Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

A ringwork and bailey castle, and 17th century formal garden remains, at Bourn Hall

A Scheduled Monument in Bourn, Cambridgeshire

We don't have any photos of this monument yet. Why don't you be the first to send us one?

Upload Photo »

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 52.188 / 52°11'16"N

Longitude: -0.0662 / 0°3'58"W

OS Eastings: 532295.570924

OS Northings: 256178.078501

OS Grid: TL322561

Mapcode National: GBR K5X.VF0

Mapcode Global: VHGMQ.S8WJ

Entry Name: A ringwork and bailey castle, and 17th century formal garden remains, at Bourn Hall

Scheduled Date: 5 September 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014238

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27106

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Bourn

Built-Up Area: Bourn

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Bourn St Helena and St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The monument includes the remains of an 11th century castle situated on high
ground to the west of the village of Bourn and the valley of the Bourn Brook,
approximately 1km to the east of the Ermine Street Roman road. The site is now
dominated by Bourn Hall, a 17th century manor house built on the highest part
of the hill, within the main defensive enclosure.

The construction of the Hall and its adjacent stables, its subsequent
development (in particular the landscaping of the gardens, which in part
utilised the layout of the castle) has considerably altered the appearance of
the earlier monument. However, approximately 65% of the earthworks which
define the castle's defences remain visible allowing accurate interpretation
of its former extent, and the infilled sections of the defensive ditches will
survive as buried features.

The castle comprised two adjoining enclosures. A circular bank accompanied by
an external ditch formed the main stronghold, or ringwork; and a
horseshoe-shaped enclosure, attached to the north eastern side of the ringwork
and similarly fortified, served as an outer courtyard or bailey. In both cases
the banks would originally have measured several metres in height, and been
surmounted by timber palisades.

The ringwork measures approximately 140m in diameter and is mainly defined by
the remains of the defensive ditch, which is visible around all but the
northern third of the enclosure. In the mid 18th century a visiting
antiquarian noted that the internal bank or rampart formed a more complete
circuit, with a level area or berm separating the bank from the ditch. As a
result of later phases of landscaping only two sections of this rampart remain
visible. The first lies to the east of the house and measures approximately
25m by 9m, and 0.9m in height. The second and larger segment extends for
approximately 60m along the western side of the ringwork, broadly parallel
with the south western side of the hall. This section, which measures 14m in
width and 1.8m in height, is thought to have been adapted in the early 17th
century to form a garden walk or terrace. The ditch measures between 8m and
12m in width and descends to a maximum depth of c.2m, with a flat base varying
between 4m and 9m across. A narrow swimming pool, 40m in length, was
constructed within the south western part of the circuit during the early
1920's, and still retains water despite the cracks in the concrete lining.

Elsewhere around the circuit the deeper sections of the ditch are seasonally
wet. A modern wooden footbridge spans the ditch to the west of the swimming
pool, replacing an earlier structure which allowed access to a wooded avenue
to the south east known as Bandyleg Walk. The ditch beneath the bridge has
been narrowed by later infilling, but widens to its original dimensions as it
resumes its course to the north. A channel, 8m wide and 1m deep, thought to be
an original drainage leat leaves the main ditch at a point some 20m north east
of the bridge and continues for approximately 30m towards the boundary of the
field to the south east (beyond which it has been infilled and is no longer
visible). The junction of the ringwork and bailey ditches lies about 20m to
the north west of the drainage channel. Both junctions are marked by small
ponds within the ringwork ditch, each containing waterlogged silts. The inner
scarp of the ringwork ditch can be traced for approximately 60m further to the
north; beyond this point the north western part of the circuit (which
separated the ringwork from the bailey) was infilled and levelled during later
landscaping of the grounds. The north western part of the ringwork perimeter,
including the junction with the northern arc of the bailey, was overlain by
the construction of the stable block in the 17th century, and has been
further obscured by more recent additions to the original building. The
ringwork ditch re-emerges as a shallow depression, 0.6m in depth, on the
western side of this range, becoming broader and deeper as it continues around
the western perimeter of the castle. To the north of the modified section of
the western rampart the ditch is spanned by a brick built bridge which has the
date 1840 inscribed on the stone parapet. To the south, the ditch has been
infilled over a distance of some 25m providing a causeway linking the later
Hall to Ermine Street. Although the interior of the ringwork has been altered
by garden landscaping, slight undulations remain in the lawns to the south and
east of the Hall which are thought to mark the location of buried structures
and other features associated with the original occupation of the castle. The
Hall itself stands upon a raised earthen platform, 1m-1.5m in height, which
extends for 8m-12m beyond the limits of the building on all but the north
western side. The south western side of the platform extends to form a raised
garden walkway leading towards the southern end of the modified rampart. With
the exception of the cellars beneath the Hall, these raised areas will have
provided a measure of protection for further remains of earlier occupation
buried beneath. The ground to the south west of the Hall has been levelled to
provide a rectangular garden defined by the walkway and the western rampart.
This area is now a lawn, but is thought to have originally contained an
ornamental garden.

