Longthorpe Tower, Cambridgeshire…

Longthorpe Tower is located in the Longthorpe suburb of Peterborough. Built around 1290 – 1300, the tower was added to a house already in existence on the orders of Robert Thorpe. The buildings consisted of the tower, the cross-wing which was two storeys tall, the great hall, and the service rooms and kitchen.

Built for symbolic and as well for defensive purposes, the tower has three floors, each with their own use. The tower is accessed by a set of wooden stairs and a doorway that would have originally been a window on the first floor. With the original entrance to the tower being blocked up. This first floor also contains one of the finest sets of medieval wall paintings in northern Europe.

Today, the tower is managed by English Heritage, check for opening times.

Longthorpe Tower
Longthorpe Tower
Longthorpe Tower Painting
Longthorpe Tower Painting
Longthorpe Tower Painting
Longthorpe Tower Painting
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Booth’s Hill, Cambridgeshire…

Booth’s Hill in the fen-land market town of Ramsey is a small motte and bailey castle that is believed to have been constructed on the orders of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex during the Anarchy, probably between 1140-1144. During this period Geoffrey took possession of the abbey and billited his soldiers there.

Situated south of Ramsey Abbey, the bailey of the castle measures 95 metres long by 37 metres wide but has now in part been built on. The motte rises five metres above the bottom of its moat. Though, this may not be the original height of the motte as it has been adapted to contain an ice house in later centuries.

In 1144, Geoffrey de Mandeville died from injuries sustained during an attack on Burwell Castle. After his death, Geoffrey’s forces retreated from Booth’s Hill and established a new base of operations at nearby Woodwalton Castle, led by Geoffrey’s illegitimate son, Ernald de Mandeville.

Today, Booth’s Hill is on private land but can be seen from the public footpath that runs alongside.
Booth's Hill, Ramsey

Booth’s Hill, Ramsey

The Round Moat, Cambridgeshire…

The Round Moat in the Cambridgeshire village of Fowlmere is a fine example of the many medieval moated enclosures that can be found in England. It has been suggested that The Round Moat dates from the late Anglo-Saxon period and is very similar in design to the Anglo-Saxon fortified enclosure at Goltho in Lincolnshire.

The enclosure at Fowlmere consists of a large platform, surrounded by an earth bank and a ditch. The earth bank would have been surmounted by a timber palisade in order to provide a defensible enclosure. Today, the bank is somewhat dunuded and rises to a height of 2 metres at its highest. The ditch that surrounds the plaform has silted up somewhat so that now at its greatest depth is 1.5 metres in depth, whereas it would have originally been 3 metres in depth and 8 metres in breadth.

Some excavations have taken place at the monument, some cobbled surfaces were found during these in 1887 and 1906. The Round Moat is often referred to as a ringwork and has been described as a possible timber castle. Traces of domestic occupation from the 13th and 14th Century have been found nearby. Another moated enclosure called Crow’s Parlour lies to the south-east.

In all, The Round Moat is a fine example of an early medieval fortification that has yet to reveal all its secrets.

The Earth Bank, The Round Moat
The Earth Bank, The Round Moat
The Moat, The Round Moat
The Moat, The Round Moat
The Interior of the Round Moat
The Interior of the Round Moat
The Moat, The Round Moat
The Moat, The Round Moat

Cambridge Castle, Cambridgeshire…

Cambridge Castle in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire was began soon after the Norman conquest on the orders of William I (the Conqueror).  Picot of Cambridge, the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, undertook the works on William’s orders. It is recorded in the Domesday Book that 27 houses were demolished to make way for the castle.

After his campaign to put down a rebellion in the city of York in 1068, William decided to build the castle in Cambridge to ensure his control of the strategically important old Roman route from London to York, which ran through Cambridge, and to prevent a rebellion by the local populace.

The castle was constructed to a traditional motte and bailey design out of wood. The motte of the castle can still be seen to this day, with the bailey now having disappeared under under nearby buildings. At some point in the 12 Century the castle was rebuilt in stone.

The castle would continue to be held by the crown until 1143, when during the Anarchy, it was attacked by Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who was a leading figure in a revolt against the rule of King Stephen. Geoffrey raided Cambridge and temporarily captured the castle. King Stephen launched a counteroffensive and recaptured the castle. As a result, King Stephen constructed a chain of castle to protect Cambridge and control the local area. These castles include Burwell Castle, Lidgate Castle, Rampton Castle, Swavesey Castle and Caxton Castle.

After the Anarchy, Henry II implemented a castleguard system at the castle where nobles were granted lands around the castle in exchange for providing forces to man it. During this period the castle was well maintained. Building works at the castle were undertaken prior to the First Barons War (1215-1217), though these changes didn’t improve the fortifications themselves and instead focused on developing residential buildings.

During the war, the castle at Cambridge fell under the control of the rebel barons, supported by the forces of Prince Louis of France in 1216. The castle at Cambridge was returned to the control of the crown after the war had ended as part of the Treaty of Lambeth between Prince Louis and Henry III.

