Tamarside Archaeological Survey

Saltash and its history.  Saltash Waterside.  Saltash Heritage. Training ship Mount Edgcumbe  HMS Defiance. Forder

Last summer we were asked by the Caradon Hill Project to help with finding what might remain of Liskeard Castle, a circular structure built in the 13th century by Earl Richard, that is known to have stood within Castle Park at Liskeard. The best known description of the castle is in the Parliamentary Survey of the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall in 1649 where it is described as being 'in decay, the materials about it being not worth taking down'. The report continues stating that the area within the walls was 96 perches. Within the walls at that time was contained a School House also used as the meeting house for the manorial court. The boundaries given clearly locate the Castle at the South End of the Park, standing above the town. Within this area today stands the town war memorial and a bungalow that was formerly the Town Police Station and is believed to mark the site of the original School House. Much of this area is tarmac and concrete but there are areas laid to grass with planted shrubs and trees. However, we were advised that a number of lighting cables had been laid across these areas, shown below as Castle Hill Court. Not ideal then for most of our kit. My only knowledge of the site was from what I was told by a builder who was visiting the Time Team Site at Looe some years back, that when working in the back garden of a cottage beside Castle Park he had found an old wall and some buried swords and the latter had been thrown away by the Cottage tenant.

Our visit last summer was marked by high temperatures and sunshine to such a degree that Cornwall Council Officers sent out for extra water for those involved in various aspects of fieldwork. We started by putting in a number of small grids on the grassed areas but found little of use. Our greatest area of response was on what we were told the line of a cable and that seemed to be reflected in the response shown below.

Saltash Heritage Tamarside Archaeological Survey

Figure 1. Plot CM2 showing high magnetic response on right hand side thought to be a lighting cable trench.

Later in the year an opportunity arose to hire a Ground Penetrating Radar System and there being sufficient funding left in the Caradon Project Pot we arranged to hire it during the first week of March and hopefully look again at the Castle and other sites. GPR as it is known is capable of building a 3 day picture of what is beneath the ground and providing slices of different depths and also profiles. On the first Monday of March, only a week ago, 5 of us and an instructor arrived at Castle Park, by contrast to our previous visit it was freezing, blowing a gale and pouring rain, sleet and hail! For four and a bit hours we persevered in learning how to get the kit up and running and use it in the field and then attempted to review the results in the back of a van that one of the CAS team has been converting for use on such expeditions even the van was not that warm and we adjourned to Morrison's Cafe to download and process the results over a supply of hot chocolate and coffee. Our first day's work produced little in the way of a castle!

The following day was spent at St Germans Church but on the Wednesday Les and I returned to Castle Park to further investigate the Castle in doing so we realised that although the lighting cables in most of the Park did run from lamp to lamp, in the lower park the cable had been laid along a path edge so as to negotiate a wall, this suggested that what was thought to be a cable in the original survey was incorrect. We therefore laid out another grid over that area and put the GPR across it. The resultant plot revealed a large solid block of material possibly in two parts at between 1 and 2 meters depth. Below is an initial copy of the plot that is effectively a series of maps at different levels within the ground.

Figure 2: Ground Slices Liskeard Castle.

The first column shows mainly the top soil but in columns 2 and 3 can be seen what may be the remnants of a wall about 2-3m meters thick with rubble spread. This can also be seen in profile or section below.

Figure 3: Section showing a 'very large lump' of material at about 1 metre below the surface.

The section indicates the presence of material possibly the remnants of a robbed out wall beneath the top surface plough soil. The feature appear to be about 3 to 4 metres in width and half a metre in depth. We have now partly been able to put this together with our earlier results and together with some additional information believe we have probably found part of the castle wall. The drawing below shows our original results as located within the park, to the side is a map slice from the GPR results and both are similar. Added to the drawing is a yellow dotted circle the radius of which is 28 metres which corresponds fairly accurately to the radius required for an area of 96 square perches. The wall line also runs through some of the adjacent cottages and so it would appear that we have probably now found what remains of part of the castle wall and the site of the castle.

Figure 4: The plots and map.