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Yielden Castle: a motte and bailey castle, fishponds and associated enclosures

A Scheduled Monument in Melchbourne and Yielden, Bedford

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Latitude: 52.2913 / 52°17'28"N

Longitude: -0.515 / 0°30'54"W

OS Eastings: 501376.827666

OS Northings: 266948.494681

OS Grid: TL013669

Mapcode National: GBR G05.8MC

Mapcode Global: VHFPG.1N2T

Entry Name: Yielden Castle: a motte and bailey castle, fishponds and associated enclosures

Scheduled Date: 13 December 1929

Last Amended: 2 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013520

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27111

County: Bedford

Civil Parish: Melchbourne and Yielden

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Yelden

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument is located in the valley of the River Til, on the eastern side of
the village of Yielden, and includes the remains of a medieval castle mound
with baileys to the north and west, and a series of banked and ditched
enclosures arranged along its eastern side.
The mound, or motte, which provided the main stronghold within the castle,
lies some 100m east of Yielden High Street. It is steep-sided and roughly oval
in plan, measuring approximately 55m by 70m around the base and 18m by 40m at
the top. The mound rises in two stages from the south, the first stage forming
a D-shaped platform about 5.5m above the level of the western bailey. Access
to this stage was provided by an earthen ramp, which remains visible as a
slight break in slope on the western side of the mound. To the north, the
motte rises by c.2m, approached from the lower stage by a broad hollow in the
intervening scarp. The summit is flat and about c.10m square, surrounded by a
low bank. This area was partly excavated in 1882 revealing the robbed-out
foundations of a substantial stone keep or tower. The eastern side of the
motte descends into a broad ditch, or moat, which continues around the bailey
on the western side of the mound, indicating a single period of construction
for both these features. The ditch varies between 15m and 25m in width,
averages 1.5m deep, and is seasonally waterlogged. It encloses a roughly
rectangular area, measuring 90m north to south and 45m east to west, with the
motte protruding from the north eastern corner. The western half of the bailey
contains numerous low earthworks, mostly sub-rectangular, and considered to be
building platforms. The bailey was originally enclosed by a continuous bank,
which now survives to a height of 1.5m-2m along the southern and south eastern
arms, and as a slight earthwork elsewhere. The northern section of this
rampart, which during the period of occupation is thought to have supported a
timber palisade, continues about half way up the western side of the motte.
Exploratory trenches dug within the bailey in 1881 exposed stone debris from
demolished structures and uncovered foundations for a retaining wall on the
inside of the rampart. Associated with this wall, in the south west corner of
the bailey, lay the base of a large circular structure, which was considered
to be a bastion, or fortified tower.
The second bailey lies to the north west of the motte, separated by the
northern arm of the moat, and is thought to belong to a slightly later phase
in the development of the castle. The bailey area is roughly triangular, with
maximum dimensions of c.110m east to west and 70m north to south; its layout
dictating the acute angle between the High Street and Melchbourne Road. A
further high bank or rampart, measuring up to 14m across and 2m high, skirts
the north eastern and western sides of this bailey. This is accompanied on the
north eastern side by a large ditch, 10m across, which descends to c.2m in
places. The eastern end of the ditch joins the earlier moat near the motte,
although the moat is approximately 1m deeper than the bailey ditch at this
point, and the latter is thought to have been dry. The interior of the bailey
slopes downwards from the east, where several platforms indicate the locations
of further buildings. In the centre are two slight depressions, each
approximately 15m across. The southernmost of these is separated from the
edge of the bailey by a broad hollow way leading toward the western arm and
the possible location of a former bridge. A third depression, also dry, is
located in the northern corner of the enclosure. This feature measures 25m by
8m and 0.8m deep, and is thought to represent a small fishpond.
The western ditch is approximately 12m wide and 1m deep, and is thought to
have been formed from the original course of the River Til, continuing to the
south along the side of the earlier bailey and providing water to the rest of
the moat. This ditch has been considerably altered in both medieval and modern
times. The earlier changes, contemporary with the occupation of the site,
include a widening of the southern part to form a large fishpond, adjacent to
the western bailey. The enlarged section measures between 30m and 40m across
and suggests a period of the castle's use when defence was no longer the
primary concern. The pond is about 2m in depth, and largely dry, although
containing deep silts deposited by slow moving water. A bank across the
southern end, measuring 0.8m high and 40m in length served to dam the pond;
and traces of the original outflow channel continue to the south as far as the
boundary of Middle Farm. The junction of the outflow and dam was, however,
truncated by the excavation of a small pond before 1881. To the west, the
fishpond was contained by a bank, c.1m high and 10m wide, which extends for
approximately 120m parallel to the High Street. A small mound or island
located near the dam at the southern end of the pond was investigated in 1882,
and found to retain the stone foundations of a medieval dovecote.
A tithe map of 1842 shows the River Til to have been diverted away from the
western ditch and pond, and lying between the eastern bank and the edge of the
High Street. However, this channel was infilled around 1950, and a new course
dug along the former route within the base of the fishpond and the west side
of the northern bailey ditch.
The development of the site from early military to later manorial use is
illustrated by an arrangement of six rectangular paddocks aligned along the
eastern side of the castle. These are defined primarily by ditches, varying
between 5m and 8m in width and between 0.3m and 0.9m in depth, some
accompanied by low banks formed from the upcast. The enclosures share a common
eastern ditch which is orientated north east to south west, and located some
200m to the east of the High Street. The drainage channels separating the
individual enclosures extend to the north west of this feature, and either
abut or join the eastern side of the bailey ditches. The two most northerly
enclosures are each about 35m square, whereas the third enclosure extends 20m
further to the west following the curvature of the moat around the south east
side of the the motte. The middle enclosure of these three is divided into two
levels by a shallow scarp across the centre. Access to the lower, southern
part is provided by a causeway across the main ditch to the east; and a second
causeway spans the southern boundary ditch of the enclosure, near the moat.
The fourth enclosure measures between 25m and 30m in width, and 70m in length;
and abuts the eastern side of the moat surrounding the western bailey. The
fifth, extends for 130m along the south side of the moat and terminates in a
scarp at the edge of the fishpond. The sixth, and most southerly, enclosure
continues for about 100m from the main, eastern ditch, and retains traces of
ridged cultivation. The pasture to the south and east of the enclosures
contains a wider pattern of ridge and furrow ploughing, much of which was
reduced by ploughing during, and shortly after World War II.
A sample of these earthworks, between 10m and 20m in width, is included in the
scheduling to provide protection for their archaeological relationship with
the enclosures and thus with the castle.
At the time of the Domesday Survey, Yielden formed one of seven parishes on
the Northamptonshire/Bedfordshire border held by Geoffrey de Trailly under the
authority of the Bishop of Coutances. The parish later became the centre of
the barony of Trailly, and the castle is thought to have served as its focus.
It remained in the possession of the Trailly family through the 12th and 13th
centuries, during which time Thorney Abbey was endowed with the parish church.
However, in 1360 it was recorded as having "fallen intirely to decay".
The following items are excluded from the scheduling: the surface of the
public road at the north end of the site, together with the modern hardcore,
culvert and drains below; the modern bridges spanning the channel of the River
Til, and all fences and fence posts, although 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.

