Castlethorpe Castle: a motte and bailey, possible ringwork and associated earthworks 200m south-east of Castlethorpe Lodge


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.

Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 79714 44343, SP 79855 44595

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Castlethorpe Castle, despite suffering some disturbance, remains a well preserved and impressive earthwork complex. The motte, though slighted, will contain archaeological evidence of its original structure and preserve environmental evidence relating to the landscape in which it was constructed. The bailey area is possibly the earliest part of the complex and will contain important archaeological deposits in its largely undisturbed interior. The second bailey, though partially destroyed in the south, is similarly undisturbed in its interior and will also contain archaeological deposits over a wide area. Peripheral remains surviving within the vicinity of the complex but beyond the confines of the enclosures offer the possibility of placing the monument within its original landscape context. The fragmentary remains of the enclosure and possible fishponds south of the railway line, which may relate to the 13th century house believed to have existed in the vicinity, will also contain important archaeological deposits.


The monument, which falls into two areas, includes Castlethorpe Castle, a motte and bailey castle with possible reused ringwork, a second bailey, enclosure and fishponds. It is believed that the site was fortified by William Mauduit sometime in the 12th century and that it served as the stronghold for the barony of Hanslape. In 1217 the castle was garrisoned against the Crown by Mauduit and laid seige to by Foulkes de Brent on behalf of the king. The castle was taken by de Brent and is thought to have been slighted so that it could no longer be occupied as a military stronghold. Subsequently, in 1292, William Beauchamp obtained a licence from the Crown to fortify a house and garden at Castlethorpe, and although the exact location of this house is uncertain, it is thought to have been within the vicinity of the earlier castle. Today Castlethorpe Castle survives as a complicated system of earthworks which extend over an area of some 10 hectares. The motte and bailey itself, the earliest part of the works, lies immediately north-west of the church, occupying a naturally strong strategic position overlooking the valley of the River Tove. The motte lies in the southern quarter of the bailey and has the general appearance of having been disturbed or slighted at some time in the past. It survives as a substantial earthen mound, oval in plan, and with dimensions of 40m WNW by ESE and 27m transversely. Rising 4m from the interior of the bailey on the north side to a narrow summit 8m by 4m, it falls 2.1m on the south side to a platform with dimensions of 7m east to west by 5m north to south. This platform is slightly hollowed to a depth of 0.3m and could represent the foundation cut for a tower, though no surface remains now survive. This hollow may alternatively relate to World War II gun position that is said to have been dug into the motte. The surrounding bailey is roughly circular in shape with an interior diameter of 100m. It remains well defined and intact throughout most of its extent, with the exception of the south-east quarter. Here the church and churchyard encroach into the site and have destroyed any surface traces of the earthworks. Where the bailey defences do survive as earthworks they are of considerable strength. In the south-west they utilise the natural hillslope to maximum effect, the bailey scarp, possibly artificially steepened, rising to a height of 6m from the bottom of an outer ditch which is 6m wide and 2m deep. Around the western quarter the defences comprise a substantial ditch 18m wide and up to 3.4m deep on its inner slope, 2.6m on its outer. This is flanked by an outer counterscarp bank up to 1.7m high. Two causewayed entrances cross the ditch in this western area; both are some 4m wide and of similar appearance and although it is unlikely that both are original it is impossible from surface inspection to say which is the earlier. The ditch continues around the north of the enclosure and is of similar proportions, although the outer bank ends 60m east of the northern entrance gap. Towards the eastern end of the ditch a bank 1.7m high surmounts the inner slope of the ditch, running for some 50m before ending on the boundary of the churchyard. The interior of the bailey is generally flat, though with discrete surface irregularities which indicate possible building foundations. Linear undulations and shallow hollows to the north-east of the bailey represent the remains of a field system and subsidiary buildings. The considerable strength of the bailey defences in relation to the less impressive motte gives a defensive emphasis to the bailey. This may indicate an initial ringwork phase with a motte added at a later date. To the west of the motte and bailey, at a distance of some 50m, is a linear earthwork orientated north-east to south-west and running in total for a length of 220m. This appears to be designed as an outer defence to the main castle works, creating a second, outer bailey. The southern portion of this earthwork comprises a substantial rampart averaging 14m wide and 2.2m high, with an outer ditch along its western side 5m wide and 1.5m deep. For some 60m from its south end the east edge of the rampart has been cut back and revetted to form the western boundary of a sunken garden. The remaining northern 80m ends in a mound which has been interpreted as a barbican mound, designed to protect an entrance which passes through the outer work at this point. The outer ditch of the work continues north beyond the entrance gap, running out after some 70m. A slight bank and scarp links at right angles from this line of ditch to the outer bank of the inner bailey. If the southern end of the rampart also once linked to the inner bailey, suggested by a slight east turning at this end, then it would have formed a rectangular outer enclosure some 200m long by 60m wide. However, the modern road and railway line which cut across this area north-west to south-east have destroyed any earthwork surface indications which may have existed in this area. To the south-west of the railway line are the fragmented remains of another earthwork. They comprise a bank averaging 16m wide and 2.1m high with an outer ditch 4m wide and 0.4m deep. It runs for 120m north-west to south-east before turning north for 80m and appears to represent the south-western corner of a rectangular enclosure, the northern portions of which have been destroyed by the construction of the railway cutting. This may have formerly connected to the linear earthwork on the north side of the railway line. However their respective alignments differ, suggesting that they are separate works. In the interior of this enclosure, in close proximity to the railway boundary, is a T-shaped section of bank 1m high. This has been interpreted as the remains of two rectangular fishponds. It is possible that these now fragmentary earthworks represent all that survives of the house and garden constructed by William Beachamp in 1292. The church and churchyard are not included in the scheduling. All boundary features and all metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all these features 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:


Card no 1643,
NAR Card no SP74SE1,


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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