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Weeting ‘Castle’, a Twelfth-Century Hall House in Norfolk

  • T. A. Heslop


In almost every respect Weeting Castle represents a challenge. To begin with, the limited remnants of the building do not at first sight suggest that a very full mental reconstruction of the medieval building is a realistic prospect (Fig. 1). However, as this paper is intended to demonstrate, enough survives to allow not just the general form, but also a good deal of the detail to be envisaged with some confidence. The designation ‘castle’ is another hurdle, encouraging a misleading expectation that Weeting should be understood in the context of fortified residences. How it should be categorized is far from straightforward. The notice which greets visitors to the site refers to it as ‘an early medieval manor house’. As we shall see, the building has many of the characteristics of the later medieval double-ended hall house, but there are two problems about regarding it as such. The first is that we categorize it in this way only with the benefit of historical hindsight: it is not likely to have been viewed by its builders as a contribution to an ‘evolutionary’ process. The second is a danger either that Weeting comes to stand as typical of the twelfth-century development of this type, or conversely to be regarded as a ‘freak’, a building which accidentally resembles later hall houses but really has nothing to do with them. The state of our knowledge is such that we cannot say, and indeed may never be able to say how unusual Weeting was. However, that need not stop our trying to see the building in its contemporary setting both as regards understanding where the ideas might have come from and the parallels we adduce in reconstructing it.



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1 The most substantial discussion of Weeting in print is by Baggs, A. P., ‘Weeting Castle’, Archaeological Journal, 137 (1980), pp. 356–57. For categorizations of medieval domestic plan types see for example Faulkner, P. A., ‘Domestic Planning from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries’, Archaeological Journal, 115 (1958), pp. 150-83, (pp. 163-83 for ‘The End Hall House’); Brunskill, R. W., Houses and Cottages of Britain: Origins and Development of Traditional Building (London, 1997), pp. 34–40 on ‘The Double-Ended Hall’.

2 For example Knight, Jeremy, ‘Weeting Castle’, Medieval Archaeology, 9 (1965), pp. 190-91 (p. 191), ‘when the chamber block was added to the originally free-standing hall, the hall was demolished and rebuilt from foundation level’; Renn, Derek, Norman Castles in Britain (London, 1968), p. 341 , identifies at Weeting ‘a barrel vaulted hall rebuilt with a solar at the south end’; or Thompson, M. W., The Medieval Hall (Aldershot, 1995), P. 114 , ‘A number of surviving Norman first-floor “halls” … are so small to have raised doubts about their status as halls. It is suggested they are stone solars and the accompanying wooden hall has disappeared. This may be reading back from thirteenth-century conditions into the twelfth, for none have [sic] convincing signs of an attached building (clearly later at Weeting castle, Norfolk).’ Pevsner, N. and Wilson, Bill, Norfolk 2: North-West and South, 2nd edition (London, 1999), p. 756 , ‘The main range, probably of c.1180 consisted of an aisled hall with two flanking additions.’

3 Thompson, Medieval Hall, for Faulkner’s plan of Lincoln (fig. 55) and Willis’s cross-section of the destroyed barn at Ely (fig. 69). Horn, W. and Born, E., The Plan of St Gall, 3 vols (Berkeley, 1979), 11, pp. 216-19 discuss the barn at Little Wymondley, Herts, with ‘nave’ 23 feet and aisles 7 feet 6 inches, close to Weeting’s dimensions. It perhaps reinforces the likelihood both that the proportions of the hall at Weeting derived from earlier aisled wooden structures and that the internal arcade of the hall at Weeting was of wood within a stone shell.

4 Blair, John, ‘The Twelfth-Century Bishop’s Palace at Hereford’, Medieval Archaeology, 31 (1987), pp. 5972 ; Radford, C. A. Ralegh, Jope, E. M. and Tonkin, J. W., ‘The Great Hall of the Bishop’s Palace at Hereford’, Medieval Archaeology, 17 (1973), pp. 7886 .

5 The reconstruction of Jeremy Knight’s excavations by Christine McGee and Joanne Perkins clearly shows the substantial ditch which was uncovered in this position.

6 There is no doubt about earlier occupation of the site, as the Thetford-ware pottery and silted-up ditches beneath the present building make clear. However such traces as exist of possible earlier buildings lie outside the boundaries ofthat under consideration here. The alignments of the earlier ditches and post holes suggest the previous settlement was very differently disposed. It is to be hoped that a detailed publication of the archaeology of the site will help resolve these problems.

7 At the east end of the party wall there are two short vertical fissures within its thickness (starting at about 3 m and 7 m above ground). They require further assessment, but in so far as they can be seen from ground level they are not compatible with one building being constructed up against another.

8 Coad, J. G. and Streeten, A. D. F., ‘Excavations at Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk, 1972-77’, Archaeological Journal, 139 (1982), pp. 138301 (pp. 181-87, figs 17 and 18, pl. XX). Their view that these were ‘two passages leading through the side walls [of the gateway] to chambers beyond’ seems only to be true of secondary usage, the original niches being broken through at the back when the chambers were added.

9 I owe this idea to discussion on site with Tracy Fussell whose experience of flint-rubble building in Norfolk has been invaluable in my coming to terms with Weeting.