During the period between the First Baron’s War and the Second Barons War, the castle was maintained to a basic standard. Cambridge Castle came under siege in 1266, during the Second Barons War (1264-1267). The castle successfully held out and was relieved by King Henry’s forces.

After Henry II’s death in 1272, Edward I acceded to the English throne. In 1283, Edward ordered the castle at Cambridge to be rebuilt. It is during this period that extensive building works at Cambridge Castle were undertaken. The layout and orientation of the bailey were altered, with the bailey remodelled to be roughly rectangular in shape and oriented north-south. Other works that were completed during this time include the construction of a curtain wall with towers, a gatehouse with barbican, a great hall, a chapel and a round tower keep on the motte. Though some of the works that were planned were never completed.

From about 1327 onward, the castle steadily began to deteriorate with little monies being spent on its upkeep. By 1441, the castle was in a bad state of repair. Over the next hundred or so years, stone from the castle was removed and used to construct some of the colleges and a chapel in Cambridge. Other stone was taken to build a manor house in a nearby village.

By 1604, the castle was in a poor state with only the gatehouse remaining as the only building occupied.  During the English Civil War in 1643 the castle was refortified by Parliament, with major works being undertaken to strengthen and repair the bailey defences. Bastions and earthworks were constructed, with 15 houses being cleared and a barracks building being constructed on the site of the old great hall. These new defences were slighted in 1647 to put them beyond use.

Over the following centuries, what remained of the castle steadily deteriorated, with some of the structure and earthworks being removed in the late 18th and early in the 19th centuries. The only remaining building was the gatehouse, though this too would be removed too in the the early 1842, having been used as the county goal for much of its life.

Today, only the remnants of some of the earthworks and the motte remain. The motte is on land owned by Cambridgeshire County Council and is open to the public.

Cambridge Castle Motte
Cambridge Castle Motte

Caxton Castle (Caxton Moats), Cambridgeshire…

Caxton Castle in Cambridgeshire is also known locally as ‘The Moats’. This interesting site consists of three moated enclosures that have an uncertain date. Pottery finds recovered from the site include Roman, St Neots (AD 900-1200) and 13th Century wares. Signs of Saxon and Norman occupation of the site have also been found.

It has been suggested that the site at Caxton resembles the construction of Burwell Castle near Cambridge and that it was one of King Stephen’s castles that was constructed during a period of civil war known as ‘the Anarchy’.  The layout of the site at Caxton has been compared to Burwell Castle, also in Cambridgeshire, which is known to have built by King Stephen during the Anarchy.

It has also been suggested that the site was the location of the home of the de Scalers family who were given the manor by William I (the Conqueror).

Out of the three enclosures at Caxton, the most significant in stature is located to the north-west of the others and consists of an island that is roughly 75 metres by 45 metres and is surrounded by a moat. The moat measures roughly 18 metres in width and 2.5 metres in depth. The enclosure is oriented east-west. At either end of the island there is a raised area.

The other moated enclosures lie to the south and the east, as well as other earthworks for fishponds, a rabbit warren and other signs of occupation.

Caxton Castle (The Moats) is on private land but is viewable from a public footpath that runs alongside.

Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats

Woodwalton Castle, Cambridgeshire…

Woodwalton Castle is a small motte and bailey castle in Cambridgeshire. There have been various suggestions as to when the castle was constructed and to whom it can be attributed. Some have suggested that the castle was began by Ernald de Mandeville, the illegitimate son of Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1144.

Geoffrey de Mandeville had rebelled against King Stephen during a period of civil war known as the Anarchy. On his father’s death in 1144, Ernald was forced to retreat from his base at Ramsey Abbey by King Stephen. He thus needed a new base of operations. It has been suggested that the castle at Woodwalton is the site of this new base.

It also also been suggested that the castle was in fact constructed on the order of the de Bolbec family that held the manor of Woodwalton between 1086 and 1134, or on the order of Ramsey Abbey who having been granted the manor of Woodwalton in 1134 by Walter de Bolbec decided to fortify it. It could also have been constructed on the order of either of the sons of Aubrey de Senlis. Though it seems most likely the castle was constructed during the Anarchy like other castles in the region such as the castles at Burwell, Rampton, Therfield, Walden, etc.

The defences at Woodwalton Castle were carved out of a natural hillock. Originally, the castle would have had low motte at it centre surrounded by a ditch. A roughly circular bailey then surrounded this and this too was encompassed by a second ditch. The construction of the castle would have been of wood and wooden palisades would no doubt have been part of the defences of the castle.

It seems likely that the construction of the castle at Woodwalton was never completed.

Today, the remains of the somewhat denuded earthworks of the castle can be seen at Church End in Woodwalton, about  a quarter of a mile north of the village church. The castle itself is on private land but the earthworks can be observed from a public footpath nearby.

Earthwork Remains, Woodwalton Castle
Earthwork Remains, Woodwalton Castle

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