Burrow Mump: a motte castle, later chapel and associated earthworks


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.

Somerset West and Taunton (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 35930 30540

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Barrow Mump survives as a good example of a natural hill utilised in various periods, including as a look-out point in Saxon times, as a Norman castle, and as the location for a later medieval chapel. The survival of burial remains has been confirmed by limited excavations. This monument is a prominent landmark in the area of the Levels.


The monument includes a motte castle formed from the top of a natural conical hill, with a terraced track spiralling up to it, an unfinished church on the summit, and field and settlement features on the lower slopes. The hill stands at the junction of two rivers crossing the flat Somerset Levels. The top 5m of the hill have been scarped to form a motte, with a flat surface 45m by 25m, and a berm or terrace 3m-4m wide around the foot. An approach track curves up around the south of the hill from the direction of the village below. It stops short of the berm on the east, and the ascent would probably have been completed by steps. Around the lower part of the hill on the north west, north and east are shallow lynchets, scarps and ditches, up to 0.4m high/deep forming a group of narrow or small enclosures along the edge of the road. These represent agricultural and settlement plots, and lie between the village and surviving roadside settlement on the far side of the hill. Such plots often resulted from squatter occupation in medieval times. Burrow Mump is today crowned by a roofless unfinished church of the late 18th century. A shallow hollow way leads up to the west end from the village. The site has been thought to be associated with King Alfred's fortifications at nearby Athelney and Lyng, but though it seems likely that its strategic position would have been utilised, no evidence has been recovered to substantiate this. The earliest reference to the hill is in AD 937 when, under the name of 'Toteyate', it was given to Athelney Abbey as part of the manor of Lyng. Its association with Lyng survived until the 19th century in the parish boundary, which crossed the river at this one point to include it. There is no further mention of the hill until more than four centuries after the Norman Conquest. The castle does not appear in the Domesday Book of 1086, and either it had already passed out of use by this time, or was not constructed until later, perhaps during the years of The Anarchy in the early 12th century. In a 1480 reference the hill is called 'Myghell-borough', and in 1544, 'Saynt Michellborowe' was part of the lands granted to one John Clayton by the king following the dissolution of the abbey. The dedication to St Michael indicates a church or chapel, and in 1548 this is directly referred to as 'The Free Chapel of St Michael'. The chapel was extant in 1633, but in 1645 was the scene of a short stand by 120-150 Royalist troops in the Civil War, who surrendered after three days. The next reference is in 1663 when two shillings and four and a half pence from Corton Denham and one shilling from Langton were detailed for its repair and rebuilding. This was apparently begun c.1724 but never finished, and by 1793 a new church was subscribed for, with contributors including William Pitt the Younger and Admiral Hood. The building again was never completed, and remains roofless to this day, overlooking the later church of St Michael at the foot of the hill. Partial excavation on the top of the hill in 1939 revealed foundations of the medieval church, with a crypt in which was a burial with a lead bullet beside it, possibly from the Civil War skirmish. A wall foundation on a different line associated with early medieval pottery was interpreted as part of the Norman castle. There were also square medieval pits, post holes, a sunken passageway and finds of bones, pottery, coins, nails and lead bullets. One of the square pits was sunk deeper than could be excavated and is perhaps a well. The hill was given to the National Trust in 1946 as a memorial to those who died in the Second World War. Excluded from the scheduling are all modern fence posts, though the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 15 December 2016.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Gray, H G, 'Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Nat.Hist. Society' in Excavations At Burrow Mump, Somerset, 1939., , Vol. 85, (1939), 95-113
War Memorials Online, accessed 15/12/2016 from https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/152111
War Memorials Register, accessed 15/12/2016 from http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/24910
DAP PV 10, (1990)


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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