One of the great thing about doing this blog is that whilst looking for one thing, you find ten other things! It’s amazing how many fascinating things are on your doorstep, or just down the A5 in this case. Until recently, I had never heard of Knaves Castle, but now that I have, I’m intrigued as to what this was. It seems that this question has puzzled people over the centuries.
Back in 1794, in ‘The History and Antiquities of Shenstone’, Rev Henry Sanders wrote that Dr Plot believed that Knaves Castle was a place to watch travellers safely cross ‘this heath, formerly all wood and much infested with robberies’…'(for) which the passengers allowed some small gratuity’. In complete contrast, he reported that another of Dr Plot’s theories was that ‘the robbers themselves harboured in this place’ and hence the name Knaves Castle. Rev Sanders’ own opinion is that ‘though there remain no signs of a fort, it seems very likely to have been one to guard strangers passing over so wild and dreary a country as Cannoc Wood is at present; much more was it such formerly, when full of woods and thickets’. I’m assuming that he is referring to Dr Robert Plot who wrote a ‘Natural History of Staffordshire’ in 1686 which included a map showing Knaves Castle (this can be seen on the Staffordshire Past Track website.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, says ‘Traces of a Roman camp, called Knave’s Castle, are to the N of the village’ (the village referred to is Ogley Hay).
According to ‘Notes on Staffordshire Place Names’ by WH Duignan of Walsall, earthworks and tumuli are often called castles. The book states that the tumulus is now almost obliterated and enclosed in a garden, but that sixty years ago was very plain (the book was written in 1902, so ’60 years ago’ would have been the 1840s).
Knave’s Castle is a kilometre west of the Staffordshire Hoard findsite, but Della Hooke from the University of Birmingham, in her paper ‘The Landscape of the Staffordshire Hoard’, casts doubt on the description of Knave’s Castle as a tumulus and believes that it is no more than a raised natural hillock.
The English Heritage description of the site can be at found at the Pastscape website.
Unfortunately, no there are no physical remains of Knaves Castle. Was it really a Roman earthwork, a hideout for robbers or just a hill?
Update: Since originally doing this post earlier this year, I have since come across an excellent and much more in depth post on Knaves Castle on The Gatehouse website. The post concludes that Knaves Castle was an artificial earthwork, albeit one that may have developed from a natural feature.