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The Hillings, Castle Hills: a ringwork castle associated with a Saxon vill, shifted medieval village and a windmill mound

A Scheduled Monument in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.2159 / 52°12'57"N

Longitude: -0.284 / 0°17'2"W

OS Eastings: 517331.827925

OS Northings: 258905.519897

OS Grid: TL173589

Mapcode National: GBR H2S.11C

Mapcode Global: VHGMF.1K6N

Entry Name: The Hillings, Castle Hills: a ringwork castle associated with a Saxon vill, shifted medieval village and a windmill mound

Scheduled Date: 12 July 1929

Last Amended: 16 June 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009629

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20434

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: St. Neots

Built-Up Area: St Neots

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Eaton Socon

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


Castle Hills is a Norman ringwork castle overlying part of a late Saxon vill
and medieval village which was deserted, at least in part, to make way for the
stronghold. The ringwork was used subsequently as the site of a windmill.
The monument is situated on a gravel terrace on the west bank of the River
Great Ouse.
The ringwork has a bailey on its north side and is surrounded to the west by a
ditch enclosing an outer court. The ringwork itself is irregular in plan,
rounded at its western end with its eastern side straight and parallel with
the course of the river. A waterfilled ditch 15-20m wide by 1.5m deep runs
along the western and southern sides and a slightly shallower 10m wide dry
ditch separates the stronghold from the bailey on the northern side. There is
a narrow causeway across the junction of these ditches at the north-west. It
is thought that no ditch was required on the eastern side because the river
afforded an adequate defence. The interior of the ringwork is raised by c.2m
above the natural ground surface and there is a bank up to 1.5m high on the
north, west and south sides, giving the inner scarp of the ditch a total
height of about 5m. The flat area within the bank measures 40m east-west by
30m north-south. A small flat-topped mound, 16m in diameter by 1.5m high, is
a later medieval windmill mound which had utilized the additional height
afforded by the castle earthworks. The bailey is rectangular, surrounded on
three sides by a ditch between 10m and 15m wide by 1.5m deep. Again, the
proximity of the river meant that no ditch was needed on the east side. North
of the bailey the outer scarp of the ditch follows the fence line and, because
the outlying ground is lower, this scarp is only about 1m high. The interior
of the bailey is about 0.5m below that of the ringwork. The north-west corner
of the bailey is strengthened with a small oval mound about 10m wide and 2.5m
high which is considered to have held a corner-tower. The mound is
incorporated into a bank which runs along the north, west and south sides of
the bailey and which ranges in height from 2m on the north side to less than
1m on the south. The outer ditch runs from the north-west corner of the
bailey, curving around to the south of the ringwork. The ditch is 14m wide
and varies in depth from 1.5m on the northern arm to about 2m along most of
the western and southern arms, the southern arm being partially infilled at
its eastern end. Inside the ditch is a low bank which is most clearly defined
on the southern arm where it is 0.5m high. Towards the northern end there are
signs of recent disturbance in the form of two weathered trenches 1m wide by
0.5m deep. It is thought that the River Ouse once flowed closer to the castle;
a weir associated with the River Mill to the south has certainly altered the
river's course and in waste ground north of the monument the possible line of
an old riverbank is apparent as a scarp running 20m west of the present
river's edge. Flat ground to the east of the ringwork therefore has potential
for the preservation of waterfront structures contemporary with the use of the
castle. Castle Hills has been archaeologically excavated on two occasions.
In 1949-50 trial trenches excavated on the ringwork and bailey uncovered
foundations of clay and timber buildings, dated by pottery to the 12th
century. The windmill mound was shown to be sealing a buried soil horizon and
therefore to have been constructed some time after the abandonment of the
ringwork. A trial trench across the outer ditch, excavated in 1962, showed
that the ditch was constructed in the 12th century and is contemporary with
the ringwork, not an earlier Saxon or Danish fortification as had been
previously asserted.
The late Saxon and medieval settlement is known from excavations. The 1949-50
investigations in the north bailey unearthed about 40 burials from a late
Saxon cemetery along with layers of rubble from the destruction of a stone
building. Dressed stone fragments found in the rubble suggest that it came
from the demolition of the Saxon church to which the cemetery belonged.
Further excavation in advance of housing development in 1962 uncovered the
remains of a large wooden Saxon hall 200m to the west of the castle. A trial
section cut across the outer ditch of the castle found part of a second Saxon
building which was cut by the ditch and buried beneath the bank. The full
extent of the settlement is not known but it has been estimated that it
extended at least 100m to the west of the outer ditch of the castle. Study of
the pottery assemblage, which included St Neots ware, shows that the
settlement began as a vill as early as the 9th century, prospered in the 11th
century and continued after the Conquest of 1066 before being abandoned, at a
relatively early date, in the mid 12th century.
The vill was probably the residence of Ulmar, Thegn of Eaton Socon under King
Edward the Confessor. After the Conquest of 1066 his Bedfordshire lands
(Eaton Socon was formerly in that county) passed to the Norman Baron Eudo
`Dapifer' whose holding is recorded in Domesday as `Etone'. Eudo died in 1120
without issue and Eaton Socon was eventually granted to the first Hugh de
Geoffrey de Mandeville, who was connected by marriage or obligation to de
Beauchamp, is accredited with the construction of the ringwork during his war
with Stephen in the 1140's. The epithet Socon derives from the village's
status as a `soke' or liberty in the 13th century.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late
Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended
area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a
substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a
stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the
bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military
operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements.
They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60
with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted
range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular
significance to our understanding of the period.

Partial excavation has revealed that Castle Hills includes below-ground
remains of part of a late Saxon settlement, or vill. A vill was a place of
occupation of a small community, primarily involved in agriculture but also
with crafts and industry on a variety of scales and such sites are important
to the understanding of the origins of rural settlement in medieval England.
The settlement at Eaton Socon continued in existence after the Norman Conquest
when villages became more widespread and acted as foci of ecclesiastical or
manorial administration providing services to the local community. Many
villages were partially abandoned or relocated, particularly during the 14th
and 15th centuries. As a common and long-lived monument type in most parts of
England such villages provide important information on the diversity of
medieval settlement patterns between the regions and through time. The
ringwork at Castle Hills was later the site of a postmill. These windmills
were an important feature of the landscape across Northern Europe in the
medieval period. The majority of postmills were under manorial control and
they provide evidence of the growth of economic and technological
The Castle Hills site therefore contains evidence for continuous occupation
between the late Saxon and Norman periods. The evidence includes structural
remains within the castle site, waterlogged remains in the ditch fills, buried
soils beneath the rampart banks and postmill mound and possibly buried water-
front structures on the river foreshore. Combined, such evidence will provide
a detailed insight into the nature of occupation before and after the Norman
Conquest, the economy of the inhabitants of the site and the landscape in
which they lived.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Taylor, A, Castles of Cambridgeshire, (1990)
Addyman, P V, 'PCAS' in Early Saxon Settlement in the St Neots Area, (1965)
Addyman, P V, 'PCAS' in Early Saxon Settlement in the St Neots Area, (1965)
Lethbridge, T C, Tebbutt, C F, 'PCAS' in Excavations On The Castle Site..., (1951)
Lethbridge, T C, Tebbutt, C F, 'PCAS' in Excavations On The Castle Site..., (1951)
Bowman, A R, (1991)
NAR Record TL 15 NE 03, (1991)
RAF AP's 541/A83/7-4-50 No.s 3132-3,

Source: Historic England

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