A Castle for a Knave

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The mystery of Knave’s Castle is enduring.

Over the years, one subject in Brownhills history that keeps recurring is Knaves Castle, the lost geographic feature that existed on the south side of Watling Street at about the spot where the west end of Deakin Avenue exists today. It’s not really known if Kanves Castle was natural, or a man made or modified earthwork, and as no trace remains.

Having been destroyed in the early part of the last century, the nature of this feature remains mysterious.

Reader Andy Dennis (and also Kate Cardigan, of Lichfield Lore) have both drawn my attention to a PDF download available online, from the website of the Staffordshire Archeological & Historical Society, which contains  an exhaustive analysis  of the supporting evidence for Knaves Castle, and what this reveals. The author, David Horowitz, also ruminates on the origins of the name Ogley Hay at some length, too.

I’ve featured the work of this excellent organisation before – in the case of the Lost Stonnall Hoard – and they still exist, turning out great work like this.

I commend the work of these excellent historians highly to readers of the blog. Also available in this volume are extensive articles on Early Medieval Lichfield and the 1655 Petition Against the Inclosure of the Needwood Forest – also excellent works.

You can download Staffordshire Archaeological & Historical Society Transactions Volume XLVI by clicking here, or on the image below; I include the introduction as a taster of this wonderful work.

Please feel free to comment about this below, or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Volume XLVI

Staffordshire Archeological & Historical Society, Transactions Volume XLVI. Click on the image to download it in PDF format.


With Some Thoughts On The Name Ogley Hay

by David Horovitz

In July 2009 the great Anglo-Saxon treasure known as the Staffordshire Hoard was brought to light, with other associated artefacts found nearby in November 2012. The finds were made some 41⁄2 miles south-west of Lichfield in a field at Ogley Hay and close to Watling Street, which bisects the county horizontally. A little over 3⁄4 of a mile to the west of the site, on the south side of Watling Street, lay an enigmatic earthwork, sometimes described as a tumulus, long known as ‘Knaves Castle’. Valuable overviews of the historic landscape of the Ogley Hay area published in 2010 and 2011 (including a paper in these Transactions) record that when road-widening was carried out in 1971 no sign of any barrow or ditch was found at Knaves Castle, and it had then been concluded that the feature was probably natural. In addition, in a paper presented to a symposium on the Staffordshire Hoard at the British Museum in March 2010 it was claimed: ‘that Knaves Castle really existed is likely, but what it actually was remains unknown’.

In fact, much has been recorded about the feature, even if some of the evidence is equivocal, and its enigmatic but distinctive characteristics are deserving of close investigation in their own right. The feature has special significance, however, in the light of its proximity to the Hoard find-spot, self-evidently a site of the greatest archaeological importance. This paper collates such information as is presently available on the now-destroyed feature known as Knaves Castle and its vicinity, including nearby Watling Street; considers and suggests what type(s) of monument could have been represented by the feature in the light of that evidence; and examines the rôle that may have been played by the feature in the Anglo-Saxon period. The paper concludes with a consideration of some local place-names which seem to point towards the existence of a prominent personality in this area during the Anglo-Saxon period.


Almost 31⁄2 miles west of the Roman settlement at Wall (Letocetum), the site of Knaves Castle is on high ground, formerly a great heath, noted for its commanding views: in 1823 it was included in a list of only ten eminences and views in the whole of Staffordshire published by The Gentleman’s Magazine, and in 1752 it was even said of the site that ‘[t]he prospect from it is perhaps as beautiful as from any part of England. Here we view great part of Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, and several counties in Wales. In short, there is an open and delightful prospect to every point of the compass’. Even allowing for hyperbole (it remains unclear how the different counties could possibly have been identified by the author), it is evident that the site enjoyed noteworthy views.

Continued in the Staffordshire Archaeological & Historical Society Transactions Volume XLVI.

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15 Responses to A Castle for a Knave

  1. David Evans says:

    thanks Bob..a very interesting rumination! Much appreciated

  2. Very interesting but am I allowed to be flippant? It’s all Welsh to me!

    • Everything is Welsh.
      Black pudding is Welsh. Mr Patel from the corner shop is Welsh. The Romans all spoke fluent Welsh. I was probably conceived to the plaintive strains of a Tom Jones LP. That must make me a bit Welsh.
      I, for one, welcome our new leek-stroking overlords.

  3. Laurence Thacker says:

    Interesting piece, when I see a name like Knaves Castle I wonder if it’s not the locals being funny ? Perhaps its similar to the phrase shanks’s pony or council pop. So a name given to aggrandise something which is actually not important or noteworthy. Or Perhaps it was open to all but felt like it should normally belong to the local nobility ect ? Just a thought.

