Cowdray: a fortified medieval house and part of its landscaped grounds


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Cowdray: a fortified medieval house and part of its landscaped grounds
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Sussex
Chichester (District Authority)
West Sussex
Chichester (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SU 89008 21718

Reasons for Designation

Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers, gunports and crenellated parapets. Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables, brew houses, granaries and barns were located. Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.

The fortified medieval house of Cowdray survives well, despite some subsequent alteration and disturbance, retaining substantial portions of its original buildings, associated structures and landscaping. It constitutes a particularly fine example of this type of monument, incorporating some of the most up-to-date architecture and highest quality building work of the period. The monument lies about 280m to the north west of a motte and bailey castle on St Ann's Hill, which formed the original focus of the medieval estate. The close association of the earlier castle with the later fortified house provides evidence for the general development in high status medieval dwellings away from mainly defensive, military forms to great houses geared towards comfort and display.


The monument includes a fortified medieval house and part of its landscaped grounds, situated on the banks of the River Rother immediately to the north east of the town of Midhurst. The monument survives in the form of ruined and reused buildings and structures, earthworks and associated buried remains, and lies within the western sector of the landscaped park surrounding Cowdray House, a 19th century country mansion situated around 1.2km to the east. Cowdray Park is included in the Historic Parks and Gardens register at Grade II*. The main buildings range around a NNE-SSW aligned quadrangular courtyard, constructed in at least two main phases during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The main courtyard was designed on a particularly grand scale, resembling the contemporary royal palace of Hampton Court. The buildings are faced with sandstone ashlar decorated with contrasting, lighter coloured stone dressings, and are topped with crenellated parapets. The wall cores, surviving chimneys and some facing, and subsequent repairs and alterations also contain substantial amounts of red brick. The eastern range survives mainly in the form of foundations represented by low modern walls, and housed the main domestic apartments, including a centrally placed hall, served by an adjoining chapel with an apsidal eastern end. At the southern end of the range, separated from the hall by a screens passage, are service rooms and a projecting, hexagonal corner tower surviving to its full height of three storeys, which contains a ground floor kitchen. To the north was the parlour with a great chamber over it, and further domestic cellarage. The ruined, three-storeyed northern range is lit by tall bay windows and contained a first floor gallery. Documentary evidence suggests that most of the eastern and northern ranges were built by Sir David Owen from around 1492. The southern range of the main courtyard also survives largely in the form of foundations marked out by modern walling, and contained further service rooms. The western range incorporates more substantial ruins, including a central gatehouse with a four-centred carriage archway flanked by octagonal, three- storeyed turrets, pierced by gun loops. The southern and western ranges were constructed by Sir William Fitzwilliam, later Earl of Southampton, who bought the estate in 1529 and was granted licence to crenellate in 1533. The buildings of the main courtyard were severely damaged by a fire in 1793, after which the house fell into disuse. The buildings of the main courtyard are Listed Grade I. Finds of 13th century floor tiles and worked masonry among the ruins suggest that the Tudor house may have been built on the site of an earlier manor house, further traces of which are likely to survive as below ground features. Adjoining the main courtyard to the south is a contemporary outer court, formerly linked to the kitchen tower. This is represented by an `L'-shaped range of buildings likely to have been in use originally as service accommodation, stables, brewhouses, granaries and barns. The eastern range and the eastern end of the southern range of the outer court have been substantially modified and converted into dwellings. The western end of the southern range is now occupied by later ancillary buildings and stables, Listed Grade II. A small 17th century timber-framed granary built on staddle stones within the central, open part of the outer court is also Listed Grade II. Lying immediately to the south of the outer court is a contemporary, roughly square, brick and stone-walled kitchen garden. The eastern garden wall is constructed of red brick and survives to its full height of around 5m. It is pierced near its northern end by a sandstone-dressed doorway headed by a four-centred arch. The surviving courses of the western garden wall have been incorporated within the rear wall of mainly 18th century stables, Listed Grade II. At the south western corner is a small, square sandstone building with a tiled, hipped roof, interpreted as a garden pavilion or gate lodge. This has undergone some subsequent alteration, but retains in situ Tudor masonry, including ashlar quoins and, in its eastern wall, a central doorway with a four-centred arch. Stone footings situated around 10m to the east may represent a matching, now ruined building. The original approach to the house was from the west, across low-lying marshy ground and the river. In order to provide dry access for carriages, a raised, battered causeway around 380m long, up to 12m wide and 2m high was constructed from the Easebourne road, now part of the modern A272. The river and a now dry, subsidiary channel are spanned by stone, two and four-arched bridges, interpreted as 18th century replacements of original, Tudor bridges, traces of the foundations of which are likely to survive in buried form. The western end of the causeway has been destroyed by the construction of a modern car park, and this area is therefore not included in the scheduling. To the east of the river is an 18th century stone gateway with wrought-iron gates, Listed Grade II. These formerly stood at the western end of the causeway but were moved prior to the construction of the car park. The great house would have been surrounded by a planned landscape and formal gardens, and a group of regular, roughly rectangular earthworks immediately to the north west of the main courtyard may represent associated contemporary terracing. From the 16th century, water was supplied to the main buildings via an octagonal, stone-built conduit house, constructed 120m to the north. The conduit house is Listed Grade II. Further below ground archaeological evidence and environmental remains associated with the garden, grounds and water supply can be expected to survive in the areas around the main courtyard. To the south east and east, the monument is bounded by a ha-ha with a stone- faced retaining wall approximately 1m high, flanked on its outer, eastern side by a sloping ditch up to 8m wide. This has been dated to the mid-18th century, and may have followed the course of an earlier boundary feature. The ha-ha continues north-east towards Easebourne Priory, although this is not included in the scheduling. Laundry Cottages, the Conduit House, the 18th and 19th century stables, barns and dairy on the south western side of the monument (except for in situ Tudor masonry and brickwork within the walls of buildings not used as dwellings), the 17th century granary, the 18th century gateway, the modern sports pavilion and ancillary buildings, rugby posts, all modern sheds, outbuildings and garden structures, walls, fences, gates, footbridges, tanks and paving, the modern surfaces of all roads, tracks, paths and hard-standing are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these buildings and 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
Bloe, J W, The Victoria History of the County of Sussex: Cowdray, (1953), 49-50
St John Hope, W, The Victoria History of the County of Sussex: Cowdray, (1953), 49-50
Cultural Heritage Consultants, Fowler, Darryl , (1997)


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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