Moated Site and Associated Earthworks at Bury Farm, Sharpenhoe


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Bury Farm, Harlington Road, Sharpenhoe, Bedford, MK45 4SG


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Statutory Address:
Bury Farm, Harlington Road, Sharpenhoe, Bedford, MK45 4SG

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

Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Medieval moated site and associated earthworks at Bury Farm, Sharpenhoe.

Reasons for Designation

The medieval moated site and associated earthworks at Bury Farm, Sharpenhoe is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

Archaeological Potential: * there is good evidence for the survival of significant archaeological deposits including waterlogged organic material, providing the potential to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the moated complex and the wider social and economic landscape in which in functioned;

Survival: * the moated complex is a good example of its type with the principal features surviving well as defined earthworks and buried deposits;

Documentation: * the existence of documentary evidence enhances the understanding and significance of the site;

Period: * as a good example of a key monument class of the medieval period, important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status.


Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches, often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some cases the islands were used for horticulture. Many moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic and seigniorial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence although the latter cannot be ruled out. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a significant class of medieval (or later) monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

Sharpenhoe is not mentioned by name in Domesday Book, but is understood to have been one of the two manors recorded under Streatley although no definite trace of Sharpenhoe Manor is known before the C13 when it was held of the king in chief. There is every reason to believe that Sharpenhoe was held by the de Cauz family before this time as Robert Passelewe passed land in Sharpenhoe to Richard de Cauz in 1197.

In 1234, James de Cauz obtained the grant of a chantry; Sharpenhoe already contained a chapel of St Giles, which had been erected by James. By 1266 the manor had passed to Robert, Son of John de Thorpe, who in this year obtained the right to hunt (free warren) in Sharpenhoe. By 1316 the manor had passed to George de Thorpe, probably a brother of Robert, who acquired a charter of free warren in this year. In 1416 Bishop Repingdon granted the inhabitants of Sharpenhoe licence to worship at the chantry during his tenure. The Chapel thus became a chapel-of-ease to the parish church at Streatley. This would probably have included the rights of baptism and may provide a context for the font which was reported to have been found in the moat of Sharpenhoe Bury in 1775. The font was subsequently set on a brick plinth with an inscription in the garden of the manor house and remained there until it disappeared in 1950s. From 1417 the manor was held by the Felbrigge family until, at the latest 1485, when the manor is recorded as the property of William Tyndale and his wife Mary who passed it to Roger Townshend. The tenure of manor can be traced to the present day but from 1673 the manor passed to the Smythe family and remained within their ownership until 1919 when it is recorded that the manor was held by Mrs Hugh Smythe and George Townsend Benison, whose wife was first cousin to James Smythe who jointly held the property in 1872. Also in 1908 it is documented that ‘a farm known as Chantry Farm still exists’. And in 1918 a lieutenant William Marriott Godfrey of Chantry Farm, Sharpenhoe was recorded in the Luton absent voters list for the general election. Chantry Farm does not appear on any OS maps in this area but the enclosure award and map of 1858 indicates it stood in the south-west angle of the crossroad between Harlington Road and Sharpenhoe Road and belonged to William Jeeves. The house was demolished in 1972 when the site was redeveloped.

Map regression starting in 1770 provides a pictorial history of the site helping to identify incremental physical changes which have taken place across the site and helping to understand the evolution of the monument. In 1770 the moat is shown to be slightly sub-square, forming a trapezeoid with a large building in the north-west corner, adjacent to the line of the moat with gardens to the north, east and south. The rest of the island is covered with fairly regular lines of trees suggestive of an orchard. The north-west corner of the moat is infilled possibly to create a causeway to make access to the island easier. A series of buildings to the west are likely to be barns and stables related to a home farm. The name Malthouse Close suggests the function of at least one building. A slightly curving channel runs SSE from the SW corner of the moat with a barrier shown between this and the moat itself, most likely a dam with a sluice or similar to control water levels. This suggests it was an inlet channel for the moat.

