Swerford Castle


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.

West Oxfordshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 37252 31188

Reasons for Designation

Motte and bailey 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 as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte and bailey 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 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte and bailey castle at Swerford survives as an extant earthwork monument at the centre of the village whose development it both promoted and then later affected. It is a good example of its class and part excavation has demonstrated that it contains archaeological remains relating to the monument, the landscape in which it was built and the economy of the inhabitants.


The monument includes the 12th century Swerford motte and bailey castle and an associated enclosure extending to the north east situated on a north facing crest, overlooking the valley of the River Swere at a point where the river is fordable. The motte survives as a small stone and earthen conical mound c.18m in diameter at its summit and c.30m across at its base. It stands c.4m above the original ground level. It has been slightly truncated to the south where it has been levelled into the ditch. The bailey to the south of the motte is roughly kidney-shaped. It encloses an area c.52m from east-west and 47m from north-south surrounded by a stone rampart 5m across and up to 3m high and a substantial ditch 10m wide and c.5m deep. It survives around the entire circuit except for a short 20m long section in the south west corner which was destroyed in 1925 by an extension of the adjacent churchyard. A number of platforms within the bailey mark the location of stables, kitchens and store rooms which will have buried remains. The original entrance lies on the north side of the castle, facing the ford. It is situated between the motte and the bailey ditch and measures 8m across. To the north east of the motte lies a second, smaller, bailey on which two slight circular platforms stand. Both platforms, believed to be the locations of a dovecote and windmill, measure c.13m in diameter and 0.4m high. The bailey has no ditch as such but is formed by a raised platform of material cut out of the slope. It measures c.32m from north-south and 19m from east-west. Slight traces of ridge and furrow cultivation are visible in the north east corner of the field in which the castle lies. These represent agricultural activity around the site in the Middle Ages. To the south west there is also a slight hollow way running through the line of the ditch which is believed to date to the period after the castle fell out of use. Part excavations in 1938 and 1956 recovered a large quantity of pottery and some metal work. Much of the pottery was of the same type as that found at Ascott d'Oyley castle, believed to have been built at a similar date by the same family. The pottery suggests a date for the castle's construction in the second half of the 12th century, perhaps linked to the unrest of the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Mathilda known as `the Anarchy'. Excluded from the scheduling are the boundary fences and walls although the ground beneath 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 2
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 3
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 1
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 3
JOPE, E.M., EXCAVATIONS AT SWERFORD CASTLE, 1956, Unpublished paper in SMR file 1151
Personal observations, Jeffery, PP, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1993)
PRN 1151, C.A.O., Swerford Castle, (1970)
St Mary's Church Swerford, 1970, Guide book in SMR and church lobby
St Mary's Church Swerford, 1970, Guide book in SMR and church lobby


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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