Moat at the Old Rectory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Downham Road, Watlington, Norfolk


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Statutory Address:
Downham Road, Watlington, Norfolk

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

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


Medieval or Tudor moated site including platform, ditches and banks.

Reasons for Designation

The medieval or Tudor moated site including platform, ditches and banks, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: the major elements of the moated manorial complex survive well, with a defined and relatively undisturbed platform, one water-filled and two buried arms of the moat, and it is a good example of its type; * Potential: there is good evidence for the survival of significant archaeological deposits including waterlogged organic material which provide the potential to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the manorial complex and the wider landscape in which it functioned; * Group value: it has strong group value with the Grade II listed Old Rectory which is located within the moated enclosure. It is possible that the origins of the Old Rectory are contemporary with the creation of the moat which is relatively rare as in most instances the original building has been replaced. This historic association provides important evidence for the relationship between the building and the moat, the evolution of the site, and its place within the locality over several centuries.


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. Although moat construction began at a time of great insecurity, it is unlikely that defence was a major consideration. It is generally agreed that fashion, influenced by the defensive moats that surrounded the castles of the seigniorial class, was the main stimulus behind moat digging carried out first by the manorial classes and later by the yeomanry. Moats had a variety of purposes, including demarcating space, acting as a symbol of prestige, providing fish ponds, security, animal management, or a combination of these.

Moated sites range in date from the mid to late C12 and continued into the early C16. 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. Moated sites were built throughout the medieval period however, and are widely scattered throughout England. They also exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. The island or platform around which a moat ran often contained the medieval manor house, although where buildings exist today on platforms they are rarely the earliest to have stood on that site. Many buildings on moated sites date from the C17 to the C20, and often these buildings completely replace earlier ones, although it is not uncommon for later buildings to mask within them parts of earlier buildings. On, and adjacent to, moated sites there are often earthworks and features such as earthen banks, fishponds and other water systems. Many of these features have virtually disappeared because of levelling or infilling and, as a result, knowledge of them is limited.

Moats 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 two potential sources of evidence for the dating of the cutting of moats are documents and excavation. The most common medieval building for which archaeological evidence is found on a moated platform is the manor house or hall, varying from a simple rudimentary structure to a much more elaborate building. Excavation has shown that all buildings are likely to have changed in form and/or function during their various phases of use and occupation.

About 800 medieval moated sites exist or are known to have existed in Norfolk. Many of them surrounded manor houses; and rectories and vicarages enclosed by moats are quite common. The moat in Watlington has not been excavated but it is likely to be of medieval or Tudor origin. Research carried out by former owners in the County Archives discovered documentation dating the moat to the ‘13th year of the first Queen Elizabeth’, ie, 1571. There is documentary evidence for a rectory on the site from the mid-C16, and the current building retains a timber-framed core of approximately this date, as well as Tudor brickwork, although it was extensively rebuilt in the C18. In White’s History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk (1845), Watlington is described as ‘a neat village of detached houses, 6 miles S. by W. of Lynn, in the fertile marshes on the east side of the Great Ouse river, about a mile E. of the bridge at Wiggenhall St. Mary Magdalen. Its parish contains 502 inhabitants, and 1,633 acres of land, mostly the property of Chas. Berners Plestow, Esq. The rectory, valued in the King's Book at £41 15s. 8d., is in the gift of C.B. Plestow, Esq., and incumbency of the Rev. Edw. Cobbold.’

The earliest available map is the Watlington Tithe map of c1840 which shows a three-sided moat with the southern arm missing. It is not known whether this had already been filled in by this date or if it reflects the original form of the moat. Moats vary in their size and shape, and the shape that a moat has today may well be different from that which it had originally. It might have changed its shape a number of times over the centuries as a result of infilling and recutting, and a three-sided moat could originally have had four sides. There is no evidence of a southern arm on the ground but the construction of a carriage circle in this area may have obscured any evidence. The map depicts the rectory at the northern end of the platform with an outbuilding to the west. The first edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1885 shows the northern and western arms but only the central section of the eastern arm. A carriage circle occupies the centre of the platform. By the second edition OS map of 1905 only the northern and western arms are depicted. The 1966 OS map still shows the western arm but this was subsequently filled in during the 1970s.


Medieval or Tudor moated site including platform, ditches and banks.

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the monument includes a medieval or Tudor moated complex which survives as a series of earthworks and buried deposits.

DESCRIPTION: the moated platform is approximately square in plan although slightly wider across the northern side. The surface of the platform is of the same height as the land outside the moat. Only the northern arm of the moat remains as a water-filled ditch, some 80m long, 6m wide and 1.5m deep, which is fringed with trees and shrubs. At the far eastern end it is spanned by a small, slim brick arch with a keyed semicircular opening and square buttresses. The arch is filled with iron spikes with finials.

The infilled western arm is grassed over and bordered on the west side by a low brick wall surmounted by railings, alongside Downham Road. The eastern arm of the moat is visible as a linear earthwork in the form of a wide, very shallow gully measuring around 8m in width, becoming slightly narrower towards the southern end. A cluster of bamboos grows towards the northern end. There is no discernible earthwork to indicate a southern arm of the moat.

On the northern half of the platform stands the Grade II listed Old Rectory, a Georgian building with an earlier timber-framed core of probable C16 date. A carriage circle is situated in front of the house (to the south) and the rest of the platform is used as a garden.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: the area of protection includes the complete, approximately square shape of the moat and includes a 2m buffer zone. It excludes all the standing buildings, including the Old Rectory and its outbuildings. Also excluded are all modern road surfaces and any walls or fences that fall within the site.


Books and journals
Ashwin, T, Davison, A, An Historical Atlas of Norfolk, (2005)
Wilson, D, Moated Sites, (1985)
William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk (1845)


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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