Part of the defences of the Anglo-Saxon fortified centre of Wareham and part of the motte and bailey castle with shell keep


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Dorset (Unitary Authority)
Wareham Town
National Grid Reference:
SY 92001 87406, SY 92044 87328, SY 92161 87186, SY 92465 87850, SY 92608 87730, SY 92657 87396, SY 92662 87556, SY 92689 87319

Reasons for Designation

Anglo-Saxon centres, usually known as burhs, are defended urban areas that are characterised by a planned, ordered layout, sometimes including a regular grid of streets. They date mainly from the late ninth century AD, as King Alfred's response to the threat of Danish invasion. There are some earlier, eighth century examples in the kingdom of Mercia. They include large towns covering around 58ha, and smaller forts ranging in size from 1ha-9.5ha. Their defences are usually either restored Roman town walls or newly built earthen ramparts. Documentary evidence suggests that mints and markets were established in most of the larger centres. Many of the larger fortified centres now lie beneath modern cities or towns, but strong traces of their layout usually survive in the modern street plan. Most original buildings, including churches, dwellings and outbuildings, were simple timber structures, traces of which may survive in the form of fragile below ground features such as post holes, sill-beam slots and pits. Other contemporary features include water supply and drainage systems, burgage plot boundaries, middens and street furniture. A few of the smaller burghal forts were short-lived and have remained largely undisturbed by subsequent development since their abandonment. Fortified centres are a rare monument type with around 90 identified examples across southern, eastern and central England. The greatest concentration lies within the late Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, and they cluster in areas with favoured royal residences such as Somerset and Wiltshire. They are a comparatively well documented monument class, with 35 fortified centres of Wessex listed in the Burghal Hidage, a document which dates to the early tenth century AD. They are one of the earliest groups of planned medieval towns in Western Europe. Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprise a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In the majority of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte and bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations and as strongholds. In many cases they were aristocratic residences and the centres of local or royal administration. Between the Conquest and the mid 13th century, usually during the 12th century, a number of motte and bailey castles and ringworks were remodelled in stone. In the case of mottes, the timber palisade was replaced by a thick wall to form a `shell keep'. If the tower on the motte was of timber, this may also have been replaced in masonry and, if a bailey was present, its ramparts were often strengthened with a curtain wall. Within the keep, buildings for domestic or garrison purposes were often constructed against the inside of the keep wall. Although over 600 motte castles or motte and bailey castles are recorded nationally, examples converted into shell keeps are rare with only about 60 sites known to have been remodelled in this way. As such, and as one of a restricted range of recognised post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Despite continued use of the settlement centre and subsequent development within it, the part of the defences of the Anglo-Saxon fortified centre of Wareham and part of the motte and bailey castle with shell keep survive comparatively well and will contain further archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the construction, development, longevity, strategic, political, social and economic importance of this long established settlement and the changes it underwent through time.


The monument, which falls into eight areas of protection, includes part of the defences of the Anglo-Saxon fortified centre of Wareham and part of a motte and bailey castle with shell keep. The defences extend around the castle and enclose a roughly rectangular area of over 30 ha. The defences define the Anglo-Saxon burh, although they were partially rebuilt during the 10th and 11th centuries and the ditch was re-cut in the 12th century. Fortified from the beginning of Alfred's reign Wareham is the only burh for which the defences survive largely intact. Throughout the circuit the walls and ditch survive differentially, and nothing is known about the defences to the south where it borders the River Frome. The surviving portions of the defences vary in length. Originally the four entrances were centrally positioned along each side, although subsequent widening has altered the arrangements of the gates. In places there are suggestions of a counterscarp bank beyond the ditch. The ditches are largely backfilled. On the western side, where best preserved, the rampart is 3.6m high above the interior and 7.9m high above the base of the ditch. The ditch is up to 16.7m wide. In the north west corner the rampart stands to 4.5m high internally. To the north it measures 19m wide and up to 3.6m high internally and 12m above the height of the River Piddle or Trent. The east rampart is up to 18m wide and 2.4m high. The rampart and ditch were sectioned in one place by a partial excavation between 1952 and 1954. This investigation revealed a rampart of up to 14m wide and 2.7m high composed of sand and gravel from the external ditch with the exterior revetted with timber. Some time later a thick layer of loam was added to the rampart and a stone wall was erected on the crest which had a mortar raft to support the footings of a wall which measured at least 2.1m wide. A footpath of sand and clay some 4.5m wide ran behind the wall. The outer edges of the wall footing were waterproofed with a mortar flange. The walls were subsequently robbed down to the foundations. The ditch was found to be flat bottomed 9.1m wide and 5.4m deep. The excavation also revealed Late Iron Age storage pits and Roman occupation material including New Forest Wares of late 3rd and 4th century sealed beneath the rampart. The defences of Wareham are mentioned in the account of the war between King Alfred and the Danes in 876 and Wareham is included in the list of fortresses defending the frontiers of Wessex known as the Burghal Hidage. The list was drawn up under Edward the Elder between 910 and 919 and was probably outlined by King Alfred in the years preceding the Danish invasion of 892. In the Burghal Hidage 1600 hides were allocated to maintain the defences of Wareham. The west walls were scarped against attack by tanks in 1940. The part of the motte and bailey castle with a shell keep, which lies within the defences to the south west, survives as a circular mound or motte of approximately 76m in diameter surrounded by a largely-filled outer ditch which is best preserved to the SSW where it is 21m wide and up to 6.7m below the summit of the motte. The outline of the bailey can be traced in the alignment of West Street and trinity Lane, but these areas are not included in the scheduling. Partial excavations by Clark in 1952-3 revealed the base of a stone shell keep probably of 12th century date within the motte together with large quantities of 12th century pottery and other finds. The early history of the castle is unclear because documentary sources have often confused Wareham Castle with Corfe Castle, but it is believed that the castle was established shortly after the Norman Conquest and figured prominently between 1138 and 1142. From 1154 to 1199 the castle was held by the Earls of Gloucester. It was confiscated by the Crown in 1199 and returned to Gloucester in 1216.

Sources: HER:- PastScape Monument No:-456707, 456693 and 456723


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
DO 94
Legacy System:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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