This week, my second-year Medieval Britain class moved on from the Bayeux Tapestry to explore two castles along the River Dee: at Aldford and Holt (see also here). I want to review some of the key information about the former site, drawing on the research of my former doctoral student – Dr Rachel Swallow – who has written an extensive research article about Aldford here.
Aldford Castle, locally known as Blobb Hill, is 5 miles south of Chester. The earthworks of the fortification are strategically situated between the confluence of the River Dee and Alford Brook. The location is strategic in terms of the river, and defended by water courses on all sides but the south. In addition, it marks the line of the Roman road – Watling Street – which heads south from Chester and crosses the Dee at the confluence of the Dee and Aldford Brook north of the castle (the ‘Old Ford’ = Aldford).
The Anglo-Saxon landscape is key to this castle’s location. The close proximity to Farndon leads Rachel to suggest a possible connection with a royal vill where King Edward the Elder died in AD 924. Certainly at Domesday it was a wealthy manor.
Rachel’s suggests that the castle was a motte-and-baily established before the 1140s. She suggests this based on inferences gained from Welsh sources: Madog ap Meredudd’s (d. 1160) power extended as far as Dodleston and Pulford according to Welsh poetry honouring him. Hence Aldford might have been constructed to oppose these Welsh fortifications. However, there remains no secure dating and the earlier reference to a castle here is as late as 1276, although the place-name is Old English and is first referenced in the 1150s.
Archaeological evidence is also inconclusive. Geophysical anomalies hint at stone walls on top of the motte – a rectangular structure with a tower at one corner.
Excavations have produced 13th-century pottery and evidence of a stone wall on the east side of the motte, perhaps part of the shell keep. Likewise, evidence of a D-shaped turret has been tentatively identified at the summit of the motte but remains undated. Therefore, whatever date it originated at, it appears convincing as a stone-built phase of the 13th century.
The church sits on the line of the outer bailey defences and therefore the relationship to the original medieval church – was it within the bailey or outside? – has yet to be confirmed through excavation.
Rachel’s study extends our understanding of the wider landscape context of the castle; suggesting parks to the north and east. There is clearly far more to be learned from Aldford.
We looked at the early 20th-century restoration as a commemorative monument of the medieval churchyard cross before heading off to Holt.