Moated site and associated medieval remains 430m north of Church Farm


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


Ordnance survey map of Moated site and associated medieval remains 430m north of Church Farm
© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2020. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1018736.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 31-Mar-2020 at 09:27:22.


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

Wycombe (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 79603 01794

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 430m north of Church Farm is well-preserved and will contain significant archaeological information related to its construction in the medieval period, and for the long duration of occupation which is suggested by the extensive collection of documentary sources relating to the manors of the parish. The waterlogged silts within the ditch, especially those sealed within the infilled sections, will retain environmental evidence for the appearance of the landscape in which the moated site was set, and for the development of agricultural activity associated with the former manor. Evidence for structures on the island is known to survive in the form of buried foundations and other features. Artefacts such as those already found in association with these features, as well as those buried within the silts of the surrounding moat, will provide important evidence for the period of construction, the duration of occupation and the lifestyles of the former inhabitants.

The second manor of Saunderton, that of St Nicholas, probably stood quite close to the moated site, perhaps in the area of Church Farm House which is also known to have been largely encircled by water in the past. Although the site of this manor cannot be located with any certainty, there is evidence for the site of the dependant church and former route which may have formed the boundary between the two manorial demesnes. The pattern of settlement suggested by the archaeological and documentary evidence allows a valuable insight into the nature of medieval society and the ecclesiastical practices of the period. Such close proximity between two churches is considered unusual today, when a single church normally forms the focal point of the parish. The situation at Saunderton, however, is a clear reminder of the medieval system, under which most churches were founded, built and maintained through the personal acts of manorial lords, and intended mainly for the benefit of their families, retinues and estates. The situation at Saunderton is a more extreme example than most, and perhaps served as the expression of a long held (possibly pre-Conquest) division between the neighbouring manorial estates.


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of a medieval moated site, together with the buried remains of an adjacent medieval church and cemetery and a small section of an intervening hollow way. The complex is located in a sheltered hollow between two converging streams at the northern end of a broad valley in the Chiltern Hills, immediately to the south of the rather dispersed village of Saunderton.

The moated site lies approximately 100m to the south east of the parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas. It is roughly rectangular in plan. The island measures some 90m north west to south east by 60m transversely, and its surface is raised slightly above the level of its immediate surroundings. The material for the raised level doubtless came from the excavation of the surrounding ditch or moat - the north western and south eastern arms of which measure between 15m and 20m across and remain open to a depth of around 1.5m. The central section of the south western arm of the moat has been largely infilled since it was last recorded as open in 1908, although its position can still be traced from the line of the inner scarp. The north eastern arm incorporates the natural stream course which flows from a springhead some 200m to the south east. It is possible that rather than being defined by an artificial ditch, the island always overlooked a broad marshy area on this side.

Minor excavations took place on the island in association with farming operations between 1951 and 1953. These revealed the corner foundations of a building in the western quarter of the island, constructed with flint and mortar and including a massive sarsen quoin, which is still visible. A number of medieval artefacts were found in association with the foundations, including a 12th-13th century pottery sherd and the strap handle from a 14th century ceramic jug. Roman artefacts, including fragments of tile, plaster and high quality Samian pottery were also found in an adjacent part of the island, presumably relating to the Roman villa which is located a short distance away on the north side of the stream, and was partly excavated in the 1930s.

Two separate manors are recorded at Saunderton before the Norman Conquest, and these had passed into the possession of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and Miles Crispin by the time of the Domesday Book (1086). The manors came to be known as `Saunderton St Nicholas' and `Saunderton St Mary' after the dedications of their dependant churches, both of which were in existence prior to 1215. The names of the successive rectors of each church are recorded from 1276 to 1452. After this time the two manors became united under a single owner, John de Brecknock, and the advowsons of the two churches were similarly combined. William Tybard was appointed sole rector for the parish in about 1455, and continued services in the St Mary's Church (now St Mary and St Nicholas) whilst allowing St Nicholas' to fall into disuse and ruin. The combined manor was conveyed to Sir John Lynham around 1479 and later passed through the hands of the Donne and Lee families before being acquired by Sir Richard Dormer in 1593. The Dormer family held principal residences at Wing (Buckinghamshire) and elsewhere, and the manors of Saunderton dwindled in importance and gradually disappeared altogether from the historical record.

The moated site to the south east of St Mary and St Nicholas (formerly St Mary's) Church is thought to represent the site of the manor of Saunderton St Mary, which was held by the de Saunderton family from the mid-12th century to the mid-15th century (Isabella Saunderton is depicted on a mid-15th century brass in the church).

The precise location of the manor of Saunderton St Nicholas remains a mystery, although the Church of St Nicholas is believed to have stood only a short distance to the west of the moated site on the opposite side of the lane leading to Church Farm Cottage. This lane is now a cul-de-sac, although up until the mid-19th century it formed part of a route extending down the valley to the south. The route can still be detected as a slight declivity and variation in crop growth running through cultivated fields to the point where the route appears to have been supplanted by the railway, and a sample of this is included in the scheduling. In 1807 `old foundations' and numerous human remains were unearthed in a garden belonging to Church Farm Cottage (then a small public house), and in the mid-19th century a stone coffin containing two skeletons was discovered in much the same area. More recently, in 1948, six burials were exhumed during the preparation of celery beds in the small lozenge-shaped garden directly opposite Church Farm Cottage, the surface of which is raised nearly 1m above its surroundings. This raised aspect is typical of the `graveyard effect', caused by repeated burial in a confined space, and points to the location of St Nicholas' cemetery as well as the probable location of buried traces of the church itself.

Examining the site in 1908, the antiquarian A Hadrian Allcroft thought he could detect traces of a circular mound between the moated site and the present churchyard. This he interpreted as evidence for a motte castle at Saunderton: a military phase predating the establishment of the more domestic manor. The mound can no longer be seen due to the dumping of dredged material in the 1940s, and Allcroft's interpretation of the earthwork may be somewhat fanciful. There can be little doubt, however, that some related feature now lies buried alongside the northern arm of the moat, and a sample of this area is included in the scheduling.

All fences, fenceposts, gates and standing structures 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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County, (1912), 92-95
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 476
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 476-7
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 476-7
Head, J F, Early Man in South Buckinghamshire, (1955), 114-5
Lipscomb, G, History and Antiquities of Buckinghamshire, (1847), 625-27
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1912), 93-4
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 909-910
Ashcroft, D, 'Records of Bucks' in Saunderton Villa, , Vol. 13, (1939), 399-419
Branigan, K, 'Records of Bucks' in The Romano-British villa at Saunderton reconsidered, , Vol. 18, (1969), 261-75
Kelke, W H, 'Records of Bucks' in Desecrated Churches in Buckinghamshire, , Vol. 3, (1865), 124-5
0367 Bledlow-cum-Saunderton, (1986)
Discussions with owner/occupier, Messer, C, (1998)
Information from local farmer, Messer, C, The Old Road to Saunderton, (1998)
Notebooks and photos in SMR files, Head, J, 0367: Settlement Features, South of Saunderton Parish Church,
Notebooks, letters and photos in SMR, Head, J, CAS file 0367,
occupier's recollection of dredging, Messer, C, (1998)
Ordnance Survey Surveyors card (in SMR), JRL, SP 70 SE 21, (1974)
Records of Pavry's discoveries, Farley, M, 0366: Settlement Features, South of Saunderton Parish Church, (1973)
Unsourced newpaper clipping c.1948, 0367,


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

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].