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Moated site and manorial earthworks at Middleton Towers

A Scheduled Monument in Middleton, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.7297 / 52°43'46"N

Longitude: 0.4718 / 0°28'18"E

OS Eastings: 567003.684226

OS Northings: 317540.812031

OS Grid: TF670175

Mapcode National: GBR P5C.S49

Mapcode Global: WHKQD.6NX6

Entry Name: Moated site and manorial earthworks at Middleton Towers

Scheduled Date: 21 January 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018647

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30552

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Middleton

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk


The monument includes the moated site of Scales Hall manor house and adjacent
earthworks relating to the manor. It is located approximately 1.6km NNE of St
Mary's Church and the centre of the village of Middleton, on low-lying, almost
level ground near the foot of a north facing valley slope and to the east of
the site of Middleton Common. Immediately to the east of the moat are the
earthwork remains of the manorial fishponds and associated water management
features. Both moat and fishponds are contained within a larger earthwork
enclosure. To the north east of the fishponds and immediately beyond the
eastern boundary of the larger enclosure is the site of what was probably a
dovecote, and around and to the east of these is a series of rectilinear
ditched enclosures.

The moat, which contains water and is between 10m and 16m in width, surrounds
a rectangular central island measuring approximately 74m east-west by 40m
north-south. The outer edge of the moat slopes down to the water, but the
inner edge is vertical and revetted with a wall of local carrstone (coarse
brown sandstone) which is probably medieval in origin, although with 19th
century and later reconstruction and repairs. On the south side of the central
island, rising directly above the moat, is a large, three storey gatehouse
with polygonal corner turrets. This is constructed of brick with stone
dressings and formed part of a house thought to have been begun by Thomas,
seventh Lord Scales, who died in 1460, although the work was probably
continued by his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law, Sir Anthony Woodeville. By
the 18th century the site was derelict and very little of the 15th century
house remained, other than the gatehouse itself. Prints of drawings made in
the 18th and early 19th century show the gatehouse still standing to full
height, though roofless, with the fragmentary, ruined walls of a south range
to the west of it. The property was bought in 1856 by Sir Lewis Whincop Jarvis
who, between 1864 and 1876, restored the gatehouse and built a new south range
to the west of it. The gatehouse itself and the later parts of the house,
which are Listed grade I, together with the revetting wall below these
structures, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them
is included. Worked stone and fallen masonry from the late medieval building
were taken around 1870 for the construction of rockeries at Sandringham House,
then being built for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. A west wing was added at
Middleton Towers by the Ramsden family in 1905. On the west side of the
gatehouse, projecting from the south eastern turret, can be seen the stub of a
medieval brick wall which probably enclosed the courtyard of the 15th century
house on that side. Another fragment of walling, which perhaps formed part of
the north eastern angle of a medieval west range, stands on the north side of
the island, near its western end and opposite the northern end of the 20th
century range. It is built of mortared carrstone rubble faced with brick of
medieval type, and includes the jamb and the springing of the arch of an
opening on the east side. This fragment and the stub of medieval walling to
the east of the gatehouse are included in the scheduling, as is the revetting
wall on the north and east sides of the central island and on the south side
to the east of the gatehouse.

The moat is situated in the northern half of the outer enclosure, which is
quadrilateral in plan and has maximum overall dimensions of 225m east-west by
120m north-south at the western end and 175m at the eastern end. This larger
enclosure is bounded by an earthen bank up to 1m in height, most clearly
defined on the west side and where it borders the outer edge of the moat on
the north side. An outer ditch alongside the bank is visible on the east and
west sides and around the north eastern corner as a slight linear hollow
approximately 0.4m in depth, and probably survives as a buried feature
elsewhere. Within the north eastern angle of the outer enclosure, some 16m to
the east of the moat, are two fishponds. The northern pond is visible as a
well defined rectangular hollow 0.7m deep and measuring 40m east-west by 10m
north-south. The second pond, 7m to the south of the first and separated from
it by a low bank, is also rectilinear and is between 6m and 8m wide,
surrounding the north, east and south sides of a rectangular island which
measures 16m east-west by 7m, with a narrower connecting channel on the west
side. The two ponds are linked at their western ends by the remains of a short
channel which probably contained a sluice to control the flow of water between
them. A largely infilled channel which formed part of the system used to fill
and drain them is visible as a shallow, linear hollow leading southward from
the south west corner of the southern pond.

