Burgh Castle, Norfolk..

Burgh Castle just outside of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk is the site of a Roman fort that was later reused as, potentially, a Saxon monastery and then as a motte and bailey castle after the Norman invasion.

Originally built as one of a series of shore forts by the Romans to protect the east and south east of England, Burgh Castle’s walls were built around the year 300 and still stand to virtually to their original height, though some of the wall that did surround the site has now vanished due to erosion on the west side. Bastions were built along the wall and at the corners of the wall to improve its strength.

Between the years 630 and 900 AD it is possible that the site of Burgh Castle could have been used as a Anglo-Saxon monastery. During archaeological excavations in the 1950s and the 1960s, 160 burials and timber buildings were discovered. This monastery has been associated with St Fursey, though it is also possible that the nearby Roman fort at Caister was in fact the site of this monastery.

Following the Norman invasion of 1066 a small wooden castle was built at Burgh Castle making use of the earlier substantial Roman fortifications. In the south-west corner of the fort at Burgh Castle the Normans built a motte upon which a wooden keep or tower would have stood. The Normans also made other alterations to the Roman fort such as cutting a gap into the south wall in order to accommodate a ditch or moat to protect the castle.

There has been some later damage to the motte and fortifications due to modifications in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Access to Burgh Castle is free during any reasonable hour.

Burgh Castle Wall and Bastion
Burgh Castle Wall and Bastion
Burgh Castle Wall
Burgh Castle Wall
Interior Burgh Castle
Interior Burgh Castle
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Great Canfield Castle, Essex…

Great Canfield Castle in Essex is a motte and bailey castle once likely owned by the De Veres, Earls of Oxford. The castle was recorded in the Domesday Books as being the property of Aubrey de Vere in 1086.

Located directly next to the village church in Great Canfield, the castle consists of a large motte that is heavily covered in trees. The motte has been estimated as being 48ft high and 280ft in diameter on its east-west axis.

To the south of the motte is a horseshoe-shaped bailey. Both the bailey and the motte are surrounded by moats that were fed from a nearby small stream and the River Roding. The moats are now  dry and some of the bailey moat has been destroyed by ploughing. Much of the bailey ramparts survive.

The castle at Great Canfield is most likely to have been of timber construction as there hasn’t been any masonry remnants found.

It has been suggested that Great Canfield is the site of a possible pre-conquest (pre-1066) castle, though it is more likely the castle at nearby Clavering is in fact this castle.

The castle is on private land and is not accessible. You can view the motte from the side of the road.

Great Canfield Castle Motte
Great Canfield Castle Motte

Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk…

Began soon after the Norman conquest by William I de Warenne, Castle Acre Castle is a fine example of a Norman motte and bailey fortress. What makes this castle particularly even more interesting is the neighbouring, still recognisable planned layout of the Norman town and the nearby ruins of the Cluniac priory.

William I de Warenne was one of the Norman barons that fought with William the Conqueror (William I) at the Battle of Hastings. After the conquest, William was rewarded with large landholdings in England for his service to King William. He chose Castle Acre as his administrative centre for his estates in East Anglia as it was fairly central to all of them.

When the castle was originally built, it didn’t conform to the standard motte and bailey configuration. What made it different was that it was a hybrid between a ringwork and a motte and bailey design. In the 1140s it was reconfigured to meet with the classic motte and bailey design.

In 1088, William I de Warenne was made Earl of Surrey for his loyalty to William Rufus (King William II of England). His tenure of Earl of Surrey was short lived, he was killed later in 1088 at the first siege of Pevensey Castle. He was succeeded by his son, William II de Warenne. It was during his earldom that the Cluniac priory at Castle Acre was began.

William II de Warenne was succeeded by his son, William III de Warenne, in 1138 during a period of civil war known as the Anarchy. As a result of the conflict, William III increased the height of the ramparts of the castle, surmounted them with stone walls and altered the design of what had been until then more of domestic hall or house on the motte to a classic Norman tower keep. It has also been suggested it was William III that was responsible for the planned layout for the Norman town and the defences that surrounded it which survive to this very day.

When William III was killed on crusade in 1148, he left no male heir and was succeeded by his daughter Isabel. Her two husbands would go on to be the 4th and 5th Earls of Surrey. Of her two husbands, the second, Hamelin Plantagenet, is particularly notable as he was the half-brother of King Henry II, of whom he was a strong supporter. It is most likely that he was the one that built the towns two gatehouses. It was also during Hamelin’s earldom that the tower keep was completed.

They castle at Castle Acre would continue in the family until 1558 by which time it was reported as being in a ruinous condition. After this the castle passed between several different owners and underwent no serious alterations or repairs.

Castle Acre Castle has a high motte, with two baileys, one large outer bailey to the south of the motte and one small bailey to the east. All of the earthworks are surrounded by ramparts surmounted by stone walls with ditches. The motte contains the remains of the keep which was originally a domestic hall or house.

Castle Acre Castle is now managed by English Heritage and access to the sight is free during reasonable hours.

