Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1011673
Date first listed: 14-Mar-1996
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Exeter (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SX 91982 93305
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.
Danes Castle ringwork is a rare example of an earthwork fortification which, although in close proximity to a medieval city, has undergone little subsequent development. It has been interpreted as having a very specific and limited use in relation to documented events in the history of the city of Exeter connected with figures and events of national historical importance.
The monument includes Danes Castle, a 12th century ringwork, situated within
the city of Exeter on the shoulder of a ridge forming the north side of
Longbrook valley which rises steeply on its south side to Rougemont Castle and
the medieval city walls. The ringwork was revealed by archaeological
excavations in 1993 on the removal of an overlying embankment which revetted a
19th century reservoir.
The ringwork lies on ground sloping downwards from north to south. It
consists of a steep sided circular ditch averaging 8m in width and 3.8m deep,
with an external diameter of about 55m. The material from the ditch was cast
into the interior to create a rampart of about 11m width and with an estimated
original height of at least 4m, but a surviving height of only 1.8m maximum,
enclosing a central open space of about 17m diameter. It appears that the face
of the rampart and the inner side of the ditch formed a continuous slope with
an angle of 45-50 degrees. There is an entrance in the south west sector of
the ringwork consisting of a causeway formed by an uncut section of the ditch
leading to a passage through the rampart. The ground surface inside the
ramparts was not artificially raised.
The archaeological evidence indicates that the entrance passage was intended
to be defended by a gate tower about 4m square, supported on wooden posts,
although the structure was never erected. The top of the rampart would have
supported a wooden palisade and walkway, and the tail of the rampart was
revetted with planks. There was no evidence of any structures within the
interior. It has been concluded that the ringwork was abandoned before it was
completed. There is no evidence of an associated bailey either from the
excavation or from earliest maps.
The ground surface beneath the ringwork contained evidence of the earlier
land use in the form of parallel ridge-and-furrow cultivation trenches, and a
land boundary ditch on the same alignment. The cultivation soil contained
medieval pottery of 11th/12th century date and Roman pottery.
It is thought that the ringwork was constructed in the 12th century during
the reign of King Stephen (1135-54). Stephen's claim to the throne was
contested by Matilda, the daughter of Stephen's late cousin, Henry I. The
unrest caused by this dispute led to the construction of a large number of
earthwork castles of the motte and bailey and ringwork type by the feudal
landowners. From documentary evidence it is known that Stephen besieged the
Earl of Devon, Baldwin de Redvers, in Rougemont Castle for some three months
in 1136, and although there is no reference to the building of a castle, it
would appear that the ringwork was constructed as a temporary campaign
fortification at that time. Danes Castle is situated about 240m to the north
of Rougemont Castle, and they were clearly intervisible across the valley. The
ringwork was positioned against the castle on the highest convenient area of
land outside the city walls, but it faced Rougemont's most commanding and
forbidding northern aspect. Rougemont itself is a ringwork castle, constructed
by the Normans in the northern angle of the town walls following the surrender
of the city to William I after the siege of 1068. After the surrender of
Baldwin, Danes Castle was slighted, the rampart being used to partially infill
The site of Danes Castle is documented from the later 13th century when the
surviving earthwork was referred to as the New Castle. During the Civil War
(1642-46), the earthwork appears to have been utilised by the Parliamentarian
forces of the New Model Army under the command of General Fairfax during their
siege of the city in 1645-6. It is subsequently referred to on some maps as
Fairfax's Entrenchment. The name Danes Castle (Deanes Cassell) was first
documented in 1699 and commonly used for the site from the 18th century. The
site was precisely located on later maps, and a detailed survey drawing of the
earthwork was completed in 1842 by W Shortt. The archaeological excavation
revealed a substantial `L' shaped trench cut through the ringwork which was
interpreted as an excavation trench attributed to W Shortt. In 1852 a
reservoir was built over the site and it was believed to have been completely
destroyed. In effect the reservoir truncated the rampart and terraced the
south side of the ringwork.
Within the protected area the following are excluded from the monument: the
houses situated on Howell Road and Danes Road, together with their
out-buildings and yards, the embanked wall of the reservoir, the walls and
fence posts forming property boundaries, the made-up road surface, pavement
and back-lane, although the ground beneath all these features 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.
Legacy System number: 24845
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Collings, A, Turton, S, 'Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report' in Archaeological Assessment of the Site of Danes Castle, , Vol. 92.03, (1992)
Henderson, C, 'Castle Studies Group Newsletter' in Danes Castle Exeter, , Vol. 7, (1993), 19-21
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