Ancient Monuments

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John o'Gaunt's House: a motte castle and moated site 300m north east of Haygate Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Bassingbourn cum Kneesworth, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.089 / 52°5'20"N

Longitude: -0.0669 / 0°4'1"W

OS Eastings: 532535.248085

OS Northings: 245171.019747

OS Grid: TL325451

Mapcode National: GBR K72.V7P

Mapcode Global: VHGN3.SRGF

Entry Name: John o'Gaunt's House: a motte castle and moated site 300m NE of Haygate Farm

Scheduled Date: 11 June 1976

Last Amended: 5 August 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010865

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20420

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Bassingbourn cum Kneesworth

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Bassingbourn St Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The monument includes John o'Gaunt's House, a motte castle which has been
altered by its subsequent use as a later medieval moated site.

The motte castle is visible as a low mound, about 1.5m high, to the west of
centre of the ploughed field in which it lies. The motte is squarish in plan,
measuring about 60m across. Aerial photographs show that the motte is
surrounded by a ditch; this is now infilled but survives as a buried feature
between 10m and 20m wide. Also identifiable are the below-ground remains of a
large rectangular moated site, about 300m long by 200m wide, which contains
the motte. The infilled arms of the moat average 10m wide. The western arm
runs close to and parallel with the existing field boundary and the eastern
arm runs close to the eastern edge of the motte. The moat is approached from
the south by a causeway, some 200m long, leading from the Bassingbourn to
Shinghay road. The southern arm of the moat has a pair of semi-circular
projections, either side of the causeway entrance, which would have carried
bastion towers.

The motte is considered to date to the 12th century when it was one of a
group of minor strongholds in the locality. The site was later occupied by a
manor house belonging to Warin de Bassingbourn who, in 1266, obtained a
licence to crenellate the house with a dyke and stone wall. The association
with John o'Gaunt is doubtful, although Bassingbourn market was confirmed to
him by Edward III. Part of the moat and some structural features were still
visible in the 19th century when the motte stood 4m high. In 1887 some of the
stonework was robbed out and material from the motte was used to fill the

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.

The motte exhibits a rare modification into a moated site. Such sites were
built throughout England in the medieval period, often as prestigious
seigniorial residences, with the provision of a moat as a status symbol rather
than as a practical military defence. Moats form a significant class of
medieval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution
of wealth and status in the countryside.

Although partly altered by agricultural activity, John o'Gaunt's House retains
considerable potential for the preservation of archaeological deposits in the
infilled ditches and buried structural remains on the moat island and beneath
the motte.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Philips, C W, The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire, (1948)
NAR Record: TL 34 NW 18,
Spedding, A, Cambs SMR AP plot, (1983)
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Series
Source Date: 1886

Source: Historic England

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