Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust
Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust
Snodhill Castle in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley can lay claim to two superlatives: it’s one of the largest early Norman castles in Britain – and certainly the least understood.
Neglected for over 350 years, its standing remains contain unique features that up to 2016 were critically at risk. In March that year the Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust was formed by enthusiasts and the folk of Snodhill to save and preserve this remarkable and entrancing site for all.
Historic England carried out Emergency works to prevent the castle’s collapse in 2016. Now, in 2017 the major work begins: to reveal the full topography of this huge site; to reclaim the ruins from invasive undergrowth; to restore the standing remains and to investigate its near-pristine medieval surroundings in order to uncover its story for the purposes of conservation, community, enrichment - and plain enjoyment.
Unknown to most, but treasured by many, Snodhill Castle has formed a romantic and mysterious backdrop to the stories of many folk, including Francis Kilvert.
Now we intend to uncover its own story.
To be part of this discovery, watch the video and read on.
In size, scale and obvious architectural elan, Snodhill Castle has a significance greater than its scant written records attest. Preliminary archaeology has already uncovered unusual building features for which every suggested answer begs another question.
Snodhill Castle’s origins are obscure, but there are several interesting theories as to the earliest use of this naturally defensible hilltop and vantage point.
It is possible that there was an Iron Age hillfort on the “Snodhill” (possibly meaning ‘Snow hill’) - the site’s extensive outer earthworks particularly on its North side are unusual for a Norman Castle.
There is another theory that Snodhill could be a very rare pre-Norman Castle built by Norman favourites and acquaintances of King Edward “The Confessor” around 1050 to guard the fertile “Golden Valley” and its prosperous Saxon villages at Wilmastone, Dorstone, Peterchurch and Mynydd-brith.
It is known that a Pre Norman Conquest Castle was built at Ewyas Harold to guard the south end of the Golden Valley; could Snodhill Castle have been built to guard the North end?
Even more intriguing is that Snodhill could be the site of a Saxon Fort built by Earl Harold Godwinson (later King Harold) in 1055. It is recorded in the Chronicle of Florence of Worcester that in response to the disastrous Welsh attack on Hereford on the 24th October 1055 King Edward “commanded an army to be levied from every part of England, and on its being assembled at Gloucester, gave the command of it to the brave Earl Harold”. This large English army then pursued the Welsh and “boldly crossing the Welsh border, encamped beyond Straddell (Snowdon)”. Earl Harold then left the bulk of the army there to guard the frontier while he returned to Hereford to oversee the rebuilding of the City’s defences.
There are various candidates for this Saxon camp (Longtown Castle and Mouse Castle) but there is certainly a case to be made for Snodhill being its location; the Snodhill overlooks the “Straddle Valley” (the old name for the Golden Valley) and the valley was considered the border between England and Wales from Roman through to Norman times. Snodhill could certainly be considered “beyond Straddle” and Earl Harold’s large army would have needed a large and secure place to stay during the winter of 1055 while Hereford’s defences were being rebuilt.
The steep-sided Snodhill, possibly with some form of earthworks already on it, and with the old Roman road network in the Straddle valley allowing easy patrolling of the border would have been such a place.
Snodhill has also been called “Snowdoun”.
What we know for certain is that the latest the Castle can have been built is 1068-1071, when William Fitz Osbern: 1st Earl of Hereford, was campaigning to assert Norman control along the Welsh Marches (he is credited with building all the major Norman Castles from Chepstow to Shrewsbury).
William Fitz Osbern then granted Snodhill Castle to his loyal knight Hugh l’Asne who held it until his death in 1100, when the Castle passed to Robert de Chandos (who had married one of l’Asne’s daughters).
The De Chandos family then held Snodhill Castle in a more or less unbroken line for 328 years (that is, through some eight crusades, five monarchs, one magna carta and one hundred years war) until 1428 when the last of the line John de Chandos died. The Castle then passed to his grandson Giles de Bruges and later through the Beauchamp, Neville, Dudley, Vaughan and Prosser families.
Snodhill Castle’s strategic position, defensive strength, size, and long and active occupational history would undoubtedly have meant it was involved in the many political disputes and wars along the Welsh Marches; from Eadric the Wild in 1067-1070, the civil wars and rebellions in King Stephen, King Henry II and King John’s reigns, the Welsh Wars of King Edward I, the troubles of King Edward II’s reign (When Snodhill Castle was stormed by Roger Mortimer) and on through to the Owain Glyndwr raids of 1404-6.
It is uncertain what part Snodhill Castle played in the English Civil War; local tradition has it that the castle was besieged and destroyed by the Earl of Leven in 1645 (cannon balls have been found) and recent discoveries on the South Bastion suggest it was occupied at that time and put into a state of defence, but it is most likely that the castle was “slighted” in 1647 to prevent further military use.
It was then partially demolished by William Prosser between 1649 and 1652 to provide materials to build nearby Snodhill Court and barns and probably buildings further afield.
The intervening centuries are not well documented, but one event of note was the visit by Francis Kilvert, the celebrated local diarist, for a bucolic picnic with friends on the 21st June 1870.
Today Snodhill Castle’s remains include substantial portions of its absolutely unique 12-sided tower keep with novel twin-turreted entrance; while below in the Inner Bailey various towers, walls and buried features abound, indicating that the castle had unusually elaborate defences and extensive high status accommodation.
The Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust was set up in March 2016 by castle enthusiasts together with the folk of the hamlet of Snodhill. In September of that year the Trust took possession of a 999-year lease on the 10-acre site.
Once the castle remains are secure, the Trust will manage its preservation and work with archaeologists, historians and the community to understand its history, and that of the surrounding medieval landscape, for conservation, community, education and enjoyment.
Next tour: Saturday 3rd June at 1pm and 4pm.
Here’s a unique and exclusive opportunity to get close up to the archaeological excavations and restoration work in progress at the castle.
Expert guide Garry Crook and craftsman Olly Fookes from Sally Strachey Historic Conservation take the tour across the earthworks of the outer bailey, around the North terrace (beneath the imposing North tower) and up to the newly cleared inner bailey. Here hard hats will be distributed, prior to ascending the motte to the Keep, from which there’s a great view of the deer park and the valley. Your guides will point out the high status features of the castle, some of the finds from the digs, and discuss some of the theories put forward to explain the recently uncovered chamber on the South East bastion. And you’ll have a chance to lift one of the 17C cannonballs found near the site.
Snodhill is about 8 miles from Hay on Wye: follow signs to Peterchurch B4348, then turn off at Dorstone and proceed through the village. Take the third turning on the right signposted Snodhill. When you reach the hamlet, turn left and the castle is 300m ahead of you. Park on the verge beyond the castle entrance. [Postcode: HR3 6BG]
NUMBERS ARE LIMITED AND ALLOCATED ON A FIRST COME FIRST SERVED BASIS.
To book your place:
Call: 01981 550836
Please note the castle is a construction site and access is forbidden outside these tours.
The terrain is rough and steeply sloping which makes the tours unsuitable for wheelchairs or the less abled.
Minimum age 16.