Danes Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

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 ditch. 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:
Legacy System:


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

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