In 1820 a watercolour painting by Thomas Fisher entitled ‘Mansion belonging to the Smyths at Sharpenhoe in the parish of Shitlington (later corrected to 'Streatley' by the artist), Bedfordshire’ depicts the house. Even allowing for artistic license it appears to reflect the ground plan shown on the 1770 map but there is complex phasing and although essentially Tudor in appearance it is quite likely to have had an earlier core. In 1824 an estate map shows the moat in much the same form as shown on the 1770 map although the inlet channel and associated field boundary are no longer shown. A tithe map of 1844 again shows the moat in a similar form although a short water filled extension north of the northern arm flares out suggesting either poaching by animals or a deliberate cut to allow animals access to the water. One detail of note is that the moat arms are shown wider than elsewhere to the north and west of the house perhaps suggesting a different history. The first edition County Series 25" to 1 Mile map of 1887 confirms the slightly trapezoidal shape of the moat and the broadening of the west moat arm close to the house in the north-west quadrant. The house on the moat island appears to have been demolished but later maps suggest it may just have been reduced in size or perhaps replaced with a smaller building. The garden enclosure is still present and elsewhere on the island regular rows of trees suggest it remained an orchard. A new building is shown to the south of Bury Farm, presumably forming the core of the current house, replacing the former building on the moat. A footbridge is shown crossing the western arm of the moat and an avenue of trees has been laid out running south-south-east from the new house and presumably broadly contemporary with its construction. A 1901 25" to the mile map shows little alteration although there are fewer trees on the island. A 6" to the mile map of 1949 shows that the profile of the moat remains unchanged, a small building on the moat island remains and some of the farm buildings have gone.

Similarly, successive aerial photos provide a visual source that helps to illustrate the recent history of the site. In 1947 the eastern side of the house platform was either under cultivation or the ground was disturbed in some way. A curving bank and ditch can be seen in the field to the south of the moat and continuing as a crop mark across the ploughed field to the east. In August 1948 a lighter area over the south-west quadrant of the moat suggests possibly long grass or more likely a spread of some sort of material. In September 1954 a small rectangular feature is recorded towards the western side of the moat island with a possible hedge to the south. This was a swimming pool which was recorded as derelict in 1984. Short lengths of ridge and furrow to the north suggest the moat was inserted into a previously ploughed landscape. The earthworks in the field to the south of the moat are clearly defined. By August 1961 the pool is shown clearly flanked by hedges and paths. Vegetable gardening is now clearly visible on the house platform in the north-west of the moat island with the possible encroachment of small buildings, possibly sheds. Photographs of August 1973 show little change although the vegetable gardens have expanded slightly. In 2009 the moat appears unchanged and most of the previous features noted on the moat island such as the swimming pool, sheds and gardening, several hedges and trees, have been cleared away, several raised beds have been laid out over the southern and eastern parts of the island and an octagonal summer house built.

An Analytical Earthwork Survey carried out by Historic England’s Research Team in 2018 provides a comprehensive summary of the history and details of the site and provides the basis for much of the history given above and the description given below.

The moat was first scheduled in August 1950.


Principal elements: the monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a square moat, the moated platform, a banked enclosure south of the moat and various associated earthworks. The moat and moated platform are currently scheduled.

Description: An Analytical Earthwork Survey carried out by Historic England’s Research Team 2018 provides a current and detailed description and interpretation of the site. It provides the source for the relatively brief description given below.

The moat is approximately square, with external dimensions of about 120m and a moat island of about 90m across. It is aligned west-south-west to east-north-east.

Three arms of the moat survive; the southern arm and approximately two-thirds of the eastern arm are infilled but are still discernible on the surface either as earthworks or as lines of trees marking the edge of the scarp. The southern arm of the moat measures between 10m and 13m wide. In the south-east corner a short extension southwards, defined by inward facing scarps is evident and appears to represent an extension to the arm as shown on the 1884 Estate map. The top of the external scarp of the eastern moat arm can be traced for much of its length, the inner scarp is not visible but the moat edge can be traced by a line of trees, suggesting a width of around 13m on this side. From the south-east corner to approximately halfway up is a vehicle track crossing the moat and turning up onto the moat platform. This has caused some surface damage from vehicle tracks. The northern part of the eastern arm, the eastern part of the northern arm and a short section of moat extending south from the centre of the northern arm, retain water. These areas have high archaeological potential for the preservation of important waterlogged deposits, conducive to the preservation of organic remains.

The northern arm is divided into two fairly even halves by an arm extending southwards. This arm is water filled for a length of about 18m and 9m across but sits within a much broader feature 17 or 18m across. This is defined by inward facing slopes to east and west which measure up to at least 46m in length before the detail of the feature is lost under a spread of topsoil. This inner moat arm marks the edge of an elevated platform which is defined to the south by a broad drop. This platform is sub-rectangular measuring about 37m north to south. The western side of the platform is degraded so the east-west dimension is uncertain but it appears to have been almost square. The platform sits approximately 0.6m higher than the rest of the moat island and is understood to have been the site of the house and certainly corresponds to an estate map of 1770 which shows a large building on this corner of the larger moated platform. Several descriptions from the second half of C20 strongly suggest an arm of a moat defined the platform to the south too which may explain the drop there. Upon this platform was a second sub-square elevated area occupying its south-east quadrant. This is low and possibly formed of consolidated garden material or similar related to the former house’s garden. Later banks and gullies are also evident on the surface but their form and function is unclear.

