Friday 20 October 2017
 

Knapp

Click here for an update on the 2015-16 conservation work.

photo: Joan Blackburn

The castle at Pulverbatch has long since been known as the Knapp which is a word derived from the old english 'cneap', meaning a hillock; there are several other knapps in the surrounding area.

The motte and double bailey was constructed in the 12th century and is first mentioned in texts of the period in 1153. Historians are divided as to whether it was already deserted by the beginning of the 13th century but it was certainly out of use later in the 13th century. Only the castle earthworks remain today but they would originally have borne wooden structures, a castle tower on the mound and domestic dwellings on the adjacent inner and outer baileys.

A weekly market and an annual fair, first granted in 1254, may have been held on the site. Fairs were certainly held here within living memory.

A little more information can be gathered from local residents who have always lived here. Management appears to have been minimal with haphazard grazing by passing or trespassing cattle or sheep. There were certainly fewer trees on the Knapp on its lower slopes and there has been dumping of garden rubbish and spoil on the monument itself. The Pulverbatch Home Guard used this strategic site as a lookout during the second world war and one or two of the hollows within the site were excavated for this purpose.

The Knapp has been consistently used for recreation by residents of Pulverbatch and neighbouring villages, although use by motorcyclists as a trials course was ill advised and detrimental to the monument. It has also been used for a variety of larger village gatherings such as church services, brass band concerts etc. and is maintained by the Friends of Castle Pulverbatch.

In the early 1970's the whole of the Knapp area went up in flames when the brush caught fire.

A public footpath runs right around the site, going down the steep slope below the Knapp and then climbing back up to run through the now tree-shaded ditch protecting the outer bailey which is known locally as 'lovers' lane'.

The Knapp and The Wokkon (Pulverbatch’s common land)
September 2015

The following has been written in response to comments made at the recent working party – people simply want to know more about what the Knapp is, and how it is looked after.

There is much to say about the history of the Knapp since it was constructed in the 12th century, but the following is largely about the history of the management of Pulverbatch’s common land, in the 20th/21st century.

The Knapp represents our favourite walking place and playground but it is a Norman motte and bailey castle and a scheduled ancient monument. It is also a registered but ownerless common and has been managed by the Friends of Castle Pulverbatch for over 20 years. The castle is easily accessible from the nearby lane and, situated on the highest ground, commands an impressive view. The castle is, largely, grassland but merges into a natural slope of bracken and scrub. A path descends this slope and passes though a narrow band of common land which opens out again onto the Wokkon/Wukkon. The Wokkon, also part of the common, is a wild steep slope of woodland, scrub and bracken.

In 1993, English Heritage (which has some responsibility towards this ancient monument) was concerned that the monument was becoming overgrown, and instigated management. After a public meeting, a group of volunteers (soon to become known as The Friends of Castle Pulverbatch) was set up to look after the site. The remit of the group was ‘watch over this local amenity, secure its preservation and safeguard its enjoyment by the local community’ and it was to report annually to the Parish Council to ensure the Council had no objections to any proposed works (the Council have the power ‘to protect the common from illegal interference’.) A management plan was drawn up by the South Shropshire Countryside Project (funded by Shropshire Rural Action), with input from EH.

And so began many years of working parties, with members from the group, and other volunteers from the village, working alongside the South Shropshire Hills Countryside Unit (with Sue Cooper in charge). Some areas infested with ground elder or bracken were cut around three times a year to begin with and, overall, the grassland was cut around twice a year. Scrub was tackled on winter working parties. Sue Cooper did much to get us funding to buy our own tools (e.g. strimmers and rakes) and for other works, but we were greatly helped by her volunteers (Reg and George) using the Unit’s tools. To enable funding, a tally of the village volunteers’ time had to be made. Although funding was largely through Rural Action, the first strimmer was funded by the Shell Better Britain Campaign. Other funding came from donations e.g. individuals in the village, the Parish Council, the Parochial Church Council (as the Knapp equipment was sometimes used to cut areas in the churchyard), by having an annual stall at the Dorrington Show and from a few other sources e.g. an on-site performance by Mike Boy’s brass band!

