Ancient Monuments

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Swerford Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Swerford, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.978 / 51°58'40"N

Longitude: -1.4591 / 1°27'32"W

OS Eastings: 437248.253091

OS Northings: 231193.828116

OS Grid: SP372311

Mapcode National: GBR 6S9.XM2

Mapcode Global: VHBZ3.NKH1

Entry Name: Swerford Castle

Scheduled Date: 23 March 1949

Last Amended: 26 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014748

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21833

County: Oxfordshire

Civil Parish: Swerford

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Hook Norton with Great Rollright and Swerford

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes the 12th century Swerford motte and bailey castle and an
associated enclosure extending to the north east situated on a north facing
crest, overlooking the valley of the River Swere at a point where the river is
The motte survives as a small stone and earthen conical mound c.18m in
diameter at its summit and c.30m across at its base. It stands c.4m above the
original ground level. It has been slightly truncated to the south where it
has been levelled into the ditch.
The bailey to the south of the motte is roughly kidney-shaped. It encloses an
area c.52m from east-west and 47m from north-south surrounded by a stone
rampart 5m across and up to 3m high and a substantial ditch 10m wide and c.5m
deep. It survives around the entire circuit except for a short 20m long
section in the south west corner which was destroyed in 1925 by an extension
of the adjacent churchyard. A number of platforms within the bailey mark the
location of stables, kitchens and store rooms which will have buried remains.
The original entrance lies on the north side of the castle, facing the ford.
It is situated between the motte and the bailey ditch and measures 8m across.
To the north east of the motte lies a second, smaller, bailey on which two
slight circular platforms stand. Both platforms, believed to be the locations
of a dovecote and windmill, measure c.13m in diameter and 0.4m high. The
bailey has no ditch as such but is formed by a raised platform of material cut
out of the slope. It measures c.32m from north-south and 19m from east-west.
Slight traces of ridge and furrow cultivation are visible in the north east
corner of the field in which the castle lies. These represent agricultural
activity around the site in the Middle Ages. To the south west there is also a
slight hollow way running through the line of the ditch which is believed to
date to the period after the castle fell out of use.
Part excavations in 1938 and 1956 recovered a large quantity of pottery and
some metal work. Much of the pottery was of the same type as that found at
Ascott d'Oyley castle, believed to have been built at a similar date by the
same family.
The pottery suggests a date for the castle's construction in the second half
of the 12th century, perhaps linked to the unrest of the civil war between
King Stephen and Empress Mathilda known as `the Anarchy'.
Excluded from the scheduling are the boundary fences and walls although the
ground beneath 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.

The motte and bailey castle at Swerford survives as an extant earthwork
monument at the centre of the village whose development it both promoted and
then later affected. It is a good example of its class and part excavation
has demonstrated that it contains archaeological remains relating to the
monument, the landscape in which it was built and the economy of the

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 2
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 3
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 1
Jope, EM, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1939), 3
JOPE, E.M., EXCAVATIONS AT SWERFORD CASTLE, 1956, Unpublished paper in SMR file 1151
Personal observations, Jeffery, PP, Castle Hill, Swerford, (1993)
PRN 1151, C.A.O., Swerford Castle, (1970)
St Mary's Church Swerford, 1970, Guide book in SMR and church lobby
St Mary's Church Swerford, 1970, Guide book in SMR and church lobby

Source: Historic England

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