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Hertford Castle: a motte and bailey castle south of the River Lea

A Scheduled Monument in Hertford, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 51.7953 / 51°47'43"N

Longitude: -0.0802 / 0°4'48"W

OS Eastings: 532487.41863

OS Northings: 212480.343051

OS Grid: TL324124

Mapcode National: GBR KBQ.JJJ

Mapcode Global: VHGPN.K4FK

Entry Name: Hertford Castle: a motte and bailey castle south of the River Lea

Scheduled Date: 27 March 1953

Last Amended: 20 July 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009827

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20629

County: Hertfordshire

Civil Parish: Hertford

Built-Up Area: Hertford

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Hertford St Andrew with St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


Hertford Castle is a motte and bailey castle situated in the centre of
Hertford on the banks of the River Lea. The monument includes a flat-topped
motte which stands at the north corner of the castle and measures 30m in
diameter and c.6.5m in height. The bailey, which covers nearly one hectare,
is defended on the east and south by a curtain wall (Grade II* Listed) which
is largely intact. At the southern angle of the wall are the remains of a
small octagonal turret with a pointed doorway, now blocked, which can be dated
to the 14th century. On the west side of the bailey is a late 15th century
gatehouse which is a Grade II* Listed building.
Beyond the curtain wall on the south side are the remains of a broad outer
ditch measuring c.9m in width, now partly filled and covered by buildings and
gardens. This outer ditch once encircled the whole castle. Beyond the ditch
is a partially buried, brick built ice house which measures approximately 10m
east-west by 6m north-south. It has a north facing entrance and is grass
Hertford Castle was built in the 11th century in the southern burh of
Hertford, founded by Edward the Elder in AD 912. The castle was bounded by a
double ditch on three sides, the north-western part of the defences being
formed by the River Lea, with an outer bailey on the south-western side. In
1170 the earliest documentary record of the castle shows that extensive
building works were carried out by Henry II; in 1174 the castle was fully
garrisoned. Also at this time the curtain wall, berm and at least one of the
ditches were dug. Both Hertford and Berkhamsted Castles were held by the
barons for a year in the baronial revolt of King John's reign. At the
end of 1216 Hertford Castle was besieged by Louis of France and surrendered
after a month. In 1360 John of Gaunt was granted the castle and bought large
quantities of timber to fortify it. The castle reverted to the crown with the
accession of Henry IV and remained in royal hands until 1630 when it was
granted to the Earl of Salisbury.
Edward IV carried out major renovations during the 1460's including the
building of the gatehouse. Many of the buildings were pulled down in the
reign of James I and by 1905 the ditches had all been infilled and levelled,
with the exception of some on the southern side.
The site was partially excavated in 1977 when the inner and outer ditches to
the east of the castle were located. Further excavations were carried out
from September 1988 to August 1990 by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust
on the south-western side of the castle, outside the postern gate. These
excavations confirmed the alignment of the inner and outer ditches.
The remains of the curtain wall, both below and above ground are included
within the scheduling. Excluded from the scheduling are the gatehouse,
carpark, footpaths, modern pavilion, greenhouse and street lamps. However,
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 and bailey 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-bailey 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 and
bailey 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 or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally,
with examples known from most regions. 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.

Hertford Castle is one of the best preserved motte and bailey castles in
southern Britain. It has a long and well-documented history which illustrates
its growth and development as a royal castle. The partial excavations have
confirmed the historical documentation and the well-preserved condition of the
structural remains. Further evidence of the internal layout of the castle
will exist beneath the present gatehouse and gardens in the castle precinct as
well as within the motte mound.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Renn, D, Medieval Castles in Hertfordshire, (1971), 16-18
Excavation Summary - Herts Archaeological Trust 1990,

Source: Historic England

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