Knockin Castle was a motte-and-bailey fortification that was built in the mid-twelfth century by Henry II who held the manor during the minority of Guy le Strange. It remained with that family until the fifteenth century after which it came under the control of Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby who neglected the castle and allowed it to fall into ruin.
By the mid-twelfth century Knockin was owned by Roland le Strange, Duke of Brittany. He died in 1158 and left the manor to one of his younger children, the 12-year old Guy le Strange. Due to his minority, it was taken into Crown control and it was shortly after that when Henry II built Knockin Castle which took the form of a motte-and-bailey fortification. His motivations for doing so was probably due to the humiliating defeat he suffered at the hands of Owain ap Gruffudd, King of Gwynedd during the Battle of Ewloe (1157). Knockin Castle was perhaps an attempt to strengthen English fortifications along the border to contain Gruffudd. It was still in Crown ownership in 1165 when Henry II made repairs to the structure but soon after Guy le Strange must have come into his inheritance and he used Knockin Castle as the administrative centre for his estates in the region.
The castle's motte had a broadly rectangular footprint and was surrounded by its own ditch with access provided by a stone causeway on the east side. The bailey, which was configured in an L-shaped layout, was positioned to the north and east of the motte. The site was surrounded by defensive ditches which were flooded from Weir Brook, tributaries of which descend on both the east and west sides of the castle. Either concurrently with the construction of the castle, or shortly thereafter, a planned settlement was laid out adjacent to the fortification doubtless in an attempt to stimulate the manor into developing beyond a mere agricultural community. St Mary's Church, which was located next to the castle, was founded by Ralph le Strange between 1182 and 1194. Additional defensive earthworks may have been raised to protect the town, mill and church.
Knockin Castle reverted to Crown ownership once more in 1194 upon the death of Ralph le Strange. Richard I made repairs to the fortification in 1196 but two years later it was in the hands of John le Strange. The castle suffered damage during the First Barons' War (1215-17) but was repaired at Crown expense in 1223.
Precisely when the castle went out of use is uncertain by the last record of the site as a functioning administrative centre dates from 1322 although a tenant, Sir Nicholas Herbert, was reportedly living there in 1405. Furthermore in 1482 the site passed to George Stanley, through his marriage to Joan le Strange, and Knockin served as his Lordship. However his son, Thomas Stanley, became the Earl of Derby and invariably Knockin became a minor estate in contrast to his other holdings. It is likely the castle went into decline at this time and in 1540 the antiquarian John Leland described it as ruinous. The nineteenth century saw the castle site quarried for stone in particular for construction of a nearby bridge and the churchyard wall. A modern house, which serves as the Rectory, was built within the bailey in 1901.
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Knockin Castle consists of the earthworks of a rectangular motte but this is extensively overgrown making it difficult to appreciate the full extent of this once significant fortification. Construction of the Rectory and associated landscaping has destroyed much of the Outer Bailey. St Mary's Church, the earliest fabric of which dates from the late twelfth century, is located adjacent to the castle site.
Earthworks. The earthworks of the motte survive but are buried under extensive foliage.
St Mary's Church. The church, which stands adjacent to the site of the castle, was built between 1182 and 1195 by Ralph le Strange. It was restored in 1847 but the Norman chancel, nave and north aisle survive. The churchyard wall consists of stone robbed from the castle.
Weir Brook. The castle was surrounded by defensive ditches which were flooded from Weir Brook.