Bishop of Winchester's Palace, 90m east of St Mary's Church


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018654

Date first listed: 19-Sep-1984

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Nov-1998


Ordnance survey map of Bishop of Winchester's Palace, 90m east of St Mary's Church
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Oxfordshire

District: West Oxfordshire (District Authority)

Parish: Witney

National Grid Reference: SP 35708 09262


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

Reasons for Designation

Bishops' palaces were high status domestic residences providing luxury accommodation for the bishops and lodgings for their large retinues; although some were little more than country houses, others were the setting for great works of architecture and displays of decoration. Bishops' palaces were usually set within an enclosure, sometimes moated, containing a range of buildings, often of stone, including a hall or halls, chapels, lodgings and a gatehouse, often arranged around a courtyard or courtyards. The earliest recorded examples date to the seventh century. Many were occupied throughout the medieval period and some continued in use into the post- medieval period; a few remain occupied today. Only some 150 bishops' palaces have been identified and documentary sources confirm that they were widely dispersed throughout England. All positively identified examples are considered to be nationally important.

The Bishop of Winchester's Palace at Witney has been shown by part excavation to survive as buried remains over the majority of its original extent and is known to contain deeply stratified deposits containing a complete archaeological sequence from the early 12th century up to the present. In addition, the monument is unusual in having a well documented contemporary association with the leading magnate of an important period in English history. It also forms the focus of a group of associated contemporary monuments which shaped the town of Witney and the surrounding settlement pattern throughout the medieval period and beyond. The site will, in association with future work in the town, provide important evidence of the function of such sites in the medieval period and how they were related both socially and economically to the life of the adjacent town. The monument is now partly open to the public for display and forms an important local educational amenity in association with the contemporary Cogges manor, now run as a museum.


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


The monument includes the known surviving extent of the moated palace of the Bishop of Winchester. It is situated 90m east of St Mary's Church and close to the west bank of the River Windrush at the point where the river emerges into the open from its Cotswold valley. The palace lies at the southern end of an open green which provided the economic centre of the market town which grew up as part of the deliberate development of the large and wealthy Witney estate, at the expense of the nearby secular manor of Cogges, situated on the opposite side of the river, and the subject of a separate scheduling. The Bishop's Palace was built in the early 12th century, and much is known of its plan and history from extensive documentary records and an exploratory excavation of part of the site in 1984. The remains include a roughly square, walled and moated enclosure within which stood a series of buildings including a very substantial solar tower and hall which also acted as a defensible keep. Other structures included a chapel, stables, kitchens, latrines, workshops, storage, additional accommodation and a defensible gatehouse. The moat survives as a buried feature on its western and northern sides enclosing an area approximately 116m from north to south by 84m from east to west widening to 114m at the northern end. The moat measured 12m across and more than 3m deep. A substantial gatehouse was located at the centre of the northern side facing the green. This gatehouse was a large square structure of two storeys or more with arrow slits and a solid gate facing a stone piered bridge. The Bishop of Winchester was first granted the estate by Queen Emma in 1044. Prior to this, the estate was owned by the Crown according to a charter of 969 when a settlement (modern Witney), built by `Witta' on an island in the River Windrush, was recorded. The evidence provided by excavation supports the documented date at which the site was obtained by the Bishop of Winchester, and evidence from further building phases indicates that the dispute between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, with its associated threat to security was the impetus for the building of this strong palace. In 1129 Henry of Blois, Stephen's brother, was made Bishop of Winchester, and in 1137 he ordered the building of six `castles' on his extensive estates. Although Witney was probably begun by the previous bishop, William Gifford, it appears that the rapid second and third phases of more substantial stone structures and the moat was part of Henry's plan to secure his estates against bandits and rebels. The result was a formidable but luxurious example of the best of building technology of its period. The palace would have overshadowed the town of Witney demonstrating the wealth, power and strength of the bishop and deterring those hoping to take advantage of the political situation. Excluded from the scheduling are The Mount House, the modern bungalow to the south west, the supports for the canopy over the exposed part of the monument, all sign posts, path surfaces, boundary walls and other modern built structures, 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.

Legacy System number: 21834

Legacy System: RSM


DURHAM, B., Witney Palace: Excavations at Mount House, Witney in 1984, 1984, O.A.U. Excavation report
Hyde, P, The Winchester Manors of Witney and Addersbury, Oxfordshire, 1954, OXFORD B. LITT. THESIS d-473
PRN 4383, C.A.O., Bishop's Palace, Witney, (1984)

End of official listing