Hertford Castle: a motte and bailey castle south of the River Lea


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Hertford Castle: a motte and bailey castle south of the River Lea
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Hertford Castle is one of the best preserved motte and bailey castles in southern Britain. It has a long and well-documented history which illustrates its growth and development as a royal castle. The partial excavations have confirmed the historical documentation and the well-preserved condition of the structural remains. Further evidence of the internal layout of the castle will exist beneath the present gatehouse and gardens in the castle precinct as well as within the motte mound.


Hertford Castle is a motte and bailey castle situated in the centre of Hertford on the banks of the River Lea. The monument includes a flat-topped motte which stands at the north corner of the castle and measures 30m in diameter and c.6.5m in height. The bailey, which covers nearly one hectare, is defended on the east and south by a curtain wall (Grade II* Listed) which is largely intact. At the southern angle of the wall are the remains of a small octagonal turret with a pointed doorway, now blocked, which can be dated to the 14th century. On the west side of the bailey is a late 15th century gatehouse which is a Grade II* Listed building. Beyond the curtain wall on the south side are the remains of a broad outer ditch measuring c.9m in width, now partly filled and covered by buildings and gardens. This outer ditch once encircled the whole castle. Beyond the ditch is a partially buried, brick built ice house which measures approximately 10m east-west by 6m north-south. It has a north facing entrance and is grass covered. Hertford Castle was built in the 11th century in the southern burh of Hertford, founded by Edward the Elder in AD 912. The castle was bounded by a double ditch on three sides, the north-western part of the defences being formed by the River Lea, with an outer bailey on the south-western side. In 1170 the earliest documentary record of the castle shows that extensive building works were carried out by Henry II; in 1174 the castle was fully garrisoned. Also at this time the curtain wall, berm and at least one of the ditches were dug. Both Hertford and Berkhamsted Castles were held by the barons for a year in the baronial revolt of King John's reign. At the end of 1216 Hertford Castle was besieged by Louis of France and surrendered after a month. In 1360 John of Gaunt was granted the castle and bought large quantities of timber to fortify it. The castle reverted to the crown with the accession of Henry IV and remained in royal hands until 1630 when it was granted to the Earl of Salisbury. Edward IV carried out major renovations during the 1460's including the building of the gatehouse. Many of the buildings were pulled down in the reign of James I and by 1905 the ditches had all been infilled and levelled, with the exception of some on the southern side. The site was partially excavated in 1977 when the inner and outer ditches to the east of the castle were located. Further excavations were carried out from September 1988 to August 1990 by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust on the south-western side of the castle, outside the postern gate. These excavations confirmed the alignment of the inner and outer ditches. The remains of the curtain wall, both below and above ground are included within the scheduling. Excluded from the scheduling are the gatehouse, carpark, footpaths, modern pavilion, greenhouse and street lamps. However, 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.

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Books and journals
Renn, D, Medieval Castles in Hertfordshire, (1971), 16-18
Excavation Summary - Herts Archaeological Trust 1990,


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.

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