Oxford Castle and earlier settlement remains


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

Oxford (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SP 50998 06138

Reasons for Designation

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a 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, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte and bailey castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Oxford Castle is an important example of a motte and bailey castle located within a town. The history of the castle is well documented and it played a key role in the history and development of Oxford itself. The motte survives well and contains a rare well chamber as well as the archaeological remains from the stone keep built on it. Limited archaeological investigations in 1952 and 1966 showed that evidence of the earlier Saxon settlement on the site has been preserved beneath the mound, whereas similar evidence in Oxford has been largely lost in the development of the city. The survival of these features, St George's Tower and buried remains within the area of the bailey, make the site important to the understanding of the development of towns in general during the Middle Ages, and of Oxford in particular.


The monument includes the main surviving elements of a large motte and bailey castle, built in c.AD1071 on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon settlement, by Robert d'Oilly, a contemporary of William I. The first castle was mainly constructed of earth and timber although St George's Tower - Listed Grade I - may pre-date the mound, also having been built by Robert d'Oilly. The motte has survived well and includes evidence of alterations to the castle in the medieval period. The steep sided motte is 18m from base to summit and has a maximum diameter of 65m at the base and 23m on the flat summit. There was originally a wooden tower on the top of the mound but this was replaced in the medieval period with a ten sided stone keep, the foundations of which are visible on the summit. Inside the motte is a well-preserved Grade I Listed 13th century well chamber. This has a vaulted roof and is hexagonal in plan. The area of the bailey has been largely built over but can be traced along Bulwark Lane to the north-east and by the prison wall and Paradise Road to the south-west. The best surviving area of the bailey and of the structures within it are contained within the walls of Oxford Prison, including St George's Tower, part of the line of the curtain wall and accompanying ditch and the Grade I Listed crypt of St George's Chapel. St George's Tower may be earlier than the motte and is the earliest stone building surviving on the site. The Tower survives as a four storey structure and is in a remarkably good state of preservation for a building of its early date. The line of the curtain wall, built to replace the original bailey earthworks, and a section of the ditch which surrounded the bailey, survive below ground within the prison area. Part of this line is preserved above ground as the foundations of the round tower, rebuilt in the 1800's but containing, as a core, the stonework of one of the castle towers. St George's Chapel crypt once lay beneath the chancel of St George's Chapel. It was moved and rebuilt during 1794 but includes 11th century columns. The crypt is considered to be an integral part of the history of the site. The castle has played an important role in the history of Oxford and of England. In 1142 the Empress Matilda was besieged in the castle by King Stephen and the castle was again attacked in 1215 during the 'Barons' War'. However, by the 14th century the castle was in a ruinous state, at least in part. In 1611 most of the site was owned by Christ Church but it was to be reoccupied by the loyalist forces during the early years of the English Civil War. After a period of siege the castle was re-fortified by the Commonwealth in 1649, only to be slighted in 1652, bringing to an end the site's use as a castle. In 1776 New Road was built through the bailey and part of the site was acquired for a prison in 1785. Between 1790 and 1856 the rest of the site was developed including a new canal terminus and other major works. In 1856 the prison was extended and many new structures put up which have protected rather than destroyed much of the buried archaeological remains. Limited excavations have also established that significant remains of the earlier Saxon settlement survive. St George's Tower, the oldest surviving structure on the site, is included in the scheduling. The older prison buildings are Listed Grade I, Grade II and Grade II* and are excluded from the scheduling; similarly excluded are all modern buildings present on the site, along with the prison walls, metalled surfaces and service trenches, although the ground beneath all buildings and other features is included within the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Hassall, TG, Oxford Castle, (1970)
CAO, Castle Bailey: PRN CARD 6093,
CAO, Oxford Castle Motte: PRN CARD 3201,
CAO, Oxford Castle: PRN CARD 3637,
CAO, Round Tower, Oxford Castle: PRN CARD 6091,
CAO, St George's Chapel Crypt: PRN CARD 3641,
CAO, St George's Tower: PRN CARD 3640,
HBMC Internal Document, Single Monument Class Description: Shell Keeps, (1989)
PRN 3637, C.A.O., Oxford Castle: Site and buildings,
PRN 3640, C.A.O., St George's Tower,


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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