Desborough 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.

Buckinghamshire (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SU 84682 93335, SU 84784 93251

Reasons for Designation

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60 with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular significance to our understanding of the period.

Bowl barrows, the most numerous form of round barrow, are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. Desborough Castle earthworks survive in good condition and represent an excellent example of a complex site which has been occupied over a long period of time. Though the main enclosure is regarded as a medieval ringwork the occupation of the site is of a longer duration. There is evidence for a continuation of occupation forwards from the Late Bronze Age through to the medieval period with the survival of important archaeological material relating to the occupation of the site throughout. The surrounding earlier hillfort and possible bowl barrow add to this potential, allowing the study of cultural and land use change over a considerable period of time.


The monument, which is divided into two areas of protection, includes Desborough Castle, a medieval ringwork popularly known as The Roundabout, an outer enclosure of earlier date and the probable remains of a round barrow. Desborough Castle ringwork, believed to be the site of the castle at West Wycombe first mentioned in 1210-11, is situated at the north eastern end of a prominent spur overlooking the valley of the River Wye. The earthwork remains comprise a sub-rectangular enclosure, approximately 0.5ha in area, terraced into the hillslope to create a level flat interior. The defences include an outer ditch 2.6m deep around the upslope south west side, becoming shallower around the downslope north east side where it is reduced to an average depth of 1.6m. The inner rampart is similarly more massive around the south west, reaching a height from the ditch bottom of 3.6m, again becoming slighter around the north at only 2.9m. The interior slope of this rampart reaches 2.7m around the south and only 0.3m around the north. The effect of this has been to create a strong protective hood around the upper south side where the site is to some extent overlooked by the rising hillslope, while allowing a commanding view to the north. A simple causewayed entrance is situated in the south east at the natural change of slope. The earthwork thus created is a large platform protected on its upper side by a strong rampart and open on its downhill side where it overlooks and dominates the Wye Valley. There are reports of foundations in the interior of the site visible in the 1950s and finds of medieval roofing tile from the south east quarter of the monument, indicating the existence of a substantial building in the medieval period. Other finds include both Roman and medieval pottery. Excavations to the south of the entrance in 1987 demonstrated the existence of a horn-work defending the eastern approach to the entrance; this was dated as early medieval from 12th century pottery found in association. Around the north and west sides of the castle site are the remains of a second earthwork comprising a spread rampart some 10m wide surviving mainly as a substantial outer scarp up to 1.5m high, the inner slope reduced to a slight ground rise 0.3m high. Around the north west corner for some 40m there are traces of a vestigial ditch 5m wide and 0.2m deep. The earthwork runs on a series of short straight sections, in an arc around the north of the main enclosure and at a distance of between 30m and 70m; the southern continuation is now lost in a housing estate. It could represent the remains of an associated bailey; however its form suggests that it is of an earlier date than the main ringwork enclosure and that it probably represents the remains of a slight univallate hillfort of a style belonging to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age; there is however no dating evidence to support this identification. In addition to the two enclosures there is a third feature situated on the west side of the ringwork. The remains comprise a segment of a probably once circular mound which has been cut through by the construction of the ringwork ditch. Some 24m across and 0.7m high, it is believed to represent the surviving portion of a bowl barrow.

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
Winchester Pipe Role
Collard, MA, South Midland Archaeology, (1988)
Langley, T, The History and Antiquities of the Hundred of Desborough, (1797)
Card no 0018, Ref 13 Watts,
NAR (SU 89 SW 2),


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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