Motte in Hamstead Marshall Park, 340m NE of The Dower House


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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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 42986 66610

Reasons for Designation

Motte 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-bai1ey 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 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 and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as motte castles. 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.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 partial completion of the motte in Hampstead Marshall Park allows an unusual insight into the methods of construction employed on this type of monument, while its close association with a pair of motte castles some 800m to the west, offers potential for understanding the way such early military works were designed to function in warfare.


The monument includes the remains of a substantial motte situated at the northern end of a prominent gravel-capped spur, a strong strategic position overlooking the valley of the Kennet. The motte, which appears to be an unfinished work, is horseshoe shaped in plan, open at its north-east quarter and has an overall diameter of 60m. It stands up to 7m high above the bottom of the ditch on its most complete north-western side, declining in height southwards. Around the eastern half of the site the mound is incomplete but a low bank marks its intended extent. The surrounding ditch is also incomplete, reaching a maximum depth of 2.7m around the north-west side but remaining uncut in the north-east. The form of the mound indicates that the site was abandoned during construction and also suggests the way in which the mound was built. A circular marking ditch was cut initially and the spoil piled on its inner edge to form a bank. Further material was then quarried from the ditch and taken into the interior area through a gap left in the ditch on the uncut north-eastern section. The quarried material was dumped on and within the retaining bank to fill the interior and thus raise the mound. The mound is most complete around its western side, facing two motte and bailey castles that lie some 800m to the west. Viewed from the direction of these sites the unfinished motte is an impressively strong and threatening fortification. Though there is no direct proof, it is believed that the motte was constructed as a siege work opposing these more established castles. The initial emphasis on the construction of the western facing side of the mound and its peripheral location within the manor but away from the church and village, tend to reinforce this interpretation. If the motte is a siegework, it was probably constructed during the reign of Stephen, opposing the Marshall family who supported the rebellion against the crown.

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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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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