Howbury ringwork and medieval trackway


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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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 10668 51291

Reasons for Designation

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60 with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular significance to our understanding of the period.

Howbury ringwork is located on a medieval trackway. These were usually unmetalled and formed by prolonged use for the transport of goods and livestock. Such trackways are widespread throughout England and provide important evidence for economic links between rural communities in the medieval period. The ringwork is the best preserved in Bedfordshire and, despite some alteration due to road construction, contains undisturbed archaeological remains in the interior and retains its potential for the recovery of environmental evidence from the fills of the ditch and from buried landsurfaces beneath the rampart banks. Such evidence may combine to provide a detailed insight into the nature of the monument and the status and economy of its inhabitants.


The monument includes a ringwork castle and part of a later medieval droveway which ran through it. It is situated at the top of a steep slope, which falls southwards to the River Great Ouse, lying adjacent to Hill Farm and south of the St.Neots Road. The ringwork, once known as Addingreves Castle, comprises an earthen bank 8m wide by up to 3m high enclosing a circular area 40m in diameter. The bank is breached by two entrances, one at the west and the other at the north-east. Surrounding the ringwork is a ditch which is up to 24m wide. This has become infilled over the years and is now only about 1m deep at the south and west and is totally infilled on the north and east. Its width is evidence that the original depth would have been much greater. The northern edge of the ditch lies beneath the carriageway of the road and is partially altered by a modern roadside drainage ditch which is about 2m wide and 2m deep. Despite this, the bottom of the ditch is considered to survive intact on this side. The southern arm of the ditch recently held standing water but is now dry. The medieval droveway ran between Bedford and St Neots largely on the line of the modern road but, where the road is diverted to the north of the ringwork, traces of the trackway survive as later alterations to the earthwork. Opposite the western entrance a ramp or hollow-way 15m wide leads out of the ditch, extending for 30m beyond its outer edge. There is a distinct camber to this ramp and also in the entrance to the ringwork which has been widened to accommodate the track. The track continued east, out of the second entrance, and followed the line of the modern road. Adjacent to the monument are slight and poorly defined earthworks which indicate that the land was under cultivation in the medieval period. A number of burials were found on the site in the early 19th century while the monument was erroneously described as a Roman Amphitheatre on early maps. The monument is now considered to be a Norman castle and although some scholars have suggested that the ringwork might have been built by the Danes in their defence of the Danelaw this has not been proven. After the castle's demise, the earthworks no doubt served as a shelter and watering place for livestock being driven between Bedford and St Neots on the trackway. The fences on the north and east of the site, and the surface of the St Neots Road are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Dyer, J F, Archaeology and Landscape, (1972)
Goddard, A R, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1904)
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920)
Williams, S, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1912)
Harrison, S., Information from owner, (1991)
J.R.L., Ordnance Survey Record, (1975)
Title: Bedford Museum map (O.S. correction sheet) Source Date: 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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