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
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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

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

Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire…

Burwell Castle dates to the Anarchy and was built by King Stephen on the site of a former Roman villa in 1143. It formed part of a string of castles that were built by the king to protect the region. Other such castles were erected at Lidgate, Rampton, Swavesey and Caxton.

The castle was never completed but it consisted of a small motte, a rectangular earthwork, a gatehouse a curtain wall and moat. It was constructed out of stone and wood.

During the Anarchy, Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, was dispossessed of his lands and rose up in revolt against King Stephen. The earl based himself at nearby Ely from where he attacked Burwell Castle in 1144. It was during this attack that the earl was hit by a crossbow bolt. The attack was unsuccessful and following the battle, the earl retired to Mildenhall where he later died from his injury.

Following Geoffrey de Mandeville’s death, the castle at Burwell was never finished, though it has been suggested that the site remained occupied until the 15th Century and was then abandoned. Substantial earthworks can be seen to the present day.

The castle is on land owned by Burwell Parish Council and is free to visit.

Burwell Castle, Earthworks
Burwell Castle, Earthworks
Platform and Moat, Burwell Castle
Platform and Moat, Burwell Castle
Platform and Moat, Burwell Castle
Platform and Moat, Burwell Castle