Ancient Monuments

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Bishop of Winchester's Palace, 90m east of St Mary's Church

A Scheduled Monument in Witney, Oxfordshire

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Latitude: 51.7809 / 51°46'51"N

Longitude: -1.4838 / 1°29'1"W

OS Eastings: 435709.921919

OS Northings: 209261.975163

OS Grid: SP357092

Mapcode National: GBR 6VS.9PG

Mapcode Global: VHC02.7HGM

Entry Name: Bishop of Winchester's Palace, 90m east of St Mary's Church

Scheduled Date: 19 September 1984

Last Amended: 16 November 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018654

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21834

County: Oxfordshire

Civil Parish: Witney

Built-Up Area: Witney

Traditional County: Oxfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Oxfordshire

Church of England Parish: Witney

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes the known surviving extent of the moated palace of the
Bishop of Winchester. It is situated 90m east of St Mary's Church and close to
the west bank of the River Windrush at the point where the river emerges into
the open from its Cotswold valley. The palace lies at the southern end of an
open green which provided the economic centre of the market town which grew up
as part of the deliberate development of the large and wealthy Witney estate,
at the expense of the nearby secular manor of Cogges, situated on the opposite
side of the river, and the subject of a separate scheduling.
The Bishop's Palace was built in the early 12th century, and much is known of
its plan and history from extensive documentary records and an exploratory
excavation of part of the site in 1984.
The remains include a roughly square, walled and moated enclosure within which
stood a series of buildings including a very substantial solar tower and hall
which also acted as a defensible keep. Other structures included a chapel,
stables, kitchens, latrines, workshops, storage, additional accommodation and
a defensible gatehouse. The moat survives as a buried feature on its western
and northern sides enclosing an area approximately 116m from north to south by
84m from east to west widening to 114m at the northern end. The moat measured
12m across and more than 3m deep. A substantial gatehouse was located at the
centre of the northern side facing the green. This gatehouse was a large
square structure of two storeys or more with arrow slits and a solid gate
facing a stone piered bridge.
The Bishop of Winchester was first granted the estate by Queen Emma in 1044.
Prior to this, the estate was owned by the Crown according to a charter of 969
when a settlement (modern Witney), built by `Witta' on an island in the River
Windrush, was recorded. The evidence provided by excavation supports the
documented date at which the site was obtained by the Bishop of Winchester,
and evidence from further building phases indicates that the dispute between
King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, with its associated threat to security
was the impetus for the building of this strong palace. In 1129 Henry of
Blois, Stephen's brother, was made Bishop of Winchester, and in 1137 he
ordered the building of six `castles' on his extensive estates. Although
Witney was probably begun by the previous bishop, William Gifford, it appears
that the rapid second and third phases of more substantial stone structures
and the moat was part of Henry's plan to secure his estates against bandits
and rebels.
The result was a formidable but luxurious example of the best of building
technology of its period. The palace would have overshadowed the town of
Witney demonstrating the wealth, power and strength of the bishop and
deterring those hoping to take advantage of the political situation.
Excluded from the scheduling are The Mount House, the modern bungalow to the
south west, the supports for the canopy over the exposed part of the monument,
all sign posts, path surfaces, boundary walls and other modern built
structures, 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

Bishops' palaces were high status domestic residences providing luxury
accommodation for the bishops and lodgings for their large retinues; although
some were little more than country houses, others were the setting for great
works of architecture and displays of decoration.
Bishops' palaces were usually set within an enclosure, sometimes moated,
containing a range of buildings, often of stone, including a hall or halls,
chapels, lodgings and a gatehouse, often arranged around a courtyard or
The earliest recorded examples date to the seventh century. Many were occupied
throughout the medieval period and some continued in use into the post-
medieval period; a few remain occupied today. Only some 150 bishops' palaces
have been identified and documentary sources confirm that they were widely
dispersed throughout England. All positively identified examples are
considered to be nationally important.

The Bishop of Winchester's Palace at Witney has been shown by part excavation
to survive as buried remains over the majority of its original extent and is
known to contain deeply stratified deposits containing a complete
archaeological sequence from the early 12th century up to the present. In
addition, the monument is unusual in having a well documented contemporary
association with the leading magnate of an important period in English
history. It also forms the focus of a group of associated contemporary
monuments which shaped the town of Witney and the surrounding settlement
pattern throughout the medieval period and beyond.
The site will, in association with future work in the town, provide important
evidence of the function of such sites in the medieval period and how they
were related both socially and economically to the life of the adjacent town.
The monument is now partly open to the public for display and forms an
important local educational amenity in association with the contemporary
Cogges manor, now run as a museum.

Source: Historic England


DURHAM, B., Witney Palace: Excavations at Mount House, Witney in 1984, 1984, O.A.U. Excavation report
Hyde, P, The Winchester Manors of Witney and Addersbury, Oxfordshire, 1954, OXFORD B. LITT. THESIS d-473
PRN 4383, C.A.O., Bishop's Palace, Witney, (1984)

Source: Historic England

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