Baconsthorpe Castle moated site with fortified house, gatehouse, courtyards and formal gardens
- 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 Norfolk (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TG 12157 38117
Reasons for Designation
Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most
powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic
and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic
additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military
aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with
individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture
often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification
varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers,
gunports and crenellated parapets.
Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic
and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later
houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often
receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some
fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables,
brew houses, granaries and barns were located.
Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between
the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as
the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I
and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further
back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland
areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses
which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with
fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant
surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.
Baconsthorpe Castle is a well-documented example of a late medieval fortified house, unusual in plan and displaying a variety of well preserved and often architecturally impressive features, and the early post-medieval structures and garden remains associated with the moated site and fortified house are also of great interest. Limited excavation of the moated site has already provided some evidence for the dating and use of the house during the 16th and early 17th centuries in particular, and the standing structures, earthworks and buried remains which are preserved in the monument retain important architectural and archaeological information relating to the development of this domestic complex over a period of time and its organisation and economy as the centre of a wealthy estate. The principal elements of the monument as a whole reflect very clearly the rise and fall in the fortunes of a prominent Norfolk family during the late medieval and early post-medieval periods
The moated site and fortified house known as Baconsthorpe Castle is situated
across a small, north facing valley c.750m north of Baconsthorpe village. The
monument includes the moated site and the remains of the fortified house, a
mere and associated earthworks extending from the moat on its eastern side, an
outer gatehouse and courtyards to the south of the moated site, and the
earthwork remains of formal gardens to the east of the outer gatehouse and
south of the mere.
Baconsthorpe Castle is built on what is thought to have been the site of the earlier manor of Wood Hall, which was acquired from the Bacon family by William Heydon in the earlier 15th century. The son of William Heydon, John Heydon I, rose to political and social prominence during the Wars of the Roses, and he and his son, Sir Henry Heydon, built the main part of the fortified house during the middle and later 15th century. The outer gatehouse and courtyards, with an associated barn, were built during the following century, when Baconsthorpe and the surrounding manors were farmed as a large and prosperous sheep run. Alterations to the house were carried out in the early 17th century by Sir Christopher Heydon II (1593-1623), but by this time the fortunes of the family were in decline, and in the mid 17th century most of the buildings on the moated site were demolished and the gatehouse and outer walls dismantled. Records dated 1654 refer to the purchase of cartloads of stone from the house for use on the nearby Felbrigg estate. After the demolition, the outer gatehouse was converted for use as a dwelling, known as Baconsthorpe Hall, and was occupied as such until c.1920.
The remains of the fortified house occupy a roughly square platform approximately 65m across, surrounded on the south, west and north sides by a water-filled moat between 13m and 15m wide. Access was by means of a drawbridge across the southern arm of the moat, supported by a massive pier of flint and brick which now carries a modern timber bridge. The moat is narrowed at this point, and excavation has confirmed that this is the result of infilling to the north of the pier, probably in the 17th century. The sides of the narrowed section are revetted with flint. On its south west side, the moated site is terraced into the slope of the western side of the valley, and at the south west corner the outer bank of the moat is therefore up to 2.5m higher than the inner bank and the surface of the central platform which is c.0.5m above the level of the water. The northern arm of the moat, on the lower side of the slope, is retained by the remains of a broad external bank or dam c.110m in length, c.17m in width and up to 0.5m in height. According to the depiction of the site on a map dated 1588, the eastern arm was originally of similar dimensions, and is presumed to have been modified and greatly extended at some time after that date. The northern and southern arms now open into a wide, roughly pentagonal mere on the eastern side of the island, with maximum dimensions of 90m east-west by c.110m north-south. A scarp up to 1m high on the eastern side of the central platform marks what is believed to be the original inner edge of the eastern arm, but successive infilling and dumping to the east of this has created a roughly D-shaped, shelving apron of land up to c.15m wide across the probable line of the original moat ditch. The overall dimensions of the original moated site, excluding the mere, are c.112m north-south, including the external bank to the north, and an estimated 90m east west. The moat and mere are fed by a stream from the south, and a second stream enters the mere from the south east. The outflow is carried by a modern sluice and dyke issuing from the eastern end of the north arm of the moat, but a slight linear depression at the eastern end of the external bank to the north east of the moat marks what is probably an earlier outlet. At the eastern end of the mere, the modern waters' edge is between 6m and 15m west of what is thought to be the original edge, marked by scarps c.0.5m high which converge at an angle of c.140 degrees to form the north east and south east sides of a pentagon. Around the eastern end of the mere and separated from it by a low bank, are the remains of a pond c.30m in width, retained on the east side by a flat-topped earthen dam c.8m-10m wide. To the south of the south eastern feeder stream this pond is visible as a damp hollow, seasonally wet in places, and its outline is clearly defined. The dam here stands to a height of c.2m and runs parallel to the edge of the south eastern edge of the mere for a distance of c.40m, while the southern end of the pond is marked by a scarp up to 2m high curving westwards from the southern end of the dam. To the north of the feeder stream the earthworks of the pond have been much degraded by ploughing and are not included in the scheduling, but a very slight scarp indicates that the eastern edge turned north westwards so as to continue running parallel to the edge of the mere.
The standing remains of the castle on the central island (which are Listed Grade I and included in the scheduling), include a surrounding wall rising above the inner edges of the moat and enclosing an area measuring c.55m north-south by 58m east-west, a gatehouse on the southern side, and a range of buildings along the southern part of the inner face of the wall on the east side, together with fragmentary traces of other buildings in the interior. Excavations carried out on the site in the 1950s and 1972 revealed that evidence relating to demolished and partly demolished structures is preserved also beneath the ground surface.
The walls of the fortified house and associated structures above ground have a core of mortared flint rubble, mostly with varying amounts of reused roof tile and brick, and faced with coursed flints, with stone and brick dressings. The principal buildings and the earliest parts of the curtain wall are faced externally with knapped flint and galetting (flint chips embedded in mortar). Variations in construction and style mark successive episodes of building and alteration.
The earliest parts of the standing structure, thought to have been built by John Heydon I before 1480 but incorporating later modifications, include the gatehouse and the adjoining sections of the curtain wall to the west of it, which define the south and west sides of a courtyard occupying the south western part of the moated island. The gatehouse which opened on to this courtyard still stands to almost its original height, although it is now roofless, and is of three storeys, with a two storey projection or porch on the south face. The remains of vaulting, with elaborately moulded stone corbels and ribs, can still be seen over the inner bay of the gate passage. Opening off the passage, one on each side, are two chambers with groined vaults, both lit by window openings in the outer, southern, wall and furnished with fireplaces, cupboard recesses and garderobes (privies). There is a second window opening in the east wall of the eastern chamber, which was probably the porter's lodge. The western chamber, perhaps for the use of the steward, includes also a blocked door opening in the west wall, facing onto the courtyard, and an opening on the north side giving access to an external stair turret leading to a suite of domestic apartments on the floors above. These upper chambers, which show evidence of alteration in the 16th and 17th centuries, are lit by large window openings in the north and south walls and contain fireplaces and garderobes. The garderobe shafts from the upper and ground floor apartments issue into the moat to either side of the gate. To the north west of the gatehouse there are footings of part of a wall associated with a hearth and well, thought to be the remains of a block of service buildings for the gatehouse suite.
The partly ruined wall to the west of the gatehouse, considered to be contemporary with it, stands to a maximum height of c.4m and is pierced by six double embrasures faced with brick. It extends for a distance of c.23m to a square, projecting corner tower, and from there continues northwards for c.32m, terminating in another projecting square tower which includes the remains of a small gun port. Both towers have altered internal openings with dressings of elaborately moulded brick.
The structure of the curtain wall on the west side of the courtyard incorporates blocked window openings and sockets for floor joists which are evidence for a north-south range of important domestic apartments along its inner face, although no other trace of this building is now visible above the ground. Two semicircular turrets built on to the outer face of the same wall contain garderobe chutes for these apartments, with culverts at the base issuing into the moat. The internal opening to the northern of the two turrets is blocked by later walling. The principal hall of the castle is believed to have extended eastwards from the north end of this range, along the north side of the courtyard, with the service end to the east, where the remains of a well in a square well tower are visible, c.32m east of the north western square tower. The south eastern part of the moated island, to the east of the gatehouse, is thought to have been occupied by a second, smaller court, although it is not certain that any of the standing walls in this area are of the earliest period of construction.