Across the remainder of the moated platform a few archaeological features were recorded including, in the south-east corner, several gullies and ridges running both at right angles to one another and to the moat arms. They appear to represent another enclosure. In the north-east corner an oblique scarp is evident together with a low ridge and a semi-regular depression, again suggestive of archaeological features. Elsewhere any features were masked by the recent (2018) spread of top soil over the site but it is likely they have been covered rather than removed. A drain has been cut across the island and included the insertion of three inspection chambers.

The western arm of the moat has been partially removed during the recent (2018) construction of a subterranean garage. The north-west corner of the moat has been infilled possibly to allow vehicle access to an area where two containers are being used for storage. However, a sunken gully marks the line of the moat and suggests the presence of compacted deposits beneath later material. It is possible that the gully represents a causeway which is understood to have replaced a bridge by the late C18.

To the south of the moat, numerous features are evident. This area is dominated by a low sub-circular area, defined and enclosed by inward falling scarps or banks to the north, west and south. To the east the current field boundary, a track and field beyond obscure any features in this area. On the whole the area inside the enclosure has been levelled, probably through ploughing although not recently and not thoroughly. There is a series of surviving features along the eastern margin which measure about 10m wide. These comprise a low, narrow ridge running south before turning fairly sharply to the east for a short distance and disappearing into the hedgerow and a series of irregular ridges aligned north-east to south-west at intervals of 4 to 8m with those to the south becoming more regular.

Elsewhere a few surviving features appear to pre-date the enclosure and levelling, suggesting they must have once been more prominent. These include various banks, particularly on the western side of the enclosed area, where a raised area with a well-defined corner is evident. Along the southern edge there are counterscarps defining a low bank to the north and a shallow ditch to the south. Approximately 13m to the south-east is another low, spread bank about 6m wide which at its western end appears to run parallel to the feature described above. Another slightly wider bank (10m across) runs north from the southern edge of the enclosed area and appears to have a clear terminus.

The northern edge of the enclosed area is marked by an east to west bank approximately 6m across. It runs from the field boundary hedge to the east for over 70m before it curves towards the south. Aerial photographs show this was once a straight feature that continued to the west probably marking the line of a field boundary shown on the 1770 map but if so has undergone alteration since then. To the north of the bank is a sub-rectangular hollow measuring about 20m across by 13m north to south. A 1954 aerial photograph shows this to be the site of a small building surrounded by an enclosure with a probable entrance to the south.

To the west the enclosed area is marked by a clear but disturbed north to south ridge measuring over 8m across and ending in a prominent mound at the southern end.

Other features visible in this area are probably related to the moat. Immediately to the south of the southern arm of the moat is a scarp falling away to the south and generally running parallel to it. To the south of this feature was a second more clearly defined scarp, also falling to the south and running parallel to the moat. Although slightly disturbed by vehicle tracks this became even more defined towards the eastern end, increasing in height as the ground falls away. It seems likely that it was related to the moat, perhaps a retaining dam or levelling for a walk around the moat.

The western edge of the enclosure is defined by a moderate scarp rising westwards and thought to be a continuation of the bank which marks the northern edge of the enclosure. The profile of this feature is distorted along the westernmost section but where it changes orientation to run east-south-east it is similar in profile to that of the northern enclosure boundary. At the southern end of the enclosure various mounds, gullies and banks, clearly of different phases, cut through or overlay the boundary bank providing stratigraphic relationships relating to the continuity and change in the use of the monument.

Further subtle earthworks are recorded to the west and south of the banked enclosure and although relevant to the overall understanding of the monument are less diagnostic than those mentioned above.

Extent of Scheduling. The area of protection includes the north, east, south and north-west corner of the moat (both buried and water filled sections), the moated platform and the associated earthworks to the south of the moat. The line, as depicted on the attached map, follows the outer edge of the moat and associated earthworks to the south, and includes a 3m buffer zone all around the monument. The buffer was considered necessary for the support and preservation of the monument.

Exclusions. Flowerbeds defined by railway sleepers and one defined by a cast concrete surround and a small octagonal summer house on the moated platform are all excluded from the scheduling although the ground below them is included. Also, all modern fences and the recently dug drain and access chambers are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath all these features is included.


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

Legacy System number:
BD 40
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Page, W (Editor), A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 2, (1908), 381-384
'Bedfordshire Earthworks X: Moated homesteads' in Bedfordshire Magazine, , Vol. 9, (1963-5), 7-12
Platt, C, 'The homestead moat:security or status?' in The Archaeological Journal, , Vol. 167, (2011), 115-133
Central Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record No. 237
Moated Site, Bury Farm, Sharpenhoe, Bedfordshire: Analytical Earthwork Survey by Magnus Alexander, Sarah Newsome and Matt Bristow 2018
Pastscape Monument no 360052


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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