Donnington Castle: a quadrangular castle and 17th century fieldwork.


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)
Shaw cum Donnington
National Grid Reference:
SU 46109 69135

Reasons for Designation

A quadrangular castle is a strongly fortified residence built of stone, or sometimes brick, around a square or rectangular courtyard. The outer walls formed a defensive line, frequently with towers sited on the corners and occasionally in intermediate positions as well. Some of the very strongly defended examples have additional external walls. Ditches, normally wet but sometimes dry, were also found outside the walls. Two main types of quadrangular castle have been identified. In the southern type, the angle and intermediate mural towers were most often round in plan and projected markedly from the enclosing wall. In the northern type, square angle towers, often of massive proportions, were constructed, these projecting only slightly from the main wall. Within the castle, accommodation was provided in the towers or in buildings set against the walls which opened onto the central courtyard. An important feature of quadrangular castles was that they were planned and built to an integrated, often symmetrical, design. Once built, therefore, they did not lend themselves easily to modification. The earliest and finest examples of this class of castle are found in Wales, dating from 1277, but they also began to appear in England at the same time. Most examples were built in the 14th century but the tradition extended into the 15th century. Later examples demonstrate an increasing emphasis on domestic comfort to the detriment of defence and, indeed, some late examples are virtually defenceless. They provided residences for the king or leading families and occur in both rural and urban situations. Quadrangular castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex protecting a vulnerable coastline and routes to London. Other concentrations are found in the north near the Scottish border and also in the west on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 64 recorded examples of which 44 are of southern type and 20 are of northern type. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other types of castle, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be of national importance.

Donnington Castle survives as a fine example of this class of monument. In addition, part of its documented history is particularly well-illustrated by the survival of the associated fieldworks built during the Civil War to strengthen the castle defences when it was besieged by Parliamentarian forces.


The monument includes the remains of Donnington Castle and the earthwork remains of the 17th century Civil War fieldwork which surrounds it. The site occupies a strong strategic position, commanding the crossing of major north to south and east to west routeways. The castle itself is of quadrangular style and consisted originally of an enceinte of curtain wall, four round corner-towers, two square wall-towers and a substantial gatehouse. The gatehouse is the only part to survive well, remaining up to 65 feet high, with two storeys roofed at battlement level. Elsewhere the castle walls are less well preserved and are extensively rebuilt. The standing remains of the castle are Listed Grade I. Historical sources attribute the construction of the site to Richard de Abberbury, who was granted a licence to, 'crenellate and fortify a castle on land at Donyngton Berks', by Richard II in 1386. The Castle was later held by Chaucer's son Thomas in 1415 and subsequently passed into the hands of the crown. Henry VII is reported as having stayed at the castle in 1539 and Elizabeth I in 1568. The 17th century Civil War earthworks, surrounding the lower slopes of the hill, are the remains of a fortification built on the style of Italian Renaissance 'star' artillery defences, the diamond shaped projections being designed to provide the defending gun emplacements with a wide field of fire. Originally it is likely that the rampart was faced with a wooden revettment and that vertical stakes occupied the bottom of the ditch. Today these defences survive as a series of scarps and platforms, averaging 1.7m high. They were constructed by the Royalist garrison under Sir John Boys, the castle being taken by the king from the Parliamentarian John Packer in 1643. The castle was besieged by a Parliamentarian force in 1644, Sir John holding out for 20 months, only surrendering on the news that the King's cause was lost. After the war in 1646, the estate was restored to John Packer, who abandoned the much damaged castle in favour of the Elizabethan lodge which became Donnington Castle House (not within the protected area). All modern buildings, fences and metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath is included. The monument is in the Guardianship of the Secretary of State.

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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Ancient monuments terrier,
On site interpretative board,


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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