Moated site and manorial earthworks at Middleton Towers


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018647

Date first listed: 21-Jan-1999


Ordnance survey map of Moated site and manorial earthworks at Middleton Towers
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)

Parish: Middleton

National Grid Reference: TF 66983 17523


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

Reasons for Designation

Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches, often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

The moated site and manorial earthworks at Middleton Towers are a very good example of a high status medieval manorial complex. The moat and central island will contain archaeological information concerning the origins and development of the manor house, including not only the construction and use of an important 15th century house and associated buildings but also that of earlier buildings which probably underlie these. The earthworks around and to the east of the moat display various features which illustrate the organization and functioning of the domestic economy of the manor, in which fishponds and the dovecote would have figured prominently.

Systems of fishponds were often constructed during the medieval period near manors and monasteries for the purpose of breeding and storing fish to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food, and the earthworks and the buried deposits within and between the remains of the ponds to the east of the moat will retain information relating to the design and operation of the system.

During the medieval period pigeons were a valuable source of both meat and manure, and the building of large, free standing dovecotes in order to breed them and ensure a regular supply of these commodities was originally a privilege confined to the manorial classes. Surviving examples dating from this period are therefore generally associated with castles, monasteries, manor houses and manor farms. The majority of those constructed before 1400 were circular in plan, although rectangular dovecotes became increasingly common from late medieval times onward. Buried deposits on the rectangular ditched platform are likely to retain evidence for the date, construction and use of such a building, and the possibility that the adjacent, sub-circular platform contains evidence for an earlier dovecote is of additional additional interest.

The monument also has historical interest because of its association with several important families of the the period.


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


The monument includes the moated site of Scales Hall manor house and adjacent earthworks relating to the manor. It is located approximately 1.6km NNE of St Mary's Church and the centre of the village of Middleton, on low-lying, almost level ground near the foot of a north facing valley slope and to the east of the site of Middleton Common. Immediately to the east of the moat are the earthwork remains of the manorial fishponds and associated water management features. Both moat and fishponds are contained within a larger earthwork enclosure. To the north east of the fishponds and immediately beyond the eastern boundary of the larger enclosure is the site of what was probably a dovecote, and around and to the east of these is a series of rectilinear ditched enclosures.

The moat, which contains water and is between 10m and 16m in width, surrounds a rectangular central island measuring approximately 74m east-west by 40m north-south. The outer edge of the moat slopes down to the water, but the inner edge is vertical and revetted with a wall of local carrstone (coarse brown sandstone) which is probably medieval in origin, although with 19th century and later reconstruction and repairs. On the south side of the central island, rising directly above the moat, is a large, three storey gatehouse with polygonal corner turrets. This is constructed of brick with stone dressings and formed part of a house thought to have been begun by Thomas, seventh Lord Scales, who died in 1460, although the work was probably continued by his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law, Sir Anthony Woodeville. By the 18th century the site was derelict and very little of the 15th century house remained, other than the gatehouse itself. Prints of drawings made in the 18th and early 19th century show the gatehouse still standing to full height, though roofless, with the fragmentary, ruined walls of a south range to the west of it. The property was bought in 1856 by Sir Lewis Whincop Jarvis who, between 1864 and 1876, restored the gatehouse and built a new south range to the west of it. The gatehouse itself and the later parts of the house, which are Listed grade I, together with the revetting wall below these structures, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. Worked stone and fallen masonry from the late medieval building were taken around 1870 for the construction of rockeries at Sandringham House, then being built for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. A west wing was added at Middleton Towers by the Ramsden family in 1905. On the west side of the gatehouse, projecting from the south eastern turret, can be seen the stub of a medieval brick wall which probably enclosed the courtyard of the 15th century house on that side. Another fragment of walling, which perhaps formed part of the north eastern angle of a medieval west range, stands on the north side of the island, near its western end and opposite the northern end of the 20th century range. It is built of mortared carrstone rubble faced with brick of medieval type, and includes the jamb and the springing of the arch of an opening on the east side. This fragment and the stub of medieval walling to the east of the gatehouse are included in the scheduling, as is the revetting wall on the north and east sides of the central island and on the south side to the east of the gatehouse.

