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Red Castle medieval ringwork, church and Saxon settlement remains

A Scheduled Monument in Thetford, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.414 / 52°24'50"N

Longitude: 0.7327 / 0°43'57"E

OS Eastings: 585951.929777

OS Northings: 283070.215969

OS Grid: TL859830

Mapcode National: GBR RD7.L2H

Mapcode Global: VHKCC.NL78

Entry Name: Red Castle medieval ringwork, church and Saxon settlement remains

Scheduled Date: 26 June 1924

Last Amended: 16 January 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017673

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21442

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Thetford

Built-Up Area: Thetford

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Thetford St Cuthbert

Church of England Diocese: Norwich


The monument includes a 12th century ringwork which contains the buried
remains of an earlier medieval church and overlies part of the town ditch on
the western boundary of the Late Saxon town of Thetford. It also includes
part of an earlier Saxon settlement, distinct from the later town, together
with remains relating to Romano-British occupation dated to the first century
AD. The ringwork is situated on the south side of the Thetford-Brandon road
(B1107), about 100m south of the Little Ouse River and overlooking the site of
a medieval ford. The remains of the Augustinian priory of the Canons of the
Holy Sepulchre lie about 370m to the east, and St Mary's Cluniac priory is
centred 550m to the north east, on the opposite side of the river.

The ringwork is a sub-circular earthwork with an overall diameter of
approximately 120m and is visible as a flat-topped mound with a broad, raised
rim on the west and south east sides, encircled by a ditch which remains open
to a depth of about 1.5m on the west side. On the south and east sides the
ditch has become infilled, but survives as a buried feature, and on the north
side it has been largely removed by the cutting of the road. Limited
excavations carried out for the Ministry of Works by Group Captain Guy Knocker
in 1957 and 1958 demonstrated that the full depth of the ditch is
approximately 3m, measured from the contemporary ground surface, and that it
surrounds an inner bank about 2m in height and 12m wide at the base,
constructed of sand and gravel upcast from the ditch. The bank is now partly
obscured by blown sand which has accumulated against its inner face and raised
the surface of the interior of the ringwork 0.6m and more above the original
level. The excavations also revealed some evidence for a timber palisade on
top of the bank. Extensive excavations carried out in 1988-1989 in the area
immediately to the east of the visible earthwork have shown that there was a
semicircular bailey measuring approximately 27m across east-west on that side,
enclosed by a ditch about 1.5m deep and 4.3m wide. The latter area now
underlies a modern housing development and is not included in the scheduling.
The ringwork is thought to have been constructed in the 12th century, probably
during the `anarchy' of King Stephen's reign (1135-1154), and to have remained
in use for a relatively short period. If so, it was probably constructed by
Earl Warenne who, after 1139, held the surrounding land south of the river and
who also founded the nearby Augustinian priory.

The excavations of 1957-58 also revealed buried remains of the east end of a
small church situated on the eastern edge of a large sand pit in the northern
part of the enclosure, with an associated burial ground to the south and east
of it. The wall footings, of mortared flint with the remains of freestone
dressings, are recorded as standing to a height of about 0.6m above the level
of the original floor and are known to survive as buried features. The
evidence recorded in the excavation has demonstrated that the church was in
existence before the construction of the ringwork and was incorporated within
it, perhaps serving as a strong point in the fortifications. A small vestry
added to north side of the chancel has been dated to the 13th century and is
evidence that the church continued in use after the fortification was
abandoned, although it is thought to have gone out of use by the 14th century.
It has been suggested that this may have been the St Martin's Church recorded
in the Domesday survey of 1086, but whose exact location is not mentioned.

The ringwork was constructed over part of the western end of a ditch around
the Late Saxon (10th-11th century) town, south of the river. The alignment of
this ditch has been confirmed by limited excavations to the south of the
monument and by observations made during road widening on the north side of
the ringwork in 1966, which showed that the later earthworks overlie three
successive buried ditches, between 2m and 3m in depth, running approximately
south-north towards the river. The remains of an internal bank are associated
with the last of these. Another ditch about 4.5m wide and 2m deep and
containing Late Saxon pottery was located immediately to the west of the
ringwork during the excavations of 1957-1958 and is thought to be a branch
of the same town ditch.

The limited excavations in the western part of the interior of the ringwork,
and the more extensive excavations to the east of it, uncovered remains of
timber buildings and associated features dated to the Early and Middle Saxon
periods (sixth to seventh century and eighth to ninth century AD) and relating
to settlements centred near the ford. These remains are believed, on the
evidence of other finds and observations, to have extended over the area of
Redcastle Plantation to the west of the earthwork, which is included in the
scheduling. Romano-British pottery has also been found within this area, in
quantities which suggest there was also a settlement here in the first century

Street lamps on the northern verge of the access road to the south of the
monument, and an inspection chamber located opposite a pumping station on the
north side of the road are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath them is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late
Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended
area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a
substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a
stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the
bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military
operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements.
They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60
with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted
range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular
significance to our understanding of the period.

Red Castle ringwork is one of only five examples of this type of fortification
identified in Norfolk, and a large part of it survives well, despite the
removal of part of the ditch on the north side by the cutting of the road and
some disturbance by sand quarrying. The standing and buried earthworks which
remain will retain archaeological information relating to their construction,
and use, and remains of structures, providing further evidence for the
occupation and use of the ringwork are likely to be preserved beneath the
later deposits of sand in the interior. Limited excavations have shown that
the buried soils in the interior and beneath the bank also contain evidence
for earlier occupation of the site, including the remains of a church which
may have pre-Conquest origins and is in itself of great interest. The section
of the twice recut tenth century town ditch which underlies the ringwork is
also well preserved and is one of the few parts of the Late Saxon town
defences on the south side of the river which remains undisturbed by modern
development. The remains of earlier settlements which are known to extend to
the west of the ringwork, and especially those of the settlement dated to the
eighth and ninth centuries, which remains largely unexplored, are of
particular importance for the study of the early development of Thetford
which, at the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th century was among the
largest and most populous towns in England.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Andrews, P, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Excavations at Red Castle Furze, 1988-9, (1995), 7-11
Andrews, P, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Excavations at Red Castle Furze, 1988-9, (1995), 66-69
Dallas, C, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in Excavations in Thetford by B K Davison between 1964 and 1970, , Vol. 62, (1993), 7-11
Knocker, G M, 'Norfolk Archaeol' in Excavations at Red Castle, Thetford, (1967), 119-186
Knocker, G M, 'Norfolk Archaeol' in Excavations at Red Castle, Thetford, (1967), 130-131
Rogerson, A, Dallas, C, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Excavations At Thetford, 1948-59 And 1973-80, , Vol. 22, (1984), 60-63

Source: Historic England

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