Castle Acre Castle Moat and Motte
Castle Acre Castle Moat and Motte
Castle Acre Castle Keep and South Bailey
Castle Acre Castle Keep and South Bailey
Castle Acre Castle Keep
Castle Acre Castle Keep
Castle Acre Castle Gatehouse
Castle Acre Castle Gatehouse

Castle Camps Castle, Cambridgeshire..

After the Norman Conquest, William I (William the Conqueror) divided the lands of England up amongst his followers. Aubrey de Vere was given an estate that covered Castle Camps and Nosterfield and several other parishes in Cambridgeshire including Abingdon and Hildersham.

He chose the site at Castle Camps for his castle to function as the administrative centre of his Cambridgeshire estate as it lay half way between Cambridge and his caput (major centre) at Castle Hedingham. The castle would continue to be held by the de Vere family for over 500 years, apart from a couple of brief periods when it was confiscated by the Crown.

The castle was begun about the year 1100 and was of a motte and bailey design built of wood. The motte covers about two acres and is surrounded by a wet moat. Originally there was a small bailey to the north-west of the motte (in which the church now sits). It has been suggested a larger bailey was added to the castle in the late 13th Century.

The estate around the castle consisted of a deer park, fishery and windmill.

It seems around the year 1500 the castle no longer existed on the site in its original form and a house with a large brick tower was recorded as occupying the site of the castle. Several houses would later be built on the motte during different periods.

The castle motte has now been much lowered and is occupied by a farm. You can view the motte, moat and earthworks from a public footpath.

Castle Camps Castle Motte and Moat
Castle Camps Castle Motte and Moat

Carlisle Castle, Cumbria…

Carlisle Castle is located very near to the city centre of Carlisle. With a history spanning over 900 years, the castle has seen very many historic events. Built during the reign of William II (William the Conquerer’s son – 1087 – 1100), the castle occupies the site of a previous Roman fort.

Up until the reign of William II, Cumberland (now Cumbria) was considered to be part of Scotland. In the early 1090s, William drove the Scottish out of Cumberland and established English (Norman) control over the area by building fortifications, such as the castle at Carlisle.

Over the coming centuries the castle at Carlisle would change hands many times as the English and Scottish fought for control of Cumberland. The first recorded attempt of the Scottish trying to re-assert control came during the Anarchy.

The castle at Carlisle would have originally been built out of wood and was most likely a ringwork, but was later replaced in stone on the order of Henry I between 1122 and 1135, though there has been some debate if the castle was actually completed by King David I of Scotland when his forces retook the castle in 1135. The present stone keep on the site dates from this period.

Carlisle Castle was converted on the order of Herny VIII to accommodate artillery. In 1567, Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned at the castle for a number of months. The castle would go on to be besieged for eight months during the English Civil War (1640-1649) by Parliamentarian forces.

The effective military life of the castle came to an end in 1745 during the Second Jacobite Rising. The Scottish took the castle, leaving a garrison to man it. When the English forced the Scottish forces to retreat, they recaptured the castle and Carlisle and imprisoned or executed the Scottish garrison.

After 1746 the castle fell into a state of disrepair, though some minor repairs were made at the end of the 18th Century. After this, the Army took possession of the castle and used it up as a base for a regiment up until 1959, though some of the castle site is still used by the Army Reserve to this day.

The site the castle occupies is roughly 4 acres in extent, being roughly triangular in shape. The castle consists of a stone keep, outer and inner wards which are divided by a half-moon battery, breastwork and and inner ditch to provide an additional line of defence and large curtain walls.

The castle is now in public ownership and is managed by English Heritage. You can visit the castle by paying a small fee.

Carlisle Castle
Carlisle Castle
Carlisle Castle Keep
Carlisle Castle Keep

Mount Bures Castle, Essex…

There is some debate as to the origin of Mount Bures Castle in Essex. It has been suggested that the castle motte was originally a barrow that was adapted by the Normans as a motte and bailey castle, or that it was built by Roger of Poitou who had been given the manor of Mount Bures soon after the Norman conquest.

Additionally, the castle has been attributed to the civil war known as the Anarchy that occurred during the 12th Century between the forces of King Stephen and the Empress Matilda.

The motte at Mount Bures has been estimated to be 33 feet above the current ground level as recently as 1977, though in 1763 the motte was estimated to be 80ft in height. It is likely the motte has suffered significant subsidence over the centuries caused by burrowing animals. A fence has now been erected to prevent further damage to the motte,

A dry ditch surrounds the motte and it has been suggested that the bailey of the castle may have been on the site occupied currently by the parish church, though there is no evidence to support this from the 2011 excavations .

During the 2011 excavations no evidence was found on the summit of the motte to suggest any substantial buildings were ever present on it. Instead, it has been suggested that any building that was on the summit was likely to have been constructed out of wood and would have resembled a watchtower. There was little evidence to suggest that the castle was constantly inhabited.

Mount Bures Castle is located in the village of Mount Bures in Essex. Access to the motte at Mount Bures is free and the site is located directly next door to the village church.

Moat and Motte, Mount Bures Castle
Moat and Motte, Mount Bures Castle
Motte Mount Bures Castle
Motte Mount Bures Castle
Bottom of the Moat, Mount Bures Castle
Bottom of the Moat, Mount Bures Castle