The Oswestry Castle Research Project
The Oswestry castle research project has developed from an excavation in the castle garden area which took place during Heritage Open Day week in 2014 and attracted a great deal of interest. The Oswestry Heritage Forum Steering Committee included a continuation dig as part of their successful 2015 Big Lottery bid and the project is now ongoing. Future work will be principally supported by SAP Archaeology and Oswestry Town Museum, with additional support from Oswestry and Borders History and Archaeology Group notwithstanding the many professional volunteers willing to give their time. To do justice to all aspects of the research aims a time span of two to three years is envisaged to be followed by a final publication. The archaeological excavation research is timed to coincide with Heritage Open Days in the town and therefore is restricted, at the moment, to the month of September. However, the other research aims are not so time constrained and will continue throughout the duration of the project.
Castle studies in the past concentrated, both nationally and regionally, on high status sites, this is very true of masonry castles with the lesser sites being partially or wholly ignored especially their earthwork counterparts.
Castellarium Anglicanum, Cathcart Kings corpus of castle sites amongst other syntheses offers a starting point usefully combining documentary references with the analysis of the upstanding remains. Moreover, Spurgeon, Renn, Kenyon with others have all contributed to understanding the earthwork counterparts of the masonry castle. However, the documentary references to many of these is poor especially so for the smaller defensive sites. Within the English and Welsh border region moreover, only a handful have been partially excavated with the landmark exception of Barker and Highams examination of Hen Domen near Montgomery.
However, to a degree, many castle studies have taken an isolationist approach tending to focus on the individual site, their physical remains and their architecture at the expense of the environment in which those sites functioned. From the small motte overseeing a local area to the great lordship masonry caput castles, both must have interacted with the contemporary landscape, settlements and lines of communication and such like. In other words until recently, with a few exceptions, the economic and social aspects of the castle have escaped detail attention.
Clearly, this has now changed as reviewed by Creighton and Higham in 2004 and Higham in 2010. Castle studies, in the main, now take a holistic approach. Further, there is some value in revisiting and reanalysing the documentary sources, where available (Indeed, in the case of Oswestry castle both English and Welsh sources will need to be accessed and reviewed). There has been a tendency moreover, to regionalise Welsh marches castles from a Welsh or English perspective which is not wholly satisfactory. Furthermore, regional studies need to distinguish between for example, a Welsh marcher castle and a midland, lowland Baronial site in the counties bordering Wales, their being differences in function, style and format.
The combination of the West Midland regional Frame work for Archaeology (Seminar 5, Medieval Period) should be considered in combination with for example, The Research Framework for the archaeology of Wales- East and Northeast Wales- Medieval. (Silvester , B., 2003 (Clywd Powys Archaeological Trust paper). Certainly, this approach is seen as most appropriate for Oswestry castle where the medieval border was shifting, ill-defined and porous throughout the late 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.
Therefore, a holistic approach to researching Oswestry castle, its surrounding proto urban and urban development, the changing social, political and economic environment is required to put Oswestry castle in context, both regionally and nationally, through the medieval period. The partnership is intended to work on a long-term basis. However, the phasing of the aims is dictated by the need to excavate in September due to the requirements of The Heritage Open Days Steering Committee which seeks to encourage community interest in both the monument and archaeology. A Further time constraint is the availability of voluntary professional archaeologists, the other listed aims are not so time constrained.
(Not in any order of importance)
- A full map/cartographic regression which will analyse and discuss the changing landscape and boundaries surrounding the castle overtime.
- Revisit and reanalyse all known written primary and secondary sources appertaining to the castle, both English and Welsh.
- A topographical study which will include the production of a plan of the environs of what is considered remains of the outlying features of the castle.
- Reappraisal of the archaeological potential based on the study of the urban environment surrounding the castle (see item 8)
- Reassess the town’s development and town walls
- Further research on the social and political events, both regionally and nationally, that may have impacted on the castle especially in the medieval period and later.
- Recording by photographic and conventional archaeological drawing techniques the surviving upstanding remains of the castle.
- The primary archaeological objective will be to locate record and describe all archaeological features that may be present within the study area and to additionally, identify areas of potential archaeological sensitivity and reassess the total archaeological resource. This will include the character, function, condition, vulnerability, potential dating and relationship to other features identified.
- Production of a yearly Post Excavation Report to Historic England (West Midlands)
- A final report of all findings putting Oswestry castle and its national and regional importance in context. This will be submitted to Historic England, Shropshire HER and Oswestry Town Council.
- To engage and enhance the public understanding of this class of monument.
Note: Due to the known deep disturbance and modern intrusions within the areas of potential interest- notwithstanding the difficulty of access in some areas-geophysics is considered not viable
Davies, R.R., 1987 The Age of Conquest- Wales 1063-1415. Oxford
Dalwood, H., 1996 Archaeological Assessment of Oswestry, Shropshire Journal: Hereford and Worcester Archaeology Rep 333
Coulson, C., 1996 Cultural realities and reappraisals in English castle-study. In Journal of Medieval History, Vol 22, No 2, pp 171-208
Creighton, O., 2002 Castles and Landscape. London
Creighton, O., 1997 Early Leicestershire Castles: Archaeology and Landscape History. In trans, Leicestershire Archaeol, and Hist, Soc., 71, pp 21-36
Creighton, O., & Higham, R, A., 2004 Castle studies and the ‘landscape’ agenda
Higham, R, 2010 Castle Studies in Transition: A Forty Year Reflection. In The Archaeological Journal, the Royal Archaeological Institute, Vol 167, pp 1-13
Kenyon, J., 2010 Castle Studies in Britain since 1945. A commentary in support of a Ph.D.
Lieberman, M., 2010 The Medieval March of Wales-The creation and Perception of a Frontier 1066-1283. Cambridge
Renn, D., 1973. Norman castles in Britain. 2nd edition. London
Stamper, P., 2003. Medieval Shropshire: Research Priorities. A draft paper given for Seminar 5 (medieval period) in the West Midland Region Research framework for Archaeology at Birmingham University for English Heritage.