A ringwork and bailey castle, and 17th century formal garden remains, at Bourn Hall


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014238

Date first listed: 05-Sep-1995


Ordnance survey map of A ringwork and bailey castle, and 17th century formal garden remains, at Bourn Hall
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1014238 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 23-Jan-2019 at 09:48:42.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)

Parish: Bourn

National Grid Reference: TL 32302 56173


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

Reasons for Designation

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60 with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular significance to our understanding of the period.

The ringwork and bailey castle at Bourn Hall was a particularly large and well defended example of this type of medieval fortification, and despite later alterations retains many of its original features. Limited archaeological investigations have sampled only a small fraction of the site, yet have demonstrated conditions suitable for the preservation of buried features within the interior, elsewhere indicated by low earthworks, which will include structures, yards and other evidence relating to the earlier period of occupation. The surrounding moat will also contain both environmental and artefactual evidence within the accumulated silts and later infill, related to the original use and subsequent development of the site. The surviving sections of the ramparts will retain evidence for the process of construction, and preserve any signs of earlier activity in the buried land surface beneath, as also will the raised approach which crosses the bailey.

The importance of the site is enhanced by the documentary evidence for its founder, Picot, a central figure during the early Norman occupation of the region. The relationship between the castle and the adjacent parish church is also of particular interest and will provide valuable information concerning the relationship between the developing role of the castle and the adjacent village. There is an unusual sequence of adaptations which occured following the construction of a post-medieval hall within the centre of the ringwork, in particular the development of a formal 17th century garden.

Post-medieval formal gardens are usually found in direct association with the dwellings of high ranking individuals in society and were created as an expression of wealth and refinement, forming a setting for such residences. Gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries tend to comprise a regular or symmetrical pattern of flower beds, water features, paths, terraces or lawns forming vistas related to the main building.

The garden remains at Bourn Hall are well preserved and include several of the characteristic features of the period. The modified section of the ringwork defences remains largely unaltered, providing both a raised walkway and a water feature and, together with the second raised walkway from the Hall, delineating the border of a level lawn fronting the building.


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


The monument includes the remains of an 11th century castle situated on high ground to the west of the village of Bourn and the valley of the Bourn Brook, approximately 1km to the east of the Ermine Street Roman road. The site is now dominated by Bourn Hall, a 17th century manor house built on the highest part of the hill, within the main defensive enclosure.

The construction of the Hall and its adjacent stables, its subsequent development (in particular the landscaping of the gardens, which in part utilised the layout of the castle) has considerably altered the appearance of the earlier monument. However, approximately 65% of the earthworks which define the castle's defences remain visible allowing accurate interpretation of its former extent, and the infilled sections of the defensive ditches will survive as buried features.

The castle comprised two adjoining enclosures. A circular bank accompanied by an external ditch formed the main stronghold, or ringwork; and a horseshoe-shaped enclosure, attached to the north eastern side of the ringwork and similarly fortified, served as an outer courtyard or bailey. In both cases the banks would originally have measured several metres in height, and been surmounted by timber palisades.

The ringwork measures approximately 140m in diameter and is mainly defined by the remains of the defensive ditch, which is visible around all but the northern third of the enclosure. In the mid 18th century a visiting antiquarian noted that the internal bank or rampart formed a more complete circuit, with a level area or berm separating the bank from the ditch. As a result of later phases of landscaping only two sections of this rampart remain visible. The first lies to the east of the house and measures approximately 25m by 9m, and 0.9m in height. The second and larger segment extends for approximately 60m along the western side of the ringwork, broadly parallel with the south western side of the hall. This section, which measures 14m in width and 1.8m in height, is thought to have been adapted in the early 17th century to form a garden walk or terrace. The ditch measures between 8m and 12m in width and descends to a maximum depth of c.2m, with a flat base varying between 4m and 9m across. A narrow swimming pool, 40m in length, was constructed within the south western part of the circuit during the early 1920's, and still retains water despite the cracks in the concrete lining.

