Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Battles, Baileys and Blackpool: Part Two

Peel Hill at Peel Corner is where the experts believe Blackpool’s own motte-and-bailey originally stood. The word ‘Peel’ occurs in the names of many such sites around Britain, being derived from the French word ‘pieux’ (a word created by pursing the lips and sneezing indignantly) referring to the wooden stakes that formed the palisades.
Exactly why the Normans felt it necessary to construct a fort here it’s difficult to tell, although the celts had also considered it a good spot for fortification.
Whatever the reason, we can presume that the local Saxons, having fought so hard to rid their territory of both the Norse and then Earl Tostig (if you’re wondering who Earl Tostig was, then try reading the first half of this article), were equally determined to see off this latest invasion.
Peel Hill itself isn’t exactly where the Ordinance Survey maps nowadays have it placed.
Let’s have the map up, shall we? In fact, let’s have two maps up at once…the original Ordnance Survey map of Peel Hill and the modern day version, one overlaid on the other just to make it extra confusing:

The area marked on the map/maps as Peel Hill is actually flat, the hill being located some short distance to the south. Place names tend to drift over time, sometimes becoming lost altogether. In the case of the Saxon village of Peel (over which the motte-and-bailey would have cast its ominous shadow) it originally stood at the location currently marked as Peel Hall Business Park, recorded on earlier maps (although again erroneously) as Peel Hall Farm.
The hill itself is shown in the photograph below...such as it is.

Yes, we know…it’s not exactly the most exciting photograph ever. In fact, it could be any old field anywhere really…but it is Peel Hill, honest. You’ll just have to take our word for it.
As you can probably see, the hill is a natural formation as opposed to a manmade ‘pudding basin’ shaped mound, suggesting that the Normans simply used the landscape to its best advantage rather than deliberately creating a motte.
Here’s what John Porter in his ‘History of the Fylde’ had to say about it: “The hamlet of Peel, situated within, but close to the Lytham border of the township, contains in a field called Hall-stede, traces of the ancient turreted manorial mansion of the Holcrofts, of Winwick and Marton.”
Nowadays, as you might expect, the ruins are nowhere to be seen, but the turret to which Porter refers, as we’ve already suggested, was probably the original keep on the summit of the motte. Many such towers were incorporated into early manor houses when the Norman aristocracy took up residence. The summits where the strongholds had stood remained advantageous for keeping an eye on rebellious Saxon villagers below and were therefore the safest locations for these unwelcome interlopers to construct their new homes.
Not all of the Saxons fought against the occupying Normans, it should be said.
As with every war, some joined forces with the enemy because it was safer, whilst others saw the invasion as a means to enhance their own financial ends. One chieftain who falls into the latter category appears to have lived in Layton.
In 1292 Sir William Botiler laid claim to Layton rabbit warren, and during the court case successfully proved that ‘fairs, assizes, markets and salvage’ around the village had been: “…the hereditary rights of his ancestors from the accession of William the Conqueror.”
Botiler, however, wasn’t Sir William’s ancestral name. Over a century earlier, the family surname had been changed from the somewhat more Saxon sounding Walter, because Theobald Walter at the time was the personal butler (or ‘botlier’) to Prince John. This, believe it or not, was a much sought after position and could only be filled by an extremely well to do aristocrat. (Theobald’s subservience paid off and, in 1185, King John promoted him to the Butler of Ireland, a position that earned him one tenth of Ireland’s entire alcohol revenue…and knowing the Irish with their drinking habits as well as we do, that must have been one hell of a massive income.)
The name Walter actually means the ‘ruler of an army’ as derived from the Germanic elements for ‘rule’ (being ‘wald’) and ‘army’ (being ‘heri’). All of which suggests that, at the time of the Norman invasion, Sir William Botiler’s ancestor was the Saxon chieftain at Layton.
Presumably, in order for his lineage to survive, he chose his allies according to which way the political wind was blowing rather than for patriotic reasons.
Another Saxon, whose loyalty seemed to lie exclusively with himself, was Morcar, who’d previously seen off Earl Tostig and bullied Earl Harold into handing over Amounderness, along with the rest of Northumberland.
When William the Conqueror first invaded it seemed politically expedient for him to appoint native Saxons as rulers in the more fractious parts of England. This often happens when one country invades another, the theory being that native noblemen hold more sway with the indigenous population than invading parties who can’t even speak the language. In the case of Northumberland William elected Earl Copsi, who willingly paid homage to William in return for such an exalted position.
The appointment didn’t last long, however. Copsi, true to form, was murdered. The assassin was Osulf who had previously been a Northumbrian earl himself. It wasn’t long before Osulf was murdered as well, at which point Earl Cospatrick promptly bought the earldom from William.
Cospatrick, however, wasn’t as content with the position as he’d led William to believe. In 1068 he joined a rebellion against the new king, supported by Edwin, Earl of Mercia, and our old favourite Morcar.
The upshot of all these political machinations (which clearly had more to do with personal status than social consideration) was the ‘Harrying of the North’, which saw numerous campaigns by William the Conqueror to quell any further such incidents.
The campaigns were bloody and, as is always the case, the innocent peasants suffered the most. Villages were raised to the ground, women and children were murdered without remorse, and entire regions were scorched.
The death toll reached as high as one hundred and fifty thousand.

