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Castle Hill: motte and bailey castle, Iron Age earthwork enclosure and site of Augustinian friary

A Scheduled Monument in Thetford, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.4112 / 52°24'40"N

Longitude: 0.7552 / 0°45'18"E

OS Eastings: 587492.789912

OS Northings: 282810.309146

OS Grid: TL874828

Mapcode National: GBR RD7.ZQ4

Mapcode Global: VHKCD.1NMG

Entry Name: Castle Hill: motte and bailey castle, Iron Age earthwork enclosure and site of Augustinian friary

Scheduled Date: 26 June 1924

Last Amended: 18 September 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017670

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21427

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Thetford

Built-Up Area: Thetford

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Thetford St Cuthbert

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The monument, which is contained within two areas separated by a road (Castle
Lane), is situated towards the eastern side of the town of Thetford, on a
chalk rise on the north side of the River Thet. It includes a medieval motte
and bailey castle incorporating remains of an earlier earthwork enclosure
identified as an Iron Age fort. Also included is the site of an Augustinian
friary which was established within the earthwork enclosure in the later 14th
century, on land to the south of Castle Lane.

In the area to the north west of Castle Lane and north of Market Street, the
remains of the Iron Age enclosure and medieval castle include substantial
upstanding earthworks. To the south east of Castle Lane, where there are no
visible earthworks, an infilled ditch and other features and archaeological
deposits relating to the prehistoric and medieval occupation of the site are
known to survive below the modern ground surface.

The motte and bailey castle is believed to have been constructed shortly after
the Norman Conquest, either by Ralph Guader, Earl of East Anglia until his
rebellion in 1076, or by Roger Bigod, his successor as Earl. It was sited in a
position to control important crossings of the rivers Thet and Ouse, as well
as to dominate the town of Thetford which, at the time of the Domesday survey
in the late 11th century, was among the six largest and most populous towns in
the country. The pipe roll (exchequer record) of AD 1172-1173 records the
destruction of a castle in that year, although it is possible that this
reference is to Red Castle, a medieval ringwork to the south of the river.

The motte is a large, circular mound of chalk, approximately 25m in height and
90m in diameter at the base. At the summit is a sub-rectangular platform about
25m in diameter surrounded by a bank of chalk rubble approximately 2m in
height with an opening on the north west side. The platform would originally
have supported a timber tower, evidence for which will survive below the
ground surface, and it is likely that the bank represents the footing of a
wall or timber palisade. The base of the motte is encircled by a ditch about
18m - 20m wide which remains open to a depth of between 5m and 6m, and
enclosing this on the north side is a very large double bank and ditch.

Immediately to the east of the motte and its encircling ditch is an area of
level, open ground bounded on the north side by a double bank and ditch which
are contiguous with the earthworks to the north of the motte. A sketch plan of
the earthworks drawn in the first half of the 18th century shows the inner
bank extending east of Castle Lane and turning southwards to enclose a
sub-rectangular bailey with estimated dimensions of about 105m WNW-ESE by up
to 90m. This eastern part of the bank is no longer visible, having been
levelled in 1772, when the remains of an associated wall are said to have been
found. It would, however, have been accompanied by a continuation of the inner
ditch which, although now infilled, will survive as a buried feature. The
probable line of the ditch is marked in places by a slight scarp. The same
plan shows another bank running south eastwards from the motte on the south
side of the bailey, where there are now a series of quarry pits visible as
irregular hollows in the ground surface. Entry to the bailey is provided by a
causeway across the earthworks on the north east side of the motte. The
surviving inner bank on the north side of the bailey stands to a height of
about 6m above the prevailing ground surface and the inner ditch remains open
to a depth of approximately 10m measured from the top of the bank. The
adjacent outer bank has a maximum height of about 3m above ground level, and
the outer ditch remains open to a depth of not more than 2.5m. East of Castle
Lane the outer ditch has been infilled, but observations made in foundations
dug for a new house in 1987 have confirmed that it survives as a buried
feature, running south eastwards towards the river and enclosing the eastern
side of an area which would have been protected on the south side by the river
itself and its marshy flood plain.

