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Barnwell Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Barnwell, Northamptonshire

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Latitude: 52.4549 / 52°27'17"N

Longitude: -0.4574 / 0°27'26"W

OS Eastings: 504921.822121

OS Northings: 285227.152466

OS Grid: TL049852

Mapcode National: GBR FY9.55W

Mapcode Global: VHFNQ.1K2D

Entry Name: Barnwell Castle

Scheduled Date: 8 February 2015

Last Amended: 12 February 2016

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1003624

English Heritage Legacy ID: NN 1

County: Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Barnwell

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Church of England Parish: Barnwell St Andrew with All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough


A C13 fortified residence, known as Barnwell Castle, surviving as upstanding and buried remains.

Source: Historic England


Barnwell Castle is situated near the bottom of a small side valley that opens on to the valley of the River Nene, 3km south of Oundle, Northamptonshire. It is positioned on a slight plateau, skirted by the Barnwell Brook to the south and west, and to the north of the village of Barnwell. A broad embankment on the north side of the site, 1.8m high and 67m long, and an artificially straightened escarpment at the south, albeit later in its current form, may be traces of an outer ward. The castle is constructed of oolitic limestone, probably sourced from quarries at Barnwell. It is quadrangular in plan with towers at each angle of the curtain walls, and a gatehouse at the south end of the east side. The curtain walls survive up to 9m high and enclose an area 41m long by 27m wide. There are no buildings upstanding within the courtyard, which now encloses a tennis court.

The GATEHOUSE has semi-circular towers either side of a central entrance passage. The lower stone courses of the towers have a battered outer face beneath a roll moulding. It is entered through a pointed arch of three chamfered orders with moulded capitals, beyond which are the grooves for a portcullis and a second chamfered arch. The passage is covered by a tunnel vault. At the west end there is a third arch rising from corbels. Beyond the passage has been partially blocked and access to the courtyard is through a low and narrow round-headed arched doorway. This doorway is only 1.5m wide and was added when the curtain wall was thickened. There are two guard chambers in the towers flanking the entrance passage and three rooms above. Each guard chamber is entered through a round-headed arched doorway from the courtyard, which have drawbar holes next to the jambs. The chambers are two bays long with rib-vaulted ceilings resting on corbels and have five loopholes commanding views to the front and side. The north chamber, which probably subsequently served as a chapel, has traces of wall paintings of c.1300 on the walls and ceilings, which were recorded in 1980-5. These indicate that the room was painted to imitate ashlar stonework with a frieze at approximately 1m above floor level, patterned vaulting, and paintings of four figures. One of these figures was bearded, had a nimbus (halo), and held an object which had a nimbus. In the south wall of the chamber is an archway leading to a blocked stair turret. Access to the upper floor of the gatehouse is now via a staircase from the internal courtyard, which was added when the curtain wall was thickened. It leads to a rectangular room over the entrance passage, beside which is a room in each tower. These have square-headed windows, widened from the original loopholes. A doorway in the upper floor of the south chamber also provides access to the upper room of the adjacent tower.

The SOUTH-EAST TOWER is entered from the inner court via a passage. It has a square ground-floor chamber with four loopholes in the walls. The chamber was originally vaulted but only the corbels and springings of the vaults now survive. Shafts in the south wall indicate that it originally had two garderobes on each floor. The SOUTH-WEST TOWER forms a single circular drum. In common with the north towers it is entered through a round-headed doorway set across the angle leading to a straight vaulted passage and then into a circular chamber. This chamber has two loops commanding the west and south curtain walls. The remains of a circular stairway in the wall outside the inner doorway originally provided access to a square room with a fireplace and (now blocked) square-headed window. Above it is a similar room with a fireplace and mullioned window of two-lights. These may have been the principal living rooms.

The NORTH-WEST and NORTH-EAST TOWERS are each of similar plan; comprising a principal drum, a subsidiary drum and an intermediate lobe linking the two. Each consists of a single vaulted room in the principal drum and a square-vaulted room in the subsidiary drum. The intermediate lobes each contain remains of a staircase that led to a first floor room with a fireplace. Loopholes in the towers command views out in front and across the curtain walls. However those to the first floor have been widened to form square-headed windows. A square-headed doorway has been inserted in the north-east tower to provide external access.

The curtain walls are now about 3.6m thick, having been thickened by about 1m on the internal face in the late C13 or C14. The round-headed doorways and passages to the gatehouse and corner towers were added at this time. All of these doorways have drawbar holes and hoodmoulds with mask terminals. A 13m long section of the west wall was later breached and then re-built after 1730 to one metre thick. At the north end of the wall is a postern (i.e. a small secondary gate), entered through a pointed arch, and a fireplace, which may mark the position of the kitchen. The internal facing of the north wall has been lost, exposing the rubble core. On the inner side of the east curtain wall are possible fragments of cross-walls and traces of plaster; possibly the east end of a large room. The tops of the curtain wall and towers have been lowered and were originally probably surmounted by a crenelated parapet. The inner courtyard of the castle will contain buried foundations and deposits associated with the internal buildings. Whilst the area immediately surrounding the curtain walls will contain below-ground archaeological deposits associated with the construction, use and abandonment of the castle.

The monument excludes the surfaces of all modern pathways, the tarmacadam tennis court, the flag poles, sign posts and garden furniture. However the ground beneath these features is included.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Barnwell Castle, a C13 fortified residence, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as a strongly fortified manorial residence built during the period of the Second Baron’s War (1264-1267), which was at the forefront of medieval military architecture in Britain;
* Architectural interest: as the earliest known example of this type of castle or fortified residence in Britain; a quadrangular plan with corner turrets and a gatehouse;
* Survival: a substantial proportion of standing medieval fabric survives, including considerable architectural detail of the gatehouse, corner towers and curtain walls;
* Potential: a large proportion of the site is undisturbed and unexcavated, including most of the inner courtyard, and will therefore hold a high degree of archaeological potential for further investigation;
* Documentation: Barnwell Castle is relatively well documented in historical and archaeological terms, which provide a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of the site;
* Group value: with the adjacent Grade II listed medieval aisled barn, C17 manor house and registered garden, which form an impressive ensemble that well illustrates the development of this historic site.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bailey, Bruce, Pevsner, Nikolaus, Cherry, Bridget, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire, (2013), 109-110
Audouy, M, 'Excavations at Barnwell Castle, Northants, 1980' in Northamptonshire Archaeology, , Vol. 25, (1993-4), 123-126
Hussey, C, 'Barnwell Manor, Northamptonshire-I' in Country Life, , Vol. 126, (10th September 1959), 238-241
Giggins, B, 'Barnwell Castle Survey 1980-85' in South Midlands Archaeology: Newsletter of CBA Group 9, , Vol. 16, (1986), 79-84
Page, W, ‘Parishes: Barnwell St Andrew’, in A History of the County of Northamptonshire: Volume 3 (1930), p70-76, accessed 10 September 2015 from
Historic England Archive, National Buildings Record File No: 61842

Source: Historic England

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