Castle Hill motte and bailey castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Castle Hill motte and bailey castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
Wood Walton
National Grid Reference:
TL 21100 82791

Reasons for Designation

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-bai1ey 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 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 and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as motte castles. 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Despite some disturbance caused by later quarrying, the motte and bailey castle at Castle Hill remains substantially well preserved with most of the area within the bailey ditch remaining undisturbed. Although the summit has suffered some damage, it will retain buried evidence for the character of the structure which stood there, and artefactual evidence relating to the period of occupation will be preserved within the silts of the surviving section of the surrounding ditch. The baileys will contain further buried structural evidence and the silts of the perimeter ditch will contain not only artefacts but also environmental evidence for the appearance of the landscape in which the monument was set. The fragmentary cultivation earthworks within and adjacent to the bailey are of particular interest, as these provide evidence for the character of settlement preceding the construction of the castle. The fishponds to the north of the castle are also highly significant. Ponds of this type were constructed in the medieval period for the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish in order to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. Such ponds, which were a feature of a wide range of secular and religious settlements and required skill and labour to maintain them, also served as status symbols, especially in areas such as Woodwalton where the availabilty of fish from neighbouring meres and rivers suggests that ponds were not necessary as a principal means of supply. The ponds at Castle Hill survive well, retaining visible evidence for the water management system and deep accumulated silts which will contain both artefactual and environmental evidence from the period of use. Their presence implies that the castle site outlived the period of conflict for which it was constructed, and developed into a high status residence which clearly influenced the development of the pattern of medieval settlement at Woodwalton.


The monument includes a medieval motte and bailey castle with associated cultivation earthworks and fishponds, located approximately 600m to the NNE of St Andrew's Parish Church on the tip of a low promontory projecting northwards from the southern margin of Woodwalton Fen.

The castle utilises a natural hillock near the end of the spur, and the central motte is largely a remodelling of the summit, which stands about 8m above the level of the fen. During the period of occupation, the stronghold crowning the summit was surrounded by a circular ditch measuring about 10m wide and 2m deep, and with a diameter of about 50m. Post-medieval quarrying has hollowed out the summit of the mound, and only one section of the ditch survives in full on the south eastern side. The outer ditch scarp remains visible around the rest of the perimeter, but it is now uncertain whether the feature which it encircled was a platform or a small artificial mound. The motte was surrounded by a concentric ditch, which ran around the foot of the hillock at an average distance of 50m from the ditch on the summit, and served as the outer boundary of the castle's baileys or courtyards. This ditch remains clearly visible around the northern and north eastern part of the circuit, where it measures between 5m and 10m in width and averages 0.8m in depth. The height of the inner scarp is generally greater than that of the outer scarp reflecting the rising gradient of the hillock.

The western arc of the bailey ditch lies in arable land separated from the main area of the castle by a farm road. Over the years this ditch has become buried. It is no longer visible on the ground, although its position was recorded by the Royal Commission in 1926. To the east of the motte, the bailey ditch can be traced to the point where it meets the north eastern corner of the gardens to the rear of the New Cottages. To the south of this point, the course of the ditch is perpetuated by a curious angle in an otherwise straight drainage ditch. This section has been enlarged in modern times and is not included in the scheduling. The southern arc of the bailey ditch has also become infilled, although the inner scarp can still be traced as a very slight earthwork crossing the pasture to the north of Thatched Cottage and Corner Cottage.

The outer bailey is subdivided by two main hollow ways which ascend the slope towards the motte from the direction of Manor Farm to the north west and along the northern boundary of the New Cottages' gardens to the south east. The area of the bailey between these two features contains a number of minor earthworks which include a rectangular pond, measuring about 5m by 8m and cut into the slope to a depth of about 1.2m, and a level building platform contained within the angle of the bailey ditch and the south eastern hollow way. Further evidence for former buildings is provided by a series of slight platforms and scarps on the southern slope of the hillock.

The area enclosed by the bailey ditch on the western side of the castle retains a series of low cultivation earthworks representing a fragment of an earlier medieval open field system. Further ridges or `lands' remain visible to the north in the area between the bailey and the Middle Level Catchwater Drain. All these lands lack the characteristic mounds or `heads' caused by turning the plough, and are therefore also thought to have been truncated and abandoned when the castle was built. The pattern of ridges here is also overlain by a small group of partly infilled fishponds located immediately to the north west of a narrow leat which connects the bailey ditch to the angle of the Catchwater Drain. This group includes three rectangular ponds ranging between 15m and 24m in length and averaging 5m in width, arranged as three sides of a square and linked by narrow, largely buried leats to the bailey ditch.

The castle may have been erected by the de Bolbec family who held the manor of Woodwalton between 1086 and 1134, or by the Abbey of Ramsey which was granted the manor by Walter de Bolbec in 1134. Alternatively, it may have been built during the period of civil war known as The Anarchy, either by the sons of Aubrey de Senlis, who seized Woodwalton Manor in 1143-4, or by Ernald, son of Geoffrey de Mandeville, who moved his forces from Ramsey to Woodwalton after the death of his father in 1144. The existence of fishponds is thought to imply that the castle outlived the period of military conflict and subsequently developed as a residence controlling the northern part of the dispersed medieval settlement of Woodwalton. The nucleus of the Woodwalton village now lies some 2km to the south, and the 13th century Parish Church of St Andrew, which stands in isolation some 600m south of the castle, is believed to have been sited to serve both settlements.

All buildings, made surfaces, fences, fence posts, water troughs and telephone posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath 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.

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Books and journals
Hall, D, Fenland Research, (1984), 6
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 290
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 290
Taylor, A, Castles of Cambridgeshire, (1990), 14
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proc Cambs Antiq Soc' in Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys: III, , Vol. 68, (1978), 63
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proc Cambs Antiq Soc' in Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys: III, , Vol. 68, (1978), 62-5
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' in Cambridge Earthwork Surveys: IV, , Vol. 70, (1980), 117-23
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proc Cambs Antiq Soc' in Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys: III, , Vol. 68, (1978), 63-5
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proc Cambs Antiq Soc' in Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys: III, , Vol. 68, (1978), 63-5
Hall, D, 'Fenland Research' in Woodwalton, , Vol. 1, (1984), 6
Inskip Ladd, S, 'Cambs and Hunts Archaeology Society Transactions.' in Sawtry Abbey, , Vol. 3, (1914), 294-374
6/81 & 6/82, HBMC, List of Buildings of Special Historic or Architectural Interest, (1987)
conversation with farm worker, New Cottages, (1995)
MPP scheduling entry, Went, D, SM:27185 Woodwalton moated site, (1996)
RCHME, Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Huntingdon, (1926)
RCHME, Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Huntingdon, (1926)
RCHME, Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Huntingdon, (1926)


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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