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Castles of the British Isles

Photo Focus: Daws Castle

by Peter Kessler, 23 January 2022

 

Daws Castle, near Watchet in Somerset
Photo © Mike 1501

The West Saxon fortification of Daws Castle (or Daw’s Castle) stands on an exposed clifftop overlooking Warren Bay and the town of Watchet in western Somerset. It is so exposed that the northern part of the castle has already been lost to erosion.

It was supposedly founded in the ninth century by Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, although some elements may already have existed for up to a century beforehand (according to some archaeology reports). The curvilinear earthen bank which protected the castle on its inland side can still partially be seen in this photo.

The Daws Castle area, near Watchet in Somerset
Photo © Huo Luobin

The castle was largely designed to protect the region from attack by Viking raiders. Viking attacks had littered Alfred's life, with each of his many brothers becoming king in turn and often falling during their various attempts to ward off Viking attacks.

Alfred himself would almost lose his entire kingdom to them before rallying to secure Anglo-Saxon England in the south and west.

Daws Castle was not a fortification in the later Norman sense, to keep down an often-unruly native population until the Norman conquests of England and then Wales could be completed. This was part of Alfred's system of burhs (fortified towns) which could act not only as strongholds but also as a local administrative and defensive centre. That initial castle was strengthened and expanded, probably in the very late tenth century.

Overlooking Watchet in Somerset, close to Daws Castle
Photo © Keith Murray

The castle's royal connections gave it some status, so much so that it was given its own mint, one of the few in Somerset. It produced coinage between at least 978 and 1016. It was mentioned as such in the 'Burghal Hidage' list, a royal document of fortified towns and their worth in southern England.

The castle is noted as foiling a Scandinavian raid in AD 914 which was using the Severn Estuary as its point of access. By the medieval period the castle had been abandoned in favour of a settlement to the east which grew into today's town of Watchet (seen here).

The lack of a mention in Domesday Book in 1086 suggests that it had already been replaced by that date.

 

Photos on this page kindly contributed by Mike 1501, Huo Luobin, and Keith Murray, all via the 'History Files: Castles of the British Isles' Flickr group.

Main Sources

Britain Express

Historic England

 

Images and text copyright © P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.