Buckton Castle is a medieval enclosure castle near Carrbrook, Stalybridge, England. It was surrounded by a 2.8 metres (9 ft) wide stone curtain wall and a ditch 10 metres (33 ft) wide and 6 metres (20 ft) deep. Buckton is one of the earliest stone castles in North West England.
The castle was probably constructed in the 12th century but fell out of use soon after. It is first mentioned in 1360 and by then it was lying derelict. The small number of finds retrieved during archaeological investigation of the site indicates that Buckton Castle may not have been completed.
In the 16th century, the site was used as a beacon for the Pilgrimage of Grace. During the 18th century, the castle was of interest to treasure hunters following rumours that gold and silver had been discovered at Buckton. The site was used as an anti-aircraft decoy site in the Second World War.
Between 1996 and 2010 Buckton Castle was investigated by archaeologists, first the University of Manchester Archaeological Unit then the University of Salford's Centre for Applied Archaeology as part of the Tameside Archaeology Survey. More than 60 volunteers were involved in the project. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and close to the Buckton Vale Quarry. The castle is overgrown with heather and peat, and there are no above-ground ruins.
Buckton Castle lies 335 metres (1,099 ft) above sea level on Buckton Hill, a steep sandstone ridge (grid reference SD98920162). To the south is the valley of the Carr Brook, and to the west is the valley of the River Tame. Buckton Vale Quarry is close to the east of the castle. Stalybridge is about 4 kilometres (2 mi) south-east of the site. To the north and north east of the castle area areas of moorland with heather and peat.
The castle's positioning may have been to allow its garrison to guard the Tame Valley; both castle and valley were in the medieval manor of Tintwistle. A manor was a division of land and administered by a Lord of the Manor or his representative; in the case of Tintwistle, it was part of the larger lordship of Longdendale.
During the Middle Ages, Buckton Castle was at the eastern end of Cheshire. The county shared its western border with Wales. Compared to Herefordshire and Shropshire which were also on the Anglo-Welsh border Cheshire has far fewer castles per square mile. Most of the county's castles are close to the western border, and the eastern parts of Cheshire were amongst the poorest. Cheshire is a mostly lowland area, and Beeston is the only other castle as pronounced from the surrounding landscape. Hilltop castles in the area (which include Buckton, Beeston, Halton, and Mold) are "predominantly a symbol of significant offensive and elite personal power in these landscapes".
Paleoenvironmental evidence shows that between the 9th and 11th centuries the area around Buckton Castle was cleared of woodland. This left little timber, and may have factored into the use of stone as a building material. The earliest castles in England typically used timber, at least when they were first built, and building in stone was more expensive than earth and timber. It became more common to use stone in 12th-century castles, and Buckton is amongst the earliest masonry castle in North West England.
There are three identifiable periods of activity at Buckton Castle in the medieval period: the initial construction phase, which resulted in the creation of the ditch and the building of the curtain wall and gatehouse; the re-cutting of the ditch and further building work behind the curtain wall; and finally deliberate demolition (slighting). The castle is undocumented before 1360, and little datable material has been recovered from the site – four sherds of Pennine Gritty Ware broadly dated to the late 12th century.
As is the case with many castles – especially of the 12th century – there is no record of how much it cost to build Buckton Castle. However, based on comparison to Peveril Castle in Derbyshire, where construction of the keep in 1175–1177 cost £184 according to the Pipe Rolls, it is estimated that it would have cost around £100. This was close to the median income for a baron in 1200.
It is likely that the castle was built by one of the earls of Chester, partly because of the cost and partly because Cheshire was a palatine county and the earl had authority over who was permitted to build castles. The earls were involved in the civil war of King Stephen’s reign in the middle of the 12th century commonly known as the Anarchy and the revolt against Henry II in 1173–74, both of which may have prompted castle building. Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester wanted control of the earldom of Carlisle but during the Anarchy saw it and much of northern England come under Scottish control. The construction of Buckton Castle may have been to safeguard Cheshire. These civil wars and rebellions would also have provided a context for the deliberate destruction of the castle. Alternatively the castle could have been built by William de Neville when he held the lordship of Longdendale under the earl of Chester between 1181 and 1186,though he may not have had the financial means to do so.
The dearth of artefacts recovered from Buckton Castle, and the lack of finely finished stonework, might indicate that the site was never finished, however the re-cutting of the ditch suggests either an extended period of occupancy of abandonment followed by repairs to the fortifications.
The earliest documented evidence dating the castle was in 1360, when an estate survey recorded that "there is one ruined castle called Buckeden and of no value". At the time, the lordship of Longdendale was the property of Edward, the Black Prince, and the castle lay derelict. The site of the castle may have been used as a beacon in the 16th century, first during the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536–37, and later in the 1580s when the country was under threat of invasion. This usage may have been reprised in 1803 when a beacon hut is recorded near Mossley.
