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A ringwork and bailey castle, ring ditch and enclosures east of Brookland Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Old Warden, Central Bedfordshire

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Latitude: 52.0864 / 52°5'10"N

Longitude: -0.2729 / 0°16'22"W

OS Eastings: 518430.706222

OS Northings: 244520.490114

OS Grid: TL184445

Mapcode National: GBR H4B.3T1

Mapcode Global: VHGN0.7T2G

Entry Name: A ringwork and bailey castle, ring ditch and enclosures east of Brookland Farm

Scheduled Date: 1 November 1966

Last Amended: 13 November 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010115

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20414

County: Central Bedfordshire

Civil Parish: Old Warden

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Old Warden

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes the visible and buried remains of medieval ringwork and
bailey castle together with a complex of other buried ditches and enclosures
located on a low gravel island to the west of Biggleswade, defined on the
eastern side by the present course of the River Ivel and one of its subsidiary
channels, and by a further small tributary some 400m to the west. The ringwork
and bailey castle was first identified by aerial photography in 1954 and
although very slight earthworks remain on the ground, it is most easily
visible as a series of cropmarks when viewed from the air.

The main stronghold, or ringwork, lies approximately 45m to the east of the
A1 (Biggleswade bypass). It includes a circular platform, 30m-35m in diameter,
surrounded by two concentric circuits of ditches, each approximately 6m in
width and separated by an interval of c.5m. The ditches are largely infilled
although the slight hollows recorded in 1962 can still be discerned, and the
centre of the ringwork remains marginally higher than the general ground
level. Two defended outer courts, or baileys, lie on the western side of the
ringwork forming an oval enclosure 120m north to south by 75m east to west.
The baileys are surrounded by an infilled ditch, c.10m in width, which is
linked to the eastern side of the inner defences. The bailey interiors are
raised by about 0.5m, and divided into two roughly equal parts by a further
ditch extending from the western side of the ringwork. A causeway spans the
two ditches on the northern side of the ringwork giving access from the
northern bailey, which was in turn entered via a narrow causeway across the
northern section of the perimeter ditch.

Some aerial photographs show traces of an internal bank or rampart
accompanying the bailey ditch which would probably have supported a timber
palisade. A similar arrangement is thought to have strengthened the ringwork
defences. The ditches of both baileys and the ringwork are segmental:
constructed in short lengths separated by narrow baulks of firm ground.
Investigation in 1962, uncovered a `destruction layer' between the ditch
circuits which contained considerable amounts of charcoal, burnt daub and clay
believed to have resulted from the demolition of structures on the
platform. Fragments of timber were recovered from the upper fills of the outer
ditch. Pottery recovered during the excavation dates the ringwork to the
early/mid 12th century, tentatively placing it in a group of Bedfordshire
castles constructed during the period of civil war known as the Anarchy.
The castle may have had earlier antecedents as suggested by an entry in
Domesday Book which recorded a small parcel of land in the parish of Warden
held by Ralf de Insula, first Norman lord of Biggleswade. However, it is
obvious from the castle's location on the opposing side of the Ivel that it
was not built for the defence of the town, but rather to control movement
along the Ivel valley and across the river (then navigable) at the bridging
point near Ivel Mill. The term `Castellgate' was used to define the limits of
a parcel of land in a grant of 1423, and provides the only documentary
reference to the ringwork, albeit at a time when it had almost certainly
fallen into disuse.

The raised gravel island is thought to have attracted various forms of
occupation and use over several millenia. The eastern bailey ditch clearly
overlies the cropmark of a ring ditch of a Bronze Age barrow, which is in turn
thought to overlie part of an earlier ditch extending in a broad arc to the
east and north. This ditch is flanked to the east by a similar feature
describing a matching arc and continuing some 50m further to the north west.
Whilst these two arcs may be associated with the occupation of the castle, the
apparent relationship between the western ditch and the barrow may indicate
construction in the Early Bronze Age or Neolithic period, perhaps as part of a
larger enclosure otherwise overlain by the castle.

A large sub-square enclosure, measuring c.50m across and located some 30m to
the north of the northern bailey, has been suggested as a contemporary
development associated with the castle. However, this feature is similar in
appearance to many known Iron Age and Romano-British enclosures in the area
and may also belong to an earlier period. A broad relic stream, or palaeo-
channel, which appears, from the air, as a dark band of alluvial silt running
across the site from north to south may provide the key to the chronology of
the island's use. Both the square enclosure and the two curving ditches are
compromised by this channel, and since these features do not respect its
alignment it is evident that the channel cannot be contemporary. The available
evidence suggests that both the square enclosure and the putative Neolithic
ditches were cut by this water-course, whereas the ringwork appears to have
been placed to utilise its route (whether still flowing or simply forming a
marshy area) as part of its defence. It is thought likely that the channel
resulted from a rise in water levels in the later Roman period (as
demonstrated elsewhere in the vicinity); an inundation which may have made the
island unsuitable for occupation until its abatement in the late Saxon

The metalled surface of the track which crosses the southern part of the
ringwork is excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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.

Although altered by agricultural activity, the ringwork to the east of
Brookland Farm is a well defined cropmark site which also retains evidence
of its design in the form of low earthworks. Its importance is emphasised by
its position commanding the Ivel Valley: a major communication route in the
medieval period which is believed to have increased in prominence as the old
Roman road between Baldock and Sandy deteriorated. The ringwork is of a
particularly rare type where attached baileys are known to exist. Partial
excavation has demonstrated the survival of building materials, and shown that
the infilled ditches surrounding the centre of the ringwork and the bailey
provide conditions capable of preserving organic remains.

The association of the adjacent cropmarks with the ringwork is important for
the study of settlement related to the occupation of the castle, and the
development of land use on the gravel island from prehistoric times. The
archaeological relationships between the various man made features will
provide evidence for the duration and nature of settlement on the island. The
small ring ditch, partially overlain by the southern bailey, is particularly
important in this respect. This feature, believed to be the buried remains of
a funerary monument dating between the Late Neolithic period to the Late
Bronze Age (most examples falling within the range 2400-1500 BC) may provide a
key to the understanding of the two curving ditches to the east of the
ringwork. The relationships between the various man-made features and the
palaeo-channel which bisects the site are also highly significant for the
chronolgy of the island's use.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Addyman, P V, 'Beds. Ach. J' in Ringwork And Bailey At Biggleswade, Beds., , Vol. 3, (1966), 16-18
Dawson, M, 'Bedfordshire Archaeology' in Biggleswade West, , Vol. 21, (1994), 119-36
St Joseph, J K, 'Antiquity' in Aerial Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966)
St Joseph, J K, 'Antiquity' in Aerial Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966), 142-4
St Joseph, J K S, 'Antiquity' in Air Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966), 142-44
St Joseph, J K S, 'Antiquity' in Air Reconnaisance: Recent Results, (1966), 142-4
Cambridge index 1954-1957, St Joseph, J K, NQ 17/ VQ 74-78/ VR 59-63,
Coleman, S, Biggleswade cropmarks, (1993)
Field, K., 3/7-9; 2714/12-13. (19/07/1984), (1984)
NMR AP: TL 1844/12 (29/08/84), (1984)
Northants C.C. AP 2505/3, 20/07/1984, (1984)
Paper in response to pre-notification, Evans, C, The Biggleswade Ringwork Complex, (1994)

Source: Historic England

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