In Medieval England how would a stronghold town be laid out, and what would their defenses have been?

I'm putting a city together and one important point is that it is secure from attacks. Attacks from both people and creatures.

I first contemplated a big wall surrounding the town or city with guarded entry points and watch towers strategically placed, but I'm not sure how feasible that would be on that scale.

Then I considered a type of armed police force or army constantly making their rounds, but that could just be a drop in the ocean of what is actually needed.

  • $\begingroup$ Watch this video youtube.com/watch?v=GYaoKHGP0dc might give you some ideas $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ Try this: Medieval Demographics $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ "Law Enforcement: A well-kept medieval city will have 1 law officer (guardsman, watchman, etc.) for every 150 citizens. Slack cities will have half this number. A few rare cities will have more." from the above link $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ Though this is a bit late, the answers are a bit wrong here, because the question is a bit wrongly informed. A town and a city were different in the medieval world. One of those differences (though I can't find the source presently and is what I'm looking for that brought me here) is that a town could not have certain things and one of those things I believe were walls so they used spiked fences, a moat, or nothing at all...if memory recalls correctly. $\endgroup$
    – Durakken
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ I would challenge this assumption, an urban community could not build a wall unless there were granted the right of Murage, to levy a tax to pay for the upkeep of those walls that is true, but places such as Northampton were granted the right of Murage and are not cities. The OP uses the term interchangeably that true perhaps we should explained. $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 17:33

4 Answers 4


Many English cities had walls, and the best-preserved of them today is probably the one around the city of York.


It has a length of 3.4 km, 5 main gateways one smaller postern gate, and 45 watch towers. At its highest point it is 30 ft or around 9 metres high.

You did not actually need a large force to constantly patrol the walls, just a few strategically placed people on watch who could call upon reinforcements should they be needed, who could be the city militia. Hadrian's Wall which is further north uses this system on a larger scale there are several forts like Housesteads, Vindolanda and many smaller watch points that were garrisoned by only a few men.


Law Enforcement in Medieval Towns

According to this website about Medieval Demographics:

A well-kept medieval city will have 1 law officer (guardsman, watchman, etc.) for every 150 citizens. Slack cities will have half this number. A few rare cities will have more.

Taken together with the wall info from Sarriesfan, this could give you a rough estimate of defenses.


The book "Castle" by David Macaulay could be a valuable resource to your project. In it, Macaulay describes how a castle's town would be attached to the castle:

The town wall was to be 20 feet high, 5.5 feet thick, and strengthened at intervals of 150 feet by projecting U-shaped towers.

A battlement walkway was planned for the entire top of the wall.

You can buy the book here on Amazon, and on the same page, you can click on the cover's "Look Inside" icon to read through some of the text, see an example of castle and attached town layout, as well as construction methods and materials.

enter image description here

Macaulay has a series of very informative books on all different types of building projects throughout history and from around the world, including: Roman town, Pyramid, Underground Subways, Mosque, Mill, Cathedral, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ wow, had a lot of those books as a child. Good to see they're still available $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, that was my feeling when I found them again when writing this answer! I was so impressed with them when I first saw them years ago--so much detail and so well presented! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:11

As is said above York is a very good example, there would normally be lots of walls, it seems that in those times the best form of defence was defence not offense as it is now :) Lots of fortifications, narrow, winding streets (locals will know the way but invading forces wouldn't), castles, moats, bridges etc. Several walls with gates going inwards, so the more valuable stuff is behind three walls instead of one etc, whereas citizens would be behind one or none. Local militias were very common, and there could be specialised and trained guards patrolling constantly in small squads of two to five (and yes I am thinking of Assassin's Creed right now), Assassin's Creed cities would be a very good example, patrolling guards, watch towers and walls plus spies infiltrating the common folk etc. There are lots of ways your city/stronghold could be fortified and guarded!


This an actual fortified medieval castle town

The castle and town of Conwy on the north Welsh coast, built by Edward I of England

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    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ This answer would be much better if it had more detail. Please see this which points out issues with answers that are simply a link or picture, and edit this answer to include more detail. $\endgroup$
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    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 2:04

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