In the 18th century, people began treasure hunting at Buckton Castle, and in 1767 there were reports that one such venture had discovered a gold necklace and a silver vessel, though these artefacts have since been lost. This prompted the interest of local antiquarians and several visited in the 18th and 19th centuries, often drawing plans of Buckton Castle. In the 20th century it was suggested that the castle may have been an Iron Age hillfort, however a study of hillforts in Cheshire and Lancashire found that Buckton Castle was topographically different from these sites. Excavation in the 1990s demonstrated that the site was medieval, with no sign of earlier activity. It was also suggested that the castle was a ringwork – a type of fortification where earthworks formed an integral part of the defence. However, this was before archaeologists established that the first phase of the castle was a curtain wall and the earthworks seen today are the result of the collapse of the structure. Buckton is now considered to be an enclosure castle, with stone walls forming the key defence.
Since 1924, the castle has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument which is intended to protect important archaeological sites from change. During the Second World War Starfish sites were built as decoys for bombing raids. Nine were built around Manchester, including one close to Buckton Castle. At the time a brick hut was built over a portion of the castle ditch. The Starfish site went out of use in 1943.
The Tameside Archaeology Survey began in 1990, carried out by the University of Manchester Archaeology Unit with more than £500,000 of funding from Tameside Council; £300,000 of this was directed towards the excavations at Buckton Castle. A topographical survey and trial excavations were carried out in 1996 and 1998 to record the castle earthworks and examine the possible outer bailey. As a result, the possible outer bailey was revealed to be a 20th-century feature and was probably related to nearby mining activity. On two occasions (1999 and 2002) illegal digging by unknown parties necessitated remedial work and test pitting. In 2007 full-scale excavations at Buckton Castle began with the aim of establishing the date and history of the site. Across three seasons – 2007, 2008, and 2010 – trenches were opened across the ditch, the northern entrance, the gap in the circuit of earthworks on the south side, the interior, and the curtain wall.
The University of Manchester Archaeological Unit closed in July 2009, and the Tameside Archaeology Survey, along with the work at Buckton Castle, was transferred to the new Centre for Applied Archaeology at the University of Salford. Brian Grimsditch directed the excavations throughout. More than 60 volunteers were involved in the excavations between 2007 and 2010, including the Tameside Archaeological Society, the South Trafford Archaeological Group, and the South Manchester Archaeological Research Team as well as university students.
Buckton is a small highland enclosure castle with a 2.8-metre (9 ft 2 in) thick sandstone curtain wall. It is roughly oval and measures 35.6 by 26.2 metres (117 by 86 ft), covering an area of 730 square metres (0.18 acres). The castle is surrounded by a 10-metre (33 ft) wide ditch apart from the south-west part where the steep slope of the hill makes the ditch unnecessary. When the ditch was created some of the material was used to raise the interior of the castle by 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in).
Buckton is similar in size to Clitheroe Castle's inner enclosure which is also oval in shape, measures 31.8 by 26 metres (104 by 85 ft) and has a 2.6-metre (8 ft 6 in) curtain wall. Clitheroe was also built on a rocky peak and the small size of its great tower may be due to its naturally defendable position and location in an economically deprived area.
The castle was entered through a gatehouse in the north-west of the circuit. It is 9.3 metres (31 ft) wide and 7.5 metres (25 ft) deep. The east side was occupied by the gatepassage and the west a chamber. Though the structure no longer survives above ground, it was probably at least two-storeys tall originally. Constructed in the mid- to late-12th century, Buckton’s gatehouse is the earliest in North West England. There are six stone gatehouses in the region which were built in the 12th or 13th century: Buckton, Egremont, Brough, Clitheroe, Carlisle's inner gatehouse, and the Agricola Tower at Chester. They are broadly similar in size, and take the form of a gatepassage piercing a single tower with rooms in the floors above. Buckton's gatehouse differs slightly in having the passage offset to one side.
In the 1770s, antiquarian Thomas Percival recorded a well within the castle, close to the south curtain, and walls of buildings inside the castle still standing to a height of 2 metres (7 ft). A plan created by the Saddleworth Geological Society in 1842 recorded a ruined structure within the castle's south-east area in addition to the well noted by Percival. Trenches in the castle's interior did not find the structures on the plans from the 18th and 19th centuries, though the discovery of a posthole indicates there was activity in this area. A gap in the southern part of the curtain wall – not evident in the 1842 plan by the Saddleworth Geological Society – is likely due to robbing activity in the 19th century. There is a spoil heap-like feature immediately west of the castle, consisting of pieces of sandstone. This may have been a by-product from the construction of the castle. Today, nothing remains of Buckton Castle above ground and until the late 20th century the overgrowth disguised the fact that it was a stone structure.