Reasons for Designation
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. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. 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 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.
The Pleasance is a rare and untypical example of this class of monument and
its history is directly linked with the kings of 15th century England. Partial
excavation has indicated that the moated island retains structural evidence
and deposits which relate to the site's unusual function as a pleasure
garden and retreat, exclusively for the highest orders of medieval society.
Additionally, environmental deposits will survive within the waterlogged
sections of the moat ditches and the harbour. Documents survive relating not
only to the construction and later abandonment of the site, but also the
costs and dates of repairs which occurred at the site throughout the 15th
The monument is situated 200m south west of Pleasance Farm and approximately
0.8 km north west of Kenilworth Castle and includes The Pleasance moated site.
The moated site was constructed at the north west edge of the mere, an
artificial lake which formed part of the defences of Kenilworth Castle. The
mere was drained in 1649. A documentary reference from the 15th century
indicates that the moated site was laid out in an area of reclaimed waste
ground, from which the site derives its name: 'le plesans en marais' (the
pleasance in the marsh). The Pleasance was constructed by Henry V in c.1414,
primarily as a pleasure garden and as a place of entertainment, and was used
in preference to the state apartments at Kenilworth Castle by a restricted
circle of medieval aristocrats including the king himself.
The moated site has external dimensions of 200m north west-south east and 180m
north east-south west and includes an inner and outer moat. The outer moat
measures up to 10m wide and its north west arm is partly waterfilled. There is
an external bank along the north west and south west arms of the moat and,
also, along part of the south east arm. A break in the western corner of the
external bank is thought to mark the site of an inlet channel, providing water
for the two moats. Towards the centre of the north east side of the site, the
outer edge of the outer moat has been cut by a small ditch. The relationship
between the moated site and this ditch is unclear but it is included in the
scheduling. The inner moat averages 14m wide and is now dry. The area between
the two moats has a levelled surface and would have originally functioned as a
terraced walkway around the inner moat. At the southern corner of the walkway
is a small, raised rectangular platform and at the western and northern
corners there are slight depressions in the ground surface.
The Pleasance was originally approached by boat from Kenilworth Castle across
the mere. At the south east edge of the site are the earthwork remains of a
28m wide waterlogged channel, on either side of which is a raised platform.
These features are thought to be remains of a harbour or basin, originally
used for mooring boats, and of landing stages to provide access to the site. A
narrow channel is visible at the eastern corner of the outer moat; it can be
traced along the ground surface, curving southwards and cutting through the
eastern landing stage, terminating at the edge of the harbour. There is no
surface evidence for an original entrance to the moated island from the
surrounding land, and the causeway across the north east arms of the inner and
outer moats is considered to be modern. The original access onto the moated
island itself is thought to have been across the central part of the north
east arm. In this area, the terraced walkway is much narrower than its other
three sides and its surface rises towards a point near the south east corner
until it is the same height as the island. This is thought to mark the site of
a bridge across the inner moat.
The moated island contains an area of 1.2ha. In 1923 an excavation at the
eastern corner of the moated island uncovered the remains of a stone wall
which is thought to have enclosed the island. The excavation also located the
the base of a spiral staircase and the floor and lower courses of a square
tower built within the eastern angle of the enclosing wall. Shallow
depressions at the other three corners of the island indicate that each corner
was originally the site of a similar structure. The remains of these towers
and the enclosing wall will survive as buried features. Documentary records
indicate that the moated island was originally occupied by timber-framed
buildings, including a timber banqueting hall.
The Pleasance was abandoned during the reign of Henry VIII and the buildings
at the site were dismantled and re-erected within Kenilworth Castle.
The fence posts on the site are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground
beneath is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.