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Goodrich Castle – a fieldwork case-study

This case study supports the guidance provided in 'Reviewing the use of fieldwork and trips in History courses’, [ here ]

It is very much an outline so that you can gain a quick sense of the main issues and stages and compare this with your own practice (whether your fieldwork is based on castles or another kind of site) rather than getting too enmeshed in the details of this case-study. This isn’t set up as the ideal approach, simply one that offers ideas and approaches to stimulate thinking about your existing fieldwork or History Around Us course.

Additionally, a supporting article by Chris Culpin is available on the SHP website [ HERE … ]
(reproduced with permission of the Historical Association)


• To download the guidance as a Word document [ click here ].

• To download this case study as a Word document [ click here ].

• To download Chris Culpin's article (pdf) [ HERE … ].

Goodrich Castle


Goodrich Castle stands south of the town of Ross-on-Wye on the Anglo-Welsh border. The original castle was probably built in the late eleventh century but existing buildings date mainly from twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It was owned by the Clares, earls of Pembroke, by the great William Marshal, then William de Valence, (half-brother of Henry III) and the Talbots, earls of Shrewsbury – overall a pretty influential and wealthy bunch with plenty of other lands and castles. It fell out of use in the later sixteenth century although briefly revived during the Civil War when it was the scene of a siege by Parliament’s forces.

If you wish to contextualize the approach described below, these websites provide a range of images and descriptions:

1. What makes Goodrich castle a good site for investigation?

Goodrich isn’t a huge site, certainly not a Warwick or Dover, so students can gain a sense of the whole building and its development in one visit. The quantity of relevant features [see table below] on the site is therefore manageable. At first this may appear disappointing in comparison with more famous castles but this is actually a strength. It’s much easier for students to become familiar with the key features and juggle them in an argument and the relatively small scale of the site enables re-examination of parts of the castle and individual features within a single visit.

This table lists the major features of the castle which could be used as evidence in discussing its balance of use as fortress and domestic residence.

Defensive features – a fortress

Domestic features – a home

Barbican and guard chamber

Defensive ditches – deep


Shape of towers, tapered

Murder holes



First floor entrance to keep

Lack of windows in keep at lower levels

Well for water supply

Chapel and large chapel window – 15thC

Porter’s lodge – fireplace

Rooms over chapel – large fireplaces and views/windows

South-east tower – domestic quarters

Keep – 15thC window

Great hall – windows and fireplace

Private chapel and solar with large windows for lord

Buttery, kitchen and latrines

2. The focus of investigation

In the case of Goodrich the natural focus for an investigation is whether the castle was essentially a home or a military fortification. In order to make good use of students’ likely preconceptions and the balance of evidence at first glance, it’s better to get started by providing a one-side view that clashes with preconceptions. So an investigation question/task can be set up for the site visit as follows:

“In 1300 Goodrich castle was the ideal home, comfortable and luxurious. It was no longer a fortress.” Investigate the truth of this. Do you agree or would you describe the castle in 1300 differently?

If you are teaching for a GCSE History Around Us course then specific coursework assignments can grow out of this broad investigation.

3. Teaching plan

This is necessarily hypothetical (no-one’s lesson plan ever quite looks like someone else’s) but provides a set of stages for discussion.

Lesson 1

Investigate castle plan and illustrations; establish students’ assumptions about castles:

  • what can you see?
  • where does it fit chronologically in time?
  • Introduce focus question - what do you think the answer might be? Create hypothesis – individuals or groups


Lesson 2 – site visit

Site visit structured around collecting evidence related to the question.

3 stages, effectively 3 successive tours of site – separating these out both improves focus of tasks and also breaks visit into manageable and less open-ended experience.

  • investigate site in relation to hypothesis without guided clues – observe and collect evidence, report back to staff, re-assess answer
  • investigate with guided clues to make sure students identify and think about key features, re-assess answer
  • investigate with colour-coloured plan to look for changes over time and identify when key features built AND/OR investigate where their character would have slept, worked etc [see question 6 of general review document]


Lessons 3/4

Kinaesthetic activities to cement knowledge and understanding of site with students representing parts of castle and features i.e. physical evidence – what date am I? do I provide evidence to support the hypothesis or not? What else can be learned from me?

Re-think hypothesis in groups – collate evidence from site that supports use as home and as fortress. Think about which evidence is most powerful. Create outline answer or relate to GCSE assignment/s.

Lessons 5-7

Build up the wider context for the site by developing investigation using pack of primary and secondary source material, (documentary and illustrative including reconstruction illustrations). Students to sort, choose, prioritise in relation to:

  • Who owned Goodrich the castle and how did it fit into their possessions?
  • Why was the castle built and what led to major re-buildings?
  • How did its use/nature change over time?
  • What variety of people lived and worked there and how did their conditions vary?
  • How helpful is the physical evidence for answering our question – what are strengths and limits of the evidence?
  • What do reconstruction illustrations show and are they reliable and useful?


Lesson 8

The development of castles – how typical or atypical is Goodrich of castle development? Relate changes in castles to warfare, rebellions, invasions and regional differences.

Lessons 9-10

Working and writing up time, oral presentations completion of assignments i.e. finishing off satisfyingly!

Lesson 11

How would you explain Goodrich castle to the public?

Group activities planning presentation boards, PowerPoint and voiceover for show in gatehouse, podcasts or other audio-visuals for use around site.


Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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