Motte and bailey castle at English Bicknor


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Motte and bailey castle at English Bicknor
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Forest of Dean (District Authority)
English Bicknor
National Grid Reference:
SO 58132 15732

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.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 English Bicknor survives well as an impressive monument in the village. Their distribution marks the progress of the Norman campaigns in the years after the Norman Conquest. Proximity to the church of St Mary the Virgin reflects the close links between temporal and secular power in the medieval period. The two formed the axis for the subsequent development of the village. The castle has not been excavated, and the earthworks of the monument will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to the way of life of the occupants of the castle, and will also preserve evidence of changes in the use of the site over time.


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle on high ground above the River Wye in the Forest of Dean. The castle includes a motte and inner and outer bailey; each bailey is surrounded by a moat, or ditch, with the remnant of a leat adjoining the moat of the outer bailey which is thought to be part of a water management system for the moat. The whole castle takes the form of a rough oval oriented north to south. The motte lies in the south west quadrant of this oval within the inner bailey which is in turn encircled by a moat. The west and south ditches of the inner bailey are confluent with the ditch of the outer bailey. The motte is not a perfectly circular mound, but rather resembles a lozenge shape, aligned north west-south east. The whole mound measures 40m east-west and 50m north-south, and its flattened top is 30m east-west by 20m north-south. The motte stands to 4m high. A berm of maximum width 16m and minimum width 4m separates the motte from the inner bailey moat. There are traces of an inner bank at the north and south sides of the inner bailey standing about 0.1m high. The moat of the inner bailey is `V' shaped and 2m wide at the bottom, 9m wide at the top and about 4.5m deep. Alignments of roads around the castle suggest that there was possibly an entrance directly into the inner bailey on the south side, with perhaps another entrance into the outer bailey on the east or south east side. The outer bailey forming a dog-leg around the north and east of the inner bailey measures approximately 100m east-west and the same north-south. It was originally surrounded by a moat of which only a small complete portion to the north still survives, showing that the outer moat was originally about 5m wide. The inner slope of the moat, however, survives for most of its circumference up to 1m high, but up to 2m high in places, and gives the appearance that the bailey is artificially raised above the prevailing ground level. There is no evidence of an internal bank on the inner side of the moat. From the north part of the outer bailey moat, a short section of ditch extends north for about 20m. This is considered to be the remains of a water overspill system from the outer moat. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the house known as `Castle House' and its outbuildings, the post and wire fence across the top of the motte, the wooden steps cut into the motte, the tarmac surface and make up of the school car park where it impinges on the edges of the bank of the moat, the tarmac path on top of the bank of the moat, the school building and mobile classrooms, the school gates, outbuildings and fittings in the playground, the tarmac surface and make up of the playground and the playground wall, the garage to the rear of `Lucy Court', the stone wall and the `Lych Gate', 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.

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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.

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