The Wokkon was not forgotten. The long-lost link between the Knapp and the Wokkon was re-established and a path forged through dense scrub along the bottom. Sue obtained funding to re-fence the area and people were encouraged to donate trees to plant here, and to sponsor some bird boxes. In later years a circular route was made around the Wokkon and a few seats were placed in strategic spots.

Running through all this has been a need to keep an eye on erosion of the monument. The group was encouraged to carry out photographic monitoring from an early stage and the photographs taken over 20 years are incredibly useful to see change. English Heritage has always kept an eye on the situation and have been prepared to contribute financially to repair work when and if it became necessary. Almost from the start EH has considered the use of geotextile matting in the car parking area.

By around 2000, the input by the Unit had ceased but the grass was now good enough to make hay and this was done for 3 or 4 years. Before long, however, only two or three people were doing the bulk of the cutting and raking, with very few people coming to working parties.

In 2006, English Heritage was consulted about some of the problems the site was facing, and this led to their funding of the interpretation board; this would inform visitors about the value of the site and, hopefully, deter ‘abuse’ of it [damage by car parking, motor biking, digging etc]. Tessa Parker provided the beautiful drawings and the board was officially opened by Bill Higgins (the PC chairman). The group also asked EH if they could assist with the grass cutting in some way, and a management agreement was drawn up to pay for a contractor to cut the site annually for the next 3 years.

This worked well for 2 years but the third cut never seemed to happen and, by the end of 2012, the site had not been cut for 4 years.

In 2013, the group recommended (to the Wildlife Trust) that the Knapp and Wokkon become a county wildlife site, and this was agreed. The reasons it is considered good enough for this status are that it has a mosaic of good habitats, and some slopes support dry acid grassland with a number of plants of county importance [Shepherd’s Cress, Upright Chickweed, Bird’s-foot, Annual Knawel and Knotted Clover]. The site also supports two reptiles species [Slow-worm and Common Lizard] and a number of different small birds. The Wildlife Trust was able to put us onto another contractor and the site was eventually cut again for the first time since 2008.

At this point, the Helping Hillforts and Earthwork Castles project (one of the project being delivered by the Heritage Lottery Funded, Stiperstones and Corndon Landscape Partnership) entered the stage to provide some much needed support to the Friends of Castle Pulverbatch. This led to a review of the site condition as an ancient monument (by Hugh Hannaford, Senior Archaeological Projects Officer, Shropshire Council), funded by the Project. This in turn has led to some funding by EH (now Historic England) to carry out works on the car park (geotextile matting) and other works (treatment of ground elder, and stumps of felled scrub); this work is to be carried out shortly. At the same time the Helping Hillforts Project, in 2014, assisted with grass cutting through a community mediaeval event, and made significant inroads to the invading scrub in the winter of 2014/2015.

Many of the points made by Hugh regarding the deteriorated site condition relate to the number of years when the site has either not been cut, or has been cut too late in the year, or simply has been insufficiently cut. Therefore, this year, the Friends of Castle Pulverbatch decided to use what was left in their funds to pay a contractor to carry out the bulk of the grass cutting. Some of the flatter areas were cut at this year’s mediaeval community day in early September (led by the Helping Hillforts Project) and the contractor will be returning to finish cutting other areas.

If the existing management plan can be adhered to [this has been updated with some input from Hugh’s assessment], the site should soon be returned to a better state than we have seen this year.

The grass/vegetation cut is the most crucial part of the management for this site, and the most difficult. Although is important that the community is involved with managing the site, those of us who have been involved in the past with cutting the site feel that a contractor should be used for the bulk of the grass cutting (funding of this may come from Historic England in future or we may have to fund raise). Cutting the steep slopes is difficult and not for the faint hearted or for the average volunteer, and it anyway requires equipment (the group now only has one strimmer). There is plenty for the volunteers to do e.g. cutting flatter areas and raking as has been done in the community events of 2014 and 2015. And scrub clearing is always popular.

After the recent community event, the existing Friends of Castle Pulverbatch have a number of contacts to add to the group email list, and we will try and keep you informed about activities. Obviously there will be considerable overlap whilst the Stiperstones and Corndon Landscape Partnership are supporting us but it is important that we get the Friends group more ‘up and running’ so that it can continue to effectively manage the site when the support ends, in 2018.

Kate Thorne (on behalf of the Friends of Castle Pulverbatch)

September 2015