Helions moated site


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.

Braintree (District Authority)
Helions Bumpstead
National Grid Reference:
TL 64561 41254

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.

Helions moated site is well preserved and will contain significant archaeological information related to its construction in the medieval period, and for the long duration of occupation which is suggested by the extensive collection of documentary sources relating to the Helions family. The waterlogged silts within the ditch, especially those buried within the infilled sections, will retain environmental evidence for the appearance of the landscape in which the moated site was set and for the development of agricultural activity associated with the former manor. Evidence regarding earlier structures on the island (including the manor house destroyed by fire in the early 19th century) is expected to survive in the form of buried features. Artefacts preserved in association with these features, as in the silts of the surrounding ditch, will provide valuable insights into the duration and status of the settlement and the lifestyles of its inhabitants.


The monument includes a rectangular or slightly `D'-shaped moated site, situated on high ground 750m south west of Helions Bumpstead church, known as `Helions' and identified with the medieval manor of that name. The island is slightly raised above the level of its immediate surroundings and measures some 70m from north west-south east by 60m transversely. West of centre, approached from the north side by a late 18th century bridge, stands a mid-19th century farmhouse and outbuildings built to replace an earlier manor house which was destroyed by fire around 1825. The southern half of the surrounding ditch has been largely infilled, reportedly in order to alleviate the then occupant's rheumatism in the late 19th century. However, it can still be traced as a slight depression for most of its length (where it varies between 10m and 13m in width), and the complete circuit is recorded on the 1841 tithe award map. The northern arm and the northern halves of the two side arms remain open and water-filled, supplied by underground springs and draining from the north eastern corner. The depth of this section is thought to be greater than 2m and the base may, according to the report of a previous owner, be lined with clunch (soft limestone). The narrow bridge to the north (the only visible feature surviving from the earlier manor house) appears to have provided the sole access to the island until about 1870, after which the rear section of the moat was infilled. There is a slight bank or causeway through the southern arm which has been considered to represent a further approach; its position (facing away from the village), however, and its relationship to the infilled ditch suggest that it more probably originated as a feature of the garden. A small conical mound in the north eastern corner of the island is similarly thought to have been created as a garden feature, perhaps using material dredged from the open section of the moat. The manor of Helions, mentioned in Domesday Book, is thought to derive its name from Tihel the Breton, a follower of William I, who acquired estates in the area after the Norman Conquest. In the reign of Henry II (AD1100-1135) the manor was held of the Barony of Helion, established by Robert de Helion, and thereafter retained by the Helion (or Helyun) family until the last male heir died in 1449. Anne Tyrell, granddaughter of John Heylon (the last of the male line), married Sir Roger Wentworth in the late 15th century and in 1501 he established part claim to the manor through his wife. The estate was not mentioned, however, in the Inquisition which followed her death in 1534, and it later came by unknown means into the hands of the Crown. In 1553 Edward VI granted the manor, together with other properties in the area, to the Mayor, Commonalty and Citizens of London. By the mid-18th century ownership had been transferred to the governors of St Thomas' Hospital in Southwark, remaining under their control (with various tenants) until the farm passed into private ownership in the early 20th century. The bridge, all standing buildings and walls, all fences and the surfaces of the driveway, paths and yards, together with all other modern fixtures and fittings, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


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

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Morant, P, History and Antiquities of Essex Volume II , (1978)
Reaney, PH, Place names of Essex, (1935)
'Kelly's Directory' in Kelly's Directory - Essex, (1882)
Charge, B B, 'Journal of Haverhill and District Arch Soc.' in Survey of Moated Sites, , Vol. Vol 3, (1984)
Essex SMR, Layland, P R, Essex: moated site survey, Moated Sites Research Group survey sheets, (1980)
Laurie, RM, Discussion about water supply and drainage, (1997)
Title: Tithe Award Map - Helions Bumpstead Source Date: 1841 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Essex Record Office: D/CT 58B


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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