1. At the time of the Norman Conquest, the Lune valley was economically prosperous and this prompted the invaders to build a number of motte-and-bailey fortifications along the river’s length to secure control of the associated trade. Aside from Castle Stede these included Arkholme Castle, Halton Castle, Melling Castle and Whittington Castle with Lancaster itself downstream.
Postcode: LA2 8LL
Lat/Long: 54.121838N 2.639966W
Notes: The site is found a little under one mile east of the village of Gressingham adjacent to a bridge over the River Lune. There is a lay-by just before the bridge suitable for a few cars.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The remains of one of the best preserved motte-and-bailey fortifications in Lancashire. Whilst all masonry has gone, the shape of the bailey is clearly visible via the earthworks. The motte, although not accessible, can be viewed from the adjacent footpath.
Motte. The motte still stands to an impressive height but is not heavily overgrown with trees and infested with rabbit warrens. Accordingly there is no public access to this part of the site.
Built to guard the point where the Lancaster to Kirby-Lonsdale road crosses the River Lune, Castle Stede was raised in the late eleventh century probably by Roger de Montbegon. It was occupied for around 200 years, during which it was briefly seized by the forces of King John, but was later replaced by a new castle at Hornby.
HISTORY OF CASTLE STEDE
Located at fording point over the River Lune, Castle Stede controlled the main road from Lancaster to Kirby-Lonsdale but precisely who raised the fortification and when is uncertain. The late eleventh century saw many motte-and-bailey castles built along the Lune Valley both intended to control the extensive economic activity along the river and stamp Norman authority over the wider area. It is possible that Castle Stede was constructed concurrently with these but, at the time of the Domesday Book (1086), the manor was held by the Crown and there are no surviving Royal records that detail any building work there. At sometime after 1086 it was granted to Roger de Montbegon and the castle may owe its origin to him.
The fortification was configured as a traditional Norman motte-and-bailey. Occupying a natural scarp that is protected on the western side by the River Lune, it was already a naturally defendable site and has been mooted to have been an Iron Age hillfort. If so the Norman castle re-used the earthworks of this earlier site and perhaps this accounts for the unusually large oval shaped bailey which enclosed over two acres. The motte, sited on the eastern side of the bailey, would have had a wooden tower that must have dominated the skyline for miles around.
Forming part of the manor of Hornby, the castle remained with the Montbegon family throughout the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. During the reign of Richard I (1189-99) the then owner - another Roger - briefly forfeited his estates following his support to Prince John in his rebellion against the King (who at the time was imprisoned pending his ransom in Dürnstein Castle, Austria). Despite this support, when John ascended to the throne in 1199, relations between the two soured and in 1205 Roger was suspected of conspiracy prompting the King to seize Castle Stede along with his other estates. Whilst they were returned, Roger was now a key opponent to the King and became part of 'the Northerners' faction; hardliners who went to war with John following his rejection of Magna Carta. Roger was reconciled with the King's successor, Henry III, in August 1217.
Roger died without a male heir in 1226 with the estate passing to Henry de Monewdon. He sold the manor to Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent and it later passed to the Lungvillier and then the Neville families. It was probably the latter who built nearby Hornby Castle as a direct replacement for Castle Stede with the site going out of use thereafter. However, the strategic location was acknowledged as recently as World War II when a machine gun pillbox was situated on the embankment to control the road bridge.