Limited excavations undertaken for the Norfolk Research Committee in 1962
produced evidence that the outer ditch is primarily of Iron Age date and that
the medieval castle was therefore constructed within a much earlier
prehistoric enclosure, utilising parts of the existing earthworks. The
excavation revealed that this ditch was originally up to 4m in depth with
straight sides and a flat bottom about 5m wide. It also revealed a smaller
inner ditch buried beneath the inner bank, and this feature is thought also to
be of Iron Age date, although there is evidence that it may have been recut
during the medieval period. Further limited excavations to the east of the
motte and in the part of the larger enclosure to the south of Castle Lane and
east of Nuns Bridges have demonstrated the survival here of extensive evidence
for both medieval and Iron Age occupation, including buried features of Iron
Age date, such as pits and remains of timber structures.

Immediately beyond the outer ditch, in the area of Castle Meadow to the north
of the castle bailey and east of the entrance causeway, the excavations
discovered three sub-rectangular, chalk rubble foundations identified as being
of medieval date, and these features, which are known to extend approximately
16m north of the ditch into Castle Meadow. To the north of the monument and
immediately adjacent to Castle Street are the remains of a substantial
historic earthen bank.

The Augustinian friary, which was located to the south of Castle Lane and East
of Nuns Bridges, in what is still known as Friars Close, was founded c.1387 by
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, on land granted by Sir Thomas Morley and
Simon Barbour, and was a small house of not more than six friars. In 1408 the
friars obtained a license from the Crown to demolish a house standing between
the friary and the street, in order to extend the church and cloister and
build a hermitage. The friary was dissolved in 1538, when it was reported to
be `so bare that there was no earthly thing but trash and baggage', and the
buildings were later demolished. A plan of the foundations, drawn in the early
18th century, shows a broad nave, possibly aisled, a narrower, rectangular
east end which would have contained the choir and presbytery, and a cross
passage or `walking place' between the nave and choir which was a
characteristic feature of friary churches. A later plan, reproduced on a map
of Thetford dated 1837, shows foundations for a steeple over the walking place
and the base of a stair which would have led up to it. Although nothing of the
friary is now visible, remains of the foundations are believed to survive
below the ground surface.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are Ford Place
and its associated early 19th century garden walls, both Listed Grade II, the
houses to the south east and south of Castle Lane, the associated garages,
outbuildings, garden sheds and greenhouses, garden furniture, including a
Listed Grade II monument, which was erected originally in 1807 to mark the
site of burials within the church of the friary, a swimming pool in the garden
of Friars Close, ornamental garden pools, a tennis court in the garden of
Meadow View, all modern fences and gates, garden walls, paving, the surfaces
of modern driveways and paths, inspection chambers, service poles and
bollards; also railings, play apparatus, notice boards and signs in Castle
Meadow adjoining the earthworks to the west of Castle Lane; although the
ground beneath all these features 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 Iron Age enclosure within which the medieval castle was constructed is
identified as a large multivallate hillfort. Large multivallate hillforts are
defined as fortified enclosures of between 5ha and 85ha in area, defined by
two or more concentric earthworks and mostly constructed between the sixth
century BC and the mid-first century AD. As the name suggests, most are
located on hills, but in the lower lying regions of East Anglia, some are
sited on level ground or near valley bottoms. They are generally regarded as
centres of permanent occupation, defended in response to increasing warfare; a
reflection of the power struggle between competing elites. Earthworks usually
consist of a bank and ditch, although some of the enclosures are surrounded
only by banks. Access to the interior is generally provided by two entrances,
although examples with one or more than two have been noted. These may
comprise a single gap in the ramparts, inturned or offset ramparts, oblique
approaches, guardrooms or outworks. Internal features generally include
evidence for intensive occupation, often in the form of oval or circular
houses. These display variations in size and are often clustered, for example,
along streets. Four- and six-post structures, interpreted as raised granaries,
also occur widely, while a few sites appear to contain evidence for temples.
Other features associated with settlement include platforms, paved areas,
pits, gullies, fencelines, hearths and ovens. Additional evidence in the form
of artefacts suggests that industrial activity such as bronze- and
iron-working, as well as pottery manufacture, occurred on many sites.

