Norman castle uncovered in Somerset after lying forgotten for decades

Fenny Castle near Wells, has been rediscovered for the first time in years Credit: Chip O'Shaughnessy

A Norman castle near Wells has become visible for the first time in decades.

Fenny Castle, can be found in a hamlet of the same name, but many villagers had forgotten it was there, believing it to be a hill covered in brambles and blackthorn.

But, thanks to Dr Simon Selby, local farmer Dave Thormer and their partner Andrew Webb, the ancient monument has been uncovered.

Fenny Castle is visible for the first time in decades Credit: Chip O'Shaughnessy

Simon, 56, said: "We became involved slightly over two years ago. I had been researching motte and bailey castles and I saw that there were lots in France and Germany, but there seemed to be none here.

"Then my friend said 'I wonder if Fenny Castle's for sale' so we chatted to the owner - that's Dave.

"He was really keen to bring it back from the state of disrepair it was in, through no fault of his own, and to bring it alive, that we formed a community interest company and set to work preserving it."

Now, just over two years later, Simon knows more about power tools than he ever thought he would.

He and Dave have spent their spare time clearing brambles, blackthorn, and ash die-back from the monument.

Local Viking re-enactors use Fenny Castle as their backdrop Credit: Simon Selby

A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised area of ground called a motte, that looks a bit like a sandcastle.

Below it lies the bailey - a walled courtyard surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade.

The castle was first referred to in 1327, when William atte Castle was recorded as a local resident and taxpayer. Then, in 1354, Alice atte Castle was a tenant.

In 1470, William Worcestre wrote of a castle called Fenney Castle, which was a ruin, and had been built of stone, of which traces were still visible.

This winter, top archaeologist Dr Stuart Prior will visit the site.

Along with a team of archaeology and anthropology students from the University of Bristol, Stuart will make a geophysical survey of the site.

Simon, a lecturer himself, has a theory that Fenny Castle dates back to Roman times.

He said: "It had a wall, and to build a wall you had to have power, wealth and influence.

"There is no one of that sort of influence at that castle since 1066 but there must have been, to fund all that expenditure, which means the wall must have been earlier.

"The Saxons weren’t big into castles, the ones that had the dynamic energy to do that were the Romans

"I think that that castle, the original fortification we’ll find was Roman, if not even earlier."

Dr Simon Selby (second from left) wants Fenny Castle to be used for education Credit: Simon Selby

Simon believes that when the Normans came along, they decided to repurpose the existing fortification after creating a ditch around it.

"When they dug the ditch, we think they put the ditch soil on top of the motte to make it a bit higher.

"In 1820-something, one of the farmers decided ‘oh good source of stone’ and cut the front off. And in doing so, he found 20 unusually large skeletons.

"So the theory is that they were buried on the motte and then they were reburied by the Normans when they dug the ditch.

"This farmer and a crazy vicar who was an amateur historian found them - but stories like these have been lost for hundreds of years," Simon said.

His passion is education and he hopes to use Fenny Castle to teach young people about their history.

The site may also be used as a training ground for the Alpha Company marine cadets, and local Viking groups already carry out reenactments there.

Simon said: "When Chip put those drone pictures up, the feedback was so enthusiastic and we thought ‘great, we thought it was a good idea, now we know it’s a good idea’.

"Some of the villagers had forgotten the castle was there.

"Our site does not cost the taxpayer a penny and you can’t have a more efficient history setting than one that doesn’t charge people.

"Fenny Castle will grow as a regional history hub because it’s interesting and it’s a genuine castle."

He added: "I think it’s vitally important to preserve places like Fenny Castle, particularly in the modern day and age when people have become somewhat disconnected from their communities and their heritage and their roots.

"If you are a young person and you don’t understand your relevance to an area, or that area’s relevance to you, you don’t value it, you don’t look after it, or contribute or understand the responsibilities you have.

"If you can make them understand how people lived and how they struggled and how we got to where we are today, with our laws for instance, from the Norman times - or even the language - they stem from history. You need history to put everything in context."

You can read more about Fenny Castle here.

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