Bury Hill Camp: a motte and bailey castle with three fishponds


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Bury Hill Camp: a motte and bailey castle with three fishponds
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Bedford (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 05205 58354

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.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 at Thurleigh is of unusual form, having a top platform on two levels, and is thought to retain well-preserved building remains. The bailey is also of unusual form and is exceptionally large and therefore likely to contain evidence for the identification of areas devoted to different activities (such as accommodation, service quarters, stores and granaries, stock-management enclosures, even possibly gardens and arable fields). The presence of water-filled features may enable recovery of environmental data by which contemporary and later economic usage of the bailey area can be reconstructed.


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle and three ponds situated to the south east of Thurleigh parish church, on land which falls towards the Ravensden Brook, a minor tributary of the River Great Ouse. The motte lies at the north of the bailey, adjacent to the churchyard, and comprises an earthen mound which is oval in plan, measuring 60m long by up to 40m wide at its base. The top of the motte is between 40m long by 20m wide and is on two levels, being higher at its north-eastern end which is thought to have held the stronghold. At its highest point the motte is about 7m above the bottom of the surrounding ditch which varies in width between 7m and 30m and is up to 2.5m deep at the north and shallower at the south where it holds standing water. The north-western edge of the ditch is strengthened by an outer bank 5m wide by up to 1m high which has been slightly altered in places by the insertion of later property boundaries. To the south of the motte is an extensive bailey which is irregular in shape and measures 200m north-south by 270m east-west. Although the northern perimeter is thought to have been destroyed by various activities within the curtilage of properties adjacent to High Street and the remainder has been partially altered by its incorporation into later field boundaries, the location and form of the defences is recorded on a survey of 1904. The south-western arm of the defences lie at the foot of the natural slope. An 8m wide outer bank which appears on the 1904 survey has since been ploughed flat but the ditch within it remains as a field drain 4m wide by 1.5m deep which carries the Ravensden Brook. Two large ponds, which are thought to have been constructed by enlarging an original inner ditch, lie within the outer ditch or stream bed. A 20m wide causeway carrying a farm track now runs between the two ponds but they were originally continuous. The northern pond, known as `Black Pond', measures 115m long by 18m wide and is silted up. The southern pond, `Westminster Pond', is separated from the outer ditch by a slight bank 5m wide. This pond is 120m long by 25m wide, with a small island of 10m by 4m in the middle it holds deep well-aerated water. About 30m beyond the southern end of Westminster Pond, the line of the bailey defences turns through 90 degrees to run up the slope on a north-easterly alignment. The first 120m of this southern arm is not apparent at the surface but its bank is recorded on the 1904 survey and an outer ditch is thought to survive as a buried feature; the remaining 170m is incorporated into the modern field boundary as a partially infilled ditch and slight bank beneath the hedge. The 1904 survey depicts the earthworks extending for 60m into the grounds of the Old Vicarage but this area was built over in the late 1970's and the earthworks destroyed; excavations in advance of development revealed that little of the Norman castle remained but finds indicated that the site had been occupied in the Iron-Age, Roman and Saxon periods. Although the interior is under arable cultivation and contains buildings and hardstandings associated with Bury Farm, deeper-cut medieval features relating to the use of the bailey survive below ground, especially towards the bottom of the slope where the accumulation of hillwash favours the survival of archaeological deposits. This is confirmed by fragments of building stone having been found in the ploughsoil. Three ponds shown on the 1904 survey are now infilled but a fourth, located 20m south-east of the motte, remains as an open feature. The pond is irregular in outline with a ramp leading into it from the west. It measures a maximum of 30m by 15m and is up to 2m deep; it is seasonally water- filled.

The motte and bailey has been identified as the easternmost of a postulated line of defensive sites on the upper reaches of the Ouse which extends to Odell. The building of the castle has been ascribed to King Stephen (1135-54).

The standing buildings, boundary walls, fences and the made surfaces of trackways and hardstandings are excluded from the scheduling but 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
Goddard, A R, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1904), 287-9
Goddard, A R, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1904)
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 129-33
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 129-133
Baker, E, Simco, A, 'CBA Group 9 Newsletter' in Thurleigh Castle, , Vol. 7, (1977), 20-2
Beds. 309: Blackburn Hall moated site,


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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