Reasons for Designation
Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more
islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some
cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was
between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in
central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built
throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and
exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a
significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding
of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples
provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.
The remains of Thornhill Hall survive well and demonstrate the changing use of
the site over 500 years. Unusually, traces of the field system on which the
moat was superimposed survive. Limited excavation has demonstrated that the
remains of the buildings which formerly occupied the site survive well on the
moated island. In addition, environmental material will survive well in the
waterlogged deposits of the moat. Also unusual is the survival of evidence
for the early formal gardens and bowling green which were contemporary with
the seventeenth century hall.
Thornhill Hall moat occupies the north-east corner of Thornhill Rectory Park
in the Thornhill area of Dewsbury. In addition to the moat and central
island, the monument contains a number of related features. These include a
remnant of an earlier open-field system, the site of the formal gardens of the
seventeenth century hall and the site of its bowling green. Deposits relating
to ancillary and agricultural buildings survive outside this scheduling to the
east. These are not at present included in the scheduling as their precise
location and extent is uncertain.
The moated site itself consists of a trapezoidal island measuring c.70m by 60m
at its widest point and surrounded by a partially water-filled ditch varying
between 5m and 30m wide and up to c.4m deep. A series of partial excavations
were carried out between 1964 and 1972 when the remains of two houses on
slightly different alignments were discovered. The earlier was a large
thirteenth century timber-framed hall with clay-bonded foundation walls. The
later was a stone-built building of H-plan which showed signs of being
reconstructed in c.1600 when it was given a paved floor, plaster walls and a
chimney. The remains of the fireplace and solar, or private apartment, of the
later hall are still standing and are Grade II Listed. A site survey carried
out in 1964 revealed a bridge abutment on the north side of the island while,
on the south side, the remains of a gatehouse were uncovered indicating that
there were two bridging points across the moat. Excavation also revealed a
wall round the island along the east side and also most of the south side.
This wall was demolished in c.1600 and the gate rebuilt with a porter's lodge
on the west side. The bridges would have been timber and their remains will
be preserved in the water-logged deposits of the ditch along with other
organic and environmental material. The ditch itself dates to c.1450 and is
therefore of similar date to the first stone house but later than the
thirteenth century timber-framed hall.
The moat also post-dates an earlier field-system which may be contemporary
with the thirteenth century hall or even earlier. The remains of this can be
seen to the south of the moat where traces of ridge and furrow cultivation
survive as faint linear earthworks lying at right-angles to the moat and
clearly truncated by it. Also to the south are the issues which feed the moat
while a drain lies midway along the west side. Immediately to the north is
the site of the seventeenth century bowling green noted on Saxton's map of
c.1600 while, to the west, lies an area recorded by Saxton as `New Orchard'.
Orchard was a term often used of formal gardens as well as fruit orchards, and
three terraces running parallel with and respecting the west flank of the moat
have been interpreted as the formal gardens of the later hall.
Thornhill was the principal seat of the Savile family from the fourteenth to
the mid-seventeenth centuries, having been acquired by Henry Savile upon his
marriage to Elizabeth de Thornhill. It became the main administrative centre
of the Savile estate and remained so until 1648 when, either accidentally or
as a deliberate ploy to prevent the besieging Parliamentarian army from
capturing it, it was burned to the ground, after which the site was abandoned
in favour of Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire. A number of features are
excluded from the scheduling, including notice boards and bins, the modern
bridge onto the island, the surfaces of all paths and all modern walling and
fencing. The ground beneath these exclusions is, however, included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.