and BRYN Y CASTELL
Knighton Castle was raised in the late eleventh or early twelfth century to control a portion of the River Teme. It was destroyed by the Welsh in 1215 and this perhaps prompted the construction of a second castle called Bryn y Castell. This became superfluous when Knighton Castle was rebuilt in the 1230s and a thriving town grew around it despite further Welsh attacks in 1262 and 1402.
Knighton is located on the south bank of the River Teme, an important means of medieval inter-town movement, and was also on the line of Offa's Dyke, the eighth century earthwork that still served as the traditional border of Wales at the time of the Norman invasion of England. Within the town, two motte fortifications exist in close proximity - Knighton Castle and Bryn y Castell. Historical records relating to the two sites universally fail to distinguish between them but, based on the surviving earthworks, it would seem Knighton Castle was the main fortification as the site was larger and more developed. However, caution must be applied as the elimination of any bailey that existed at Bryn y Castell may result in us having a distorted picture.
Knighton Castle was raised in the late eleventh or early twelfth century probably by Hugh l'Asne (which translates as 'Hugh the Donkey' or 'Hugh the Ass'!) who was a Knight from Argentan in Normandy and a vassal of William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford. However, the first written reference to the site dates from 1182 when the Pipe Rolls record its confiscation from Roger Chandos who had rebelled against Henry II. Thereafter it was granted to William de Braose, Lord Bramber although it was briefly taken into Crown control in 1191 and placed in the control of Hugh Say from Richards Castle. The Pipe Rolls record compensation being paid to William for this decision.
Knighton Castle was still owned by William de Braose in 1208 when it was confiscated by King John. William's wife, Matilda de Braose, had been indiscreet with her opinion that the King had murdered his cousin, Arthur of Brittany, a rival for the throne. Outraged the King used the pretence of an unpaid Crown debt to dispossess William who fled into exile but not before his wife and eldest son were captured and starved to death in Corfe Castle (some records suggest Windsor). This horrific act was one of the catalysts for Magna Carta and the subsequent First Barons War and also prompted William’s surviving sons to ally themselves with Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. To secure the former de Braose territories from this threat the King placed Knighton Castle, along with nearby Norton Castle, into the hands of Thomas Erdington, Sheriff of Shropshire. However, his efforts failed and Knighton Castle was seized and burnt by Llywelyn’s forces in May 1215.
Bryn y Castell
Most authors place the construction of Bryn y Castell immediately after the destruction of Knighton Castle in May 1215. This seems to be the most logical conclusion but, if correct, the name of the fortification is inaccurate for it translates as 'Brian's Castle' which implies it was built by Brian de Brampton, son of Brian de Unspac, Lord of Kinlet. As Brampton died in 1193 the castle either wasn't built by him or alternatively it was raised earlier, perhaps during the period that Knighton Castle was under the control of Hugh Say (1191-2).
Whatever prompted the construction of Bryn y Castell, the centrepiece of the new castle was a motte albeit one significantly smaller than Knighton Castle. This may have been topped with a stone built shell Keep. The mound was surrounded on three sides by a ditch but this wasn't extended to the north side as it was superfluous due to the steep natural scarp down to the River Teme. A bailey may well have been located to the south which is now occupied by the playing ground.
Knighton Castle Rebuilt
Knighton passed back into English hands in 1230 when Ralph Mortimer married Llywelyn ap Iorwerth's daughter. He rebuilt Knighton Castle in stone and it was probably shortly after that Bryn y Castell was abandoned. Ralph also successfully lobbied for a charter granting the town the right to hold a weekly market and annual fair. These enabled the settlement to grow beyond a mere agricultural market town and by 1260 it was thriving. Mortimer obtained a grant of murage (the right to charge a toll) in 1260 to fund the construction of town defences. These were probably earth and timber ramparts and re-used a portion of Offa's Dyke, which ran to the immediate west of Knighton, but they weren't raised in time and in 1262 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd attacked and burnt both castle and town. Both were restored once the English regained control and no further attacks were recorded until 1402 when the forces of Owain Glyndŵr attacked Knighton. Despite a large garrison having been detached from Ludlow, the Welsh overran both Knighton Castle and the town defences once more. The castle was never rebuilt. The fixing of the Anglo-Welsh border in 1535 placed Knighton in Wales.
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Knighton Castle, which now survives as a substantial earthwork, is regrettably part of a private garden with no public access and it is difficult to even view the structure from a distance due to the extensive urbanisation around the site. By contrast the motte of Bryn y Castell is in a public park and easily accessible. Knighton is also the only town through which Offa’s Dyke runs with access to the national path. There is an Offa's Dyke Visitor Centre within the town adjacent to the path and there are remains of this impressive earthwork to both the north and south of the town.
Knighton Castle Motte. Although not immediately obvious to the modern tourist, due to the extensive urban development around the site, the largest of the two fortifications was Knighton Castle. This was located on the top of a steep hill, which would have offered commanding views of the surrounding area, and was directly adjacent to Offa's Dyke. The motte had stone defences, presumably replacing earlier timber walls, and was positioned to the north of the bailey. Both motte and bailey were protected by defensive ditches. The site of Knighton Castle motte is enclosed by Plough Road, Market Street and Castle Road. The steep climb to the site of the castle gives a good indication of how formidable the site was.
Bryn y Castell. Knighton’s second motte is located to the east of the town. The name suggests it was built by Brian Brampton implying a date of construction before his death in 1193 perhaps during the period when Knighton Castle was under the control of the Crown. Other authors suggest Bryn y Castell was built following the destruction of Knighton Castle in 1215. It has also been mooted that it was a siege castle although this seems the least likely explanation.
Knighton town is easily found and there are numerous car parking options one of which is shown below. The way to Bryn y Castell and the Offa's Dyke Centre are both clearly marked on the various pedestrian signs but the Knighton Castle site is not. It can be found enclosed by Plough Road, Market Street and Castle Road
Bryn y Castell
Offa's Dyke Visitor Centre