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Castlethorpe Castle: a motte and bailey, possible ringwork and associated earthworks 200m south-east of Castlethorpe Lodge

A Scheduled Monument in Castlethorpe, Milton Keynes

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Latitude: 52.0937 / 52°5'37"N

Longitude: -0.8361 / 0°50'10"W

OS Eastings: 479830.893248

OS Northings: 244567.664917

OS Grid: SP798445

Mapcode National: GBR BY2.RDR

Mapcode Global: VHDSS.GMBT

Entry Name: Castlethorpe Castle: a motte and bailey, possible ringwork and associated earthworks 200m south-east of Castlethorpe Lodge

Scheduled Date: 13 June 1949

Last Amended: 16 November 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011299

English Heritage Legacy ID: 19080

County: Milton Keynes

Civil Parish: Castlethorpe

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Hanslope

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument, which falls into two areas, includes Castlethorpe Castle, a
motte and bailey castle with possible reused ringwork, a second bailey,
enclosure and fishponds. It is believed that the site was fortified by William
Mauduit sometime in the 12th century and that it served as the stronghold for
the barony of Hanslape. In 1217 the castle was garrisoned against the Crown by
Mauduit and laid seige to by Foulkes de Brent on behalf of the king. The
castle was taken by de Brent and is thought to have been slighted so that it
could no longer be occupied as a military stronghold. Subsequently, in 1292,
William Beauchamp obtained a licence from the Crown to fortify a house and
garden at Castlethorpe, and although the exact location of this house is
uncertain, it is thought to have been within the vicinity of the earlier
Today Castlethorpe Castle survives as a complicated system of earthworks
which extend over an area of some 10 hectares. The motte and bailey itself,
the earliest part of the works, lies immediately north-west of the church,
occupying a naturally strong strategic position overlooking the valley of the
River Tove. The motte lies in the southern quarter of the bailey and has the
general appearance of having been disturbed or slighted at some time in the
past. It survives as a substantial earthen mound, oval in plan, and with
dimensions of 40m WNW by ESE and 27m transversely. Rising 4m from the
interior of the bailey on the north side to a narrow summit 8m by 4m, it falls
2.1m on the south side to a platform with dimensions of 7m east to west by 5m
north to south. This platform is slightly hollowed to a depth of 0.3m and
could represent the foundation cut for a tower, though no surface remains now
survive. This hollow may alternatively relate to World War II gun position
that is said to have been dug into the motte. The surrounding bailey is
roughly circular in shape with an interior diameter of 100m. It remains well
defined and intact throughout most of its extent, with the exception of the
south-east quarter. Here the church and churchyard encroach into the site and
have destroyed any surface traces of the earthworks. Where the bailey defences
do survive as earthworks they are of considerable strength. In the south-west
they utilise the natural hillslope to maximum effect, the bailey scarp,
possibly artificially steepened, rising to a height of 6m from the bottom of
an outer ditch which is 6m wide and 2m deep. Around the western quarter the
defences comprise a substantial ditch 18m wide and up to 3.4m deep on its
inner slope, 2.6m on its outer. This is flanked by an outer counterscarp bank
up to 1.7m high. Two causewayed entrances cross the ditch in this western
area; both are some 4m wide and of similar appearance and although it is
unlikely that both are original it is impossible from surface inspection to
say which is the earlier. The ditch continues around the north of the
enclosure and is of similar proportions, although the outer bank ends 60m east
of the northern entrance gap. Towards the eastern end of the ditch a bank 1.7m
high surmounts the inner slope of the ditch, running for some 50m before
ending on the boundary of the churchyard. The interior of the bailey is
generally flat, though with discrete surface irregularities which indicate
possible building foundations. Linear undulations and shallow hollows to the
north-east of the bailey represent the remains of a field system and
subsidiary buildings.
The considerable strength of the bailey defences in relation to the less
impressive motte gives a defensive emphasis to the bailey. This may indicate
an initial ringwork phase with a motte added at a later date.
To the west of the motte and bailey, at a distance of some 50m, is a linear
earthwork orientated north-east to south-west and running in total for a
length of 220m. This appears to be designed as an outer defence to the main
castle works, creating a second, outer bailey. The southern portion of this
earthwork comprises a substantial rampart averaging 14m wide and 2.2m high,
with an outer ditch along its western side 5m wide and 1.5m deep. For some 60m
from its south end the east edge of the rampart has been cut back and revetted
to form the western boundary of a sunken garden. The remaining northern 80m
ends in a mound which has been interpreted as a barbican mound, designed to
protect an entrance which passes through the outer work at this point. The
outer ditch of the work continues north beyond the entrance gap, running out
after some 70m. A slight bank and scarp links at right angles from this line
of ditch to the outer bank of the inner bailey. If the southern end of the
rampart also once linked to the inner bailey, suggested by a slight east
turning at this end, then it would have formed a rectangular outer enclosure
some 200m long by 60m wide. However, the modern road and railway line which
cut across this area north-west to south-east have destroyed any earthwork
surface indications which may have existed in this area.
To the south-west of the railway line are the fragmented remains of another
earthwork. They comprise a bank averaging 16m wide and 2.1m high with an outer
ditch 4m wide and 0.4m deep. It runs for 120m north-west to south-east before
turning north for 80m and appears to represent the south-western corner of a
rectangular enclosure, the northern portions of which have been destroyed by
the construction of the railway cutting. This may have formerly connected to
the linear earthwork on the north side of the railway line. However their
respective alignments differ, suggesting that they are separate works. In the
interior of this enclosure, in close proximity to the railway boundary, is a
T-shaped section of bank 1m high. This has been interpreted as the remains of
two rectangular fishponds. It is possible that these now fragmentary
earthworks represent all that survives of the house and garden constructed by
William Beachamp in 1292.
The church and churchyard are not included in the scheduling. All boundary
features and all metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling although
the ground beneath all 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.

Castlethorpe Castle, despite suffering some disturbance, remains a well
preserved and impressive earthwork complex. The motte, though slighted, will
contain archaeological evidence of its original structure and preserve
environmental evidence relating to the landscape in which it was constructed.
The bailey area is possibly the earliest part of the complex and will contain
important archaeological deposits in its largely undisturbed interior. The
second bailey, though partially destroyed in the south, is similarly
undisturbed in its interior and will also contain archaeological deposits over
a wide area. Peripheral remains surviving within the vicinity of the complex
but beyond the confines of the enclosures offer the possibility of placing the
monument within its original landscape context. The fragmentary remains of the
enclosure and possible fishponds south of the railway line, which may relate
to the 13th century house believed to have existed in the vicinity, will also
contain important archaeological deposits.

Source: Historic England


Card no 1643,
NAR Card no SP74SE1,

Source: Historic England

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