Barnwell Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
The monument is centred on TL0492285228.
Statutory Address:
Barnwell Castle, Barnwell Manor, Near Oundle, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, PE8 5PJ


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Statutory Address:
Barnwell Castle, Barnwell Manor, Near Oundle, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, PE8 5PJ

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

Location Description:
The monument is centred on TL0492285228.
East Northamptonshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


A C13 fortified residence, known as Barnwell Castle, surviving as upstanding and buried remains.

Reasons for Designation

Barnwell Castle, a C13 fortified residence, is scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: as a strongly fortified manorial residence built during the period of the Second Baron’s War (1264-1267), which was at the forefront of medieval military architecture in Britain; * Architectural interest: as the earliest known example of this type of castle or fortified residence in Britain; a quadrangular plan with corner turrets and a gatehouse; * Survival: a substantial proportion of standing medieval fabric survives, including considerable architectural detail of the gatehouse, corner towers and curtain walls; * Potential: a large proportion of the site is undisturbed and unexcavated, including most of the inner courtyard, and will therefore hold a high degree of archaeological potential for further investigation; * Documentation: Barnwell Castle is relatively well documented in historical and archaeological terms, which provide a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the site; * Group value: with the adjacent Grade II listed medieval aisled barn, C17 manor house and registered garden, which form an impressive ensemble that well illustrates the development of this historic site.


Barnwell Castle was built by Berengar le Moyne in c.1266. It possesses several close affinities to a quadrangular castle but is not considered to hold an important strategic position. A quadrangular castle was a strongly fortified residence built around a square or rectangular courtyard. The outer walls formed a defensive line, frequently with towers sited on the corners and occasionally in intermediate positions as well. Ditches were usually found outside the walls. Within the castle, accommodation was provided in the towers or in buildings set against the walls which opened onto the central courtyard. Quadrangular castles were planned and built to an integrated, often symmetrical, design. They were constructed over about 200 years from the later C13 onwards. Although the design of Barnwell Castle closely reflects that of a quadrangular castle, it’s siting is distinguished by a lack of strategic planning and in this sense could be deemed a fortified house rather than a castle. Fortified houses combined domestic and military elements, sometimes including fortifications such as gatehouses and curtain walls. They were constructed by members of the aristocracy but not the king and leading families. The distinction between the two monument types has been widely debated and Barnwell Castle shows affinities to both, although its outward form is essentially that of a castle.

The manor of Barnwell St Andrew belonged from the early C11 to Ramsey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. In c.1120 the abbot granted lands in Barnwell, and elsewhere, to his tenant Reginald le Moyne for 100 shillings a year and the service of one knight’s fee. It passed through four generations before Berengar le Moyne (the third) inherited it in 1241. He fortified the manor house, effectively forming a castle, in c.1266 during the closing stages of the Second Baron’s War (1264–1267). The building date is given by a jury statement of 1276, which records that the castle had been built ten years earlier. It was planned as early as 1257, when the Rector of Barnwell St. Andrew agreed to a chantry within the castle chapel. The design of the building was at the forefront of military architecture, and appears to be the earliest example of this type of castle in Britain; a quadrangular plan with corner towers and a gatehouse. It derived from France and Italy where, on the precedent of Roman town-planning, it had been used from about 1230. In the late C13 several castles, such as Harlech and Beaumaris in north-west Wales, were built for Edward I to similar but larger designs, and in positions of much greater strategic significance. The north-east and north-west corner towers at Barnwell have a trefoiled plan that allowed the loopholes to provide cross fire across the curtain walls. This form appears earlier on the Constable’s Gate (c.1221-7) at Dover Castle, Kent, and Kidwelly Castle gatehouse (altered c.1263), Carmarthenshire. The embrasures for the loopholes were designed to be stood up in but were only large enough for the use of a small crossbow. The castle probably included an outer ward with service buildings to the east; a C13 aisled barn with notched lap joints survives but was remodelled in the early C17 (Grade II listed - List Entry No: 1040282).

Berengar le Moyne became Keeper of the Peace in Huntingdonshire in 1267. Three years later he was responsible for collecting the tax of one-twentieth in Northamptonshire, and may also have levied a toll on the River Nene. In about the same year Berengar established a twice-weekly market and yearly fair in Barnwell, and also obtained protection for four years to go on crusade. An inquiry was held by the Crown in 1276, presumably following his return. It determined that he did not have royal approval (i.e. a license) for the castle nor a warrant to establish the market and fair. Berengar sold the manor and other lands back to the Abbot of Ramsey for £1,666, together with prayers for his and his relations’ souls. The castle subsequently became a grange of Ramsey. During the following period several changes were carried out to the gatehouse. The north guardroom appears to have been converted into a chapel, in which wall paintings of c.1300 survive. Possibly contemporary with this was the thickening of the curtain walls by c.1m on the inner face, with new (but outmoded) round-headed doorways providing access to the turrets. The rear entrance of the gatehouse was partly filled in and a narrower doorway constructed, which meant it was no longer possible to provide cart access into the inner courtyard or ward.

In 1540, following the dissolution of Ramsey Abbey, Barnwell Castle was granted to Chief Justice Sir Edward Montagu of Boughton, Northamptonshire. He, or his immediate successor of the same name (from 1556), may have constructed a new manor house within the castle walls; William Camden, writing in 1586, refers to the ‘little castle … of late repaired and beautified with new buildings’. Among the alterations to the castle in the late C16 and C17 were: the removal of ground-floor vaulted ceilings and replacement with timber floors; enlargement of the first floor arrow slits to take stone mullioned and wooden casement windows; and the insertion of fireplaces. The turrets and gatehouse thus provided refurbished additional accommodation to the buildings erected in the courtyard. However from c.1600 an outbuilding south-east of the castle was enlarged to subsequently form the main residence, a manor house known as ‘Barnwell Manor’. The surrounding grounds were landscaped and a raised walk was constructed by Thomas Drew to the north of the castle in c.1613.

The estate passed to Ralph de Montagu in 1684, who made Boughton his sole Northamptonshire seat. The buildings within the castle were dismantled and the materials sold for various purposes, including the repair of nearby churches and road ways. In 1748 William Stukely records having dined one day at Barnwell, when the second Duke of Montagu lamented that his father had pulled the buildings down. A view of the castle in 1729, drawn by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, shows the roofless gatehouse and turrets, and a large gap in the west wall. This gap may have been created in the C17 to provide a view out onto the gardens. It was blocked to less than half the original thickness after 1730. The castle ruin was later used as a walled orchard; trees are shown within the curtain walls on the 1886 OS (Ordnance Survey) map whilst the north-east tower may have been used for smithing. The property remained in the family until John Montagu Douglas Scott, the seventh Duke of Buccleuch, sold it to Horace Czarnikov in 1913. Formal gardens were laid out at this time and, are shown to the north of the castle on the 1926 OS Map, with the surrounding area taking much the same shape as it remains today. A tennis court was also created in 1920 within the castle walls. The estate was purchased by Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in 1938. It remains in private ownership in 2015.

The castle was scheduled in 1915 and listed at Grade I in 1988 (List Entry No: 1040282). In 1967 the adjacent manor house was Grade II listed (List Entry No: 1040281). The surrounding gardens were entered onto the Parks and Gardens Register at Grade II in 1984 (List Entry No: 1294426).

INVESTIGATION HISTORY In 1980 partial excavation was carried out by the Northamptonshire Archaeology Unit on the north-east and north-west angle-towers to recover masonry prior to consolidation work. Saxon pottery sherds were recovered beneath the construction level of the north-east tower. The tower foundations were 0.4m deep and comprised a roughly-coursed limestone facing and a rubble core. Several floor surfaces were identified, including a flagstone floor in the entrance corridor of the north-east tower and a cobbled surface in the corridor of the north-west tower. The floor surfaces and occupation levels contained C12 and C13 pottery sherds and animal bones. Overlying these was building debris and garden rubbish dating from the C19 onwards. In the north-east tower, the south-eastern window had been cut back to accommodate a fireplace, which contained iron deposits possibly from smithing in the C19 or C20. In 1984 shallow trenches were put through the lawn to the east of the castle during the installation of a security system. It uncovered a stone-on-edge roadway with curbing, leading to the gatehouse. The area was covered by rubble containing C17 pottery sherds, which may be demolition debris from the earlier manor house within the castle. An architectural survey was undertaken of the upstanding fabric of Barnwell Castle in 1980-85 and 1995. In 1990 a watching brief during the excavation of a pipe trench across the lawn to the south and east of the castle (TL04998520) recorded a brick and stone yard surface, a cobbled path and a concentration of coursed limestone, possibly part of a demolished wall.


Barnwell Castle is situated near the bottom of a small side valley that opens on to the valley of the River Nene, 3km south of Oundle, Northamptonshire. It is positioned on a slight plateau, skirted by the Barnwell Brook to the south and west, and to the north of the village of Barnwell. A broad embankment on the north side of the site, 1.8m high and 67m long, and an artificially straightened escarpment at the south, albeit later in its current form, may be traces of an outer ward. The castle is constructed of oolitic limestone, probably sourced from quarries at Barnwell. It is quadrangular in plan with towers at each angle of the curtain walls, and a gatehouse at the south end of the east side. The curtain walls survive up to 9m high and enclose an area 41m long by 27m wide. There are no buildings upstanding within the courtyard, which now encloses a tennis court.

The GATEHOUSE has semi-circular towers either side of a central entrance passage. The lower stone courses of the towers have a battered outer face beneath a roll moulding. It is entered through a pointed arch of three chamfered orders with moulded capitals, beyond which are the grooves for a portcullis and a second chamfered arch. The passage is covered by a tunnel vault. At the west end there is a third arch rising from corbels. Beyond the passage has been partially blocked and access to the courtyard is through a low and narrow round-headed arched doorway. This doorway is only 1.5m wide and was added when the curtain wall was thickened. There are two guard chambers in the towers flanking the entrance passage and three rooms above. Each guard chamber is entered through a round-headed arched doorway from the courtyard, which have drawbar holes next to the jambs. The chambers are two bays long with rib-vaulted ceilings resting on corbels and have five loopholes commanding views to the front and side. The north chamber, which probably subsequently served as a chapel, has traces of wall paintings of c.1300 on the walls and ceilings, which were recorded in 1980-5. These indicate that the room was painted to imitate ashlar stonework with a frieze at approximately 1m above floor level, patterned vaulting, and paintings of four figures. One of these figures was bearded, had a nimbus (halo), and held an object which had a nimbus. In the south wall of the chamber is an archway leading to a blocked stair turret. Access to the upper floor of the gatehouse is now via a staircase from the internal courtyard, which was added when the curtain wall was thickened. It leads to a rectangular room over the entrance passage, beside which is a room in each tower. These have square-headed windows, widened from the original loopholes. A doorway in the upper floor of the south chamber also provides access to the upper room of the adjacent tower.

The SOUTH-EAST TOWER is entered from the inner court via a passage. It has a square ground-floor chamber with four loopholes in the walls. The chamber was originally vaulted but only the corbels and springings of the vaults now survive. Shafts in the south wall indicate that it originally had two garderobes on each floor. The SOUTH-WEST TOWER forms a single circular drum. In common with the north towers it is entered through a round-headed doorway set across the angle leading to a straight vaulted passage and then into a circular chamber. This chamber has two loops commanding the west and south curtain walls. The remains of a circular stairway in the wall outside the inner doorway originally provided access to a square room with a fireplace and (now blocked) square-headed window. Above it is a similar room with a fireplace and mullioned window of two-lights. These may have been the principal living rooms.

The NORTH-WEST and NORTH-EAST TOWERS are each of similar plan; comprising a principal drum, a subsidiary drum and an intermediate lobe linking the two. Each consists of a single vaulted room in the principal drum and a square-vaulted room in the subsidiary drum. The intermediate lobes each contain remains of a staircase that led to a first floor room with a fireplace. Loopholes in the towers command views out in front and across the curtain walls. However those to the first floor have been widened to form square-headed windows. A square-headed doorway has been inserted in the north-east tower to provide external access.

The curtain walls are now about 3.6m thick, having been thickened by about 1m on the internal face in the late C13 or C14. The round-headed doorways and passages to the gatehouse and corner towers were added at this time. All of these doorways have drawbar holes and hoodmoulds with mask terminals. A 13m long section of the west wall was later breached and then re-built after 1730 to one metre thick. At the north end of the wall is a postern (i.e. a small secondary gate), entered through a pointed arch, and a fireplace, which may mark the position of the kitchen. The internal facing of the north wall has been lost, exposing the rubble core. On the inner side of the east curtain wall are possible fragments of cross-walls and traces of plaster; possibly the east end of a large room. The tops of the curtain wall and towers have been lowered and were originally probably surmounted by a crenelated parapet. The inner courtyard of the castle will contain buried foundations and deposits associated with the internal buildings. Whilst the area immediately surrounding the curtain walls will contain below-ground archaeological deposits associated with the construction, use and abandonment of the castle.

EXCLUSIONS The monument excludes the surfaces of all modern pathways, the tarmacadam tennis court, the flag poles, sign posts and garden furniture. However the ground beneath these features is included.


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

Legacy System number:
NN 1
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Bailey, Bruce, Pevsner, Nikolaus, Cherry, Bridget, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire, (2013), 109-110
Audouy, M, 'Excavations at Barnwell Castle, Northants, 1980' in Northamptonshire Archaeology, , Vol. 25, (1993-4), 123-126
Hussey, C, 'Barnwell Manor, Northamptonshire-I' in Country Life, , Vol. 126, (10th September 1959), 238-241
Giggins, B, 'Barnwell Castle Survey 1980-85' in South Midlands Archaeology: Newsletter of CBA Group 9, , Vol. 16, (1986), 79-84
Page, W, ‘Parishes: Barnwell St Andrew’, in A History of the County of Northamptonshire: Volume 3 (1930), p70-76, accessed 10 September 2015 from
Historic England Archive, National Buildings Record File No: 61842


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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