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Warren Knoll: a motte castle reused as a warren

A Scheduled Monument in Tilsworth, Central Bedfordshire

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Latitude: 51.9093 / 51°54'33"N

Longitude: -0.5843 / 0°35'3"W

OS Eastings: 497484.518444

OS Northings: 224361.988931

OS Grid: SP974243

Mapcode National: GBR F3D.93N

Mapcode Global: VHFRB.T8HP

Entry Name: Warren Knoll: a motte castle reused as a warren

Scheduled Date: 25 November 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009397

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24408

County: Central Bedfordshire

Civil Parish: Tilsworth

Built-Up Area: Tilsworth

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Tilsworth

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The medieval motte castle known as Warren Knoll is situated toward the eastern
end of the village of Tilsworth, about 60m to the north of All Saints Church.
The castle occupies a commanding position overlooking the Ouzel Valley to the
south and Watling Street to the east, and is intervisible with the motte and
bailey castle at Totternhoe on the opposite side of the valley, about 2km to
the south. The motte castle consists of a circular mound, approximately 35m in
diameter, and 3.5m high, surmounted by a level platform measuring 7m across.
The motte is surrounded by an infilled ditch which has been demonstrated by
excavation on the southern edge of the mound, and is still visible as a slight
depression around the northern side. The excavations in 1973 revealed that the
ditch was 6m wide and 2.45m deep. The inner scarp formed a continuation of the
slope of the mound and descended to a flat base, 2.5m across. The ditch fills
contained fragments of Totternhoe stone, tile and animal bone. A piece of
early medieval courseware pottery was recovered from the basal deposits.
The motte would have supported a timber-built tower, although as the
excavation evidence suggests, stone from the nearby source at Totternhoe may
have been used in the construction. Further defence would have been provided
by a palisade surrounding the ditch.
Warren Knoll is thought to have been constructed during the late 11th century,
as part of a series of defences controlling the valleys to the west of Watling
Street. As a stronghold rather than a residence the site would have been
occupied for a limited period, and would probably have been abandoned by the
early 15th century when a large moated site (Tilsworth Manor) was established
on the valley floor some 150m to the south of the motte. The motte remained
within the estate of the later manor, and was described as a warren in a lease
dated 1732. The mound continued in use as a warren during the 19th century and
was last recorded as serving this purpose in 1910. In the mid 19th century a
rectory (Tilsworth House) was built on the western side of the motte, and the
mound was incorporated as an ornamental feature within the associated garden.
A brick-lined passage was inserted in the southern side of the motte to serve
as a cold store for the rectory.
The passage is excluded from the scheduling, together with a concrete platform
supporting two oil tanks adjacent to the entrance, the boiler house attached
to the north west wall of Tilsworth House, the base of the metal fire escape
to the west of the motte and the surfaces of all paths, although the ground
beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the
Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte,
surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of
examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey,
adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bai1ey castles acted as
garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in
many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal
administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte castles
generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality
and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early
post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte castles
and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from
most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as
motte castles. As one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest
monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and
the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a
short period of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from
the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other
types of castle.

Despite later disturbance caused by the construction of a passage within the
monument, Warren Knoll remains a well preserved example of an early medieval
motte castle. The platform on the summit of the motte will retain evidence of
buried building foundations, and the surrounding, infilled ditch will contain
both artefacts and environmental evidence relating to the limited period of
occupation. The buried ground surface beneath the castle is of particular
significance as it may contain evidence of earlier land use. The importance of
the site is emphasised by the commanding position it holds overlooking
communication routes along the Ouzel Valley and Watling Street. The strategic
position of Warren Knoll in relation to Totternhoe Castle, is illustrative of
its role in establishing control of the area in the years following the Norman
Conquest, and in this respect the close proximity of the castle and the parish
church is also of interest. The relationship between the motte castle and its
15th century successor (Tilsworth Manor) also enhances the importance of the
site. The two monuments considered together offer a relatively rare
opportunity to study the changing requirements of the medieval aristocracy.

Warrens have a long history of construction and use dating from the medieval
period to the early years of the present century. Documentary sources suggest
that the zenith of warren construction lay in the late medieval and
post-medieval periods, although the practice is thought to have been brought
to this country by the Normans. The warren usually consisted of an enclosure
surrounding one or more purpose built breeding places known as pillow mounds
or buries; although earlier monuments including burial mounds, mottes and
boundary banks were sometimes adapted to this use. Warrens provided a
consistent supply of meat and skins and formed a significant part of the
economy of both ecclesiastical and secular estates.

Warren Knoll, as the name suggests, was adapted to serve this purpose after it
ceased to function as a motte castle. It is thought that the site may have
been managed for rabbit breeding since the 15th century, following the
establishment of a nearby moated site. This inventive reuse of the earlier
fortifications provides valuable information for the economy of the later
medieval and post-medieval estate.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Goddard, A R, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1904), 291
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 125-7
Williams, S, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1912), 432-3
'Manshead Magazine' in Warren Knoll, Tilsworth, , Vol. 22, (1973)
lease made out to J. Cooper, CRT 130 Tilsworth 2, (1732)
Lease of the Tilsworth Estate, CRT 130 Tilsworth 2, (1732)
Notebook, Gurney, F G, CRO X325/58, (1916)
Sale catalogue, Christies, The Tilsworth Estate, (1804)
Schneider, J, The Manor of Tilsworth, unpublished local history text

Source: Historic England

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