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A Black Country Motte-and-Bailey

As I mentioned a few posts ago, one of the last things I did before leaving Birmingham professionally behind me in August 2015 was squeeze in a visit to Dudley Castle, which came as something of a surprise to me. There were two reasons for this, the first being the survival of such substantial medieval remains somewhere as industrialised as Dudley, but of course, it was not ever thus and many such a place has a past going back before the Industrial Revolution; nor is the castle even the limit of what Dudley has to offer in this line, as I was later to discover (a future post, that one). But it was still surprising, and that not just because it exists, but (secondly)…

Camels at Dudley Zoo

Not actually positioned as gate guardians, but acting very much as if they had been

there is a zoo round the base of its hill, so that one looks down from its solid English battlements onto a baboon colony and generally the fauna of the veldt.

View across a cannon platform at Dudley Castle

Not much of the fauna of the veldt actually visible over these seventeenth-century gun emplacements, I grant you, but it’s down there, lurking

Now, it is a great zoo which I thoroughly recommend, and as this trip showed you can easily do both attractions in one day trip. But I didn’t know it was there until shortly before we went, whereas I did know that Dudley is one of the country’s better-surviving examples of the famous motte-and-bailey castle. Now, this was of interest to me not just as wargeek and medievalist, but because years and years ago I put up a post that included a picture of a model of a motte-and-bailey castle, because I couldn’t find a good one of the real thing, and as long as that image was there that post subsequently brought me a stupid volume of Google traffic, because apparently there still wasn’t a good image of a motte-and-bailey castle out there and people were thus being brought here. Those of you who go way way back with this blogging thing may remember Carl Pyrdum’s blog Got Medieval? and his occasional ‘Google Penance’ feature, in which he tried to make up for the terrible lack of something or other which someone had arrived on his blog looking for, only to find themselves cruelly misled; I had an impulse like that here. At last, the chance to provide the picture the Internet has needed for so long! I could picture it, mentally, as well: the tower silhouetted against the sky from the far side of the ward so that the bailey clustered around the edge of the field of view…

View through the barbican entrance of Dudley Castle

The entrance through the barbican into the ward

Reader, I forgot to take that picture. Our circuit of the site never took us to the exact spot and we were in a hurry to leave by the end, and I realised I’d missed my dream shot only some time later. If, therefore, you still need a good image of a real motte-and-bailey castle, I can only suggest you try Launceston, whose existence on the Internet may be why I don’t get that traffic any more; it definitely does the job. But as long as you’re here, I can show you Dudley’s towers…

The inner face of the tower at Dudley Castle

The inner face of the tower, on its motte (as is the photographer)

… I can show you the view from the tower into the bailey…

The bailey from the tower vewing platform at Dudley Castle

The bailey from the tower vewing platform

… or even the bailey from ground-level…

The bailey of Dudley Castle

but I cannot show you, as I’d intended, how the two ends relate except by means of this piece of site signage, which really isn’t what I’d had in mind, however helpful.

Plan of Dudley Castle on display at the site

Tower and motte at bottom left, only one lobe now really standing but the base still all there, barbican and entry along a bit to the right, and various infill along the east wall of the bailey

Now, you will probably have spotted that this collection of buildings has not much to see of the Norman earth-and-wood scratch building we get told at school about so much. That’s because Dudley Castle became a lordly residence in the twelfth century, which is when the quadrilobe tower replaced whatever had been on the motte before, and was turned into an even more splendid residence in the sixteenth century, which is where that range of fancy halls with big windows along the wall of the bailey fits in. Unfortunately, it then also wound up on the royalist side in the English Civil War, during which it resisted siege twice, and was therefore afterwards slighted so that that couldn’t happen again. The halls were allowed to stay up, however. So it’s not quite what one might hope but what this does mean is you can see the inside structure of a whole load of stuff whose makers never meant it to be visible.

Innards of the remaining tower at Dudley Castle

Insides of the tower!

Structure and remains of the western barbican tower at Dudley Castle

Structure and remains of the western barbican tower

Outer face of the wall between tower and barbican at Dudley Castle

Outer face of the wall between tower and barbican, looking from the former to the latter

So it’s all still very impressive, and together with the zoo fulfils an important role as a centre of community sentiment, I think. There are some signs…

Black Country flag being flown from Dudley Castle

The controversial Black Country flag, on the side of the towers facing the town, not quite flying but defiant anyway

… and also evidence that even newcomers to the town can be found adopting the same spirit that made those twelfth-century nobles pile it so high!

Meerkats on the watch in Dudley Zoo

In the shadow of the old tower, a new tower ariseth, with a new tribe of guardians!

Thankyou very much ladies and gentlemen, that’s me done for the day…

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2 responses to “A Black Country Motte-and-Bailey

  1. May I ask you a completely O/T question?

    I was struck by this blog post about a major fraud in archeology.
    http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/50869

    In history are there any fields that could be polluted by a single scholar on the scale of the case discussed in the link? Or do historians keep enough of a check on each other to restrict the damage that might be done?

    I ask partly because my heart sinks whenever I read of scholarly fraud. I understand, of course, that when – say – medical scientists lie they may kill people by the thousand. Historians are unlikely to achieve that. (Though, on reflection …) But my heart sinks all the same.

    • That’s a worrying case. I don’t think there’s many fields in medieval history where one scholar could dominate to such an extent and then so many people build on his work, but you could certainly have both parts of the syllogism even if they didn’t join up. There is, for example, a very small number of people who can read Bactrian, and only one of them really interested in the Middle Ages, so everybody who has Bactrian texts to deal with gets him onto the team. As far as I know he’s a perfectly upright and very busy scholar, but his is another such anchor-position; but I think fewer people need Bactrian than have reasoned using Çatalhöyük. Lots of other little pits exist which only one person digs, but even where there are others we don’t really check on each other that much. If someone tells you something is thus in their subject, do you go and ask someone else just to make sure? I don’t, usually… But on the other hand, even if I rarely find much sign of fraud, I do find evidence of lazy reading and special pleading quite often, and that can do just as much damage! But it keeps me in destructive-mode article topics, I suppose. What this all argues for is reading our colleagues as critically as we read our sources, or vice versa, I guess.

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