Elsewhere around the circuit the deeper sections of the ditch are seasonally wet. A modern wooden footbridge spans the ditch to the west of the swimming pool, replacing an earlier structure which allowed access to a wooded avenue to the south east known as Bandyleg Walk. The ditch beneath the bridge has been narrowed by later infilling, but widens to its original dimensions as it resumes its course to the north. A channel, 8m wide and 1m deep, thought to be an original drainage leat leaves the main ditch at a point some 20m north east of the bridge and continues for approximately 30m towards the boundary of the field to the south east (beyond which it has been infilled and is no longer visible). The junction of the ringwork and bailey ditches lies about 20m to the north west of the drainage channel. Both junctions are marked by small ponds within the ringwork ditch, each containing waterlogged silts. The inner scarp of the ringwork ditch can be traced for approximately 60m further to the north; beyond this point the north western part of the circuit (which separated the ringwork from the bailey) was infilled and levelled during later landscaping of the grounds. The north western part of the ringwork perimeter, including the junction with the northern arc of the bailey, was overlain by the construction of the stable block in the 17th century, and has been further obscured by more recent additions to the original building. The ringwork ditch re-emerges as a shallow depression, 0.6m in depth, on the western side of this range, becoming broader and deeper as it continues around the western perimeter of the castle. To the north of the modified section of the western rampart the ditch is spanned by a brick built bridge which has the date 1840 inscribed on the stone parapet. To the south, the ditch has been infilled over a distance of some 25m providing a causeway linking the later Hall to Ermine Street. Although the interior of the ringwork has been altered by garden landscaping, slight undulations remain in the lawns to the south and east of the Hall which are thought to mark the location of buried structures and other features associated with the original occupation of the castle. The Hall itself stands upon a raised earthen platform, 1m-1.5m in height, which extends for 8m-12m beyond the limits of the building on all but the north western side. The south western side of the platform extends to form a raised garden walkway leading towards the southern end of the modified rampart. With the exception of the cellars beneath the Hall, these raised areas will have provided a measure of protection for further remains of earlier occupation buried beneath. The ground to the south west of the Hall has been levelled to provide a rectangular garden defined by the walkway and the western rampart. This area is now a lawn, but is thought to have originally contained an ornamental garden.

The bailey extends for c.80m down the gentle slope to the north east of the ringwork, and measures approximately 100m north west to south east. The northern arc of the perimeter ditch has been largely infilled, although it remains visible as a broad depression, 17m in width and up to 0.8m in depth, except towards the west where it has been overlain by the drive way leading to the Hall. The interior bank has been reduced and the soil probably used to infill the ditch. However, slight traces remain, and a segment, 0.5m high and 35m long, survives at the western end of the arc. The southern perimeter of the bailey is mostly overlain by the yard and outbuildings belonging to Hall Farm, although its position can be determined by the orientation of the surviving earthworks to the east and west of this area. To the west, within the grounds of the Hall, a 10m long section of the ditch (measuring 12m across and 1.5m deep) extends eastwards from its junction with the ringwork defences. To the north west of the farm, the ditch has been enlarged to form a pond, the northern end of which retains the original dimensions of the ditch. The inner bank of the ditch continues in the form of a shallow scarp for approximately 10m to the south west of the pond. The original entrance to the castle was provided by a causeway, 8m in width, which spans the centre of the north eastern bailey ditch, immediately to the north of the pond. The causeway formed part of a raised approach, still visible as a slight earthwork, c.10m in width and 0.3m high, leading across the centre of the bailey towards the middle of the ringwork. This approach is thought to have been a continuation of the lane from the village which passes to the south of the Parish Church of St Helena and St Mary, situated some 100m to the north east of the bailey. The interior of the bailey, like that of the ringwork, has been altered by the later landscaping. However, numerous low earthworks remain visible including a small, sporadically waterlogged depression to the south of the causeway, indicating the survival of buried remains of earlier structures.

