John o'Gaunt's House: a motte castle and moated site 300m NE of Haygate Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1010865

Date first listed: 11-Jun-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 05-Aug-1992


Ordnance survey map of John o'Gaunt's House: a motte castle and moated site 300m NE of Haygate Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)

Parish: Bassingbourn cum Kneesworth

National Grid Reference: TL 32533 45185


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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-bai1ey 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 and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as motte castles. 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte exhibits a rare modification into a moated site. Such sites were built throughout England in the medieval period, often as prestigious seigniorial residences, with the provision of a moat as a status symbol rather than as a practical military defence. Moats form a significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside.

Although partly altered by agricultural activity, John o'Gaunt's House retains considerable potential for the preservation of archaeological deposits in the infilled ditches and buried structural remains on the moat island and beneath the motte.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes John o'Gaunt's House, a motte castle which has been altered by its subsequent use as a later medieval moated site.

The motte castle is visible as a low mound, about 1.5m high, to the west of centre of the ploughed field in which it lies. The motte is squarish in plan, measuring about 60m across. Aerial photographs show that the motte is surrounded by a ditch; this is now infilled but survives as a buried feature between 10m and 20m wide. Also identifiable are the below-ground remains of a large rectangular moated site, about 300m long by 200m wide, which contains the motte. The infilled arms of the moat average 10m wide. The western arm runs close to and parallel with the existing field boundary and the eastern arm runs close to the eastern edge of the motte. The moat is approached from the south by a causeway, some 200m long, leading from the Bassingbourn to Shinghay road. The southern arm of the moat has a pair of semi-circular projections, either side of the causeway entrance, which would have carried bastion towers.

The motte is considered to date to the 12th century when it was one of a group of minor strongholds in the locality. The site was later occupied by a manor house belonging to Warin de Bassingbourn who, in 1266, obtained a licence to crenellate the house with a dyke and stone wall. The association with John o'Gaunt is doubtful, although Bassingbourn market was confirmed to him by Edward III. Part of the moat and some structural features were still visible in the 19th century when the motte stood 4m high. In 1887 some of the stonework was robbed out and material from the motte was used to fill the moat.

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: 20420

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Philips, C W, The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire, (1948)
NAR Record: TL 34 NW 18,
Spedding, A, Cambs SMR AP plot, (1983)
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Series Source Date: 1886 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing