec 84, Pge 448. 3 Documentary Reference: Aubrey, John. 1665-1693. Monumenta Britannica. 4 Map: Browne Joseph. 1682. Map of Staffordshire. 5 Map: Morden Robert. 1695. Map of Staffordshire. 6 Map: Yates W. 1775. Map of County of Stafford. WSL. 7 Map: Ordnance Survey. 1816. Ordnance Survey Surveyor's Map - Brownhills Area. 2 inches: 1 mile. 8 Map: 1884. Ordnance Survey 1st edn 25 inch Staffs 57.8. 1:2500. 9 Bibliographic reference: Page William (ed). 1908. Victoria County History: Staffordshire. Vol 1. 345. 10 Bibliographic reference: Duignan, W H. 1902. Notes on Staffordshire Place Names. 11 Bibliographic reference: Reece G. 1996. Brownhills - A Walk into History. WLHC. 12 Bibliographic reference: Ashton G. 1976. A Hist of Brownhills. WLHC. 13 Bibliographic reference: Gould JT. 1971. Private Index. 14 Bibliographic reference: 1958. Ordnance Survey Record Card Antiquity No: SK00NW 5. 15 Comment: Mike Shaw. 2011. Comment. 16 Bibliographic reference: Horovitz, David. 2005. The Place Names of Staffordshire. 348.
- For more information contact: Black Country, Wolverhampton HER ([email protected])
- Grid Reference: 404966 306466