The castle was built by Picot de Cambridge, the first Norman Sheriff of the shire (recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086), and subsequently formed his baronial seat. In the late 11th century, Picot gave a chapel within the castle to the Canons of Cambridge (later Barnwell Priory), together with the church of Brune (as Bourn was then called). The church remained the possession of the priory until the reign of Edward VI, when it passed to Christ's College, Cambridge. The Cambridge antiquarian John Layer writing in 1640 mentions a reference to Alan de la Turre, who paid revenue to the hundred during the reign of Henry I, and may have held the castle for the Picot family. The castle is thought to have been burnt down in 1266 during a raid by Robert de Lisle, one of the former followers of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who had been killed at the battle of Evesham in the previous year during the baronial wars against the king, Henry III.

The Hall (a Grade II* Listed Building) is thought to have been built by John and Francis Hagar around 1602, a date cast onto the rain water heads on the south east elevation. The house was extended by John Hagar in the early 17th century to enclose three sides of an open court facing south west, and it is thought that the gardens in front of the Hall were designed to compliment this new arrangement. This work included the alterations to the western rampart, which was enlarged and straightened (together with the adjacent section of the ditch) and the top levelled to provide a garden walkway. Fragments of brick revetment remain visible at the south end of the bank. The reduction of the bank around the remainder of the southern and south western sides of the ringwork is believed to be contemporary, the material possibly being reused in the construction of the raised walkway and perhaps the platform beneath the enlarged Hall.

The estate was purchased in 1733 by Baltzar Leyell, an East India merchant of Swedish origin. On his death in 1740 the estate remained with his widow and passed, on her death in 1752, to Baltzar's nephew, Henry Leyell. In 1803 the estate passed to Henry's grandson George West, Earl de la Warr who, on his marriage to Elizabeth Sackville in 1813, assumed the name Sackville-West. Between 1817 and 1819 the Hall was restored and enlarged under the direction of John Adey Repton, whilst his father Humphrey supervised the landscaping of the grounds. The north east wing of the Hall, previously timber, was encased in brick to match the other elevations, and new chimneys and window bays were added in a revised Tudor style. An area of woodland was created to the north of the bailey providing a setting for a new driveway, which has been retained as the present approach to the Hall. The reduction of the north eastern ringwork and bailey defences is thought to date to this period, thereby forming an open prospect of the Hall when viewed from the drive, and improving the view of the church and the newly landscaped grounds from the Hall.

The adjacent stables (a Grade II Listed Building) were constructed in the 17th century, subsequently altered, and were restored together with the Hall in 1960. In 1980 the estate became the property of the Bourn Hall Clinic, and in the mid 1980s an additional range of buildings was added between the existing structures. Examination of the foundation trenches during this work revealed deep archaeological deposits, some containing organic material.

The following items are excluded from the scheduling: Bourn Hall and its cellars, the associated stable block and the modern buildings which form a range between; the bungalow and outbuildings at Hall Farm; the 19th century bridge and the timber bridge which spans the ringwork ditch; the spot lights, ornamental pedestals and the brick barbecue stand in the grounds of Bourn Hall; all railings, fences and fenceposts, and the made surfaces of all driveways, paths and yards; the ground beneath these features is, however, 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: 27106

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hivernel, F, Taylor, A, Reck, J, The Normans in Cambridgeshire, (1986), 27
Morgan, K O (ed), The Oxford History of Britain, (1989), 153
Salzman, L F, The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, (1948), 16-17
Palmer, W M, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society (Octavo)' in John Layer 1640: A 17th Century Local Historian, , Vol. liii, (1935)
Annotated plan - parish file, Taylor, A, Picot's Castle, (1985)
Bourn 15/22, DoE, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, District of South Cambridgeshire,
Conversation with Director of Clinic, Macnamee, MC, Bourn Hall Gardens, (1994)
Information board in church, The Parish Church of St Helena and St Mary, Bourn,
Plan based on 2nd ed. 25 inch series, Sale of the Bourn Hall Estate and Hall Farm, (1923)
RCHME, The Monuments of West Cambridgeshire, (1968)
Rooke, N, 1096: Bourn, site of Picot's castle, (1985)
Unsigned local history pamphlet, Bourn Hall, (1990)

End of official listing