  4. Fontain Penda says:

    A castle of the motte & bailey type is basically an earth mound with a wooden structure on top its likely knaves castle was an early medieval stronghold of this type. However the Romans usually built strongholds on or around bends in their roads locally you have the fortifications at Gailey and at Wall the A5 bends at the rising sun its not out of the question a lookout post of some kind existed in the area of Brownhills.

  5. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    …. so..was Knaves Castle really an advanced lookout post for the celebrated and much-missed Offas’ Dyke? one for The Time Team, cunning plan and all, perhaps..
    Back to my whittling and jar of local brew, then.

  6. Clive says:

    The word Castle gives the wrong idea of what this place was in its time, as the word Castle would not have been used till the normans invaded this Country back in 1066. They introduce the word and many othier to our langauge.Bloody French/ Welsh Normans!

  7. Clive says:

    The Romans gave us Monty Python, Pub signs, roast mouse on a stick, fish sauce, street lighting, clean water (not for the natives) central heating (we kept warm feeding the fire,) and Graffiti. Otheir than that, nowt…lol.

  8. David Evans says:

    Hi chaps
    Cue brass band, sousaphone and huge descending boot.
    Local brew for ever!….

  9. Pedro says:

    Thanks to David Horovitz and Bob for highlighting what must be a definitive account of the theories concerning Knaves Castle, drawn together in one place.

    A Druid’s Winter Palace!?

  10. Sam Whitehouse says:

    Dear Bob,
    Regarding Knaves Castle,I have read the blogs with great interest as I have been researching the inter-relationships of our local (ancient Staffordshire) sites for over 10 years, and have produced a manuscript about these,which I hope to get published.
    However, returning to Knaves Castle, and summarising; a roadway existed before Watling Street; called the Way of the Sons of Waetla, ie the Milky Way; the Rising Sun inn was referred to as the Sign of the Star [Brownhills,a Walk into History by Gerald Reece, 1996].That the site was encircled by three ditches is well documented [A history of Walsall by Frederick Willmore, 1887, reprinted 1972]. It is believed to be Bronze Age [Staffs Encyclopaedia by Tim Cockin ,2000]. The site was a man made construction atop a naturally occurring Hillock. Astronomical alignment- (sunrise/sunset). The ditches were not defensive but had some cultural significance. To the east the alignment would pass through the Golden Hoard site. Have much more, but have to dash out.
    best wishes, Sam whitehouse.

    • Sam Whitehouse says:

      Knaves Castle continued…from the Rising Sun (probably a sighting point in ancient times) West-East alignment -solar, the equioxes; stellar, Procyon, adjacent to the Milky Way; Golden Hoard “burial..was symbolic. Curved ditches. Above ground earthwork features.The proximity of the natural ridge ,the Hoards location,and the change in alignment of the historic field boundary may not be coincidental” ref. ‘The Staffordshire Hoard Fieldwork 2009-2010’ by Alex Jones, B’ham Univ. Symposium

  11. Sam Whitehouse says:

    Yet more Knaves Castle…In clarification of my last blog, I remind you of the Gerald Reece information, that the Rising Sun was called “the Sign Of the Star”and that Watling Street was formerly known as”The Way of The Sons of Waetla” or “The Milky Way”. I decided to treat this literally and to look for any record of a star rising in the East, associated with the Milky Way.I then made reference to ‘Megalithic Sites in Britain’ by Professor A. Thom, published 1967 and widely recognised an authoritative text on the astronomical alignments of Megalithic Circles and standing stones.Turning to Table 8.1, pages 97 to 101,and looking for a star with an azimuth of 90 degrees, I found two mentions an eligible star, ie, Procyon, found at “The Hurlers” Site, azimuth 86.8 degrees, and the “Saeth-maen” site, azimuth 83.5 degrees; this is out of a list of over 200 sites. The azimuth bearing can vary due to the altitude of the remote sighting point, and the declination value is normally considered more reliable. Nevertheless, Procyon seemed worth pursuing, and on searching the Net for information I was agreeably surprised to find it described (in ancient cultures) as “the star of the crossing of the water dog” this referring the nearby path of the Milky Way. I had no prior knowledge of this star.

  12. Tracey Parker says:

    I hate to be a witness against the claims that when the road was widened in 1971 no evidence was found that there was a barrow or a ditch there, but there was evidence that the Romans had earth works there! The Romans had built a channel/tunnel to divert the stream under the road…it took them weeks to try to copy their efforts so that they could widen the road. The question is why did they do that if not to supply water to the castle?

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