Merdon Castle


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.

Winchester (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 42062 26461

Reasons for Designation

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes, generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth - fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few examples. Internal features included timber or stone round houses; large storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. Slight univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally. Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans and built from the 11th to the 13th centuries. They acted as strongholds, garrison forts, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and centres of local or royal adminstration. Motte and bailey castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality. As a result, they are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape, with over 600 examples recorded nationally. As one of a restricted range of early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. The slight univallate hillfort and motte and bailey castle at Merdon Castle survives well, and geophysical survey has shown that the monument retains archaeological remains relating to its multiple episodes of use. Further archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the original construction of the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed can also be expected to survive.


The monument includes a substantial motte and bailey castle constructed within the ramparts of an earlier slight univallate hillfort on a prominent, south facing chalk spur near the village of Hursley. The hillfort is of probable Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age date (eighth to fifth centuries BC). The later castle was built by Henry de Blois, the Bishop of Winchester between 1129 and 1138, although there is tentative documentary evidence to suggest that it may originally have been the site of a Saxon defended manorial residence dating from the eighth century. It was partly demolished in 1155 on the accession of Henry II but was used as a bishop's palace until at least the 14th century. The polygonal hillfort defences enclose an area of approximately 3.7ha within a single rampart and outer ditch which are reinforced across the neck of the spur by a slight counterscarp bank. They have been modified or augmented around much of the circumference by the later construction of the motte and bailey defences, but are best preserved to the north east where the rampart stands 2m above the interior and 4m above the outer ditch. They have been further disturbed to the south by modern ploughing, but here there is evidence either of an earlier phase of construction or an attached enclosure, represented by a semicircular section of bank extending from the south eastern defences. There is no clear trace of an original entrance, although there is a slight out-turning and overlapping of the ramparts on the western side, indicating a possible hornwork. The later castle fits tightly within the hillfort defences and includes a massive rampart and correspondingly large outer ditch which encompass an oval shaped motte and a semicircular bailey to the south. They are most substantial around the motte, where the rampart stands up to 5m above the interior and 12m above the ditch. Here the rampart is capped to the east by a number of subrectangular platforms and mounds and, to the west, is terraced into the interior and partially revetted by two lengths of flint walling standing up to 3m high. The bailey's defences are comparatively simple, but are only slightly less substantial. The castle's ramparts have been disturbed between the motte and the bailey by the construction of a modern farm track across the monument. The interior of the motte stands some 2m-3m higher than the bailey and includes the remains of a flint lined well and a substantial, two storeyed flint and stone rubble tower situated within a break in the rampart on the northern side. It has an archway facing the ditch and appears to form a gatehouse, although its use as an entrance is flawed by the absence of an approach through the hillfort rampart opposite, which has been bolstered by a series of earthen buttresses. A more definite entrance is formed by a simple gap in the rampart on the south side of the bailey. A geophysical survey of the monument in 1994 indicated the presence of the buried foundations of walls and buildings within the castle, particularly within the motte where a polygonal arrangement of buildings around an inner courtyard is indicated. Some of these buildings, however, may relate to the castle's later use as a bishop's palace for which there is documentary evidence of substantial structures within the motte, including a bishop's chamber, chapel and hall, and of wooden structures within the bailey, including stables and other farm buildings. Further buried remains associated with the earlier use of the monument as a hillfort, including traces of round houses, granaries and pits, can also be expected to survive. The use of the monument during the medieval and post-medieval period is also indicated by a series of hollow ways and banks to the north west which are depicted in a map of 1588 as forming part of an old road curving around the northern side of the castle. There are also documentary records of the site as the location of a medieval village, although there is no visible archaeological evidence to support this. Later, more recent use of the monument as a military camp during World War I and World War II is represented by a comprehensive series of earthworks and building foundations situated between the castle and hillfort ramparts to the south east and west. The modern fence posts, water pipes and fittings situated on the monument 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
Cole, M, Merdon Castle, Hurlsey, Hampshire. Report on geophysical survey, (1994)
Cole, M, Merdon Castle, Hurlsey, Hampshire. Report on geophysical survey, (1994)
Donachie, JD, Merdon Castle, Hursley, Hampshire: An earthwork survey, (1994)
Williams-Freeman, JP, Introduction to field archaeology as illustrated by Hampshire, (1915), 255-8
Hughes, M, 'Landscape Archaeology' in Hampshire castles, (1989), 31-32
Hughes, M, 'Landscape Archaeology' in Hampshire castles, (1989), 36
Roberts, E, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in The Bishop of Winchester's deer parks in Hampshire, 1200-1400, , Vol. 44, (1988), 76
Roberts, E, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in The Bishop of Winchester's deer parks in Hampshire, 1200-1400, , Vol. 44, (1988), 76
Roberts, E, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in The Bishop of Winchester's deer parks in Hampshire, 1200-1400, , Vol. 44, (1988), 76
Sheail, J, 'Deserted medieval village studies' in County gazetteer of deserted medieval villages (known in 1968), (1971), 188


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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