Toot Hill motte and bailey castle and shrunken medieval village at Pirton


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.

North Hertfordshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 14729 31525

Reasons for Designation

The village, comprising a small group of houses, gardens, yards, streets, paddocks, often with a green, a manor and a church, and with a community primarily devoted to farming, was a significant component of the rural landscape in most areas of medieval England, much as it is today. Villages provided some services to the local community as well as acting as the focus of ecclesiastical, and often manorial, authority within each medieval parish. Although the sites of many of these villages have been occupied continuously down to the present day, many have declined considerably in size and are now occupied by farmsteads or hamlets. This decline may have taken place gradually throughout the lifetime of the village or more rapidly, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries when many other villages were wholly deserted. The reasons for diminishing size were varied but often reflected declining economic viability or population fluctuations as a result of widespread epidemics such as the Black Death. As a consequence of their decline, the larger part of these villages are frequently undisturbed by later occupation and contain well-preserved archaeological deposits. Over 3000 shrunken medieval villages are recorded nationally. Because they are a common and long-lived monument type in most parts of England, they provide important information on the diversity of medieval settlement patterns and farming economy between the regions and through time.

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-bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and the centre 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 or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally with examples known from most regions. As such, and 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 superceded by other types of castle. Pirton is one of the most important historic sites in Hertfordshire with its well-preserved village and castle earthworks. It is made more unusual by the fact that it is an example of a `planted' medieval village which was carefully aligned in relation to the earlier motte and bailey.


The monument consists of the earthworks of the castle motte Toot Hill, and the surrounding earthworks of the castle bailey. The site also includes the remains of the shrunken medieval village known as The Bury which lies to the south of the bailey. The castle was established on an oval motte about 90m x 60m in the early 12th century alongside the church of St Mary and is surrounded by a ditch. Adjacent to the motte lies the remains of the ditched enclosure of the bailey in which earthworks still define the sites of holloways, tracks and building platforms. The southern edge of the bailey is defined by a shallow ditch 160m long running east from the south-west corner of Toot Hill; the northern edge is believed to cross part of the area around St. Mary's Church and north of the motte. To the south of the motte and bailey castle lies the remains of the part of the medieval village of Pirton, known as The Bury, and carefully planned in respect of the Castle. The centre of the modern village now lies further north. A deep well-defined roadway runs east to west across the site of the village and from this the remains of roads and tracks run north and south. Platforms indicate the location of houses and buildings of the village and some buildings survived here until earlier this century. Ditches and banks show the position of land boundaries, and drains and small ponds can be seen. All made up roadways and pathways on the site are excluded from the scheduling but the ground below them 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
Burleigh, G, Full Survey of Pirton Earthworks, Letchworth Mus Field Arch Unit, (1988)


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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