The Lune Valley has the highest concentration of Norman motte and bailey castles anywhere in England, and Castle Stede is the best preserved of them all. It was built around 1086 by Roger de Montbegon, who made it the centre of his barony. He established a borough in the area and the castle was occupied for 200 years. Its function was to control the road route from Lancaster to Kirby Lonsdale, and also to monitor boat movement on the River Lune.
The two and a quarter acre site is built on the edge of a ridge overlooking the banks of the river. The conical motte is in good condition and stands at eight metres high. There is a ditch on three sides of it, with the north side using the slope as a natural defence. On top of the motte would have stood a wooden tower.
The large bailey lies to the west of the motte, on the river side. It is an oval shaped structure, with a ditch and rampart to its south. The north and west sides have a steep slope for defence, which run down to the river. There is a modern causeway that starts outside of the castle area and enters into the bailey, and this is thought to overlay the path of the original.
Rebellions and Confiscations
Roger de Montbegon was a supporter of Prince John in his rebellion against his brother King Richard I when the latter was in prison in Germany. The rebellion failed, and Roger had his lands confiscated, but he was able to get them returned. When John became king, Roger was unhappy at how few favours he was granted in return for his previous support. He began to be suspected of conspiracy by the monarch and Castle Stedes along with the rest of his estates was again confiscated. Just three months later, he was able to reclaim them. This episode only served to increase his bitterness and he became one of the influential groups of barons that sought to curtail the king’s power with Magna Carta. Known as the Committee of Twenty Five, they ensured that King John had to comply with the laws laid out in the historic document.
In 1226, Roger died without an heir and the estate passed to Henry de Monewdon. It was then sold on to Hubert de Burgh, the Earl of Kent. Later it passed to the families of the Lungvilles and then to the Nevilles. The Nevilles built Hornby Castle just a mile away from Castle Stedes which was then left to fall into misuse.
There is a saying in archaeology that “a good site is a good site” meaning that sites that are strategic and useful in one era are re-used in another. Castle Stede is an excellent example of this. It was very probably an iron age fort and it has a Second World War pillbox which can still be visited today. For more on the pillbox see our companion site Lancashire at War here.
There is a short drone flight video that shows just how impressive the surviving Norman earthworks are here.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2019
The earthworks lie just a mile outside of Hornby village. There is limited parking at Loyn Bridge. A public footpath takes you into the field where the motte and bailey castle can be viewed. There is access to the bailey, but the motte is fenced off. The pillbox can also be viewed at close quarters. See Lancashire at War here.
Nearby, just a short drive away
Historic England website: pastscape.org Castle Stede entry
The Mottes of North Lancashire, Lonsdale and Cumbria, Mary C. Higham (undated)available from: