A medieval moated site and associated features, including garden remains and parts of its water management system. Within the moated island are the buried archaeological remains of the C13 manor house and those demolished parts of the present C15/C16 house.
Reasons for Designation
The moated site and associated earthwork, ruins and buried features at Acton Court together with the buried remains of the medieval manor house and those demolished parts of the present mid-C16 house are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: a well-preserved group of archaeological remains which reflect the growth and development of the site from a medieval moated manor house to a fashionable and high-status mid-C16 residence;
* Potential: the site retains valuable information relating to the layout and form of the demolished medieval and post-medieval structures which occupied the moated island, whilst the moat ditches and the ponds retain artefactual and environmental information relating to occupation of the site;
* Association: for the historic association with the Pontyz family who were significant members of the royal court and for having strong group value with the upstanding parts of the Grade I listed Acton Court.
A moated house, the capital messuage of the Acton family, was constructed on the north-western outskirts of Iron Acton in the mid-C13, possibly on the site of an earlier manor house. It became the principal seat of the Gloucestershire branch of the Poyntz family from 1364, when it was inherited by Sir John Poyntz from his aunt, the widow of the last of the Actons, to 1683. Following the Battle of Bosworth, Sir Robert Poyntz was knighted, raising the status of the family significantly. Henry VII came to Acton Court on 23 May 1486 en route to Bristol, during a royal progress. Sir Robert remained in favour when Henry VIII succeeded to the throne and achieved the position of chancellor to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Sir Robert's grandson, Sir Nicholas Poyntz, a courtier and naval commander, inherited Acton Court in 1532 and continued to enjoy the royal favour bestowed on his grandfather. He was given a command during the Irish rebellion of 1534-5, and was subsequently knighted. The ceremony may have taken place at Acton Court when Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and their retinue, stayed there from 21 to 23 August 1535, during the course of their royal progress of the west of England during that summer.
A programme of excavation and research in the late C20 indicated that the medieval house which Sir Nicholas inherited in 1532 was compact in plan and tightly enclosed by the surrounding moat. It consisted of at least three distinct ranges and different parts of the house were constructed and altered over several centuries. The south range contained the main entrance, hall, parlour/great chamber, buttery and pantry; the north-west range comprised a first-floor chapel which was attached to lodgings and chambers added from the late C13 onwards; and there was a detached kitchen range in the south-east part of the moated island. There may have been a fourth, north-east range but this area is occupied by the upstanding remains of the C15/C16 house known as Acton Court and has not been excavated. There are references from the C14 onwards to several agricultural buildings associated with the house, as well as dovecotes, fishponds, a rabbit warren and a deer park; a second deer park, the east park, was created before c1540.
The house was extensively rebuilt in the early C16 when the medieval kitchen was replaced by an east range, built and decorated specifically for a visit by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1535. New service buildings were constructed to the east beyond the moat ditch (now the east court). These additions marked the start of a major programme of rebuilding by Sir Nicholas which continued until his death in 1556; new north and west ranges were built, and the south range modernised. Much of the earlier manor house was demolished soon after 1550 and the medieval moat largely infilled by the mid-C17. The creation of an east court prior to the Civil War altered the axis of the house from south to east, but no major building work was undertaken after the mid-C16. During the Civil War a royalist garrison was installed at Acton Court to protect the house. The family was progressively encumbered by debt and in 1680, following the death of Sir John Poyntz (who had no male heirs), the house was sold, altered and reduced in size, becoming, and remaining until 1984, a farmhouse. During this time substantial parts of the house were demolished.
PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the earthwork and buried remains of a moated site and associated water and garden features at Acton Court. The remains principally date from the mid- to late C13 through to the mid-C16. Civil War defensive earthworks have also been identified to the north-east of the house. Within the moated island are the buried remains of the medieval manor house, and the ruins and buried remains of the demolished parts of the present C15/C16 house known as Acton Court.
DETAILS: excavation at Acton Court in the late C20 recovered evidence for the occupation of the site prior to the prior to the construction of the moated manor house in the C13. Finds included Romano-British pottery and roof tiles, but the largest proportion of material dated from the C12 to early C13. The medieval house occupied a sub-rectangular island of some 0.2ha enclosed by a moat; beyond which was an outer moat that is no longer visible on the surface but probably enclosed a larger area. The inner moat survives largely as a buried feature except for an open section of the west arm which has been recut. Much of its circuit is known from excavation; it is up to 7m wide and 2m deep, and parts are revetted with stone rubble walls. The principal entrance to the house was across the south arm of the moat, which was spanned by a fixed timber bridge. Stone abutments were subsequently built and later, a buttressed porch was added to the south range which projected out into the moat. A curtain wall formed an interrupted circuit around the inner edge of the moat. It was removed probably in the late C13 to mid-C14, although its footings were located within some of the excavation trenches. Since the moated island was only 0.2ha it had an important influence on the layout of the house and constrained its subsequent development in the medieval period and later.
The medieval house was altered and extended over several centuries and, although no parts of the building remain standing, excavation has shown that its wall footings which are built mostly of coursed Pennant rubble, survive below ground. In the C15 its principal south range was almost completely rebuilt, only the cross-walls at either end of the hall being retained from the earlier phases; lodgings and garderobes were also added. The excavation also recovered evidence that by c1500 the house had an opulent interior; finds included glazed floor tiles and architectural fragments from fireplace surrounds, windows, label stops, and bands of foliate ornament. The east range was added in c1535; it is the oldest part of the house to survive to roof level and is excluded from the scheduling since it forms part of the Grade I listed Acton Court. The north and west ranges were added between the late 1540s and early 1550s, replacing much but not all of the medieval lodgings range and an early-C16 gallery along the north side of the moated island. The west and north arms of the moat were also re-aligned at this time. The north range had a ground-floor central passage which aligned with a new bridge across the north arm of the moat providing access to the formal gardens beyond. The oak sole plate of a trestle bridge was recovered during excavation as well as the abutments for the bridge; the latter survive as buried features. The buried remains and exposed ruins of the demolished parts of the mid-C16 ranges including wall footings, chimneystack base, garderobe shafts, and a number of internal room partitions, also survive. The same building materials were used for these later ranges as elsewhere in the house but the quality of construction is better. The eastern half of the north range remains upstanding and forms part of the present Grade I listed Acton Court; it is thus excluded from the scheduling. Within the area enclosed by the east court (to the east of the house) the buried footings of a number of buildings have been located. They are of different dates; the earliest may represent the remains of a probable timber-framed service/kitchen range of c1535 which was replaced by at least three new ancillary buildings constructed on a grander scale between the late 1540s and early 1550s. They were demolished in the mid-C17 to make way for the east court which partly overlies the infilled east arm of the moat. The east gateway and its flanking walls of the east court are listed at Grade I and are not included in the scheduling. The inner moat was infilled in stages up to the mid-C17. It is unclear when the outer moat was filled in as only a small proportion of this feature was excavated but it probably occurred at about the same time, although part of its south side was infilled with C20 material.
There are documentary references to medieval and Tudor agricultural buildings and, although none remain standing, earthworks to the north-east of the house and parchmarks that were visible during the summer of 1989 may represent the remains of farm buildings which are considered to survive as buried features. Also to the north of the house are the earthworks of a formal garden, the north court, which occupies an area of c. 0.4ha and was enclosed by walls. Part of the east wall is visible as a low bank while the west side of the court is defined by a scarp. A geophysical survey identified four rectangular areas of Pennant rubble within the court which respected its central axis; while in the northern third are a series of linear earthworks which are likely to be the remains of garden features. A dovecote was erected in the centre of the north court during the first half of the C17, possibly utilising the footings of an earlier garden building. Its north and south walls survive to a height of 2m and incorporate pigeon holes in offset courses. It has been extended westwards; its east wall does not survive above ground. The north court appears to have been abandoned shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. To the south-west of the house a large base court (the south court) was created in the mid-C16. It was largely laid out over an area of dumped building material that was probably deposited when parts of the medieval house were demolished. The walls to the south court which have been repaired and restored in the late C20 are listed at Grade II and are excluded from the scheduling. During the Civil War a series of parallel ditches were dug to protect the north side of the house from attack; artefacts recovered from the fill of the ditches included clay tobacco pipes and musket balls.
An excavation trench recovered evidence for a pond beyond the south-west corner of the inner moat. It had been infilled with modern materials but its lining of coursed rubble survived. Beyond the north court, is a roughly-circular pond which is fed from a culvert that approaches from the east. To the south and south-east of the house were further fishponds. The large southern pond is trapezoidal in plan with a 1.1m high embankment to its south-west; its sides were revetted with coursed rubble, though this has largely collapsed. Towards the centre is a circular island which also retains evidence of revetting. A chain of three fishponds to the south-east of the house, on the opposite side of Latteridge Road, were infilled in the 1970s. In the fields to the west and north-west of the house are a series of linear earthworks that are partly overlaid by ridge and furrow including a former open culvert with a bank on its east side which was the outlet channel to the pond to the south-west of the inner moat. It runs north-westwards and then curves to the west cutting through two sets of parallel banks and ditches. The latter are aligned roughly north to south and then turn through 90 degrees at their northern end continuing into the adjacent field. These earthworks are considered to be the remains of a section of the north-east pale to the west park.
Acton Court and the gateway and flanking walls to the east court which are listed at Grade I, the Grade II listed walls of the south court, the remaining east court walls, the agricultural buildings immediately to the north of the large fishpond and to the north of the east court, the surfaces of paths and driveways, boundary walls, the bridge over the south moat arm, and all fencing and gate posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.