The part of the curtain wall which extends around the northern end of the moated island from the north west tower of the original, south western court is a slightly later addition, probably dating from the time of Sir Henry Heydon (1480-1508). It is of thinner construction than the wall of the earliest period and includes a series of shallow, arched recesses with double embrasures, most of which are now wholly or partly blocked with brick. On the north side of the enclosure the wall is bowed outward slightly, and in the middle of the wall are the remains of a postern, blocked by the footings of a later, external square tower. There is another postern at the eastern end. At the north western angle of the wall there is a round tower, and at the north eastern angle a large, square tower, now open to the south, but with the west, north and east sides standing to a height of three storeys. The curtain wall on the east side is in two parts. The southern end forms the east wall of the building in the south east angle of the enclosure, and the northern end, which is of later date, is offset c.3m and aligned on the east wall of the corner tower to the north. The final section of the curtain wall, enclosing the south side of the south eastern quarter, is a later insertion between the south west corner of the south eastern building and the inner gatehouse to the west.
The building range in the south east angle of the moated site is of two storeys, now roofless and partly ruined. It measures c.38m in overall length north-south and c.8m in width, and is divided into two long rooms by a later, inserted cross wall in which there are two blocked openings flanking the remains of a chimney. Little of the northern section stands above ground, but the footings include a projection for a central bay window in the west wall. The larger, southern part, which is c.25m long, still stands in places to almost its original height and displays evidence of extensive alteration during the 16th century. Surviving features include a central arched doorway of brick in the west wall and, to either side of the door, a pair of rectangular window openings with timber mullions and transoms and brick surrounds, rendered externally to resemble stone. Above each pair is the lower part of a wide, upper storey window opening. There is another rectangular window opening in the north wall of the room, with the remains of moulded stone jambs which are thought to be a later insertion. Sockets for the floor joists are visible in the inner face of the walls.
Various features of the south eastern range and the corner tower to the north of it, including evidence revealed by excavation, show that these buildings were used for the processing of wool and wool textiles. At the foot of the north east tower there are remains of a sunken tank which was connected to the adjacent moat by a wooden culvert and an overflow channel through the wall. Near it were found a pile of fullers' earth and numerous pins. Traces of a turnstile which it is suggested was used for admitting sheep for shearing, were recorded against the northern room of the long range, and projections and slots for the supports and plumbing of a large sink can be seen in the west wall of the southern room, below the southernmost window opening.
The outer gatehouse, which is Listed Grade II, lies c.75m south of and opposite the inner gatehouse. A large part of it still stands to a height of two storeys, now roofless, although the walls of the western end collapsed c.1920 and do not survive more than 0.8m above ground level. To the north of it are the wall footings of projecting east and west wings, added when the building was converted into the principal dwelling, together with the remains of flint and brick walls relating to outbuildings and yards of various dates. The latter include a truncated east-west wall whose western end with chamfered brick quoins has been incorporated into the north east angle of a modern farm building c.18m north west of the gatehouse. This length of wall is included in the scheduling, although the later building is excluded. The appearance of the front of the gatehouse/hall in the later 18th century is recorded in an engraving dated 1781.
The main elements of the gatehouse in its original form can still be traced and comprise a central passage with chambers to either side of it, an upper storey over all, and turrets at either end to east and west. The stone moulding of the inner arch of the gate is still largely intact in the north wall, and parts of the brickwork of the outer gate arch are visible behind blocking for the insertion of a later door in the south wall opposite. The western wall of the gate passage still stands, and includes a partly blocked, arched door opening with moulded stone surround at the inner end. The footings of the demolished eastern wall of the gate passage are visible in the ground surface, but the walls of the apartments beyond stand to the full height. The outer, southern wall to the east of the gate arch includes two original windows with stone mullions and transoms, set one above the other, and the northern wall includes the blocked opening of a facing upper window, with the impressions of the mullions and transom preserved in the north face of the blocking. Bays and jambs for corresponding windows can be seen in the remains of the north and south walls of the apartments to the west of the gate arch. The standing walls on the east side display also a number of altered or inserted interior features in brick, including partly blocked fireplaces and chimneys and a wide, splayed arch opening into the base of the eastern turret. The eastern turret is the only one of the original pair which survives above the ground surface. It is octagonal on a square base and crowned with a cupola of ogival section. An original external door opening, now blocked, can be seen at the base on the north side, and above this are two later blocked and partly blocked openings.