Yielden Castle is one of the most complete examples of its class in
Bedfordshire. The small scale excavations of the late 19th century
demonstrated the survival of the buried foundations of buildings and walls.
These are also indicated in many areas by platforms and other minor
earthworks. The buried deposits within the castle (particularly within
surrounding ditches) will contain both artefactual and enviromental evidence
related to the period of occupation and the landscape in which the monument
was set. The motte and ramparts will also overlie earlier ground surfaces,
preserving any evidence of former habitation or land use. The scale of the
castle's defences illustrates the political and strategic importance of the
site in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest whilst the later features in and
around the castle illustrate its changing role in subsequent centuries.
Fishponds, such as those at Yielden Castle, were a common feature of many
types of medieval settlement and institution and were designed for cultivating
and storing fish in order to provide a constant and sustainable supply of
food. Those at Yielden are very well preserved and, together with the survival
of the dovecote, reflect changes in the castle's purpose and priorities in the
later medieval and post-medieval periods. These changes will also be
documented in the changes to the surrounding enclosures and the wider
parochial field system. At Yielden the adjacent agricultural enclosures are
particularly well preserved and illustrate the close interdependence between
major defensive and administrative sites and the broader agricultural

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire: Yelden or Yielden Castle, (1904), 290-1
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 145-9
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 145-9
Baker, R S, 'Association of Archaeological Societies Report' in Yelden Castle in Bedfordshire, , Vol. 16, (1882), 251-64
Baker, R S, 'Association of Archaeological Societies Report' in Yelden Castle in Bedfordshire, , Vol. 16, (1882), 251-65
Baker, R S, 'Association of Archaeological Societies Report' in Yelden Castle in Bedfordshire, , Vol. 16, (1882), 251-65
Scriven, R S, 'Association of Archaeological Societies Report' in Yielden Castle in Bedfordshire, (1882), 265
Scriven, R S, 'Association of Archaeological Societies Report' in Yielden Castle in Bedfordshire, (1882), 265
Dennison, E, Single Monument Class Description: Dovecotes, (1989)
Extract from Chateau Galliard report, Baker, D, 341: Yelden Castle, (1982)
Extract from Chateau Galliard report, Baker, D, 341: Yelden Castle, (1982)
Extract from Chateau Galliard report, Baker, D, 341: Yelden Castle, (1982)
Oblique, CUCAP, BLD 62, (1972)
Oblique, CUCAP, FG 58-62, (1950)
Oblique, CUCAP, FG 60, (1950)
Oblique, Northants C C, 3009/11, (1986)
Survey and notes, Taylor, CC and Brown, AE, Yielden Castle, (1978)
Survey and notes, Taylor, CC and Brown, AE, Yielden Castle, (1978)
Survey and notes, Taylor, CC and Brown, AE, Yielden Castle, (1978)
Title: CRO MA 54
Source Date: 1842
Tithe Award Map
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Edition
Source Date: 1974

Willmott, G, The Present Course of the River Til, (1994)

Source: Historic England

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