Red Castle medieval ringwork, church and Saxon settlement remains


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017673

Date first listed: 26-Jun-1924

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Jan-1998


Ordnance survey map of Red Castle medieval ringwork, church and Saxon settlement remains
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: Breckland (District Authority)

Parish: Thetford

National Grid Reference: TL 85939 83072


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

Reasons for Designation

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60 with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular significance to our understanding of the period.

Red Castle ringwork is one of only five examples of this type of fortification identified in Norfolk, and a large part of it survives well, despite the removal of part of the ditch on the north side by the cutting of the road and some disturbance by sand quarrying. The standing and buried earthworks which remain will retain archaeological information relating to their construction, and use, and remains of structures, providing further evidence for the occupation and use of the ringwork are likely to be preserved beneath the later deposits of sand in the interior. Limited excavations have shown that the buried soils in the interior and beneath the bank also contain evidence for earlier occupation of the site, including the remains of a church which may have pre-Conquest origins and is in itself of great interest. The section of the twice recut tenth century town ditch which underlies the ringwork is also well preserved and is one of the few parts of the Late Saxon town defences on the south side of the river which remains undisturbed by modern development. The remains of earlier settlements which are known to extend to the west of the ringwork, and especially those of the settlement dated to the eighth and ninth centuries, which remains largely unexplored, are of particular importance for the study of the early development of Thetford which, at the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th century was among the largest and most populous towns in England.


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


The monument includes a 12th century ringwork which contains the buried remains of an earlier medieval church and overlies part of the town ditch on the western boundary of the Late Saxon town of Thetford. It also includes part of an earlier Saxon settlement, distinct from the later town, together with remains relating to Romano-British occupation dated to the first century AD. The ringwork is situated on the south side of the Thetford-Brandon road (B1107), about 100m south of the Little Ouse River and overlooking the site of a medieval ford. The remains of the Augustinian priory of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre lie about 370m to the east, and St Mary's Cluniac priory is centred 550m to the north east, on the opposite side of the river.

The ringwork is a sub-circular earthwork with an overall diameter of approximately 120m and is visible as a flat-topped mound with a broad, raised rim on the west and south east sides, encircled by a ditch which remains open to a depth of about 1.5m on the west side. On the south and east sides the ditch has become infilled, but survives as a buried feature, and on the north side it has been largely removed by the cutting of the road. Limited excavations carried out for the Ministry of Works by Group Captain Guy Knocker in 1957 and 1958 demonstrated that the full depth of the ditch is approximately 3m, measured from the contemporary ground surface, and that it surrounds an inner bank about 2m in height and 12m wide at the base, constructed of sand and gravel upcast from the ditch. The bank is now partly obscured by blown sand which has accumulated against its inner face and raised the surface of the interior of the ringwork 0.6m and more above the original level. The excavations also revealed some evidence for a timber palisade on top of the bank. Extensive excavations carried out in 1988-1989 in the area immediately to the east of the visible earthwork have shown that there was a semicircular bailey measuring approximately 27m across east-west on that side, enclosed by a ditch about 1.5m deep and 4.3m wide. The latter area now underlies a modern housing development and is not included in the scheduling. The ringwork is thought to have been constructed in the 12th century, probably during the `anarchy' of King Stephen's reign (1135-1154), and to have remained in use for a relatively short period. If so, it was probably constructed by Earl Warenne who, after 1139, held the surrounding land south of the river and who also founded the nearby Augustinian priory.

The excavations of 1957-58 also revealed buried remains of the east end of a small church situated on the eastern edge of a large sand pit in the northern part of the enclosure, with an associated burial ground to the south and east of it. The wall footings, of mortared flint with the remains of freestone dressings, are recorded as standing to a height of about 0.6m above the level of the original floor and are known to survive as buried features. The evidence recorded in the excavation has demonstrated that the church was in existence before the construction of the ringwork and was incorporated within it, perhaps serving as a strong point in the fortifications. A small vestry added to north side of the chancel has been dated to the 13th century and is evidence that the church continued in use after the fortification was abandoned, although it is thought to have gone out of use by the 14th century. It has been suggested that this may have been the St Martin's Church recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086, but whose exact location is not mentioned.

The ringwork was constructed over part of the western end of a ditch around the Late Saxon (10th-11th century) town, south of the river. The alignment of this ditch has been confirmed by limited excavations to the south of the monument and by observations made during road widening on the north side of the ringwork in 1966, which showed that the later earthworks overlie three successive buried ditches, between 2m and 3m in depth, running approximately south-north towards the river. The remains of an internal bank are associated with the last of these. Another ditch about 4.5m wide and 2m deep and containing Late Saxon pottery was located immediately to the west of the ringwork during the excavations of 1957-1958 and is thought to be a branch of the same town ditch.

The limited excavations in the western part of the interior of the ringwork, and the more extensive excavations to the east of it, uncovered remains of timber buildings and associated features dated to the Early and Middle Saxon periods (sixth to seventh century and eighth to ninth century AD) and relating to settlements centred near the ford. These remains are believed, on the evidence of other finds and observations, to have extended over the area of Redcastle Plantation to the west of the earthwork, which is included in the scheduling. Romano-British pottery has also been found within this area, in quantities which suggest there was also a settlement here in the first century AD.

Street lamps on the northern verge of the access road to the south of the monument, and an inspection chamber located opposite a pumping station on the north side of the road are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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: 21442

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Andrews, P, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Excavations at Red Castle Furze, 1988-9, (1995), 7-11
Andrews, P, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Excavations at Red Castle Furze, 1988-9, (1995), 66-69
Dallas, C, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Excavations in Thetford by B K Davison between 1964 and 1970, , Vol. 62, (1993), 7-11
Knocker, G M, 'Norfolk Archaeol' in Excavations at Red Castle, Thetford, (1967), 119-186
Knocker, G M, 'Norfolk Archaeol' in Excavations at Red Castle, Thetford, (1967), 130-131
Rogerson, A, Dallas, C, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Excavations At Thetford, 1948-59 And 1973-80, , Vol. 22, (1984), 60-63

End of official listing