Notes: Swerford is found off the A461 between Chipping Norton and Banbury. The castle earthworks are found just to the north of St Mary’s church with on-road parking possible in the vicinity. The pedestrian access to the earthworks is sign-posted.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The mound and earthworks from a twelfth century motte-and-bailey castle. The motte stands around 4 metres tall and the outline of the primary (south) bailey is well preserved with the exception of a small section destroyed by the expansion of the church graveyard. St Mary's Church, parts of which date from the thirteenth century and possibly re-used stone robbed from the castle, is adjacent.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Accessing Swerford Castle. The remains of the castle can be accessed via a kissing gate to the west of the church.
Swerford Castle Layout. The castle consisted of two baileys although one was a simple enclosure seemingly for a windmill and dovecote. The original gatehouse faced the ford although another may have existed to the east.
Swerford Castle was one of hundreds of castles built during the Anarchy, the civil war between King Stephen and Matilda. It was a substantial fortification with a motte and two baileys and, unusually for a castle built in haste, seemingly had some stone defences. It was destroyed in the mid-twelfth century.
HISTORY OF SWERFORD CASTLE
The first recorded reference to a settlement at Swerford dates from the Domesday Book (1086) which lists the owner as Robert d'Oyley (also spelt d'Oily) - a Norman who accompanied William I on his invasion of England and fought at the Battle of Hastings. He acquired Swerford through his marriage to Ealdgyth, the daughter of the Saxon Wigod of Wallingford. Upon Robert's death, the castle passed to his brother, Nigel, who was followed by his son, another Robert d'Oyley. Robert married Edith Forme - a former mistress of Henry I and mother to Robert, Earl of Gloucester - and this led to him becoming embroiled in the civil war known as the Anarchy. This was a power struggle between King Stephen and Matilda over the succession to the English Crown. Matilda's key supporter was Robert, Earl of Gloucester and Robert’s affiliation with him prompted him to fortify Swerford. In these troubled times the castle was built to control the adjacent fording point over the River Swere, which led to Robert's nearby property at Hook Norton, and to protect the manor particularly from William Chesney of Deddington Castle, an ardent supporter of King Stephen.
The castle was a motte-and-bailey structure. The mound would have been topped by a shell keep - either with a wooden palisade or stone wall - enclosing an area a little under 18 metres in diameter. Swerford Castle had two baileys; the primary one was constructed to the south of the motte in a roughly rectangular shape and contained all the supporting buildings associated with such a settlement including stables, kitchen and storage. Unusually it was not surrounded by a ditch but instead was built on a raised platform formed from an artificial scarping of the terrain. Also of note was that some of the defences appear to have been constructed from stone; for fortifications built in haste during warfare this was unusual as speed normally dictated a purely earth and timber construction. A second bailey, to the north-east of the motte, hosted a number of small circular structures believed to be a windmill and dovecote. Access to the castle was via a Gatehouse situated between the motte and the primary bailey on the north side opposite the ford although there also seems to have been a secondary entrance to the south.
The civil war came to an end in 1153 with the accession of Henry II. His priority was to restore Royal control after decades of lawlessness and accordingly he ordered the destruction of castles that had been built without authorisation during the war. It is probable that Swerford was one of the castle destroyed at this time. Stone from the castle was robbed to support building of the church, believed to have been founded by Osney Abbey in the thirteenth century, and the site now just exists as earthworks. A small portion of the bailey was destroyed by the expansion of St Mary's church in 1925.
The motte at Swerford Castle
The earthworks of the motte and primary bailey at Swerford Castle