Fenny Castle: a motte and bailey castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Fenny Castle: a motte and bailey castle
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This copy shows the entry on 31-Mar-2020 at 09:07:30.


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

Mendip (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Fenny Castle, despite some later disturbance, survives well. Soils present exhibit a high presence of snail shells, indicating a good potential for environmental evidence regarding the surroundings of the site. Earthworks and excavated evidence suggest that stonework and other features will survive below the surface. The hill and castle are prominent features in the landscape, and are traditionally associated with King Alfred.


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle set on a small natural hill surrounded by flat, formerly marsh land. The hill is an elongated ridge, orientated north west-south east. The north west end of the hill has been scarped into a steep-sided conical mound to form a motte, while the south east end has been levelled to create a narrow bailey. Beyond the motte to the north west, but still above the level of surrounding land, are earthworks and platforms representing an additional area of occupation.

The motte rises 11m above ground level on its north west side and 8m from the base of its quarry ditch to the south east. It has a small flat oval top 20m across. The bailey, to its south east, is a levelled area 70m by 20m wide. A number of mounds, hollows and scarps indicate the presence of former buildings in this area, though stone robbing has confused the plan at ground level.

Beyond the monument to the north west is a former river course, visible as a broad shallow depression flanked by slight banks. This will have added to the defensive nature of the site if, as is likely, this was flowing in the medieval period.

In the 19th century it is recorded that part of the slope at the north west end of the hill was removed to enable easier access around it. In the process, the remains of 20 skeletons, possibly of a period predating the construction of the castle, were removed.

The castle is first referred to historically in 1327, when William atte Castle is recorded as a local resident and taxpayer, and again in 1354 when Alice atte Castle was a tenant. In 1470 William Worcestre wrote of a castle called Fenney Castle, which was a ruin, and had been built of stone, of which traces were still visible. The historian Leland, writing in 1540, confirms this.

In 1825, the Rev J Skinner visited the site shortly after damage had been incurred by a farmer, and recorded that `foundations of buildings may yet be seen, and quantities of squared free-stone have been conveyed from thence in the memory of man, and employed in the walls of some of the edifices in the neighbourhood'. Some digging in the castle was undertaken, to a depth of 6 feet, and a strong wall was found defending the summit, as well as iron rings, an iron implement and pottery. Skinner also mentions a paved causeway running to the hill from the hamlet of Castle, and this was apparently still visible as a slight grassy bank in 1928, running across the field from near Fenny Castle House. It is not obvious today. Local tradition has it that King Alfred is buried in Castle Hill.

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
Wicks, A T, 'Wells Nat Hist And Arch Soc' in Fenny Castle... Somerset; 40th Ann.Rep , (1928)
Wicks, A T, 'Wells Nat Hist And Arch Soc' in Fenny Castle... Somerset; 40th Ann.Rep , (1928)
SMR file PRN 24455, (1995)


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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