King of the Castle

brinklow os 1886 1886
Brinklow, Warwickshire. Ordnance Survey: surveyed and published 1886. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Back in mid-September I was heading south along the Oxford Canal, and stopped near Brinklow, which has an interesting range of historical features.  Recently, I spent some time in the same spot.  This place is popular with boaters, so, if you want to stop here don’t leave it too late in the day, especially when the hire boats are more numerous.There are two stretches where boats tend to moor:  north of All Oaks Wood (piling, wide towpath, 14 days) and east of the wood (pegs, narrow towpath, perhaps more sheltered).  The recent winds brought by storm Gareth have brought down some useful firewood.

There are two short ways into the village of Brinklow.  Cathiron Lane is generally quiet and leads to the Fosse Way at the lower end of the village, where the Bull’s Head stands, and to Broad Street, where there are two more pubs, The Raven and the White Hart, a chippy, Cantonese & Chinese takeaway, Pumpkins Deli, hairdresser and the Post Office Stores.  I prefer the other route, leaving the cut at Easenhall Lane Bridge (34), along the verge to Brinklow Road, then the field path beside the motte and bailey, and down to Broad Street, near the church.  This route climbs a little, though it is not strenuous, and gives views over the village to the countryside beyond.

Oxford Canal All Oaks Wood 2
Oxford Canal and All Oaks Wood

Obviously, the canal is an historic feature, having been opened to traffic in 1790, to carry coal from the Coventry area to the River Thames at Oxford.  In the 1820s much straightening was carried out, and, here and there, are stubs of the old route, sometimes serving as moorings, boat yards or winding holes (where boats can be turned round).

Leaving Brinklow Road, at the junction with Ell Lane, a metal wicket gate leads to a grassy, but distinct path, across a ridge and furrow field, often occupied by rather timid sheep.  The motte rises to the right.  The path reaches another gate into the castle site, skirting the lower moat.  Two paths descend to Broad Street, one into Town Yard, beside The Raven, the other down a grassy slope from the bailey entrance, beside the church.

A few sights along the footpath from Ell Lane to Broad Street.

The number 585 bus provides mostly half-hourly services to Coventry and Rugby. It stops by the Bull’s Head and in Broad Street. I have travelled to Rugby twice (£6 return), but it appears to lie in the monsoon belt.

The ridge and furrow field has probably changed very little in four centuries (this ploughing technique was used in places from the post-Roman era up to the seventeenth century).  From the top of the field the view includes a short stretch of the Fosse Way, constructed by the Roman occupiers almost two millennia past.  The Fosse Way takes two right-angle turns to avoid the hill and pass though the centre of the village.

From the path it is no great effort to enter the lower bailey and begin to appreciate the scale of the motte and bailey “castle”, with its system of moats, inner bailey, and steep motte, the remnants of a substantial command and control structure built by the Norman conquerors, going on for a thousand years ago.  It is thought that the overall settlement pattern has changed little in all that time.

A few images of the motte and bailey site.  Note that the earthworks have probably settle over time and are probably not as imposing as they would have been when occupied.  The motte would have been surmounted by a tower, which would have added to impression of a formidable defensive structure, and more command of the surrounding area, including the Fosse Way.  Back then, the trees would have been cleared.

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A comprehensive history can be found on the Parish Council website.

Transcription of information board:

Brinklow Castle

Brinklow’s fine motte and rare double bailey earthworks suggest that the castle was envisaged as a strong defensive unit. The castle was made up of timber, possibly prefabricated in Normandy, and was possibly only in use for a very short time. The Fosse Way was still seen as a strategically important road and there are similar castles along its length. It is very likely that the mound was a site of some significance even before Roman times but the Norman builders enlarged and extended it to form the motte and defensive ditches.

In the early years of the 12th century, in the troubled reign of King Stephen and during the civil war with Henry I’s daughter Matilda, the manor of Brinchwalda, Brinchelau, or Brynceslawe was held by the powerful Roger de Mowbray, who held it from the Earls of Leicester. Possibly to settle wrangles about its tenantship by a show of force, or to emphasise Norman control over the surrounding countryside, the castle was constructed, possibly through forced labour from the local inhabitants. Wherever there were pockets of rebellion, or reluctance to pay dues exacted, the Normans erected their fortifications. The land around the castle site would have been cleared of brush and woodland and even houses were demolished if this impeded the view.

The church as we know it did not exist at that time but it is almost certain that in the reign of Henry I a small wooden church served as a chapelry of the mother church, Peterchurche in Smite. Brinklow is not in the Domesday Book as such, but would have been enumerated under the village of Smite.

Castle Earthworks

Brinklow castle mound rises some 40ft. above the natural rise of the land, and about 60ft. above the bottom of the moat, which is approximately 40ft. wide, and some 20ft. deep. The outer bailey was higher by some 10 or 12ft. than the inner courtyard, and would have been crowned by an imposing wooden palisade – strong pointed stakes used in a close defensive row. A second ditch and rampart would have separated the inner from the outer bailey. On top of the mound would have been a watchtower, reached by a ladder, which in dire emergencies, would have been used as a last refuge, and almost certainly there would have been some kind of drawbridge between mound and outer ditch, supported on wooden tiers.

And finally, a few shots of the village.

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2 thoughts on “King of the Castle

    1. Thankyou. Perhaps the best, or at least one of the best, things about this country is that, no matter where you live, there are beautiful, peaceful, even dramatic landscapes within reach. On my boat, of course, I can linger in places like this and hurry (insofar as a narrowboat can be hurried) past the less appealing places.


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