The space immediately in front of the gatehouse is delimited by a ha-ha c.17m to the south of the building, and c.24m to the south of this, beyond the car park, is a slight linear earthwork which is thought to be the remains of a causeway which carried the approach road.
The depiction of the house on the map of 1588 shows a rectangular court between the southern arm of the moat and the outer gate, enclosed by a wall with towers at the south west and south east angles. A length of wall which extends c.8m eastwards from the eastern turret of the gatehouse and includes an arched opening with brick surround probably represents a part of this, and the footings of a corresponding wall can be seen to the west of the gatehouse. A low bank containing traces of flint rubble runs alongside a track to the north west, towards the south west corner of the moat, marking the probable line of the western wall of the court, and it is likely that evidence for interior structures relating to use of the court will survive below the ground surface to the east of it. Part of a barn dated to the 16th century extends to the south of this, in approximately the position of a large building which is also indicated on the map of 1588. The southern end of this barn has been demolished, but as shown in the late 18th century print, it was at least 45m long with five stepped buttresses on the east face, and it is believed that originally it may have been c.69m long, with three pairs of opposed cart doors, forming the western side of a large outer court to the west of the approach to the outer gatehouse. The standing part of the barn, which is Listed Grade II and has undergone various alterations, is c.32m in length and c.8m wide and built of coursed flint, galetted on the east face and with stone dressed plinth, buttresses and ventilation slots. It is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. The mortared flint footings of two walls c.12m apart, which are visible to the south east of the gatehouse and on a roughly parallel alignment to it, are thought to be the remains of another building or row of buildings shown on the early map, further evidence of which will be preserved below the ground surface. There is evidence for buried structural remains also in the area to the south and south east of these walls, where there are slight earthworks with a surface scatter of building materials which include medieval or early post-medieval brick and tile.
The formal garden to the east of the outer gatehouse and associated courts was probably designed with the mere as part of a single, grand ornamental scheme, and is thought to have been constructed in the early 17th century. The remains of the garden earthworks occupy a sub-rectangular terraced platform raised above the valley bottom. The platform, which has maximum dimensions of c.80m north-south by c.65m east-west, narrowing to c.58m at the southern end, is bordered on the north side by a bank c.3m wide along the southern edge of the mere, and on the west side by a low, east facing scarp which is on the same alignment as the buildings and court to the west and continues the line of the original eastern side of the moat. The southern and eastern sides of the platform are bounded by a channel up to 6m wide which takes the feeder stream in a dog-leg from the centre of the southern side into the south east corner of the mere. The central feature of the garden is a large rectangular pond measuring c.35m east-west by 32m north-south. A low, flat-topped bank runs along the inner edge of the channel on the east side and the eastern end of the south side, with sub-circular earthen mounds up to 0.4m high at the northern end and at the south eastern angle. These are considered to be remains of a raised walkway around the garden, with symmetrically placed prospect mounds from which it could be viewed. A third mound, sub-oval in plan, is centrally sited to the south of the pond. A continuation of the walkway can be seen below the scarp along the western side, defined by a second, very slight scarp c.4m from, and parallel to, the first.
In addition to the 16th century barn, all modern farm buildings to the north east of it are excluded from the scheduling, together with the surface of the track to the east of the barn, the surface of the car park to the south of the outer gatehouse, with the track and cattle grid leading to it, the concrete track leading from the outer to the inner gatehouse, the modern timber bridge across the moat, and all modern fences and gates with their supports, although 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:
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Books and journals
Page, J, Engraving of Baconsthorpe Hall, (1781)
Rigold, S E, Baconsthorpe Castle, (1966)
Rigold, S, Baconsthorpe Castle, (1979)
'East Anglian Archaeology' in East Anglian Archaeology, (1588), Pl.1
Dallas, C and Sherlock, D, Baconsthorpe Castle: Excavations and Finds, 1951 - 1979, Forthcoming
Dallas, C and Sherlock,, Baconsthorpe Castle: Excavations and Finds, 1951-1972, Forthcoming
Everson, P and Wilson-North, W R, The Earthworks (in Baconsthorpe Castle: Excavations & Finds), Forthcoming
Everson, P and Wilson-North, W R, The Earthworks (in Baconsthorpe Castle: Excavations & Finds), Forthcoming
reproduced in  Pl.1, (1588)
Title: Map of Estate of John Thurston Mott Esq. Source Date: 1807 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Norfolk R O: MF/RO 389/17
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