Cainhoe Castle: a motte and bailey with associated moated site, fishponds and field system


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Cainhoe Castle: a motte and bailey with associated moated site, fishponds and field system
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 09682 37369

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.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 at Clophill has a notable association with a moated site. Such sites consist of wide ditches, often waterfilled, and enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic or seignorial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than as a practical military defence. Moated sites 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.

Despite some alteration of the western bailey, Cainhoe castle remains one of the best preserved motte and bailey castles in Bedfordshire offering conditions for the preservation of building remains in the interior of the baileys and on the top of the motte. There is also a considerable likelihood of the survival of organic remains in the castle ditches enabling the study of the contemporary economy and environment of the site. Further evidence of the economic history of the castle potentially derives from its association with a well documented manorial moated site including fishponds and field systems.


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle and associated moated site with fishponds and part of a field system situated on the south side of the valley of the River Flitt. The motte mound incorporated a natural sand outcrop and rises steeply to a height of about 15m above the floodplain. The motte is about 60m maximum diameter at the base with a flat area 10m diameter at the top. High ground to the south, east and west of the motte was utilised for the construction of three irregularly shaped baileys which are separated from the motte by a ditch averaging 10m wide and 3m deep. The western bailey is thought to have been the earliest with the southern and eastern baileys added later. Although later quarrying has dug into the the western bailey from its north-western side, much of the interior and its eastern and southern sides survive, representing about two thirds of the original area; it now measures a maximum of 70m east-west by 60m north-south. The interior of the bailey lies about 7m below the top of the motte. A bank 1m high and up to 10m wide survives on the south side with a ditch 16m wide by 3m deep separating this from the southern bailey; no trace of the ditch is visible on the north-west side due to quarrying activity. The southern bailey is roughly crescent-shaped in plan, up to 40m wide by 120m long, and the interior of the bailey is about 2m below that of its neighbour. An 8m wide bank runs around the southern edge of the southern bailey; this bank is 1.5m high relative to the inside of the bailey and the outer scarp falls by about 4m to the bottom of an outer ditch which is up to 20m wide. Dividing the southern and eastern baileys is a ditch 15m wide and 5m deep which is thought to have served as an entrance to the castle. The eastern bailey measures 80m north-south by 30m east-west, occupying the remaining high-ground on that side of the motte. The interior surface of the bailey falls markedly from west to east and a slight bank, less than 1m high, lies on the western, northern and part of the eastern sides. On the eastern side of the bailey there is a steep scarp following the natural hillside with a slight ditch 10m wide at its foot.

The castle lies at the eastern end of a large field, measuring 520m by 320m, which also contains the remains of a medieval manorial site which is thought to have succeeded the motte and baileys. For the most part the remains comprise field boundary ditches averaging about 7m wide and up to 0.5m deep marking out a series of irregular enclosures. The enclosures to the south and east are incomplete, being truncated by a modern road (the A 507) and to the west by modern quarrying. An area of 170m by 140m maximum extent in the centre of the site has also been altered by quarrying. Despite this much of the field system can still be observed and several notable features are apparent. First of these is a square enclosure measuring 80m across externally which lies south-west of the centre of the site. This is thought to be a moated site on which the manor house was located. Although partially infilled, the moat ditch is 10m wide and between 1m and 1.5m deep. Part of the western arm remains an open waterfilled feature which has been widened slightly to form a cattle-pond 12m wide by 42m long. A leat, now dry, flowed into the moat from the west and an outlet channel runs east from the south-east corner joining the field ditch system. The interior of the moat is generally flat but has an inner bank 0.3m high on the south and west sides and a bank of similar size running east-west, effectively dividing the island into two areas; the northern part measures 80m by 18m and the southern 50m by 24m. The second group of features lies close to the northern edge of the monument and comprises a series of dried-up fishponds. The ponds were fed by a stream (whose modern course now runs just beyond the area of the monument) and by water draining from the field boundary ditches. At least four oval or rectangular ponds, 10m wide and between 22m and 34m long by up to 1m deep, have been identified; two lie end-to-end in the old stream bed and two more are offset to the south of the stream where it becomes canalised into two parallel leats. Set between the two offset ponds and linked to the leat system is a square pond 20m across with a small central island. This pond is thought to have been a breeding pond for small fry.

Small-scale excavations in 1973, located at the extreme east of the monument, found evidence of metalled road surfaces in the vicinity of the castle entrance and of medieval drainage works. It was also confirmed that the motte is constructed from a natural hill. Aerial photographs record the continuation of the medieval field system to the north of the monument where it has been destroyed by agricultural activity.

The manor of Cainhoe was held at Domesday by Baron Nigel d'Albini and it was probably he who built the castle shortly after the Conquest of 1066. The well-appointed manor house of his descendant, Simon d'Albini, is described in a Calendar of Close Rolls of the 1270's. The manor was later acquired by the Dakeney family and, on the death of John Dakeney in 1374, passed to the King in a dilapidated state after which an Inquisition was held into pilfering of building materials and other damage. The manor was then abandoned in favour of Cainhoe Manor Farm and by the 16th century it appears that there were no longer any buildings on the site. A public footpath now crosses the centre of the site on the line of an old road between Clophill and Upper Gravenhurst.

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
Taylor, A, Woodward, P, 'Beds Arch Journal' in Cainhoe Castle Excavations, 1973, (1975), 41-52
Taylor, A, Woodward, P, 'Beds Arch Journal' in Cainhoe Castle Excavations, 1973, (1975)
Beds 225: site survey at 1:2500, (1982)
Beds CRO: MA 55 and Book N (Enclosure Award), (1827)
Paterson, H (FMW), AM 107, (1984)
Simco, A, Beds 225: Cainhoe Castle, Clophill, Beds, (1986)
Simco, A, Beds 225: Cainhoe Castle, Clophill, Beds, (1986)
Taylor, C C, Beds 225: Cainhoe Castle Hill, (1978)


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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