A ringwork and bailey castle, ring ditch and enclosures east of Brookland Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of A ringwork and bailey castle, ring ditch and enclosures east of Brookland Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 18437 44540

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.

Although altered by agricultural activity, the ringwork to the east of Brookland Farm is a well defined cropmark site which also retains evidence of its design in the form of low earthworks. Its importance is emphasised by its position commanding the Ivel Valley: a major communication route in the medieval period which is believed to have increased in prominence as the old Roman road between Baldock and Sandy deteriorated. The ringwork is of a particularly rare type where attached baileys are known to exist. Partial excavation has demonstrated the survival of building materials, and shown that the infilled ditches surrounding the centre of the ringwork and the bailey provide conditions capable of preserving organic remains.

The association of the adjacent cropmarks with the ringwork is important for the study of settlement related to the occupation of the castle, and the development of land use on the gravel island from prehistoric times. The archaeological relationships between the various man made features will provide evidence for the duration and nature of settlement on the island. The small ring ditch, partially overlain by the southern bailey, is particularly important in this respect. This feature, believed to be the buried remains of a funerary monument dating between the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age (most examples falling within the range 2400-1500 BC) may provide a key to the understanding of the two curving ditches to the east of the ringwork. The relationships between the various man-made features and the palaeo-channel which bisects the site are also highly significant for the chronolgy of the island's use.


The monument includes the visible and buried remains of medieval ringwork and bailey castle together with a complex of other buried ditches and enclosures located on a low gravel island to the west of Biggleswade, defined on the eastern side by the present course of the River Ivel and one of its subsidiary channels, and by a further small tributary some 400m to the west. The ringwork and bailey castle was first identified by aerial photography in 1954 and although very slight earthworks remain on the ground, it is most easily visible as a series of cropmarks when viewed from the air.

The main stronghold, or ringwork, lies approximately 45m to the east of the A1 (Biggleswade bypass). It includes a circular platform, 30m-35m in diameter, surrounded by two concentric circuits of ditches, each approximately 6m in width and separated by an interval of c.5m. The ditches are largely infilled although the slight hollows recorded in 1962 can still be discerned, and the centre of the ringwork remains marginally higher than the general ground level. Two defended outer courts, or baileys, lie on the western side of the ringwork forming an oval enclosure 120m north to south by 75m east to west. The baileys are surrounded by an infilled ditch, c.10m in width, which is linked to the eastern side of the inner defences. The bailey interiors are raised by about 0.5m, and divided into two roughly equal parts by a further ditch extending from the western side of the ringwork. A causeway spans the two ditches on the northern side of the ringwork giving access from the northern bailey, which was in turn entered via a narrow causeway across the northern section of the perimeter ditch.

Some aerial photographs show traces of an internal bank or rampart accompanying the bailey ditch which would probably have supported a timber palisade. A similar arrangement is thought to have strengthened the ringwork defences. The ditches of both baileys and the ringwork are segmental: constructed in short lengths separated by narrow baulks of firm ground. Investigation in 1962, uncovered a `destruction layer' between the ditch circuits which contained considerable amounts of charcoal, burnt daub and clay believed to have resulted from the demolition of structures on the platform. Fragments of timber were recovered from the upper fills of the outer ditch. Pottery recovered during the excavation dates the ringwork to the early/mid 12th century, tentatively placing it in a group of Bedfordshire castles constructed during the period of civil war known as the Anarchy. The castle may have had earlier antecedents as suggested by an entry in Domesday Book which recorded a small parcel of land in the parish of Warden held by Ralf de Insula, first Norman lord of Biggleswade. However, it is obvious from the castle's location on the opposing side of the Ivel that it was not built for the defence of the town, but rather to control movement along the Ivel valley and across the river (then navigable) at the bridging point near Ivel Mill. The term `Castellgate' was used to define the limits of a parcel of land in a grant of 1423, and provides the only documentary reference to the ringwork, albeit at a time when it had almost certainly fallen into disuse.

The raised gravel island is thought to have attracted various forms of occupation and use over several millenia. The eastern bailey ditch clearly overlies the cropmark of a ring ditch of a Bronze Age barrow, which is in turn thought to overlie part of an earlier ditch extending in a broad arc to the east and north. This ditch is flanked to the east by a similar feature describing a matching arc and continuing some 50m further to the north west. Whilst these two arcs may be associated with the occupation of the castle, the apparent relationship between the western ditch and the barrow may indicate construction in the Early Bronze Age or Neolithic period, perhaps as part of a larger enclosure otherwise overlain by the castle.

A large sub-square enclosure, measuring c.50m across and located some 30m to the north of the northern bailey, has been suggested as a contemporary development associated with the castle. However, this feature is similar in appearance to many known Iron Age and Romano-British enclosures in the area and may also belong to an earlier period. A broad relic stream, or palaeo- channel, which appears, from the air, as a dark band of alluvial silt running across the site from north to south may provide the key to the chronology of the island's use. Both the square enclosure and the two curving ditches are compromised by this channel, and since these features do not respect its alignment it is evident that the channel cannot be contemporary. The available evidence suggests that both the square enclosure and the putative Neolithic ditches were cut by this water-course, whereas the ringwork appears to have been placed to utilise its route (whether still flowing or simply forming a marshy area) as part of its defence. It is thought likely that the channel resulted from a rise in water levels in the later Roman period (as demonstrated elsewhere in the vicinity); an inundation which may have made the island unsuitable for occupation until its abatement in the late Saxon period.

The metalled surface of the track which crosses the southern part of the ringwork is excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Addyman, P V, 'Beds. Ach. J' in Ringwork And Bailey At Biggleswade, Beds., , Vol. 3, (1966), 16-18
Dawson, M, 'Bedfordshire Archaeology' in Biggleswade West, , Vol. 21, (1994), 119-36
St Joseph, J K, 'Antiquity' in Aerial Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966)
St Joseph, J K, 'Antiquity' in Aerial Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966), 142-4
St Joseph, J K S, 'Antiquity' in Air Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966), 142-44
St Joseph, J K S, 'Antiquity' in Air Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966), 142-4
Cambridge index 1954-1957, St Joseph, J K, NQ 17/ VQ 74-78/ VR 59-63,
Coleman, S, Biggleswade cropmarks, (1993)
Field, K., 3/7-9; 2714/12-13. (19/07/1984), (1984)
NMR AP: TL 1844/12 (29/08/84), (1984)
Northants C.C. AP 2505/3, 20/07/1984, (1984)
Paper in response to pre-notification, Evans, C, The Biggleswade Ringwork Complex, (1994)


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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