Large multivallate hillforts are rare and occur chiefly in Wessex and the
Welsh Marches, although scattered examples occur elsewhere. In view of their
rarity and their importance to the understanding of the nature of social
organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples of large multivallate
hillforts with surviving archaeological potential are believed to be of
national importance.

A friary is an institution housing a community of friars. The friars (from the
Latin `frater' meaning `brother' were a novel religious movement which began
in Italy in the late 12th century and which advocated a `mendicant'
life-style. Owning no property of their own, they lived by moving from
community to community begging for the alms and gifts of benefactors as they
went. Unlike the older monastic orders, who were dedicated to a continuous
round of prayer within a single monastery, the friars' main concerns were
preaching, evangelism and learning as they moved from friary to friary.
Friaries were established in England from the early 13th century onwards, the
first houses being founded in Canterbury, London and Oxford in 1224. By the
time of the dissolution of the religious orders in the 1530s, approximately
189 friaries had been founded for a number of different groups of friars, each
with their individual missions. The most important groups were the Franciscans
(the Greyfriars), who eventually established some 60 houses, the Dominicans
(the Blackfriars - represented by 50 houses), the Carmelites (the Whitefriars,
with 41 houses) and the Augustinians or Austin Friars, who had a similar

The sites chosen for friaries were usually within towns, often in the less
valuable, marginal areas. Here the friars laid out groups of buildings with
many components found on older monastic sites, though the restricted sites
sometimes necessitated unconventional building plans. The buildings were
centred on a church and cloister and usually contained a refectory (dining
hall), a chapter house and an infirmary (for the care of the sick). The
buildings were set within a precinct defined by other properties or by its own
purpose built wall, but the public were not totally excluded. The naves of
friary churches, in particular, were designed to accommodate large public
gatherings assembled to hear the friars preach. Friaries made a great
contribution to later medieval life, in the towns particularly, and their
remains add greatly to our understanding of the close inter-relationship
between social and religious life in the high Middle Ages.

Castle Hill motte and bailey castle is one of the most impressive examples of
this type of monument in the region; the motte is the highest in the county of
Norfolk, and the surrounding earthworks, including those parts which have been
levelled, are second only to those of Norwich Castle in extent.

The motte, banks, ditch fills and deposits within the bailey will contain
archaeological information relating to the construction, use and abandonment
of the medieval castle, and the limited excavations carried out on the site
have also shown that evidence for the construction and intensive occupation of
the Iron Age enclosure is also contained in the fills of the outer ditch, in
the outer bank and in buried features in the interior of the enclosure.

Archaeological evidence relating to the prehistoric occupation is likely to be
particularly well preserved in soils buried beneath the motte and banks, and
it is probable that waterlogged deposits within buried features in the lower
lying parts of the monument near the river will include well preserved organic
materials and evidence for the local environment in the prehistoric and
medieval periods.

The location of the monument, commanding the intersection of important land
routes across the Thet and Little Ouse rivers, attests the strategic
importance of the site during the later prehistoric and the later Saxon and
early medieval periods, which led to the growth of Thetford as a major town
between the 10th and 12th centuries. The presence of the friary, on the west
side of the market of the later medieval town which developed on the north
side of the river, gives it additional interest. The visually imposing
earthworks, situated in a public park close to the centre of the town, are
also an important educational and recreational amenity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 434-435
Martin, T, The History of the Town of Thetford, (1779), 11
Martin, T, The History of the Town of Thetford, (1779)
Clarke, W G, 'Norfolk Archaeology' in Thetford Castle Hill, , Vol. 16, (1907), 40
Gregory, A, Davies, J, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in The Iron Age Forts of Norfolk, (1992), 1-30
Gregory, A, Davies, J, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in The Iron Age Forts of Norfolk, (1992), 1-30
Title: A Map of the Municipal Borough of Thetford
Source Date: 1837

Source: Historic England

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