10 At first-floor level, the east wall of the service room is thinned down to under 0.8 m, and this may have happened to north and west at this level also. The arrangement of the north end being proposed here agrees with the schematic reconstruction published by Rigold, S. E., ‘Structures within English Moated Sites’, in Medieval Moated Sites, ed. Aberg, F. A., CBA Research Report no. 17 (London, 1978), pp. 2936 , fig. 12. It is perhaps worth indicating at this juncture two areas of difference between us. In Rigold’s drawing the chamber block is given a keep-like form, the hall abutting a cuboid with horizontal parapet on four sides. However, as the walls of the upper storey are little over 0.6 m thick in places, they are surely too thin to support rooftimbers and then rise an additional 6 m to an enclosing parapet. A wall walk would have been out of the question, which raises questions about guttering and maintenance. Rigold also places the first-floor entrance at the south end of the block adjacent to the latrine annexe. As noted above, recesses flanking the doorway are in the west wall.

11 The interpretation of the enclosed room(s) within the latrine block presents some difficulty, since there is no indication how they could have been cleaned out if they too were latrines. However Oliver Gilkes has drawn my attention to the comparable case of John de Tytyng’s house at Winchester, Scobie, G. D., Zant, J. M. and Whinney, Richard, The Brooks, Winchester, a preliminary report on the excavations, 10.87-88, Winchester Museums Service, Archaeology Report 1 (Winchester, 1991), pp. 43, 4748 . We would thus have at Weeting two distinct types: a pair with enclosed pits, and another suspended over an open arch at the southern end of the block. What the social or functional distinction may have been is unclear.

12 Heslop, T. A., Norwich Castle Keep (Norwich, 1994), esp. pp. 2022 for the dimensions of Norwich.

13 Colvin, H. M. et al., The History of the King’s Works. The Middle Ages, 3 vols (London, 1963), 11, p. 911 .

14 There was probably an equivalent drawbar hole in the western stub of the north wall of the hall, but the area where evidence would be seen is missing. See e.g. Faulkner, ‘Domestic Planning’, figs 19 (Oakham), 20 (Ashby de la Zouche), and 23 (Wenlock) for comparable examples from the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries. There was presumably no central entrance as well (as at Clarendon and Lincoln) since it would have cut through the axial support for the blind arcading and a sleeper wall on axis to the north implies a central partition in the service wing.

15 The unpublished report by Christine McGee and Joanne Perkins (unpaginated) mentions a spiral stair in the north-east corner, but the evidence for it is not visible on site or in the excavation plans they include.

16 Haddon-Reece, D., Miles, D. H. and Munby, J. T., ‘Tree-Ring Dates from the Ancient Monuments Laboratory’, Vernacular Architecture, 20 (1989), pp. 4647 . I am indebted to John Walker for this reference.

17 At Weeting, the external buttress containing the chimney apparently extended across the middle of the south wall, while the fireplace has to be placed off centre to the west within it to maintain the internal composition of paired niches around the fireplace: clear indications of the power of symmetry in the architectural aesthetics of the period, as noted below.

18 Wood, Margaret, The English Medieval House (London, 1965), pp. 17–19 and fig. 5.

19 Domesday Book: Norfolk, ed. Brown, Philippa, 2 vols (Chichester, 1984), 1 , 8.44, but see also the king’s holding, 1, 1.210. Hugh de Plais gave the church of Weeting to the Augustinian Priory of St Mary at Huntingdon before 1147, when the gift is mentioned in a papal confirmation: Holtzmann, W., Papsturkunden in England, 3 vols (Berlin, 1930-52), 1 , no. 41. De Plais support for the Augustinians culminated in the founding of Bromehill Priory some mile and a quarter to the south-east of Weeting Castle in the early thirteenth century. For the family see C[okayne], G. E., The Complete Peerage, revised edition vol. X, by Doubleday, H. A., White, Geoffrey H. and Walden, Lord Howard de (London, 1945), pp. 535-43.

20 Coad and Streeten, ‘Castle Acre Castle’, for the phasing and dating of work on the mound and a plan (Fig. 3) showing, in appropriately shadowy outline, the hall complex in the outer ward.

21 Hamelin and Ralph de Plais appear together witnessing a charter of William de Mortemer for the Warenne foundation at Lewes, , The Norfolk Portion of the Chartulary of the Priory of St Paneras at Lewes, ed. Bullock, J. H., Norfolk Record Society, 12 (1939), no. 2 . The Ralph de Plais who was witnessing charters before T148 (ibid., no. 3) was still alive in 1185. Many links between Warenne and de Plais are evident in the documents published in Early Yorkshire Charters VIII, The Honour of Warenne, ed. Clay, Charles, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, extra series 6 (1949).

22 Johnson, Stephen, Conisbrough Castle, South Yorkshire, English Heritage (London, 1984), pp. 1116 .

23 Davison, B. K., ‘Excavations at Sulgrave, Northamptonshire’, Archaeological Journal, 134 (1977), pp. 105-14.

24 Beresford, Guy, Goltho, the development of an early medieval manor, c. 850-1150 (London, 1984), figs 75–84 and pp. 7179 for discussion of the Period 5 hall and bower.

25 Rigold, ‘Structures within moated sites’, fig. 12 and p. 35 shows Weeting within its moat and the likely directions of access to the enclosure.

Weeting ‘Castle’, a Twelfth-Century Hall House in Norfolk

  • T. A. Heslop


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