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Castles of the British Isles

Photo Focus: Lost Castles of Somerset

by Peter Kessler, 27 February 2022

 

Lost castles of Somerset
Lost Castles of Somerset

A great many castles were erected early in the Norman period as William of Normandy and his immediate successors attempted to control the Anglo-Saxon population, a process which took at least two decades. Later, through whatever circumstances, a number of these castles were supplanted or abandoned. This page attempts to cover the lost castles of the county of Somerset.

Either browse all the entries on the page or select the castle you'd like to visit:

Castle Neroche
Culverhay Castle

Castle Neroche in Somerset
Photo © jsomerville8973

The remains of Castle Neroche are located at the eastern end of the Blackdown Hills, a little to the north of Buckland St Mary. From there the hills overlook the vale of the River Tone and the county town of Taunton (see the 'Churches of Taunton Deane' link, below).

The name 'Neroche' is thought to be derived from the Old English 'nierra' and 'rechich, rachich', meaning the 'camp where hunting dogs were kept'. Rache were a type of hunting dog.

Around 600 BC, Castle Neroche was the site of an impressive Iron Age hill fort. It acted as a refuge for the surrounding farming communities during attacks by neighbouring tribes. These people were more than likely to be Celts, but perhaps with an admixture of preceding populations which could have survived in the south-west before becoming fully absorbed.

In the eleventh century, following the successful invasion of England by William of Normandy, his half-brother Robert, count of Mortain, built a motte and bailey castle on this strategically-useful hilltop location.

The area is a little out-of-the-way, so the castle quickly fell into disuse. It was revived during 'The Anarchy' in the twelfth century when King Stephen and Empress Matilda contended for the throne. After that it may have remained in use for a time by local administrators, as they maintained the king's forest, before finally being abandoned in favour of greater comforts.

Today nothing visible remains other than the earthworks.

Return to list of 'Lost Castles' ^

Culverhay Castle in Somerset
Photo © Michael Day

Lying in the village of Englishcombe near Bath, the earthworks of Culverhay Castle are clearly visible, although nothing else survives.

The ditch and banks form part of a ringwork design, thought to have been built between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The ringwork is surrounded by a substantial ditch with an outer bank on all but the southern side.

The likely builder was Nigel de Gourney, tenant of Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances, in 1086, just two decades after the Normans under Duke William had invaded and successfully seized south-eastern England.

The name 'Culverhay' means 'enclosure of the doves', with part of the foundations thought to have been a dovecote.

Return to list of 'Lost Castles' ^

 

Photos on this page kindly contributed by jsomerville8973 and Michael Day, all via the 'History Files: Castles of the British Isles' Flickr group.

Main Sources

Bathscape: Culverhay Castle

Gatehouse Gazetteer: Culverhay Castle

Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty website

Neroche: Liberating the Landscape website (available via the Internet Archive)

Other Sources

Dunning, Robert - Somerset Castles (Somerset Books, Tiverton, 1995)

 

Images and text copyright © all contributers mentioned above. An original feature for the History Files.