Boreholes sunk by Geoinvestigate at 24 Market Place, Barnard Castle have found evidence of the Castles medieval moat. While it was always speculated that the castle had a moat on its east side running parallel to Market Place until now no hard evidence has been found to prove this. Even until recently archaeologists believed that the east moat was not a significant structure and may have been nothing more than a shallow ditch.
However all that changed with the results of Geoinvestigates Boreholes which penetrated 2m and 3m of soft greyish black organic made ground corresponding with the moats buried far slope and 1m of similar fill where the towns ditch was expected to be.
Geoinvestigate believes that it is possible that in medieval times the deepest part of the moat may have reached 4m or even 5m and that it was a major defensive structure and not merely just a ditch. Originally the east moat connected with the south moat which is currently also being investigated by Geoinvestigate.
The moat is underlain by very weak highly weathered shale and mudstone which together with the natural soil cover on this side of the castle would provide favourable conditions for an enemy army who wanted to tunnel beneath the castle walls and breach its massive curtain wall defences.
When you realise that the purpose of a moat is to stop tunnelling then you can appreciate that this must have been a very large structure in medieval times. The east moat was infilled sometime after 1776 and has in many places been built over.
Today, one forgets how important the defences of a northern stronghold such as Barnard Castle were to the security of England. It could be a matter of life or death for its occupants if a castles defences were found wanting. Because you don’t get a second chance the medieval master builders put a lot of thought into planning a castle’s defences as Geoinvestigate are finding from their investigations.
The castle has a long turbulent history of conflict with the Scots who laid siege to it several times in the 13th and 14th Centuries and indeed there is even an account of a knight being killed at the castle by crossbow bolt shot from the ramparts. In 1216 Scots under King Alexander I invaded the north of England and beseiged Barnard Castle briefly. A defender within the castle fired a crossbow bolt that killed Alexander’s brother-in-law, Eustace de Vesci. The castle survived that siege, but in 1264 was taken by barons supporting Simon de Montfort’s rebellion against Henry III”. Later the castle came in to the possession of Warwick the Kingmaker then his cousin Richard III.
The massive round tower keep of the inner castle was added in the 1300s when major improvements were made to the castle at a time when the north was in constant turmoil with the Scots from 1290 – 1357.
The findings of Geoinvestigate’s borehole investigation have been passed to Dr Rob Young who is the Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage and to Durham County Council. Geoinvestigate are currently providing specialist geotechnical consultancy services to English Heritage and Durham County Council on the stability of the castle’s walls.
Geoinvestigate provides desk studies, contaminated land surveys, geotechnical consultancy and borehole Site investigation services throughout Northern East England including Durham, Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Darlington, Middlesbrough, Harrogate, Ripon and Richmond. From our new office in Reading we also provide borehole site investigation services to London, the London Borough Councils and the Greater London towns.