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

Middleton Mount, Norfolk…

Middleton Mount, also known as Middleton Castle, is a motte and bailey castle located in the Norfolk village of Middleton, close to Kings Lynn.

The castle is thought to date from either the 11th or 12th centuries. It is thought that the castle may have been founded by William d’Ecouis who had accompanied William I (the Conqueror – 1066-1087) during the Norman invasion of England. Alternatively, it may have been constructed during the Anarchy.

It is thought likely that the site of the castle may have been occupied during the Anglo-Saxon period as a manorial centre.

As with many other castles of the period, Middleton Castle would have been constructed out of wood. Today, the earthwork remains of the castle include the large mound or motte, surrounded by a ditch. The remnants of the bailey of the castle lies, including part of its ditch, to the east of the motte.

The castle is open to the public and is visitable during reasonable daylight hours.

Middleton Motte
Middleton Motte
Middleton Motte Ditch
Middleton Motte Ditch

Bedford Castle, Bedfordshire…

Bedford Castle in the county town of Bedford is thought to have been constructed on the orders of King Henry I between 1100 and 1130. Although Bedford Castle was a royal castle, it was entrusted to the custody of the Beauchamp family. Early in the 12 Century, the castle is recorded as being in the custody of Simon de Beauchamp. The castle was constructed to a standard motte and bailey design.

In 1135, a period of civil war broke out known as the Anarchy. During this period of civil strife, Simon de Beauchamp died (1137). The castle would in the following years fall under seige on several occasions during the conflict with control of it passing between the supporters of the Empress Matilda and King Stephen. Toward of the end of conflict, the castle is recorded as being under the control of Miles de Beauchamp.

During the First Baron War (1215-1217), Bedford Castle was seized by the forces of King John led by Falkes de Breaute. In return for his loyalty, King John granted Falkes Bedford Castle. After taking Bedford Castle, Falkes would go on take control of three other major castles – they were Carisbrooke, Christchurch and Plympton castles.

After the First Barons War ended, Falkes made Bedford Castle his caput or administrative centre for his estates. It was under Falkes control that the castle was greatly expanded, with a new keep, inner and outer baileys, with other fortifications such as a stone-lined palisade being added.

In 1224, King Henry III decided that control of Bedford Castle should be returned to the control of the Beauchamp family. Attempts were made to negotiate an agreement for this to happen, though these were unsuccessful. The king decided there was no alternative but to lay seige to the castle. The castle initially held out against attempts to take it, but eventually the sheer military might that King Henry directed at the castle proved unstoppable. In all, it had taken eight weeks for the king to take the castle, using 2,000 men, seige engines and pure brute force.

After the seige, King Henry ordered the castle to be demolished. The Beauchamp family instead of residing in the castle keep, built a manor house in what had been the inner bailey of the castle. Much of the stone from the castle was utilised in paving local roads, rebuilding a church and for possibly building the first stone bridge in Bedford.

By 1361, not much was left of the castle aside for the motte and some remnants of its walls. At the start of the English Civil War (1642-1651), Bedford Castle was refortified with a wooden fort being built on the site. After the war had ended, the bailey of the castle was first used as a bowling green and then as land to build residential buildings. The last vestiges of the castle masonry were removed during this period.

Today, the motte of Bedford Castle is all that remains. The motte is located in a public park and is accessible during reasonable daylight hours.

Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte

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

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

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