Moated site with garden earthworks at Bletsoe Castle
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1012365
Date first listed: 04-Mar-1963
Date of most recent amendment: 03-Dec-1991
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Bedford (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: TL 02566 58433
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more
islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some
cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was
between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in
central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built
throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and
exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a
significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding
of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples
provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.
From the sixteenth century onwards, in certain areas of the country, moats became less fashionable and any new ones tended to be designed around garden landscape features. The site at Bletsoe is unusual in that it developed out of an original high status manorial location, only becoming part of an elaborate garden system in the Jacobean period. In its earlier stages the moated site formed a vital link in what is believed to be a network of post- Conquest defensive sites in Bedfordshire, extending from Odell to Thurleigh. It has a long and well-documented history with particularly important associations with the Tudor monarchy. In the 17th century, the moat was incorporated into a formal garden plan and important buildings were added to the interior. Surviving remains therefore represent the growth and development of the site from a purpose-built defensive location to an ornamental garden site. As such it exhibits considerable longevity as a monument type and with its diversity of features offers high potential for the preservation of archaeological evidence.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Bletsoe Castle is a medieval moated manor house with associated 16th-17th
century garden enclosure and landscape earthworks. The moat itself is almost
square in plan and is partly surrounded by a waterfilled ditch measuring up to
25m wide by 3.5m deep with an outer bank 2m high and 5m wide. The western arm
of the moat has been partially infilled and landscaped into the modern gardens
but is still 2m deep and 10-15m wide. There is no outer bank on this side.
The southern corner of the moat lies beneath a group of farm buildings which
include a Grade II listed 17th-18th century barn, and a metalled driveway.
The central island measures at least 70m across and is the site of Bletsoe
Castle, a Grade II* Listed Elizabethan manor house. Crossing the moat in
front of the house is a Grade II Listed, 16th century stone bridge. The line
of the track which led to the bridge is visible as an earthwork in the field
to the south-west. To the south-east of the moat and separated from it by the
existing farm buildings is a square enclosure earthwork which is considered to
be the site of a formal garden added to the manor in the late 16th-early 17th
century. The enclosure measures 80m wide and is bounded on three sides by a
double bank either side of a single ditch. The inner bank is steep, 1.5-2m
high and topped with a hedge. The ditch is 8m wide and less than 0.5m deep
over most of its length but at the northern end survives as an oval pond 25m
long by 8m wide. The outer ditch is less substantial than the inner and is
less than 0.5m high by 8m wide. There is a gateway through each side of the
earthwork and a corresponding causeway across the ditch. The third, north
western side of the earthwork lies beneath the adjacent farm buildings.
Within the south-western half of the enclosure are the remains of medieval
open fields predating the garden. Surrounding the moated site and the
enclosed garden are a number of less regular earthworks which are considered
to be the remains of medieval fields and paddocks remodelled by 16th-17th
century garden landscaping. These features are contained within a clearly
defined boundary bank, about 7m wide and 0.5m high, which encloses much of the
site. One notable feature within this area is a terrace 15-25m wide which is
built into the natural scarp to the north-east of the moat. This terrace is
divided into at least three rectangular enclosures by two, 5m wide ditches. A
pond, 40m long and 10m wide, lies close to the north-eastern boundary. It is
fed by a leat diverted from the stream and a small oval island, about 40m long
and 15m wide lies between the pond and the main stream bed. The island is
embanked to a height of roughly 1m. Numerous other earthworks of diverse and
minor character are located within the outer enclosure.
The earliest reference to the manor of Bletsoe occurs in Domesday, which
records that the manor was held by Osbert de Broilg, of Hugh de Beauchamp, but
there is no evidence of a castle on the site until 1327, when John de
Pateshull obtained the King's licence to crenellate the manor house. The
castle is one of several medieval defensive sites located on the northern
slopes of the Ouse valley. Ruins of a fortified house were observed on the
moated site in 1837. Bletsoe is said to be the birthplace of the mother of
Henry VII and both Queen Elizabeth I and James I are reputed to have visited
the Castle. The Jacobean period saw the major modification of the site, from
fortified moat into a more comfortable residence with its landscaped gardens.
Additional information on the extent of the remains at Bletsoe is available
from accurate surveys of the earthworks.
The Grade II* Listed manor house and agricultural buildings, including the
Grade II Listed barn, the farmworkers' cottages adjacent to Coplowe Lane, the
16th Century bridge and the metalled surfaces of the modern driveways are
specifically excluded from the scheduling. However, the ground beneath the
buildings and driveways 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: 20409
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of : Volume I
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920)
Local History Library Newspaper Cuttings, P16 O/Size 942.565,
P.A.S., Ordnance Survey Record, (1973)
RAF, D21, (1947)
St. Joseph, Cambridge AP: CA 146.7, (1949)
Title: Ordnance Survey Record Source Date: 1977 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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