The Old Manor House, Cretingsbury: a motte castle and moated manor house


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of The Old Manor House, Cretingsbury: a motte castle and moated manor house
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
Great Staughton
National Grid Reference:
TL 11550 63053

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte exhibits a rare modification into a moated site. Such sites were built throughout England in the medieval period, often as prestigious seignorial residences, with the provision of a moat 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 contryside. The monument at the Old Manor House includes well preserved examples of a motte castle and a manorial moat. The latter is of particularly complex form displaying a wide diversity of features. Environmental evidence, enabling reconstruction of the economy of the site, may be recovered from waterlogged silts of the ditches, fishponds and the wellshaft, and also from buried landsurfaces beneath the motte mound and moat banks. Remains of buildings are known to survive on the moat island and the top of the motte.


The monument includes a Norman motte castle later incorporated into a large and elaborate moated site. The monument is situated on the crest of a ridge which runs east-west. The motte is an earthen mound about 2m in height and 50m in diameter. Building materials, including stone and handmade brick fragments, are scattered on the top. The mound is surrounded by a waterfilled ditch about 12m wide by up to 3m deep. A channel leaves the western arm of the ditch at a tangent and runs north, towards the outer moat. Access to the motte is via a causeway on the north-east side. The castle was later enclosed by a large sub-rectangular moated site which measures up to 260m north-south by 165m east-west and is defined by a waterfilled ditch 12m wide and 3m deep. The northern arm is linked to the motte ditch and the flow was originally controlled by a sluice. On the northern, western, and southern arms of the ditch there is an outer bank 7m wide and 1.5m high. On the eastern arm the outer bank has been eroded and is only clearly visible near the northern end. Gaps in the bank at the north- west and south-west corners and on the southern arm are minor entry-points onto the island but the main access to the interior is via a causeway on the eastern arm which aligns with a dirt track which skirts the northern perimeter of the moat. The interior contains a number of interesting features. The western, southern and eastern arms of the ditch have an internal bank 1m high and 5m wide while at the south of the island is a complex of six fishponds of different types. Parallel to the southern arm of the moat and inside the inner bank is a narrow waterfilled pond measuring 10m wide, 110m long and about 2m deep; this is the largest of the six. Just north of this pond is a series of three smaller ponds joined end-to-end by short leats. These are about 8m wide by 2m deep and the largest is 22m long. All three hold water. The remaining pair of ponds lies parallel to the western arm of the moat. The outermost pond is 1m deep and dry, measuring about 70m long and 10m wide. The innermost is deeper, at 2m, and still contains water. This is also 10m wide but is only 60m long. There is a slight bank around the northern end of both ponds. In the north-eastern corner of the moat are the remains of buildings associated with the former Old Manor Farm which has been demolished down to its foundations. Handmade brick and structural timber fragments were observed in the rubble. The plan of the buildings is obscured by rubble and vegetation. There is an open wellshaft in the vicinity of the ruins surrounded by a post and wire fence. Although the monument now appears to be rather isolated, it lies on the postulated route of an ancient ridgeway running from Little Staughton in the direction of Hail Weston. Situated as it is on a natural high point, the monument commands an excellent view of the surrounding countryside. These strategic factors no doubt influenced the siting of the Norman castle. More settled times after the Conquest saw the alteration of the castle into a moated manorial residence. The Old Manor House was also known as Cretingsbury or Cottingsbury and belonged to Sir Adam de Creting who died in 1294. The site is shown on Jeffreys' Map of Bedfordshire 1768. The Old Manor Farm house was largely built in the 17th-18th century but incorporated elements of an earlier timber structure. The house has been derelict at least since the early 1970's. The fence around the well shaft is excluded from the scheduling as is the surface of the trackway. The ground beneath them is included. The rubble and timber fragments associated with the demolished buildings are considered part of the scheduling.

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:
Legacy System:


NAR Record,
Pagination 251, RCHM, RCHM Hunts, (1926)
Title: Map of Bedfordshire (1768) Source Date: 1768 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Pathfinder Series 980 (TL 06/16) Source Date: 1988 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey Record Source Date: 1977 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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