Bedford Castle motte and bailey


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Bedford Castle motte and bailey
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Bedford (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 05258 49721

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Bedford Castle is a good example of a motte and bailey which although partially excavated retains high potential for the preservation of structures within the bailey and of organic remains in the defensive ditches and the buried landsurface beneath the motte. The history of the castle is well documented and it is one of few such monuments in Bedfordshire which have associations with historical events.


The monument is the motte and part of the bailey of the Norman castle. The motte is an earthen mound circa 10m high and 70m diameter at the base with a flat top of about 50m diameter. The foot of the motte was encircled by a ditch some 15m wide. Although partially infilled, the outer scarp of the ditch can still be observed to the north-east of the motte and a narrow section, excavated in 1972, revealed that the ditch was up to 4m deep, with a stone-faced revetment. The ditch was still partially open at the end of the 19th century and is known from maps to have discharged into the river Ouse in the area to the south of the motte. The motte was the central stronghold of the castle and additional quarters for the garrison were housed in a fortified outer court, or bailey, which was subdivided into two separate defended areas. Although partially excavated in 1969-73 and to some extent truncated by post-medieval buildings, a substantial part of the bailey is considered to survive to the east of Castle Lane and the deeply basemented properties now serving as carparks. The bailey defences consisted of an earthen rampart and outer ditch. The ditch is infilled but its outer lip is considered to run along the edge of Newnham Road and then to turn westwards at the corner of Castle Lane where it lies beneath the road. Close to this corner is a mound, about 3m high, which is the surviving north-east angle of the rampart. The mound was partially excavated in 1970. The area to the north of the motte, measuring about 80m square, is a part of the interior of the bailey considered to contain below ground evidence of the castle buildings. The northern half of the area lies beneath the buildings of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and the Bedford Museum and the house at 31 Castle Lane. Part of the Gallery is a Grade II Listed building. Documentary and topographical evidence shows that the bailey was originally rectangular, extending west from Newnham road to the rear of the properties fronting the High Street and from the medieval foreshore at the Embankment to Ram Yard. This area has been heavily disturbed by later foundations and was also extensively excavated in the 1970's. The excavations revealed Saxon and medieval timber and stone buildings, determined the construction sequence of parts of the defences and identified deposits relating to the final siege and destruction of the castle. Bedford Castle was probably founded by the Beauchamp family who held it in 1130 when Milo de Beauchamp defended the stronghold against King Stephen. Further sieges occurred over the next two decades. William de Beauchamp finally lost the castle, in 1215, to Falkes de Breaute who refortified it for his brother, William. In 1224-5, after a siege for which there are detailed accounts, Henry III took the castle and ordered the dismantling of the defences and the slighting of the motte. The existing buildings at the north, along with any basements, are excluded from the scheduling; an electricity substation on the Embankment is also excluded, but the ground beneath all these structures 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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Blyth, T A, History of Bedford, (1868)
Farrar, C F, Old Bedford, (1926)
Goddard, A R, Siege of Bedford Castle, (1906)
Goddard, A R, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1904)
Wadmore, B, Earthworks of Beds , (1920)
Wadmore, B, Earthworks of Beds , (1920)
Baker, D, 'Beds. Archaeological Journal' in Excavations in Bedford 1967-77: Bedford Castle (pag 9-11), , Vol. 13, (1979)
Baker, D, 'Beds. Archaeological Journal' in Excavations in Bedford 1967-77: Bedford Castle (pag 9-11), , Vol. 13, (1979)
Baker, D, 'Beds. Archaeological Journal' in Excavations in Bedford 1967-77: Bedford Castle (pag 9-11), , Vol. 13, (1979)
Baker, D, 'Beds. Archaeological Journal' in Excavations in Bedford 1967-77: Bedford Castle (pag 9-11), , Vol. 13, (1979)


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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