Thornhill Hall moat and sites of formal gardens and bowling green, and remnant of pre-seventeenth century open-field system


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.

Kirklees (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 25610 18909

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.

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
Moorhouse, S, Appendix to KMDC project brief, (1982)
Nuttall, B H, A History of Thornhill, (1963)
Gilks, J A, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Archaeology, (1974)
Also 1965/69. Archive WYAS SMR, Manby, T, (1964)
Saxton, Christopher, (1577)


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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