The illustration above is based on a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry showing the Normans contentedly destroying British property (much like property developers and council estaters around Blackpool do nowadays).
It’ll come as no surprise then that, by 1088 when the William the Conqueror’s famous ledger, the Domesday Book, was written, the lands around Blackpool, along with those in the rest of Northumberland, were barren, desolate and smouldering.
The entry for Amounderness is actually little more than an addendum tagged onto the back end of Yorkshire. It bluntly concludes that: “Of the sixty-two strongholds, sixteen are inhabited by a few people, but it is not known how many the inhabitants may be. The remaining villages are waste.”


John said...

My, what a cheerful post! Villages laid waste, women and children slaughtered.... maybe you should have saved this one for Christmas?

Just kidding, but it is important to remember that History is not always pretty. Then again, maybe your area of the woods is unique since it was left feral for a while, letting it's ancient history hide beneath the soil a while longer.

Interesting, that, about place names wandering. It makes sense in theory, but it's hard to imagine a place name like Peel Hill moving to a nearby field! I mean, if they called it Peel Field, maybe, but calling a field Peel Hill? That's just lazy.

I suppose that just adds to the challenge that makes all this historical stuff spo interesting, eh?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Jayne said...

On the first day of Christmas Brian gave to us
A whole village encased in a truss.

RVB said...

Such uncouth diplomacy...those people.

The photo could just about be anywhere in New Zealand; all you'd have to do is insert a flock of sheep and a farmer getting intimate with 'em.

Brian Hughes said...


"'s hard to imagine a place name like Peel Hill moving to a nearby field!"

Happens all the time round these parts. Thornton village has now moved several miles down the road. In fact, the original Thornton is now in Skippool. Now if we could only move France a few thousand miles to the south...


"A whole village encased in a truss."

That'd just be the private parts, of course.


"...all you'd have to do is insert a flock of sheep and a farmer getting intimate with 'em."

The residents of New Zealand aren't originally from Pilling, are they? No, what am I thinking of? The good folk of Pilling think that you fall off the end of the world if you venture further than the far side of Poulton.

bignick47 said...

Hi Brian

I used to live at the Police House at Peel corner and all this area was my dad's beat. Did you know that Peel Castle was on the other side of Ballam Road according to the 1932 OS Map?

I suspect someone got mixed up along the line, although as I recall from my farming days in both fields, there are hills in both places!!

bignick47 said...

Also - Peel Hall Farm WAS where Peel Hall Business Park now stands - I used to work there too!

Brian Hughes said...


No, I didn't know that. So Michelle might have photographed the wrong hill?

I don't suppose you know if there are/were any possible evidences for the old manor house/mott-and-bailey on either summit, do you?

Brian Hughes said...

p.s. Nick,

With regard to the location of Peel Hall Business Park, this is probably my fault for not thinking carefully enough about what I'm writing, but, I wasn't actually suggesting that the map was wrong, just that it seems unlikely to have been the site where the original hall/hall-stede field and, therefore, the mott-and-bailey would have stood.

Having said that, I've just checked with Michelle and I've only put up half the map. The hill in the photograph would be on the bit of the map off the bottom of the map in the posting that I didn't actually post but would have been if I'd have posted the other the bottom.

I think I'd better go for a lie down after that.

Jayne said...

Ecology centre Lancashire Day, Brian!

Brian Hughes said...

Thank you Jayne. It's a bit late now though. If I'd remembered about Lancashire Day (how could I possibly have forgotten?) I'd have reminded the committee to set up the usual stuff at Stanah. Having said that, I'd have been stuck signing books all day again...which means I'd have missed Columbo on the every cloud, I suppose.

bignick47 said...


I remember giving each place a right good going over when I was about 17 and couldn't find a bl**dy thing anywhere. I agree with your reasoning on Peel Hall vs Peel Hill, but the castle on the map is definitely on the other side of Ballam Road and may be worth a good old root about in the future. Thornber wittered on about a hall-stede and a pele tower, but I think he'd had a few too many at the Rakes!

Brian Hughes said...


If you could dig out the map with the 'castle' on it and post it over at the forum or somewhere, it'd much appreciated. It might not be visible above ground, but the evidence might be there just below the surface somewhere. It'd be intriguing to try and find out and the castle seems the most likely location, I must admit.

Philip Davis said...

I've just checked this with the Lancashire County Archaeologists and there are no genuine experts who think there was a motte at this site. There is a record that there may have been a moat here at SD356315 and this may have had within it a small house with decorative battlements but definitely not something that would be called a castle in any meaningful sense. The tenurial history is entirely wrong for such.
Peel is a relatively common place-name in the North West, not always associated with pele towers and with more than one possible linguistic origin. It could just apply to a place with a fenced enclosure (perhaps just a stock enclosure) which, in the time of large open fields, might be notable enough to get used as a geographic identifier.