Giant's Hill: a motte castle with part of an earlier medieval settlement and associated field system


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011778

Date first listed: 01-May-1952

Date of most recent amendment: 05-Jan-1993


Ordnance survey map of Giant's Hill: a motte castle with part of an earlier medieval settlement and associated field system
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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: Rampton

National Grid Reference: TL 43050 68101


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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Giant's Hill is associated with the remains of part of a medieval settlement and earthworks representing its arable fields. Such settlements and fields were a significant component of the rural landscape in medieval England and provide important information on the diversity of medieval settlement patterns and farming economy between regions and through time. Although the top of the motte was partially altered by small-scale activity during the Second World War, the discovery of fragments of early masonry confirmed that the top of the motte retains medieval building foundations. The waterlogged ditches also contain deposits which are likely to include evidence for the medieval environment and farming economy of the adjacent area. The castle is known to have been abandoned during construction and further investigation will enable a greater understanding of the building techniques employed for such fortifications. The associated village and ridge-and-furrow earthworks are partially overlain by the castle earthworks, favouring the preservation of archaeological remains and of a buried landsurface from which further environmental evidence may be obtained.


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


The monument includes a motte castle which overlies part of an earlier medieval settlement with associated field system. The motte is known as Giant's Hill and the monument is situated immediately to the east of Rampton churchyard and lies on the Ampthill Clay at the western edge of Little North Fen. The castle, located at the south-eastern corner of the monument, is of unusual form, the work of its construction apparently having been abandoned before completion. The motte is a roughly rectangular, flat-topped island, about 1.5m higher than the adjacent fields, measuring 50m by 45m across and surrounded by a ditch up to 40m wide by 2m deep. Standing water is present in the bottom of the ditch which is drained by a leat connected to a modern field drain at the north-eastern corner. Access to the motte is gained via a ramped causeway across the south-western corner of the ditch; the upper edge of the ditch is splayed at this point so that there is also a ramp giving access to the bottom of the western arm. On the northern arm of the ditch there is an outer bank which has an uneven appearance and is 20m wide by up to 2m high. During the Second World War the castle was utilised as a gun emplacement by the Home Guard and a one metre diameter concrete pier was set into the top of the motte near the south-western corner. A ditch 1m wide by 0.5m deep surrounds the emplacement; brick and stone foundations of buildings dating back at least to the 15th century were observed while this was being dug.

The motte at Rampton has been compared with that at Burwell the latter has an important historical association as the place where Geoffrey de Mandeville was killed as he besieged the castle in 1144. Investigations at Burwell have shown it to be an unfinished castle and many diagnostic features, such as irregularly shaped banks of earth and an entrance ramp, are paralleled at Rampton. Rampton, like Burwell, is thought to have been under construction during the attempt by King Stephen to contain de Mandeville's revolt. With the death of the rebel leader the castles became obsolete. The castle is thought to have been built over the eastern end of the medieval settlement at Rampton. At least two embanked enclosures remain to the north of the castle and, although their southern ends lie buried beneath the outer bank of the castle, they measure 24m and 15m east-west and at least 20m north-south. The enclosures are defined by banks 4m wide and 0.5m high. A third enclosure, 40m by 30m in size and bounded by a slight ditch, lies outside the north-western corner of the castle. To the west of the castle are three larger rectangular enclosures, also bounded by ditches, which are thought to be small individual landholdings, or crofts. The southern boundaries of these crofts were lost when the modern road, Church End, was laid out in 1852 but the largest enclosure still measures over 70m by 50m and, although no traces of buildings are visible as surface features, the foundations of structures within the enclosures are thought to survive below ground. Along the northern end of the crofts is the headland of an area of ridge-and-furrow which served as a trackway running east from the church. It is thought that the trackway originally ran beneath the castle but was blocked when the fortification was built; the eastern part of the track was then taken into the easternmost croft and a small, 30m by 15m, oval enclosure was created. A bank, 70m long by 10m wide and about 0.5m high, was thrown up to the north of the line of the track, probably to dispose of spoil from the levelling of the track and associated ditch digging.

An area of ridge-and-furrow to the north of the trackway is a surviving part of the medieval open fields which once lay around the settlememt. The ridges are about 0.3m in height by 8m wide and up to 160m long; they run north-south with a headland at each end. The southern headland served as a trackway associated with the medieval settlement. Part of the southern side was encroached upon when the trackway was taken into the crofts and the bank was constructed. All fences, the wooden walkway leading to the motte and the information board are all excluded from the scheduling but 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: 20452

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'PCAS' in Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys: II, (1977), 97-8
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'PCAS' in Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys: II, (1977), 99
Fowler, G, Ordnance Survey Record, (1949)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Series Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing