Warren Knoll: a motte castle reused as a warren


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009397

Date first listed: 25-Nov-1994


Ordnance survey map of Warren Knoll: a motte castle reused as a warren
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Tilsworth

National Grid Reference: SP 97484 24362


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Despite later disturbance caused by the construction of a passage within the monument, Warren Knoll remains a well preserved example of an early medieval motte castle. The platform on the summit of the motte will retain evidence of buried building foundations, and the surrounding, infilled ditch will contain both artefacts and environmental evidence relating to the limited period of occupation. The buried ground surface beneath the castle is of particular significance as it may contain evidence of earlier land use. The importance of the site is emphasised by the commanding position it holds overlooking communication routes along the Ouzel Valley and Watling Street. The strategic position of Warren Knoll in relation to Totternhoe Castle, is illustrative of its role in establishing control of the area in the years following the Norman Conquest, and in this respect the close proximity of the castle and the parish church is also of interest. The relationship between the motte castle and its 15th century successor (Tilsworth Manor) also enhances the importance of the site. The two monuments considered together offer a relatively rare opportunity to study the changing requirements of the medieval aristocracy.

Warrens have a long history of construction and use dating from the medieval period to the early years of the present century. Documentary sources suggest that the zenith of warren construction lay in the late medieval and post-medieval periods, although the practice is thought to have been brought to this country by the Normans. The warren usually consisted of an enclosure surrounding one or more purpose built breeding places known as pillow mounds or buries; although earlier monuments including burial mounds, mottes and boundary banks were sometimes adapted to this use. Warrens provided a consistent supply of meat and skins and formed a significant part of the economy of both ecclesiastical and secular estates.

Warren Knoll, as the name suggests, was adapted to serve this purpose after it ceased to function as a motte castle. It is thought that the site may have been managed for rabbit breeding since the 15th century, following the establishment of a nearby moated site. This inventive reuse of the earlier fortifications provides valuable information for the economy of the later medieval and post-medieval estate.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The medieval motte castle known as Warren Knoll is situated toward the eastern end of the village of Tilsworth, about 60m to the north of All Saints Church. The castle occupies a commanding position overlooking the Ouzel Valley to the south and Watling Street to the east, and is intervisible with the motte and bailey castle at Totternhoe on the opposite side of the valley, about 2km to the south. The motte castle consists of a circular mound, approximately 35m in diameter, and 3.5m high, surmounted by a level platform measuring 7m across. The motte is surrounded by an infilled ditch which has been demonstrated by excavation on the southern edge of the mound, and is still visible as a slight depression around the northern side. The excavations in 1973 revealed that the ditch was 6m wide and 2.45m deep. The inner scarp formed a continuation of the slope of the mound and descended to a flat base, 2.5m across. The ditch fills contained fragments of Totternhoe stone, tile and animal bone. A piece of early medieval courseware pottery was recovered from the basal deposits. The motte would have supported a timber-built tower, although as the excavation evidence suggests, stone from the nearby source at Totternhoe may have been used in the construction. Further defence would have been provided by a palisade surrounding the ditch. Warren Knoll is thought to have been constructed during the late 11th century, as part of a series of defences controlling the valleys to the west of Watling Street. As a stronghold rather than a residence the site would have been occupied for a limited period, and would probably have been abandoned by the early 15th century when a large moated site (Tilsworth Manor) was established on the valley floor some 150m to the south of the motte. The motte remained within the estate of the later manor, and was described as a warren in a lease dated 1732. The mound continued in use as a warren during the 19th century and was last recorded as serving this purpose in 1910. In the mid 19th century a rectory (Tilsworth House) was built on the western side of the motte, and the mound was incorporated as an ornamental feature within the associated garden. A brick-lined passage was inserted in the southern side of the motte to serve as a cold store for the rectory. The passage is excluded from the scheduling, together with a concrete platform supporting two oil tanks adjacent to the entrance, the boiler house attached to the north west wall of Tilsworth House, the base of the metal fire escape to the west of the motte and the surfaces of all paths, although the ground beneath these features 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.

Legacy System number: 24408

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Goddard, A R, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1904), 291
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 125-7
Williams, S, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1912), 432-3
'Manshead Magazine' in Warren Knoll, Tilsworth, , Vol. 22, (1973)
lease made out to J. Cooper, CRT 130 Tilsworth 2, (1732)
Lease of the Tilsworth Estate, CRT 130 Tilsworth 2, (1732)
Notebook, Gurney, F G, CRO X325/58, (1916)
Sale catalogue, Christies, The Tilsworth Estate, (1804)
Schneider, J, The Manor of Tilsworth, unpublished local history text

End of official listing