Some 65 years after it concluded, the results of Brian Hope- Taylor’s excavation of the Mote of Urr – a motte-and-bailey castle near Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway (shown above) – have finally been published.
Brian is perhaps best known for his work on early medieval sites in England, including the Anglian royal palace complex at Yeavering, Northumberland, but he also excavated several key sites in Scotland – such as Doon Hill, near East Lothian, in 1962-1964 (see CA 70 and 343), and, in 1952-1953, the Mote of Urr.
The latter revealed extensive evidence of the castle’s life, from when it was first built in the late 12th century through to the end of its occupation some time after the second half of the 14th century. Surprisingly, though, while documentary evidence suggests that construction probably began under Walter de Berkeley, Lord of Urr in Galloway, some time before 1170, this first phase of occupation left little trace in the archaeological record. As David Perry of Alder Archaeology, who brought together the report, described: ‘Only two radiocarbon dates from the earliest phase support the 12th-century occupation at the motte, which probably terminated during the rebellion in Galloway in 1174.’
This rebellion is thought to have culminated in the castle’s destruction by fire, after which the site became home to a large, central stone-lined pit that might have been used as an oven, furnace, kiln, or beacon. This feature continued to be used into the second phase of occupation, when the motte’s height was increased, and the mound enclosed by a clay bank or palisade. Radiocarbon dating suggests that this took place in the 13th century, and that occupation continued into the second half of the 14th century and possibly into the 15th century.
Commenting on the new publication, Professor Barbara Crawford of the University of St Andrews and the University of the Highlands and Islands said, ‘It is with appreciation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s skills as a teacher and more particularly as an excavator of important medieval sites in northern England and southern Scotland that I welcome this publication. It will advance our understanding of these impressive mounds in the landscape, and perpetuate Hope-Taylor’s legacy in exploring such lordship sites.’
The full report can be read at http://archaeologyreportsonline.com/reports/2018/ARO31.html.
This article appeared in CA 348.