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John Horrocks

Member of the Department of Archaeology


Academic Biography

John Horrocks (Bsc Hons, MRes) is a current archaeology student specialising study of Norman castles in the 11th and 12th centuries, with a particular focus upon northern Britain.

Before beginning Doctoral studies, John graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in 2011 with a 1st class Honours degree in Archaeology, followed by a research masters completed in 2013.

Research Topic

Norman castles on the Scottish Borders.

Research Goals

The purpose of this research project is to study the siting, development and use of castles along the Anglo-Scottish Borders during the Norman period (from the Conquest of 1066 to the late 12th century). This will be a landscape based study working on two scales; firstly, the wider distribution of castles over each region of the study area, and secondly, the local context of each individual castle site. The overall objective will be to examine the factors that drove the decision-making process behind the choice of castle sites, and how this choice affected the castle and its surrounding landscape over time.

The research will focus upon three separate areas; the historical counties of Cumberland and Northumberland in England, and an area of south-western Scotland covering Kirkcudbrightshire and Dumfriesshire . Each of these three areas, although adjacent, are distinctive both in terms of their pre-Norman political and social structures and in the manner in which the castle-building Norman incomers established themselves as landowners. It is hoped that these contrasting regional backgrounds will be reflected in differing patterns of castle siting and development, providing a potentially illuminating insight into the factors that influenced their construction and use.

One of the greatest difficulties in the study of castles, particularly those of 11th-12th Century date, is the problem of site identification. The physical evidence for former timber castles consists principally of earthworks - often much deteriorated - yet even well preserved remains can be ambiguous in their interpretation. Continued development of a castle, such as masonry rebuilding in the later medieval period, can destroy much evidence of earlier stages of occupation, leaving only traces of the original earthworks - if any survive at all. Furthermore, documentary sources for castles in this period are scarce and for many sites absent altogether; this leaves the dating of sites heavily dependent upon assumptions based upon circumstantial evidence (typically records of manor ownership, which rarely refer directly to castles). These issues are particularly problematic for any wide-ranging survey involving multiple castles since the amount of available evidence for identification and dating will vary highly between individual sites, making a consistent analysis problematic. The first part of the project, thereore, was to collate data on the known potential castle sites within the study areas and to develop a rational methodology by which these sites could be filtered into different categories of identification. This phase is largely complete, with over 250 sites covered by the survey.

The current phase in the project is to conduct a statistical analysis of this data, based upon both the characteristics of the sites in question - earthworks, stone structures, known historical references, excavations - and their landscape contexts - that is, their relationship to each other, other known medieval sites, historical systems of organisation and the natural geography.