The moat is situated in the northern half of the outer enclosure, which is quadrilateral in plan and has maximum overall dimensions of 225m east-west by 120m north-south at the western end and 175m at the eastern end. This larger enclosure is bounded by an earthen bank up to 1m in height, most clearly defined on the west side and where it borders the outer edge of the moat on the north side. An outer ditch alongside the bank is visible on the east and west sides and around the north eastern corner as a slight linear hollow approximately 0.4m in depth, and probably survives as a buried feature elsewhere. Within the north eastern angle of the outer enclosure, some 16m to the east of the moat, are two fishponds. The northern pond is visible as a well defined rectangular hollow 0.7m deep and measuring 40m east-west by 10m north-south. The second pond, 7m to the south of the first and separated from it by a low bank, is also rectilinear and is between 6m and 8m wide, surrounding the north, east and south sides of a rectangular island which measures 16m east-west by 7m, with a narrower connecting channel on the west side. The two ponds are linked at their western ends by the remains of a short channel which probably contained a sluice to control the flow of water between them. A largely infilled channel which formed part of the system used to fill and drain them is visible as a shallow, linear hollow leading southward from the south west corner of the southern pond.

To the north east of the ponds, immediately beyond the eastern boundary of the outer enclosure, is a flat topped rectangular raised platform measuring 12m north-south by 10m east-west and up to 1m in height, surrounded by a slight ditch. Aerial photographs taken before 1980 show evidence of rectilinear features on the platform which are no longer apparent although, more recently, surface disturbance exposed brick foundations of a substantial rectangular building which is likely to have been the dovecote. Dovecotes were a common feature of manorial domestic complexes, and the location, within sight of the house and close to the ponds, which would also have provided drinking water for the doves, is characteristic of these structures. To the north of the platform is a sub-circular mound of similar height with a maximum diameter east-west of approximately 18m, surrounded by slight remains of a ditch which is perhaps the site of an earlier, circular dovecote. These features lie within a rectangular ditched enclosure about 180m long north-south by 40m, to the south and east of which are a further series of contiguous, mostly rectangular enclosures of varying size defined by interconnecting ditches and aligned parallel to the eastern boundary of the outer enclosure around the moat. They run back from a lane which runs east west along the southern side of the site and formerly continued south eastwards to what was once a small common. The enclosures are thought to be of medieval date and to be for the most part the yards and closes of the manor. The surface of the interior of two enclosures situated on rising ground on the eastern side of the complex is more uneven than the rest, and these may represent a toft (small homestead enclosure) with an associated close to the rear. The possible toft, which fronts onto the lane, measures 38m north-south and the larger enclosure adjoining it to the north is 82m in length, both being about 42m in width internally.

The manor was originally part of the fief of the de Montforts and was held of them by the de Lisewis family. During the reign of Henry II (1158-1189) it passed to Roger de Scales, probably through his wife Muriel who, according to the 18th century historian Blomefield, was the daughter and co-heir of Jeffery de Lisewis. The lordship remained with the de Scales family until the death of Thomas, seventh Lord Scales, who was prominent in the French wars and was killed in 1460 while attempting to escape from the Tower of London, following the defeat of the King at the battle of Northampton. His daughter and heir Elizabeth was married to Anthony Woodeville, Earl Rivers, brother of Elizabeth Woodeville who married King Edward IV. Elizabeth died without issue in 1473 and Anthony Woodeville was arrested and executed in 1483 by order of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The manor was then granted to John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who was killed at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, following which it passed to Elizabeth, daughter of John Howard and wife of John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Subsequently it passed through the female line into the Cecil and Wingfield families and was sold in 1622 to Sir Thomas Holland.

In addition to the gatehouse and later additions already described, all associated sheds and outbuildings, including a summer house at the north eastern corner of the moated island are excluded from the scheduling, together with the 19th century bridge in front of the gatehouse, timber bridges across the western arm of the moat, modern posts and timbers retaining the outer edge of the moat at water level, a modern outlet sluice at the north west corner of the moat, a fountain and basin in the garden to the south of the moat, the surfaces of all modern yards, paths and driveways, fowl pens, modern ornamental dovecotes on posts, inspection chambers, two installations relating to the gas supply and situated to the east of the moat, and all modern garden and field fences and gates, although the ground beneath all 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: 30552

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Blomefield, F, An Essay towards a Topographical History of Norfolk , (1808), 20-27
Steer, F W, Middleton Tower, Norfolk: A Guide and Short History, (1961)
Barclay, T, (1998)
Cushion, B, Middleton Towers: SMR 3393 and 3395, (1995)
NAU, TF 6717/B, (1978)
NAU, TF 6717/H, (1977)
Title: Enclosure Award map Middleton Source Date: 1814 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO ref C/Sca 2/200
Title: Tithe Award Map Middleton Source Date: 1839 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO ref PD 640/15

End of official listing