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Dumfries, Townhead Motte

Motte (Medieval)

Site Name Dumfries, Townhead Motte

Classification Motte (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Motte Of Dumfries; Moat Brae; Moat House

Canmore ID 65539

Site Number NX97NE 16

NGR NX 9726 7647

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Dumfries
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Nithsdale
  • Former County Dumfries-shire

Archaeology Notes

NX97NE 16 9726 7647.

(NX 97277641) Motte of Dumfries. Within the grounds of Motte House there are still massive artificial mounds evidently the remains of a mote and its base court. The mote itself has probably stood on the highest point which lies in rear of the house adjoining the Academy, and has been almost entirely removed, the site being occupied by a croquet lawn. On the north-west of this lawn is a broad flat topped ridge of soil, which seems to be a small segment of the original construction, while above the street on the east or south-east, the scarp of the mote appears to be recognisable.

To the northwards of the house a massive rampart like mound runs parallel to the street, rising some 25 feet above it and 6 or 7 feet above the level of the lawn on its inner side, gradually diminishing till it disappears behind the lodge. Some 50 feet from its termination another mound less massive and sharper at the apex, as if more recently fashioned, diverges from it and curves round towards to north-west these mounds seem to have been connected with the base- court; but without some knowledge of the transformation which must have taken place all over this ground it is impossible to account for these earthworks with any certainty.


On the left bank of the river, just above the town, is another eminence, which is designated in the ancient records as the Moat Brae, and which still bears that name. This artificial mound, like many of a similar description in Galloway, is supposed to have been formed and used by the Saxons as a place where their freeholders met for the administration of justice; but owing partly to the encroaching of the river, and partly to the spot on which it stood having been laid out as a pleasure ground, it has entirely lost the peculiar features which characterised it as a relic of antiquity.

New Statistical Account (NSA) 1845

The site of the Townhead motte is located at Moat House, and the earthen mound on the NE side of the house is possibly the remains of the bailey, but the laying-out of the ornamental garden has destroyed certainty of this.

Information from A E Truckell, Dumfries Museum 7 December 1960

NX 9726 7647: Any earthworks that existed on the W and SW sides on Moat House have now been removed by the erection of a new school building. The fragment of earthen bank on the NE of the House is too mutilated and fragmentary to ascertain its original character. It measures 0.25m long by 0.8m broad and is 1.5m high.

Visited by OS (JLD) 8 December 1960

It has been inferred that the Townhead motte was the headquarters for Radulf, sub-king of Strathnith, and that it was occupied as a castle site until at least the 17th century.

SBS Dumfries 1977.


Publication Account (1977)

The Townhead Motte was located near the Academy and is now so mutilated that the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments stated that 'save for the suggestive name of Moat Brae by the waterside it would have been difficult to infer a motte on this site' (RCAHM, 1920, 51). Regardless, it has been inferred that the Townhead motte was the headquarters for Radulf, sub-king of Strathnith, and that it was occupied as a castle site until at least the seventeenth century. By the fifteenth century the possession of the Townhead Motte had passed to the Maxwells of Caerlaverock, whose ‘castle' (perhaps, in reality, a fortified townhouse) was described in an English report of 1563-66 as ‘battled within . . . but not tenable nor strong against any battery of guns' (Barbour, 1903-4, 362). The words of that rang true, for Lord Scrope, writing of his raid in 1570, noted that he 'took and cast doun the Castles of Caerlaverock, Hoddam, Dumfries, Tinwald ... and sundry gentlemen's houses ... and having burnt the town of Dumfries returned with great spoil to England' (McDowall, 1867, 291). The 'castle' was apparently rebuilt by the Maxwells but was again ruinous in the early eighteenth century when the existing remains of the 'castle' were employed in the construction of the New Church (McDowall, 1867, 616).

Information from ‘Historic Dumfries: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1977).


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