Great Easton motte castle


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017468

Date first listed: 10-Aug-1923

Date of most recent amendment: 19-Mar-1998


Ordnance survey map of Great Easton motte castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Uttlesford (District Authority)

Parish: Great Easton

National Grid Reference: TL 60900 25434


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

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

The medieval motte castle at Great Easton is very well preserved. Despite some later disturbance, the summit of the mound will retain buried evidence for the structures which stood there, and the undisturbed silts contained within the surrounding ditch will contain both artefacts and environmental evidence related to the period of occupation. The old ground surface buried beneath the mound is particularly significant as it will retain further evidence of activity on the site preceding the castle's construction which was indicated by the discovery of an earlier ditch immediately to the south of the mound in 1965. Excavation has indicated that the motte castle was adulterine, built during the period of civil war 1139-44 known as `The Anarchy'. This period saw the construction of numerous small fortifications in the region to protect manorial lands from hostile factions, a problem which became increasing acute after the Earl of Essex, Geoffrey de Mandeville, rebelled against the king in 1143. Great Easton castle and other surviving fortifications from this period illustrate the response of the nobility to this period of unrest, and provide insights into the localised nature of medieval warfare.


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


The medieval motte castle at Great Easton is situated on a broad south facing spur overlooking the valley of the River Chelmer. It stands immediately to the east of Easton Hall and about 100m to the south east of St John's Church. The castle mound, or motte, is approximately 6.4m high and roughly conical in shape, measuring 35m in diameter at the base and 13m across the flattened summit. Buried indications of the timber pallisade and keep which would have crowned the summit are thought to survive, although the irregular depression currently visible is more likely to be the imprint of a comparatively modern garden structure, or the result of a small unrecorded excavation such as that which left a broad hollow in the northern slope. A small rectangular indent near the base of the western slope marks the site of a garden building shown on Ordnance Survey maps from the first half of this century. The motte is surrounded by a ditch measuring up to 15m in width, from which the material for the mound would have been quarried. Although this is now largely infilled and visible only as a slight depression, a sample excavation in 1965 demonstrated that it survives as a buried feature to a minimum depth of approximately 2m. Excavations, carried out to the south of the motte between 1964 and 1966, found some evidence from which to date the castle. A 2.4m wide ditch was discovered just outside the southern perimeter of the motte ditch, containing early medieval pottery and sealed by upcast associated with the construction of the motte. From this sequence it has been inferred that the castle was probably adulterine, constructed during the period of civil war in the mid-12th century known as `The Anarchy'. Further excavations in the area immediately to the south of the castle revealed the remains of a small manorial complex, which immediately post-dated the civil wars and continued in use until the 15th century; these features were subsequently damaged by ploughing and are not included in the scheduling although a margin of 3m from the southern edge of the motte ditch, which preserves its archaeological relationship with the earlier ditch found during the excavations, is included in the scheduling. All fences and fence 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.

Legacy System number: 31221

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Sellars, E, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Essex: Great Easton, , Vol. 9, (1965), 188
Sellars, E, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Essex: Great Easton, , Vol. 10, (1966), 190
Sellars, E, Sellars, J, 'Trans Essex Arch Soc' in Excavations At Great Easton: Second Interim Report, , Vol. Vol 2, (1965), 97
Sellars, E, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Essex: Great Easton, , Vol. 11, (1967), 284
Conversation with landowner, Barrow, D, (1996)
information from excavator, Barrow, D & Sellars, E, Great Easton Castle (letter to EH, filed under AA 41391/1), (1992)
MPP revised scheduling (abandoned), Wild, S, SM:20682 Great Easton motte castle and associated moated site, (1992)
RCHME, Inventory of Historic Monuments, Essex, (1916)
Sellars, E, Motte ditch, Gt Easton Catle, 1965, unpublished excavation record
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Source Date: 1938 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing