Exploring Hoghton Tower

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The Gateway to the lower courtyard at Hoghton Tower seen from the upper courtyard entrance

Thanks to a research grant from the Castles Studies Trust, the Centre for Applied Archaeology at the University of Salford and the Hoghton Tower Trust are currently hunting for the location of the lost Great Keep at Hoghton Tower.

The present Hoghton Tower is a fortified, hilltop, manor house. It lies in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, a few kilometers north-east of Chorley. The manor house is largely the creation of Thomas Hoghton and dates to the years 1560 to 1565. Thomas was descended from Harvey de Walter, a Norman who had accompanied William the Conqueror on his invasion of England. His descendants had been granted land in Lancashire in the early 12th Century and may have built some form of fortification on the site around this time. A Peel Tower may have been added in the 14th century, either on the site of the later Tower or close by.

Thomas’s manor house was substantial. Built around two courtyards, the scheme included a Great Keep, a chapel, and great hall around the inner or upper courtyard, whilst the lower courtyard was entered through a large stone gateway flanked by two towers. It appears to have been a conscious attempt to create a ‘great house’ with a sense of history. Its location at the top of a prominent hill provides it with a commanding position overlooking the Ribble Valley, and to the west the town of Preston.
This strategic location made it a valuable prize during the first Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century. The Tower was captured by the Parliamentarians in February 1643, without a shot being fired. Shortly afterwards the Great Keep, which was being used to store gunpowder, exploded, killing many of the Parliamentary garrison. The precise location of the Great Keep was lost in subsequent repairs and rebuilds of the manor house.

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Volunteers at Hoghton Tower hunting for the Great Keep, June 2019

One likely location for the Great Keep is in the north-western corner of The Tower, behind the Great Great Hall. The current excavation aims to investigate this area through a series of test pits, hunting for evidence of the Great Tower, in the form of structures and objects. So far six test pits have been dug, with Salford University archaeologists providing supervision and training for local volunteers and the Friends group at Hoghton Tower. This part of the site sites above a sharp drop the remains of stone wall in the north-western corner might just be part of the lost Great Keep. Our test pits have been located across the inner area of where we think the Great Keep might be in order to locate any wall foundations.

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Tile and pottery and Test Pit 4 at Hoghton, June 2019

By day three we have located evidence for rubble deposits and produced finds, including 18th century wine bottles, a musket ball, and pottery including Cistercian Ware, Tudor Green and Midland Purple. We’ve yet to locate any walls or floors that would confirm the site of the Great Keep, but we have already taken the physical history of the site back to the late 15th and early 16th century, before Thomas Hoghton’s great rebuilding. However, signs are that we may have our first in situ structure, so watch this space.

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