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Burwell Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Burwell, Cambridgeshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.2701 / 52°16'12"N

Longitude: 0.3246 / 0°19'28"E

OS Eastings: 558711.646872

OS Northings: 266096.975861

OS Grid: TL587660

Mapcode National: GBR N9F.QVQ

Mapcode Global: VHHK0.K6YK

Entry Name: Burwell Castle

Scheduled Date: 3 December 1951

Last Amended: 14 March 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015596

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29382

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Burwell

Built-Up Area: Burwell

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Burwell with Reach

Church of England Diocese: Ely

Details

The monument lies towards the southern end of the village of Burwell,
immediately to the west of St Mary's Church. It includes a motte castle
believed to have been constructed (but left incomplete) in the mid 12th
century, the remains of an earlier settlement supplanted by the castle, and
features related to a manor belonging to Ramsey Abbey which was later
established on the site. Also included are traces of a Roman building found
during sample excavation of the motte in 1935.
The castle is thought to have formed part of a chain of defences constructed
by King Stephen's forces in 1143-4, in order to contain the rebel Earl of
Essex, Geoffrey de Mandeville, who had seized the Isle of Ely and made a
stronghold in the fens. It is of unusual design, formed by the excavation of a
broad flat bottomed moat to leave a rectangular island some 35m by 60m across.
The surface of the island is uneven, the east and west ends rising c.4m above
the base of the ditch, and sloping toward the centre. Evidence from
T C Lethbridge's excavations suggests that this appearance resulted from an
unfinished platform using spoil from the moat, which itself retains low
terraces or shelves of unexcavated natural chalk. This incomplete state may be
linked to a reference in the Cartulary of Ramsey Abbey which records that de
Mandeville brought his army to attack a castle `newly built at Burwell' in
August 1144. De Mandeville is thought to have been wounded by an arrow shot
from the ramparts and, with his death shortly after, the castle may no longer
have been required.
The bulk of the material from the moat forms two large mounds flanking the
outer edges of the north and western arms. The irregular appearance of these
mounds indicates an accumulation of small loads and even the hod runs remain
evident. The northern mound overlies the southern parts of three rectangular
enclosures within a line of four or five such features defined by shallow
banks and ditches. These are interpreted as the curtilages of medieval houses,
part of a settlement (perhaps belonging to Ramsey Abbey) abandoned when this
relatively elevated position was appropriated for the castle. Structural
evidence for these dwellings may well remain buried beneath the upcast. Minor
undulations suggesting further settlement remains extend across the open
pasture to the north, and further enclosures can be seen to the east of the
castle where earthworks marking the foundations of two rectangular buildings,
probably long houses, are visible.
A section of clunch walling stood to a height of some 2.5m along part of the
eastern edge of the island, until destroyed whilst testing the village fire
hose in the late 1920s. Lethbridge's excavations revealed more of the
foundations of this structure which proved to be part of a narrow range
running the length of eastern arm and half way along the southern side of the
island. Near the centre of the eastern range stood a small rectangular
building projecting slightly over the line of the moat and supported by
diagonal buttresses on this side. The walls did not enclose the entire island,
and are unlikely to be related to the period of the castle's construction. It
is more probable that the range formed part of a later manor of Burwell held
by the Abbot of Ramsey who, in 1246, was licensed by the Bishop of Ely to
erect an oratory therein. Fragments of painted glass and part of a leaded
window frame were found during excavation, probably identifying the small
structure in the eastern range with this chapel. Fragments of dressed stone,
including one inscribed `MARIA' also support this conclusion. Two latrine
chutes in the wall of the range to the north imply a chamber, perhaps the
Abbot's camera, on the first floor.
A series of fishponds run to the north west of the castle, following the
stream course which flows through the southern arm of the moat from the
springs to the east. These may be contemporary with the occupation of the
later manor, or with the settlement which preceded the construction of the
castle. The clearest examples lie approximately 30m north west of the moat
forming a pair of rectangular depressions linked together and to the line of
the stream by partly infilled channels. Further depressions, less well
defined, continue along the stream course for approximately 100m, separated by
low banks and scarps and flanked to the east by a broad and shallow ditch.
Evidence of occupation in the Roman period was discovered during Lethbridge's
excavations, including a section of rubble wall footings and a cobbled surface
towards the western edge of the island. Part of a ditch containing tile and
Romano-British pottery was found towards the eastern side of the island, and
the old ground surface (buried by the mound on this side) was found to contain
a quantity of painted wall plaster.
All fences and fenceposts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground
beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Motte 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-bai1ey 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 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
and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from
most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as
motte castles. 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.

Burwell Castle represents an unusual departure from the more standard oval or
rounded mottes of this period, although the intended details of its final
appearance are difficult to judge from its incomplete state. The castle is,
however, well preserved and all the more interesting on account of the
unfinished nature of the work. The motte, the moat and the heaped soil
outside, contain valuable evidence for the method of construction, and
artefacts found in these contexts will provide information regarding the
duration of military activity - perhaps reinforcing the documentary references
to the part which it played during the period of 12th century civil war known
as `The Anarchy'.
The imposition of the castle over an existing settlement is particularly
interesting, providing significant insights into the nature of society at the
time. The earthwork remains of this settlement generally survive well and,
through the process of the castle's construction, some areas will be
exceptionally well preserved beneath dateable layers of upcast. The evidence
relating to the later manor is also highly valuable, demonstrating the
continuing tenure of Ramsey Abbey beyond the period of military activity, and
providing structural details of the chapel mentioned in the Abbey's cartulary.
The fishponds - artificial pools of slow moving water ensuring a constant
supply of food and serving as symbols of status in the medieval period -
probably belong to this later period of occupation. The partly buried
earthworks retain details of the water management system, and the silts within
will contain artefactual evidence for the date of construction and duration of
use, and environmental indicators illustrating the appearance of the landscape
in which they were set.
The presence of occupation evidence from the Roman period is also of interest,
reflecting the suitabilty of the location for settlement rather than any
continuity between this period an the medieval settlement which preceded the
castle.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Taylor, A, Castles of Cambridgeshire, (1990), 13
Taylor, A, Castles of Cambridgeshire, (1990), 12-13
Lethbridge, T C, 'PCAS' in Excavations at Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire, , Vol. 36, (1935), 121-33
Lethbridge, T C, 'PCAS' in Excavations at Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire, , Vol. 36, (1935), 121-33
Lethbridge, T C, 'PCAS' in Excavations at Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire, , Vol. 36, (1935), 121-33
Other
RCHME, Inventory of Monuments in Cambridgeshire, North East Cambridgeshire, (1972)
RCHME, Inventory of Monuments in Cambridgeshire, North East Cambridgeshire, (1972)
RCHME, Inventory of Monuments in Cambridgeshire, North East Cambridgeshire, (1972)
RCHME, Inventory of Monuments in Cambridgeshire, North East Cambridgeshire, (1972)

Source: Historic England

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