The bailey extends for c.80m down the gentle slope to the north east of the
ringwork, and measures approximately 100m north west to south east. The
northern arc of the perimeter ditch has been largely infilled, although it
remains visible as a broad depression, 17m in width and up to 0.8m in depth,
except towards the west where it has been overlain by the drive way leading to
the Hall. The interior bank has been reduced and the soil probably used to
infill the ditch. However, slight traces remain, and a segment, 0.5m high and
35m long, survives at the western end of the arc. The southern perimeter of
the bailey is mostly overlain by the yard and outbuildings belonging to Hall
Farm, although its position can be determined by the orientation of the
surviving earthworks to the east and west of this area. To the west, within
the grounds of the Hall, a 10m long section of the ditch (measuring 12m across
and 1.5m deep) extends eastwards from its junction with the ringwork defences.
To the north west of the farm, the ditch has been enlarged to form a pond, the
northern end of which retains the original dimensions of the ditch. The inner
bank of the ditch continues in the form of a shallow scarp for approximately
10m to the south west of the pond. The original entrance to the castle was
provided by a causeway, 8m in width, which spans the centre of the north
eastern bailey ditch, immediately to the north of the pond. The causeway
formed part of a raised approach, still visible as a slight earthwork, c.10m
in width and 0.3m high, leading across the centre of the bailey towards the
middle of the ringwork. This approach is thought to have been a continuation
of the lane from the village which passes to the south of the Parish Church of
St Helena and St Mary, situated some 100m to the north east of the bailey. The
interior of the bailey, like that of the ringwork, has been altered by the
later landscaping. However, numerous low earthworks remain visible including a
small, sporadically waterlogged depression to the south of the causeway,
indicating the survival of buried remains of earlier structures.

The castle was built by Picot de Cambridge, the first Norman Sheriff of the
shire (recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086), and subsequently formed his
baronial seat. In the late 11th century, Picot gave a chapel within the castle
to the Canons of Cambridge (later Barnwell Priory), together with the church
of Brune (as Bourn was then called). The church remained the possession of
the priory until the reign of Edward VI, when it passed to Christ's College,
Cambridge. The Cambridge antiquarian John Layer writing in 1640 mentions a
reference to Alan de la Turre, who paid revenue to the hundred during the
reign of Henry I, and may have held the castle for the Picot family. The
castle is thought to have been burnt down in 1266 during a raid by Robert de
Lisle, one of the former followers of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester,
who had been killed at the battle of Evesham in the previous year during the
baronial wars against the king, Henry III.

The Hall (a Grade II* Listed Building) is thought to have been built by John
and Francis Hagar around 1602, a date cast onto the rain water heads on the
south east elevation. The house was extended by John Hagar in the early 17th
century to enclose three sides of an open court facing south west, and it is
thought that the gardens in front of the Hall were designed to compliment this
new arrangement. This work included the alterations to the western rampart,
which was enlarged and straightened (together with the adjacent section of the
ditch) and the top levelled to provide a garden walkway. Fragments of brick
revetment remain visible at the south end of the bank. The reduction of the
bank around the remainder of the southern and south western sides of the
ringwork is believed to be contemporary, the material possibly being reused in
the construction of the raised walkway and perhaps the platform beneath the
enlarged Hall.

The estate was purchased in 1733 by Baltzar Leyell, an East India merchant of
Swedish origin. On his death in 1740 the estate remained with his widow and
passed, on her death in 1752, to Baltzar's nephew, Henry Leyell. In 1803 the
estate passed to Henry's grandson George West, Earl de la Warr who, on his
marriage to Elizabeth Sackville in 1813, assumed the name Sackville-West.
Between 1817 and 1819 the Hall was restored and enlarged under the direction
of John Adey Repton, whilst his father Humphrey supervised the landscaping of
the grounds. The north east wing of the Hall, previously timber, was encased
in brick to match the other elevations, and new chimneys and window bays were
added in a revised Tudor style. An area of woodland was created to the north
of the bailey providing a setting for a new driveway, which has been retained
as the present approach to the Hall. The reduction of the north eastern
ringwork and bailey defences is thought to date to this period, thereby
forming an open prospect of the Hall when viewed from the drive, and improving
the view of the church and the newly landscaped grounds from the Hall.

The adjacent stables (a Grade II Listed Building) were constructed in the 17th
century, subsequently altered, and were restored together with the Hall in
1960. In 1980 the estate became the property of the Bourn Hall Clinic, and in
the mid 1980s an additional range of buildings was added between the existing
structures. Examination of the foundation trenches during this work revealed
deep archaeological deposits, some containing organic material.

The following items are excluded from the scheduling: Bourn Hall and its
cellars, the associated stable block and the modern buildings which form a
range between; the bungalow and outbuildings at Hall Farm; the 19th century
bridge and the timber bridge which spans the ringwork ditch; the spot lights,
ornamental pedestals and the brick barbecue stand in the grounds of Bourn
Hall; all railings, fences and fenceposts, and the made surfaces of all
driveways, paths and yards; the ground beneath these features is, however,

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.

The ringwork and bailey castle at Bourn Hall was a particularly large and well
defended example of this type of medieval fortification, and despite later
alterations retains many of its original features. Limited archaeological
investigations have sampled only a small fraction of the site, yet have
demonstrated conditions suitable for the preservation of buried features
within the interior, elsewhere indicated by low earthworks, which will include
structures, yards and other evidence relating to the earlier period of
occupation. The surrounding moat will also contain both environmental and
artefactual evidence within the accumulated silts and later infill, related to
the original use and subsequent development of the site. The surviving
sections of the ramparts will retain evidence for the process of construction,
and preserve any signs of earlier activity in the buried land surface beneath,
as also will the raised approach which crosses the bailey.

The importance of the site is enhanced by the documentary evidence for its
founder, Picot, a central figure during the early Norman occupation of the
region. The relationship between the castle and the adjacent parish church is
also of particular interest and will provide valuable information concerning
the relationship between the developing role of the castle and the adjacent
village. There is an unusual sequence of adaptations which occured following
the construction of a post-medieval hall within the centre of the ringwork, in
particular the development of a formal 17th century garden.

Post-medieval formal gardens are usually found in direct association with the
dwellings of high ranking individuals in society and were created as an
expression of wealth and refinement, forming a setting for such residences.
Gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries tend to comprise a regular or
symmetrical pattern of flower beds, water features, paths, terraces or lawns
forming vistas related to the main building.

The garden remains at Bourn Hall are well preserved and include several of the
characteristic features of the period. The modified section of the ringwork
defences remains largely unaltered, providing both a raised walkway and a
water feature and, together with the second raised walkway from the Hall,
delineating the border of a level lawn fronting the building.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hivernel, F, Taylor, A, Reck, J, The Normans in Cambridgeshire, (1986), 27
Morgan, K O (ed), The Oxford History of Britain, (1989), 153
Salzman, L F, The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, (1948), 16-17
Palmer, W M, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society (Octavo)' in John Layer 1640: A 17th Century Local Historian, , Vol. liii, (1935)
Annotated plan - parish file, Taylor, A, Picot's Castle, (1985)
Bourn 15/22, DoE, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, District of South Cambridgeshire,
Conversation with Director of Clinic, Macnamee, MC, Bourn Hall Gardens, (1994)
Information board in church, The Parish Church of St Helena and St Mary, Bourn,
Plan based on 2nd ed. 25 inch series, Sale of the Bourn Hall Estate and Hall Farm, (1923)
RCHME, The Monuments of West Cambridgeshire, (1968)
Rooke, N, 1096: Bourn, site of Picot's castle, (1985)
Unsigned local history pamphlet, Bourn Hall, (1990)

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.