Ancient Monuments

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Fenny Castle: a motte and bailey castle

A Scheduled Monument in Wookey, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.1893 / 51°11'21"N

Longitude: -2.7058 / 2°42'20"W

OS Eastings: 350768.972998

OS Northings: 143582.263275

OS Grid: ST507435

Mapcode National: GBR ML.569M

Mapcode Global: VH89Y.1CWL

Entry Name: Fenny Castle: a motte and bailey castle

Scheduled Date: 2 January 1976

Last Amended: 31 January 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015496

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29035

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Wookey

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle set on a small natural hill
surrounded by flat, formerly marsh land. The hill is an elongated ridge,
orientated north west-south east. The north west end of the hill has been
scarped into a steep-sided conical mound to form a motte, while the south east
end has been levelled to create a narrow bailey. Beyond the motte to the north
west, but still above the level of surrounding land, are earthworks and
platforms representing an additional area of occupation.

The motte rises 11m above ground level on its north west side and 8m from the
base of its quarry ditch to the south east. It has a small flat oval top 20m
across. The bailey, to its south east, is a levelled area 70m by 20m wide. A
number of mounds, hollows and scarps indicate the presence of former buildings
in this area, though stone robbing has confused the plan at ground level.

Beyond the monument to the north west is a former river course, visible as a
broad shallow depression flanked by slight banks. This will have added to the
defensive nature of the site if, as is likely, this was flowing in the
medieval period.

In the 19th century it is recorded that part of the slope at the north west
end of the hill was removed to enable easier access around it. In the process,
the remains of 20 skeletons, possibly of a period predating the construction
of the castle, were removed.

The castle is first referred to historically in 1327, when William atte Castle
is recorded as a local resident and taxpayer, and again in 1354 when Alice
atte Castle was a tenant. In 1470 William Worcestre wrote of a castle called
Fenney Castle, which was a ruin, and had been built of stone, of which traces
were still visible. The historian Leland, writing in 1540, confirms this.

In 1825, the Rev J Skinner visited the site shortly after damage had been
incurred by a farmer, and recorded that `foundations of buildings may yet be
seen, and quantities of squared free-stone have been conveyed from thence in
the memory of man, and employed in the walls of some of the edifices in the
neighbourhood'. Some digging in the castle was undertaken, to a depth of
6 feet, and a strong wall was found defending the summit, as well as iron
rings, an iron implement and pottery. Skinner also mentions a paved causeway
running to the hill from the hamlet of Castle, and this was apparently still
visible as a slight grassy bank in 1928, running across the field from near
Fenny Castle House. It is not obvious today. Local tradition has it that King
Alfred is buried in Castle Hill.

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.

Fenny Castle, despite some later disturbance, survives well. Soils present
exhibit a high presence of snail shells, indicating a good potential for
environmental evidence regarding the surroundings of the site. Earthworks and
excavated evidence suggest that stonework and other features will survive
below the surface. The hill and castle are prominent features in the
landscape, and are traditionally associated with King Alfred.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Wicks, A T, 'Wells Nat Hist And Arch Soc' in Fenny Castle... Somerset; 40th Ann.Rep , (1928)
Wicks, A T, 'Wells Nat Hist And Arch Soc' in Fenny Castle... Somerset; 40th Ann.Rep , (1928)
SMR file PRN 24455, (1995)

Source: Historic England

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