Motte castle and associated remains of the medieval village of Cublington, immediately west of Ridings Way


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


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

Buckinghamshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 83371 22181

Reasons for Designation

Medieval rural settlements in England were marked by great regional diversity in form, size and type, and the protection of their archaeological remains needs to take these differences into account. To do this, England has been divided into three broad Provinces on the basis of each area's distinctive mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements. These can be further divided into sub-Provinces and local regions, possessing characteristics which have gradually evolved during the past 1500 years or more. This monument lies in the Inner Midlands sub-Province of the Central Province, an area characterised by large numbers of nucleated settlements, both surviving and deserted, many of which are thought to have been established in Anglo-Saxon times. Most of the sub-Province's thinly scattered dispersed settlements were created in post-medieval times, but some of the local regions are characterised by higher proportions of dispersed dwellings and hamlets, which probably mark the patchy survival of older landscapes.

The South Midlands local region is large, and capable of further subdivision. Strongly banded from south west to north east, it comprises a broad succession of clay vales and limestone or marlstone ridges, complicated by local drifts which create many subtle variations in terrain. The region is in general dominated by nucleated villages of medieval origin, with isolated farmsteads, mostly of post-medieval date, set in the spaces between them. Depopulated village sites are common, and moated sites are present on the claylands.

The medieval village of Cublington is well documented and physical evidence of its existence is clearly defined in the area surrounding the motte castle. Buried evidence for the former parish church will survive together with evidence of other structures, arranged alongside the hollow ways and accompanied by a range of features such as boundaries, refuse pits and drainage channels. Artefacts found in association with these features will provide valuable insights into the date and duration of occupation and the lifestyle of the settlement's inhabitants. Environmental evidence may also be recovered, illustrating the appearance of the landscape in which the settlement was established and providing information about its economy. Many modern villages in the local region have medieval origins, although in most cases much of the archaeological evidence has been obscured by later development. The earthworks at Cublington provide an opportunity to study the structure of the early settlement, and to compare its development and subsequent failure with other similar sites in the region. The Vale of Aylesbury contains a number of completely abandoned medieval settlements such as Littlecote, which is located less than 2km to the north of Cublington. Cublington's curious history of abandonment and subsequent revival is, however, most unusual, and of particular interest.

The relationship between the development of the village, the original church and the motte castle is also a matter of considerable interest. This form of medieval fortification was introduced into Britain by the Normans and continued in use until the 13th century. The large conical mounds of earth and rubble (the mottes) were surmounted by palisades and by stone or timber towers. They served as strongholds, as garrison forts during offensive operations and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and centres of administration. Over 600 motte castles are known nationally, the majority of which were accompanied by outer defences (motte and bailey castles). They are considered particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Examples such as The Beacon, which appears to overlie evidence of earlier land use and to have prompted the location of the parish church and the development of the associated village, are particularly significant in this respect.

Fishponds, artificially created pools of slow moving fresh water, were largely the province of the wealthier sectors of medieval society. By the 12th century they become common features of royal residences, monastic institutions and the more affluent manors, where they provided constant and sustainable food supplies and served as a reflection of status. The existence of the fishpond near The Beacon is seen as an indication of the castle's evolution, from a military stronghold towards a more settled manorial holding.


The monument includes the visible and buried remains of part of the medieval village of Cublington, centred around a medieval motte castle known as `The Beacon' which stands on a pronounced spur, below and to the west of the present village. The visible remains include the motte itself, a large fishpond to the south, the site of the former parish church to the south east, and a pattern of hollow ways, low building platforms and cultivation earthworks.

The motte castle lies near the centre of the complex, which covers an area of approximately 5.5ha. The castle mound, or motte, is conical in appearance with a flattened summit, measuring in total about 35m in diameter and 8m high. The northern and western sides of the mound have been disturbed by small scale sand quarrying, which has also obscured the line of the encircling ditch. To the east, this ditch survives intact and measures approximately 10m in width and 1.5m deep. The castle is thought to have been constructed either by Gozelin the Breton, who acquired the manors of Cublington as a result of the Norman Conquest, or by the de Chesney family, who held the land in the 12th century. Prior to the Conquest, two manors of Cublington were held from Edward the Confessor, and some slight traces of ridge and furrow cultivation in the area to the north of the motte and to the east of the former church may relate to these earlier manors' field systems, overlain by the castle and the ensuing settlement.

The earthworks surrounding the motte reflect part of the post-Conquest village of Cublington, a settlement which included at least 39 households in 1283. A subsequent decline in the village population can be traced in records of taxation which list only 16 households in 1334 and describe increased poverty in 1341. The village was abandoned soon after 1341, possibly as a result of the Black Death, although it was resettled around 1400 when the focus shifted eastwards around the newly built parish church of St Nicholas (some 500m to the east of the motte). The original parish church, which is believed to have been demolished to provide materials for the construction of the new church stood only 50m to the south east of the motte, its location now marked by a rectangular enclosure measuring 50m by 40m. The shallow ditch which surrounds the enclosure may date from the early 16th century, as records of a visitation by Bishop Atwater of Lincoln in 1519 describe how the Bishop, scandalised by the condition of the former graveyard, ordered it to be enclosed from animals. The Reverend B R Perkins excavated within this enclosure in the mid 19th century and, according to later reports, disinterred between 30 and 60 burials.

A broad hollow way approaches the northern corner of the churchyard from the east, where it may once have formed part of the present village street known as Ridings Way. A lesser hollow way branches to the north of the main route near the motte, and slight earthworks surrounding this junction are thought to suggest the location of former buildings. The main section of the hollow way continues past the northern end of the churchyard in the direction of a large rectangular fishpond immediately to the south west of the motte. The fishpond is spring fed and measures approximately 60m by 50m. The base retains deep deposits of waterlogged silts. A small square extension on the north eastern side of the pond may have served to separate the breeding stock, and is connected to an inlet channel from the churchyard and an outflow leat extending to the south.

A pair of square enclosures, probably used as paddocks, extends between the fishponds and the western side of the field. The enclosures are each approximately 50m square and defined by shallow banks and ditches. The slight scarp which marks the limit of the northern enclosure is aligned with a more pronounced scarp following the upper contour of the spur to the east. Some 60m further to the east this scarp merges with the southern side of a substantial ditch, which continues for some 100m along the top of the spur to the north of the motte and is accompanied by traces of a bank along the southern side. It has been suggested that this ditch represents part of the village boundary although, given the scale and location of the feature, it is now thought to indicate part of a defensive enclosure, or bailey, associated with the castle.

The timber shed to the north of the motte and all fences and fenceposts 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.

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Books and journals
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 548
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 397,548
Beresford, MW, Hurst, JG, Deserted Medieval Villages , (1971), 34,150
Beresford, MW, St Joseph, JK, Medieval England: An Aerial Survey (1958), (1958), 100-102
Beresford, MW, St Joseph, JK, Medieval England: An Aerial Survey (1958), (1958), 100-102
Beresford, MW, St Joseph, JK, Medieval England: An Aerial Survey (1958), (1958), 100-102
Page, W (ed), The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire: Volume III, (1925), 340
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1925), 338-40
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1925), 338
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 660
'Records of Bucks' in Records of Bucks, , Vol. 12, (1930), 274
Field visit notes (SMR Officer), Pike, A. R., 1091, (1979)
Ordnance Survey Antiquity Model (1:2,500), P.A.S., SP 82 SW 3, (1973)
plan of motte (in SMR), Maitland, J P, (1925)
Plan of motte etc. (copy in SMR), Maitland, J P & Gurd, R, (1925)


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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