Motte castle in Exeter Wood, 780m south east of Wood Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Motte castle in Exeter Wood, 780m south east of Wood Farm
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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This copy shows the entry on 16-Oct-2019 at 23:25:26.


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

Bedford (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 10020 44230

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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.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 motte castle in Exeter Wood is a well preserved example of this class of monument. The mound will retain buried evidence for the structure which stood upon it and the silts within the surrounding ditch will contain both artefacts and environmental evidence from the limited period of occupation. The old ground surface buried beneath the motte is also of considerable significance as it may retain evidence of former land use elsewhere degraded by more recent cultivation and forestry. The commanding position of the castle emphasises its military purpose and, when this monument is considered alongside other contemporary fortifications in the area such as at Ampthill, Bedford, Biggleswade, Renhold and Old Warden, the resulting pattern provides a valuable insight into the nature of politics, warfare and social order in the period after the Norman invasion.


The monument includes a small medieval motte castle located 780m south east of Wood Farm, on the northern edge of the Greensand Ridge overlooking Cardington, Bedford and the broad flood plain of the River Ouse.

The castle stands on a broad terrace below the summit of the ridge, and was formed by the excavation of a wide ditch around a central mound, or motte, raised from the upcast soil. The motte, which is circular in plan, measures about 20m in diameter. It stands approximately 1.8m above the level of its surroundings and the surface, which would originally have supported a timber tower, has a slightly domed profile. The surrounding ditch measures approximately 4.5m in width and 1.4m in depth (to the level of the accumulated silts in the base), and a low counterscarp bank surrounds the outer edge. In the absence of a causeway spanning the ditch, access to the motte is believed to have been provided by a timber bridge.

The castle is thought to have been constructed in the late 11th or 12th century, either as part of the consolidation of the countryside after the Norman invasion, or as a matter of local defence during the period of sporadic civil war between Stephen and Matilda (1134-1148). At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) the site of the castle lay within lands belonging to the manor of Cardington, and remained the property of the de Beauchamp family (under the barony of Bedford) until 1265, when the manor was divided following the death of John de Beauchamp at the battle of Evesham.

All fences and fenceposts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire235-6
Dyer, J, 'Bedfordshire Magazine' in Bedfordshire's Earthworks IX, , Vol. 8, (1963), 345
Gazetteer (Beds Arch Soc), Bedfordshire Sites and Monuments - a preliminary survey, (1972)
Site visit notes, Wood, J, Exeter Wood (PRN 9263), (1982)


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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