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Great Easton motte castle

A Scheduled Monument in Great Easton, Essex

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Latitude: 51.9042 / 51°54'15"N

Longitude: 0.3375 / 0°20'14"E

OS Eastings: 560900.129918

OS Northings: 225435.447769

OS Grid: TL609254

Mapcode National: GBR NFX.G5G

Mapcode Global: VHHLR.SDRK

Entry Name: Great Easton motte castle

Scheduled Date: 10 August 1923

Last Amended: 19 March 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017468

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31221

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Great Easton

Built-Up Area: Great Easton

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Broxted with Chickney and Tilty and Great and Little Easton

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The medieval motte castle at Great Easton is situated on a broad south facing
spur overlooking the valley of the River Chelmer. It stands immediately to the
east of Easton Hall and about 100m to the south east of St John's Church.
The castle mound, or motte, is approximately 6.4m high and roughly conical in
shape, measuring 35m in diameter at the base and 13m across the flattened
summit. Buried indications of the timber pallisade and keep which would have
crowned the summit are thought to survive, although the irregular depression
currently visible is more likely to be the imprint of a comparatively modern
garden structure, or the result of a small unrecorded excavation such as that
which left a broad hollow in the northern slope. A small rectangular indent
near the base of the western slope marks the site of a garden building shown
on Ordnance Survey maps from the first half of this century. The motte is
surrounded by a ditch measuring up to 15m in width, from which the material
for the mound would have been quarried. Although this is now largely infilled
and visible only as a slight depression, a sample excavation in 1965
demonstrated that it survives as a buried feature to a minimum depth of
approximately 2m.
Excavations, carried out to the south of the motte between 1964 and 1966,
found some evidence from which to date the castle. A 2.4m wide ditch was
discovered just outside the southern perimeter of the motte ditch, containing
early medieval pottery and sealed by upcast associated with the construction
of the motte. From this sequence it has been inferred that the castle was
probably adulterine, constructed during the period of civil war in the
mid-12th century known as `The Anarchy'. Further excavations in the area
immediately to the south of the castle revealed the remains of a small
manorial complex, which immediately post-dated the civil wars and continued in
use until the 15th century; these features were subsequently damaged by
ploughing and are not included in the scheduling although a margin of 3m
from the southern edge of the motte ditch, which preserves its archaeological
relationship with the earlier ditch found during the excavations, is included
in the scheduling.
All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, 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 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.

The medieval motte castle at Great Easton is very well preserved. Despite some
later disturbance, the summit of the mound will retain buried evidence for the
structures which stood there, and the undisturbed silts contained within the
surrounding ditch will contain both artefacts and environmental evidence
related to the period of occupation. The old ground surface buried beneath the
mound is particularly significant as it will retain further evidence of
activity on the site preceding the castle's construction which was indicated
by the discovery of an earlier ditch immediately to the south of the mound in
Excavation has indicated that the motte castle was adulterine, built during
the period of civil war 1139-44 known as `The Anarchy'. This period saw the
construction of numerous small fortifications in the region to protect
manorial lands from hostile factions, a problem which became increasing acute
after the Earl of Essex, Geoffrey de Mandeville, rebelled against the king in
1143. Great Easton castle and other surviving fortifications from this period
illustrate the response of the nobility to this period of unrest, and provide
insights into the localised nature of medieval warfare.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Sellars, E, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Essex: Great Easton, , Vol. 9, (1965), 188
Sellars, E, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Essex: Great Easton, , Vol. 10, (1966), 190
Sellars, E, Sellars, J, 'Trans Essex Arch Soc' in Excavations At Great Easton: Second Interim Report, , Vol. Vol 2, (1965), 97
Sellars, E, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Essex: Great Easton, , Vol. 11, (1967), 284
Conversation with landowner, Barrow, D, (1996)
information from excavator, Barrow, D & Sellars, E, Great Easton Castle (letter to EH, filed under AA 41391/1), (1992)
MPP revised scheduling (abandoned), Wild, S, SM:20682 Great Easton motte castle and associated moated site, (1992)
RCHME, Inventory of Historic Monuments, Essex, (1916)
Sellars, E, Motte ditch, Gt Easton Catle, 1965, unpublished excavation record
Title: Ordnance Survey 25"
Source Date: 1938

Source: Historic England

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