Motte and bailey castles, fishponds, deserted medieval village and manor site NE of St Mary's Church


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.

West Berkshire (Unitary Authority)
Hampstead Marshall
National Grid Reference:
SU 42079 66995, SU 42160 66823

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte and bailey castles at Hamstead Marshall survive well and are unusual in terms of their proximity to each other, which may be a result of dual ownership, siege warfare or a movement of the site. Associated with the motte and bailey castles are fishponds and medieval village remains, the latter providing important information on the diversity of medieval settlement patterns and farming economy between regions and through time, When considerd as a whole, this monument provides a particularly complete example of what has been interpreted as a defended medieval settlement.


The monument, which consists of two areas, includes two motte and bailey castles, fishponds, the remains of the deserted medieval village of Hamstead Marshall and a possible manor site. The two castles lie in close proximity, their centres only 115m apart, below and to the northeast of the church and the remains of the former village. Both occupy low spurs which overlook the valley of the River Kennet. The most south-easterly and smaller of the two castles has a diameter of 50m and stands to a height of 4.7m. It is surrounded by a ditch up to 2m deep and has a roughly square bailey adjoining the ditch to the north-east. The bailey is orientated north-east to south-west; it has internal dimensions of 48m by 52m and is defined in extent by a bank with prominent outer scarp. A linear bank and ditch, immediately to the east of the bailey, appears unrelated to the bailey or to a park pale which runs through the parkland to the east of the site. It is possible that this linear feature may be associated with a formal approach to the late 17th century mansion house, now destroyed, which lay on the plateau top, above and to the south west of the monument. The second and larger motte lies to the north-west. It is steep-sided and circular in plan and has a diameter of 62m rising to a flat summit at a height of 6.8m. Around the southern half of the mound, a substantial ditch survives averaging 10m wide and 2.7m deep. This is crossed at its most southerly point by a causewayed ramp which appears to be of a later date than the ditch or motte. To the north are the probable remains of a small bailey projecting towards the River Kennet. Today its shape and form are obscured by the modern road which cuts it off from the motte. A second larger and better preserved bailey can be traced around the west side of the motte, again cut by the modern road but surviving as a bank with a prominent outer scarp averaging 1.5 to 2m in height and enclosing a roughly rectangular area some 0.65ha in extent. Platforms and hollows within the bailey identify the site of former buildings, possibly the manor house. At the head of the narrow valley,formed between the spurs upon which the mottes are built, is a spring- fed, rectangular pond measuring 69m by 20m and 1.5m deep. A second, now dry, hollow to the immediate north, with dimensions of 32m and 14m by 0.5m deep, may represent a similar pond. Together these may represent fishponds associated with the medieval complex. Further up the slope to the south-west, between the ponds and St Mary's Church, are a series of low banks and scarps, believed to be the remains of a small deserted medieval settlement. These earthworks continue, though much less pronounced, south of North Lodge garden boundary to terminate against a shallow east-west hollow way in Hamstead Marshall Park. The abandonment of this settlement probably relates to a period of parkland landscaping associated with the now destroyed 17th century mansion which occupied the plateau top south-west of the church. All modern buildings, property boundary features, roads and metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath is included.

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.

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Books and journals
Bonney, D J, Dunn, C J, 'Cornwall to Caithness, Aspects of British Field Archaeology' in Earthwork Castle & Settlement at Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire, , Vol. 209, (1989), 173,182
Bonney, D J, Dunn, C J, 'Cornwall to Caithness, Aspects of British Field Archaeology' in Earthwork Castle & Settlement at Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire, , Vol. 209, (1989), 173,182
Bonney, D J, Dunn, C J, 'Cornwall to Caithness, Aspects of British Field Archaeology' in Earthwork Castle & Settlement at Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire, , Vol. 209, (1989), 173,182


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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