Wakefield Castle, which is also known as Wakefield Lowe Hill, was built in the early twelfth century by William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey to secure control of the River Calder. It probably operated in conjunction with the contemporary Sandal Castle on the other side of the river but, unlike that fortification, it was never rebuilt in stone and was abandoned no later than the fourteenth century.
Wakefield is located on the banks of the River Calder, a major waterway that provided an important means of moving east/west across the country and (via the Rivers Aire and Ouse) connected the site to the sea. It was also in vicinity of a major north/south road which crossed the river nearby. For both these reasons it was regarded as an important nodal point and accordingly it was the recipient of two motte-and-bailey fortifications: Wakefield (Lowe Hill) Castle and Sandal Castle. Both were built by the de Warenne family who were granted the area in 1106 by Henry I. It is not clear which of the two fortifications was built first but Wakefield Castle is generally attributed to William de Warenne, Third Earl of Surrey (1119-48). It is believed he constructed it during the Anarchy, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda over the English throne. William supported Stephen's cause and fought for the King at the Battle of Lincoln (1141) although he was disgraced when he fled the scene.
Wakefield Lowe Hill Castle was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. Its name suggests it may have been converted from a prehistoric barrow; Lowe possibly having derived from hlāw meaning mound/burial. Its primary purpose was to secure control of the River Calder. The motte was located on a summit of high ground to the north of the river and would have been topped with a timber palisade and tower whilst its base was surrounded by a ditch. Even in its present heavily wooded state, the site offers impressive views over the area. To the west and north-east were baileys with a possible further enclosure extending beyond the latter.
The first surviving record of the castle dates from 1170 when its constable was listed alongside those for Conisbrough and Tickhill castles. To date, archaeological finds at the site have been limited to the twelfth century suggesting occupation did not continue long after this period. The final mention of the castle as a functional entity dates from 1324 when it was referenced, alongside Sandal Castle, in a Royal Charter. Local tradition says the castle was blown down during the great gale of 1330. By this time Sandal Castle had been rebuilt in stone and the still-timber Wakefield Castle was never repaired.
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Wakefield Lowe Hill Castle survives as earthworks although the site is now heavily wooded. The remains are located in Clarence Park and freely accessible to the public.
Earthworks. The castle's earthworks can be difficult to fully appreciate due to the wooded nature of the site. Nevertheless, the remains are quite impressive and give a sense of the scale of this once significant fortress.
River Calder. The river was a major waterway which provided a means of moving east/west across the country and (via the Rivers Aire and Ouse) connected Wakefield to the sea.
Wakefield Castles in Context. The relationship between Sandal and Wakefield castles is not known although it is likely that Wakefield was predominantly responsible for control of the River Calder whilst Sandal Castle served as the administrative centre for the manor of Wakefield.
View. Wakefield Castle had a superb view of the surrounding area.