Kilpeck Castle, Herefordshire


North section of the walls
The motte

Minor but picturesque Norman ruin on a large motte ringed by a grassy moat, with grand views of the Welsh Marches
On the north side of Kilpeck, 10 miles southwest of Hereford along the A465; HR2 9DN
The Norman castle at Kilpeck, ten miles southwest of Hereford, was never very large, and the only remains are two short sections of stone wall on top of a sizeable motte, but the site is remote and picturesque, on the crest of a hill that affords extensive views to the west, over the rolling countryside of the Welsh Marches. Kilpeck is today a small village but was in medieval times much larger, home to as many as 600 inhabitants at its peak; other important buildings from this era include a Benedictine priory, of which almost no trace remains, and a fine Romanesque church, which survives intact.

Kilpeck Castle was begun soon after the Norman invasion, around 1090, and was primarily an administrative centre, cavalry base and ducal residence, rather than a purely defensive structure, used to manage the ancient district of Archenfield, now within southwest Herefordshire. The first owner was William FitzNorman (died 1128), who was given the manor of Kilpeck by William the Conqueror, and the earliest structure was made of timber; the stone walls, from a shell keep, date from the end of the 12th century. The castle was maintained for only around 200 years before being gradually abandoned, though was still substantial enough during the 1640s to act as a temporary base for Royalists during the Civil War, immediately after which the place was demolished by order of Parliament.

The Castle Site

Kilpeck Castle is not obviously signposted or maintained, and falls within private lands of the Whitfield Estate, though it can be visited free of charge at any time. Parking is the same as for the adjacent church, along a narrow lane on the north side of Kilpeck. A short path leads to the fortification, which is also reachable via a gate at the rear of the churchyard. The two wall remnants stand on top of the motte, which is about 170 feet in diameter, up to 27 feet high, and circled by a ditch. To the east was the crescent-shaped inner bailey, now partly occupied by the graveyard, and all was enclosed by another, deeper ditch, or moat, now mostly lined by trees. At least three other, outer baileys once existed, to the south, north and west, the latter bordered on the far side by a stream running through a shallow valley, which afforded additional natural protection. The medieval village of Kilpeck extended eastwards on the far side of the church, an area now just farmland, though faint ridges and hollows show where some of the buildings once stood.

The Walls

The shell keep, the only stone component of the castle, was formed of a circular exterior wall about 100 feet across, constructed of sandstone rubble with ashlar dressing, within which were various rooms including a hall and bed chambers, plus a well. Two sections of the wall survive, both about 30 feet long and 15 feet tall. The northern section includes the base of a cross-wall on the east side, the edge of a garderobe to the west, and a fireplace with chimney at the centre, while the southern fragment also contains a fireplace, plus a drain, the remains of an oven, and the edge of a window. Although minor, the ruins are quite photogenic, especially when set against the extensive countryside below to the west. The motte was until recently partly wooded, but all the trees have since been removed.