To the north east of the ponds, immediately beyond the eastern boundary of the
outer enclosure, is a flat topped rectangular raised platform measuring 12m
north-south by 10m east-west and up to 1m in height, surrounded by a slight
ditch. Aerial photographs taken before 1980 show evidence of rectilinear
features on the platform which are no longer apparent although, more recently,
surface disturbance exposed brick foundations of a substantial rectangular
building which is likely to have been the dovecote. Dovecotes were a common
feature of manorial domestic complexes, and the location, within sight of the
house and close to the ponds, which would also have provided drinking water
for the doves, is characteristic of these structures. To the north of the
platform is a sub-circular mound of similar height with a maximum diameter
east-west of approximately 18m, surrounded by slight remains of a ditch which
is perhaps the site of an earlier, circular dovecote. These features lie
within a rectangular ditched enclosure about 180m long north-south by 40m, to
the south and east of which are a further series of contiguous, mostly
rectangular enclosures of varying size defined by interconnecting ditches and
aligned parallel to the eastern boundary of the outer enclosure around the
moat. They run back from a lane which runs east west along the southern side
of the site and formerly continued south eastwards to what was once a small
common. The enclosures are thought to be of medieval date and to be for the
most part the yards and closes of the manor. The surface of the interior of
two enclosures situated on rising ground on the eastern side of the complex is
more uneven than the rest, and these may represent a toft (small homestead
enclosure) with an associated close to the rear. The possible toft, which
fronts onto the lane, measures 38m north-south and the larger enclosure
adjoining it to the north is 82m in length, both being about 42m in width

The manor was originally part of the fief of the de Montforts and was held of
them by the de Lisewis family. During the reign of Henry II (1158-1189) it
passed to Roger de Scales, probably through his wife Muriel who, according to
the 18th century historian Blomefield, was the daughter and co-heir of Jeffery
de Lisewis. The lordship remained with the de Scales family until the death of
Thomas, seventh Lord Scales, who was prominent in the French wars and was
killed in 1460 while attempting to escape from the Tower of London, following
the defeat of the King at the battle of Northampton. His daughter and heir
Elizabeth was married to Anthony Woodeville, Earl Rivers, brother of Elizabeth
Woodeville who married King Edward IV. Elizabeth died without issue in 1473
and Anthony Woodeville was arrested and executed in 1483 by order of Richard,
Duke of Gloucester. The manor was then granted to John Howard, Duke of
Norfolk, who was killed at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, following which it
passed to Elizabeth, daughter of John Howard and wife of John de Vere, Earl of
Oxford. Subsequently it passed through the female line into the Cecil and
Wingfield families and was sold in 1622 to Sir Thomas Holland.

In addition to the gatehouse and later additions already described, all
associated sheds and outbuildings, including a summer house at the north
eastern corner of the moated island are excluded from the scheduling, together
with the 19th century bridge in front of the gatehouse, timber bridges across
the western arm of the moat, modern posts and timbers retaining the outer edge
of the moat at water level, a modern outlet sluice at the north west corner of
the moat, a fountain and basin in the garden to the south of the moat, the
surfaces of all modern yards, paths and driveways, fowl pens, modern
ornamental dovecotes on posts, inspection chambers, two installations relating
to the gas supply and situated to the east of the moat, and all modern garden
and field fences and gates, although the ground beneath all these features is

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more
islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some
cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was
between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in
central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built
throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and
exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a
significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding
of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples
provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

The moated site and manorial earthworks at Middleton Towers are a very good
example of a high status medieval manorial complex. The moat and central
island will contain archaeological information concerning the origins and
development of the manor house, including not only the construction and use of
an important 15th century house and associated buildings but also that of
earlier buildings which probably underlie these. The earthworks around and to
the east of the moat display various features which illustrate the
organization and functioning of the domestic economy of the manor, in which
fishponds and the dovecote would have figured prominently.

Systems of fishponds were often constructed during the medieval period near
manors and monasteries for the purpose of breeding and storing fish to provide
a constant and sustainable supply of food, and the earthworks and the buried
deposits within and between the remains of the ponds to the east of the moat
will retain information relating to the design and operation of the system.

During the medieval period pigeons were a valuable source of both meat and
manure, and the building of large, free standing dovecotes in order to breed
them and ensure a regular supply of these commodities was originally a
privilege confined to the manorial classes. Surviving examples dating from
this period are therefore generally associated with castles, monasteries,
manor houses and manor farms. The majority of those constructed before 1400
were circular in plan, although rectangular dovecotes became increasingly
common from late medieval times onward. Buried deposits on the rectangular
ditched platform are likely to retain evidence for the date, construction and
use of such a building, and the possibility that the adjacent, sub-circular
platform contains evidence for an earlier dovecote is of additional additional

The monument also has historical interest because of its association with
several important families of the the period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Blomefield, F, An Essay towards a Topographical History of Norfolk , (1808), 20-27
Steer, F W, Middleton Tower, Norfolk: A Guide and Short History, (1961)
Barclay, T, (1998)
Cushion, B, Middleton Towers: SMR 3393 and 3395, (1995)
NAU, TF 6717/B, (1978)
NAU, TF 6717/H, (1977)
Title: Enclosure Award map Middleton
Source Date: 1814
NRO ref C/Sca 2/200
Title: Tithe Award Map Middleton
Source Date: 1839
NRO ref PD 640/15

Source: Historic England

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