Berkhamsted motte and bailey castle


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.

Dacorum (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 99554 08239

Reasons for Designation

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Berkhamsted Castle is a well-documented example of a Norman castle with historical records dating from the 12th to the 15th century. It has important associations with the family of William the Conqueror and, later, with Thomas a Becket. The motte and bailey and its defences survive in extremely good condition and will retain considerable potential for the preservation of archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the various stages of development of the castle.


Berkhamsted Castle is situated north of the town on the Akeman Street gap through the Chilterns and comprises a motte standing at the north-east corner of an oblong bailey. The motte mound is c.14m high and c.55m in diameter at the base. On the motte are the foundations of a shell keep, about 18m in diameter and containing a well. The bailey, which covers an area of about 1.3 hectares, measures c.130m north-south by c.100m east-west. Enclosing the bailey is a flint-built curtain wall with half-round towers at intervals of about 55m. A wall runs across the northern end of the bailey from east to west forming a forecourt to the motte. Two wing-walls run up the south side of the motte from the north-east corner of the bailey to the keep. At the point of intersection between the walls and the edge of the keep are traces of a building, the function of which is unclear. On the west side of the bailey the remains of a rectangular building are thought to represent a chapel while it is probable that the hall and living quarters were also on this side. A wide ditch surrounds the bailey and the motte and an outer bank and ditch surrounds these earthworks. The outer defences have been altered by the construction of the railway and road to the south. The ground level falls from the north to the south and on the higher ground north and east of the castle there is another bank. This bank is unusual in that it has eight, possibly nine, earthen bastions set against its outer face which are considered to be the remains of seige platforms. Access to the interior was provided by the main gateway on the south of the bailey which would originally have had a wooden bridge. The castle is believed to have been erected by Robert, Count of Mortain and half brother of William the Conqueror. Between 1155 and 1165 the castle was owned by Thomas a Becket, the Chancellor, when considerable sums were spent on building. Henry II spent Christmas 1163 at Berkhamsted Castle. In December 1216 it withstood a fortnight's seige by Louis of France while Richard Earl of Cornwall was responsible for the construction of a three storey tower in 1254. It was given to the Black Prince by Edward III in 1337 and in 1360 repairs were undertaken to make the castle habitable for King John of France. The castle has been unoccupied since 1495. Partial excavations were carried out in 1962 and 1967 in the south-eastern area of the curtain wall at the location of one of the half-round towers. Finds included an iron arrowhead and pottery from the 13th century, a floor tile from the mid 14th century and a horseshoe from the 17th century. Excluded from the scheduling are the lodge and the concrete steps on both the motte and the defence walls. However, the ground beneath these features is included. The monument is in Guardianship of the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

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), 14
Renn, D, Medieval Castles in Hertfordshire, (1971)
Curnow, P E, 'Hertfordshire Archaeology' in Berkhamsted Castle:Excavations At The South-East Tower, 62 and 67, , Vol. 2, (1970), 66-71
Information from NAR (Berkhamsted Motte and Bailey Castle),


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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