Huntingdon Castle (Castle Hills): a motte and bailey castle and Civil War fieldwork


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Huntingdon Castle (Castle Hills): a motte and bailey castle and Civil War fieldwork
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 24093 71470

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Despite alteration over the years, Huntingdon Castle is largely well preserved. The documentary evidence for the foundation, ownership and later reuse of the castle is good, and enables the surviving remains to be identified within their historic context. Partial excavation (within the area now overlain by the Huntingdon bypass) has demonstrated the survival of buried remains related to the occupation of the castle and the subsequent remodelling of the defences during the English Civil War. Detailed survey work has also shown that both the bailey and the summit of the motte retain evidence of former structures; and documentary evidence indicates that further masonry foundations and the remains of timber fortifications will survive as buried features. Environmental evidence, pertaining to the economic status of the site and its inhabitants, may be recovered from the accumulated silts within the ditches and on the river foreshore. The foreshore may also retain the remains of waterfront structures which would provide timbers suitable for dendrochronological dating. The importance of the castle is enhanced by its location within Huntingdon, an historically important town, and it is therefore associated with a wide diversity of contemporary and later monuments.


Huntingdon Castle lies on the southern edge of the modern town of Huntingdon, adjacent to the River Great Ouse at the point where the Alconbury Brook joins the main stream. The castle consists of a large defensive mound or motte and a roughly rectangular bailey with rounded corners, measuring 180m north east to south west by 140m across, which extends to the west and north west of it. Although the southern side of the castle was extensively altered by both railway and road construction (and is consequently excluded from the scheduling) the former earthworks in this part are well recorded, and more than three quarters of the original area of the bailey remains. The motte is an earthen mound, oval in plan, although slightly modified at the south by the railway cutting. It measures 75m north west to south east and 60m south west to north east at the base, and averages 35m in diameter at the top. Undulations on the summit of the mound indicate the remains of structures associated with the original and subsequent use of the site, including the position of a windmill which was erected before 1807. The motte is 4.6m high and is separated from the bailey by a 20m wide, 2m deep ditch. A 6m wide causeway spans the ditch forming part of an approach which extends from the entrance in the north eastern part of the bailey, to the top of the motte. The bailey is defended by an earthen rampart which is between 10m and 20m wide and stands up to 5m above the level of the bailey. The rampart on the northern side of the bailey was partially terraced in the late 19th century when it formed part of the garden belonging to Castle Hill House, and a small grotto was inserted in the north western face. Nevertheless, it retains its overall appearance and the landscaping has not detracted from the integrity of the bank. A 30m wide gap in the north east side represents a post-medieval widening of the original entrance. On the south eastern side, the outer scarp of the rampart descends 8m or so to the level of the river. In recent years there has been some minor landscaping of this slope and some concrete steps have been provided. An outer ditch runs up from the river on the north eastern side of the bailey. This is about 10m wide, but its outer edge has been altered to some extent by the curtilage wall of the Old Bridge Hotel. Where the outer ditch approaches the Castle Moat Road it is largely infilled and lies partly beneath the carriageway. The line of the outer ditch can be traced as a depression up to 0.5m deep along the north western side of the bailey and it is considered to survive as a buried feature beneath the car parks to the rear of Huntingdon Glass showrooms and the Spiritualist Church. The interior of the bailey retains evidence of stone buildings with grassed-over wall footings surviving up to 0.3m in height. The most prominent of these is an interrupted wall which flanks the southern side of the causeway leading from the entrance to the motte. This is considered to be the frontage of a range of buildings constructed along the south side of the old roadway forming a continuation of Castle Hill Lane which leads towards the High Street. The buildings occupied an area roughly 40m square in the eastern corner of the bailey. To the south of this area the land falls away markedly. A rectangular depression, 8m by 4m, cut into the back of the bailey in the south east corner represents a gun platform, part of the refortification of the castle as an artillery works during the Civil War (1642-8) Part of the southern corner of the site was excavated in the early 1970's, in advance of the construction of the bypass. Evidence was found demonstrating reconstruction of the ramparts in the 17th century, and burials were located which indicate the location of the castle chapel. The castle has a long history of use, beginning in 1068 when it was built for William the Conqueror following his return from York. The Domesday Book records the castle in the possession of Judith, the niece of William I. It later passed to David I of Scotland who, through his marriage to Maud de Senlis, became Earl of Huntingdon in about 1113. David lent his support to his niece, the Empress Matilda, during the 12th century civil wars known as the Anarchy. Despite his defeat at the hands of the successful protagonist, Stephen, David's grandson and successor Malcolm IV managed to retain the title, albeit in exchange for the restoration of the northern English counties to the English throne. Malcolm's brother and successor, William I of Scotland, sided with Henry, the rebel English prince, against his father Henry II in 1173. Huntingdon Castle was besieged by the King's Justiciar, Richard de Luci, and Simon de St Lis. However, the castle remained uncaptured for nearly a month, eventually surrendering on the arrival of Henry II from Canterbury where he had undertaken penance at the tomb of Thomas a Becket. Henry ordered the castle to be dismantled, and an entry in the pipe rolls recording the cost of hooks for pulling down the timber fortifications, suggests that his orders were at least in part carried out. However, the castle was not destroyed, since in 1327 a chapel within the castle was granted to Huntingdon priory. The county gaol was maintained on the site and warders of the castle were appointed throughout the 15th and 16th centuries; although by the mid 16th century (when John Leyland noted that only traces of the masonry remained) this appointment may have become largely honorary. The castle was refortified during the English Civil War when the bailey rampart was altered to support artillery guarding the Ouse crossing. In 1866, William, Duke of Manchester, sold the northern part of the bailey to Mr D Veasey, of Castle Hill House who incorporated it within an ornamental garden. The main part of the site was also leased to Mr Veasey with the exception of a windmill standing upon the motte and the right of way to it. Mr Veasey bought the leasehold of the mill in 1871, and in 1875 the mill was demolished. The southern side of the castle was destroyed in the 19th century with the construction of the railway cutting. After the closure of the railway the route was adopted for the line of the present A604 Huntingdon bypass. The castle is now largely within a public park belonging to the Town Council. The fire beacon crowning the eastern rampart was erected in 1988 to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The following items are excluded from the scheduling: the electricity substation in the northern part of the bailey; the surfaces of footpaths, concrete steps and the bases for benches; the surfaces of Castle Moat Road and its associated footpath, the car park of the Spiritualist Church and of The Huntingdon Glass Company building; the wooden gate and information board at the site entrance, the fire beacon on the bailey rampart; the wooden fence along the south side of the monument and that to the north of the motte. The ground beneath these features is included in order to protect buried features.

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
Armitage, E, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, (1912), 149
Simkins, M E, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume II, (1932), 130-131
Simkins, M E, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume II, (1932), 130-1
Taylor, A, Archaeological Excavations 1975, (1975), 2
Taylor, C C, Fieldwork in Medieval Archaeology, (1974), 64
Gillingham, J, 'The Oxford History of Britain' in The Early Middle Ages (1066-1290), (1989)
available as postcard, Godmanchester from Castle Hill, Huntingdon, (1862)
information board, Cambridgeshire County Council, Huntingdon Castle, (1988)
RCHM(E), The Monuments of Huntingdonshire, (1926)
text and survey plan, RCHM(E) , Huntingdon Castle: motte and baileys, (1986)
Title: TL 2370 2470 Source Date: 1970 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 25" Series


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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