The Hillings, Castle Hills: a ringwork castle associated with a Saxon vill, shifted medieval village and a windmill mound


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009629

Date first listed: 12-Jul-1929

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Jun-1992


Ordnance survey map of The Hillings, Castle Hills:  a ringwork castle associated with a Saxon vill, shifted medieval village and a windmill mound
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Huntingdonshire (District Authority)

Parish: St. Neots

National Grid Reference: TL 17336 58909


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

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.

Partial excavation has revealed that Castle Hills includes below-ground remains of part of a late Saxon settlement, or vill. A vill was a place of occupation of a small community, primarily involved in agriculture but also with crafts and industry on a variety of scales and such sites are important to the understanding of the origins of rural settlement in medieval England. The settlement at Eaton Socon continued in existence after the Norman Conquest when villages became more widespread and acted as foci of ecclesiastical or manorial administration providing services to the local community. Many villages were partially abandoned or relocated, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries. As a common and long-lived monument type in most parts of England such villages provide important information on the diversity of medieval settlement patterns between the regions and through time. The ringwork at Castle Hills was later the site of a postmill. These windmills were an important feature of the landscape across Northern Europe in the medieval period. The majority of postmills were under manorial control and they provide evidence of the growth of economic and technological centralisation. The Castle Hills site therefore contains evidence for continuous occupation between the late Saxon and Norman periods. The evidence includes structural remains within the castle site, waterlogged remains in the ditch fills, buried soils beneath the rampart banks and postmill mound and possibly buried water- front structures on the river foreshore. Combined, such evidence will provide a detailed insight into the nature of occupation before and after the Norman Conquest, the economy of the inhabitants of the site and the landscape in which they lived.


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


Castle Hills is a Norman ringwork castle overlying part of a late Saxon vill and medieval village which was deserted, at least in part, to make way for the stronghold. The ringwork was used subsequently as the site of a windmill. The monument is situated on a gravel terrace on the west bank of the River Great Ouse. The ringwork has a bailey on its north side and is surrounded to the west by a ditch enclosing an outer court. The ringwork itself is irregular in plan, rounded at its western end with its eastern side straight and parallel with the course of the river. A waterfilled ditch 15-20m wide by 1.5m deep runs along the western and southern sides and a slightly shallower 10m wide dry ditch separates the stronghold from the bailey on the northern side. There is a narrow causeway across the junction of these ditches at the north-west. It is thought that no ditch was required on the eastern side because the river afforded an adequate defence. The interior of the ringwork is raised by c.2m above the natural ground surface and there is a bank up to 1.5m high on the north, west and south sides, giving the inner scarp of the ditch a total height of about 5m. The flat area within the bank measures 40m east-west by 30m north-south. A small flat-topped mound, 16m in diameter by 1.5m high, is a later medieval windmill mound which had utilized the additional height afforded by the castle earthworks. The bailey is rectangular, surrounded on three sides by a ditch between 10m and 15m wide by 1.5m deep. Again, the proximity of the river meant that no ditch was needed on the east side. North of the bailey the outer scarp of the ditch follows the fence line and, because the outlying ground is lower, this scarp is only about 1m high. The interior of the bailey is about 0.5m below that of the ringwork. The north-west corner of the bailey is strengthened with a small oval mound about 10m wide and 2.5m high which is considered to have held a corner-tower. The mound is incorporated into a bank which runs along the north, west and south sides of the bailey and which ranges in height from 2m on the north side to less than 1m on the south. The outer ditch runs from the north-west corner of the bailey, curving around to the south of the ringwork. The ditch is 14m wide and varies in depth from 1.5m on the northern arm to about 2m along most of the western and southern arms, the southern arm being partially infilled at its eastern end. Inside the ditch is a low bank which is most clearly defined on the southern arm where it is 0.5m high. Towards the northern end there are signs of recent disturbance in the form of two weathered trenches 1m wide by 0.5m deep. It is thought that the River Ouse once flowed closer to the castle; a weir associated with the River Mill to the south has certainly altered the river's course and in waste ground north of the monument the possible line of an old riverbank is apparent as a scarp running 20m west of the present river's edge. Flat ground to the east of the ringwork therefore has potential for the preservation of waterfront structures contemporary with the use of the castle. Castle Hills has been archaeologically excavated on two occasions. In 1949-50 trial trenches excavated on the ringwork and bailey uncovered foundations of clay and timber buildings, dated by pottery to the 12th century. The windmill mound was shown to be sealing a buried soil horizon and therefore to have been constructed some time after the abandonment of the ringwork. A trial trench across the outer ditch, excavated in 1962, showed that the ditch was constructed in the 12th century and is contemporary with the ringwork, not an earlier Saxon or Danish fortification as had been previously asserted. The late Saxon and medieval settlement is known from excavations. The 1949-50 investigations in the north bailey unearthed about 40 burials from a late Saxon cemetery along with layers of rubble from the destruction of a stone building. Dressed stone fragments found in the rubble suggest that it came from the demolition of the Saxon church to which the cemetery belonged. Further excavation in advance of housing development in 1962 uncovered the remains of a large wooden Saxon hall 200m to the west of the castle. A trial section cut across the outer ditch of the castle found part of a second Saxon building which was cut by the ditch and buried beneath the bank. The full extent of the settlement is not known but it has been estimated that it extended at least 100m to the west of the outer ditch of the castle. Study of the pottery assemblage, which included St Neots ware, shows that the settlement began as a vill as early as the 9th century, prospered in the 11th century and continued after the Conquest of 1066 before being abandoned, at a relatively early date, in the mid 12th century. The vill was probably the residence of Ulmar, Thegn of Eaton Socon under King Edward the Confessor. After the Conquest of 1066 his Bedfordshire lands (Eaton Socon was formerly in that county) passed to the Norman Baron Eudo `Dapifer' whose holding is recorded in Domesday as `Etone'. Eudo died in 1120 without issue and Eaton Socon was eventually granted to the first Hugh de Beauchamp. Geoffrey de Mandeville, who was connected by marriage or obligation to de Beauchamp, is accredited with the construction of the ringwork during his war with Stephen in the 1140's. The epithet Socon derives from the village's status as a `soke' or liberty in the 13th century.

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: 20434

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Taylor, A, Castles of Cambridgeshire, (1990)
Addyman, P V, 'PCAS' in Early Saxon Settlement in the St Neots Area, (1965)
Addyman, P V, 'PCAS' in Early Saxon Settlement in the St Neots Area, (1965)
Lethbridge, T C, Tebbutt, C F, 'PCAS' in Excavations On The Castle Site..., (1951)
Lethbridge, T C, Tebbutt, C F, 'PCAS' in Excavations On The Castle Site..., (1951)
Bowman, A R, (1991)
NAR Record TL 15 NE 03, (1991)
RAF AP's 541/A83/7-4-50 No.s 3132-3,

End of official listing