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Duffield Castle
lecture by William Bland,
at the Temperance Hall, Wirksworth, Tuesday, January 11th 1887



  The earliest authentic historical account of the Duffield and the neighbourhood is found in Domesday book. It appears from the survey, that a Saxon Thane, of the name of Siward, had held this manor, in which there was land for seven ploughs and sixth part of one plough. In the Contemporary Review, December 1886, Canon Isaac Taylor writes, "At that time the land was tilled by huge ploughs, normally drawn by eight oxen, yoked four abreast. Land was plentiful, and it was rather the possession of oxen for tillage, than of land itself, which constituted wealth. Hence the system of taxation recorded in Domesday is based on the number of ploughs, rather the number of acres." There were also in this manor 32 villains, 8 bordars, and 10 serfs; probably these were heads of families. These men had amongst them oxen for eight ploughs more. There were also 20 acres of meadow; a wood 4 miles long, and two miles broad; a priest; a Church, probably made of wood; and two mills, no doubt somewhere on the Ecclesbourne. Holbrook, Milford, and Makeney were then wastes.

  There is nothing, however, in this description of the Manor of Duffield to give it preeminence among any of the neighbouring manors; but the pick and the shovel of the explorer have revealed much additional information, and it is now certain that under Henry de Ferrars, Duffield became a place of importance second to none in this county, and that it maintained this position of eminence until is fortifications were demolished in 1266.


  The explorations on Castle Hill have not only added to our historical knowledge of this district in mediaeval times, but have put us in possession of much earlier information respecting the Manor of Duffield that we find in the Domesday book.

  We now know that on this mound there was a Celtic village, protected by a moat at the bottom of the hill, and still further defended by oak stakes on the outer edge of the moat.

The prefix of the name Duf-field is from the Celtic word to dur, dwr, dwfr - water. The postfix is from the Anglo-Saxon feld, or fild - land cleared of trees, a pasture, field, or plain. The field or pasture by the water.
Webmaster's Note. As mentioned elsewhere, this not now thought to be so. However it is interesting that the name 'Driffield' in Yorksire is still thought be derived from "Dierafeld". (Diera - Wet or Marsh. Feld - Land.)

  We have evidence that the Romans subsequently occupied the site for several centuries, and made it stronger, to defend the road and ford used by the convoys of mules with lead from Wirksworth, on their way southward, and probably these convoys were protected en route to Duffield by fortifications at Hazlewood and other intermediate places. There are the remains of an ancient fortification in a field about a quarter-of-a-mile north of Hazlewood Church, and in this field, and elsewhere hard by, old silver coins were found in 1720, 1817, and 1847, The Lecturer did not know what had become of them.

  It is not unlikely that both the towns of Wirksworth and Duffield owed their origin in the Celtic period, and their importance during the Roman and Anglo-Saxon occupations, to the lead mines in the Wirksworth wapentake.

  In Anglo-Saxon times the Lord of the Manor would have on Castle Hill his fortified hall or timber-house, built of roughly hewn trunks of oak from the adjoining forest, with a close paling along the upper edge of the mound; perhaps a second line of defence around its base; and a third along the further side of the moat, with bridges of planks or trunks of trees rudely shaped with an axe across the moat. There would be huts of wattle and daub, or of timber, with thatched roofs within and around the enclosures. Here the lord held his court; here, the steward, the bailiffs, the bowbearers, and the keepers transacted business with their master. Here, or in the immediate neighbourhood, the village artificers, such as the carpenter who made woodwork of the ploughs and harrows, the smith who rudely smelted the iron and repaired the ironwork, the marshall who shod the horses, the lorimer who made the bits and stirrups, as well as the mason, the pounder, the shepherd, the neatherd, the hogwarden, and the beekeeper, carried on their trades, and were paid for their services to the lord and the little community, not in money, but by the produce of the arable in the open fields, with the right to keep a definite number of swine and to turn them into woods for a limited period of the year, especially in acorn time.(h).

  The priest was paid for his services like the other village officials by a share of the produce of the land. The ministrations of the church would occasionally, if not generally, be supplied by the priest assembling the people within the Burh. Here Divine service would certainly be performed when invasion was threatened. Here also the dead were sometimes interred; some place on the top of the mound being reserved for the burial of persons of high rank. This is an incomplete but not incorrect description of old English life in connection with Castle Hill and surroundings, under such a Saxon Thane as Siward, whose estates were invaded and seized by Henry de Ferrars.

  It is this close connection between the discoveries on Castle Hill and the early unwritten history of the district that is so interesting to every thoughtful and intelligent person who knows the locality.

  To extend these excavations by cutting trenches across other parts of the Castle Field, where additional relics are certain to be found, further subscriptions are needed. Several gentlemen, as a committee, have become tenants of the Castle grounds, and a caretaker has been appointed to explain to visitors the different objects of interest.

  The Lecturer said their thanks were due to the Derbyshire Archaeological Society, and especially to the Rev. Dr. Cox, for their co-operation and assistance, without which these extensive explorations could never have been brought to their present state of completion; and he cordially acknowledged the kindness and consideration of Mr Harvey, of Brook-street, Derby - the owner of the Castle Field - for permitting these excavations to be made without any recompense whatever, except for actual loss of grass.

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First published 1887, Website copyright 2001 Jed Bland. 27.09.01