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Moated site and associated medieval remains 430m north of Church Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Bledlow-cum-Saunderton, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.7093 / 51°42'33"N

Longitude: -0.8492 / 0°50'57"W

OS Eastings: 479611.288869

OS Northings: 201797.579032

OS Grid: SP796017

Mapcode National: GBR C2Q.VG8

Mapcode Global: VHDVQ.79FH

Entry Name: Moated site and associated medieval remains 430m north of Church Farm

Scheduled Date: 19 March 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018736

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29425

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Bledlow-cum-Saunderton

Built-Up Area: Princes Risborough

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Bledlow with Saunderton and Horsenden

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of a medieval moated
site, together with the buried remains of an adjacent medieval church and
cemetery and a small section of an intervening hollow way. The complex is
located in a sheltered hollow between two converging streams at the northern
end of a broad valley in the Chiltern Hills, immediately to the south of the
rather dispersed village of Saunderton.

The moated site lies approximately 100m to the south east of the parish church
of St Mary and St Nicholas. It is roughly rectangular in plan. The island
measures some 90m north west to south east by 60m transversely, and its
surface is raised slightly above the level of its immediate surroundings. The
material for the raised level doubtless came from the excavation of the
surrounding ditch or moat - the north western and south eastern arms of which
measure between 15m and 20m across and remain open to a depth of around 1.5m.
The central section of the south western arm of the moat has been largely
infilled since it was last recorded as open in 1908, although its position can
still be traced from the line of the inner scarp. The north eastern arm
incorporates the natural stream course which flows from a springhead some 200m
to the south east. It is possible that rather than being defined by an
artificial ditch, the island always overlooked a broad marshy area on this

Minor excavations took place on the island in association with farming
operations between 1951 and 1953. These revealed the corner foundations of a
building in the western quarter of the island, constructed with flint and
mortar and including a massive sarsen quoin, which is still visible. A number
of medieval artefacts were found in association with the foundations,
including a 12th-13th century pottery sherd and the strap handle from a 14th
century ceramic jug. Roman artefacts, including fragments of tile, plaster and
high quality Samian pottery were also found in an adjacent part of the island,
presumably relating to the Roman villa which is located a short distance away
on the north side of the stream, and was partly excavated in the 1930s.

Two separate manors are recorded at Saunderton before the Norman Conquest, and
these had passed into the possession of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and Miles
Crispin by the time of the Domesday Book (1086). The manors came to be known
as `Saunderton St Nicholas' and `Saunderton St Mary' after the dedications of
their dependant churches, both of which were in existence prior to 1215. The
names of the successive rectors of each church are recorded from 1276 to 1452.
After this time the two manors became united under a single owner, John de
Brecknock, and the advowsons of the two churches were similarly combined.
William Tybard was appointed sole rector for the parish in about 1455, and
continued services in the St Mary's Church (now St Mary and St Nicholas)
whilst allowing St Nicholas' to fall into disuse and ruin. The combined manor
was conveyed to Sir John Lynham around 1479 and later passed through the hands
of the Donne and Lee families before being acquired by Sir Richard Dormer in
1593. The Dormer family held principal residences at Wing (Buckinghamshire)
and elsewhere, and the manors of Saunderton dwindled in importance and
gradually disappeared altogether from the historical record.

The moated site to the south east of St Mary and St Nicholas (formerly St
Mary's) Church is thought to represent the site of the manor of Saunderton St
Mary, which was held by the de Saunderton family from the mid-12th century to
the mid-15th century (Isabella Saunderton is depicted on a mid-15th century
brass in the church).

The precise location of the manor of Saunderton St Nicholas remains a mystery,
although the Church of St Nicholas is believed to have stood only a short
distance to the west of the moated site on the opposite side of the lane
leading to Church Farm Cottage. This lane is now a cul-de-sac, although up
until the mid-19th century it formed part of a route extending down the valley
to the south. The route can still be detected as a slight declivity and
variation in crop growth running through cultivated fields to the point where
the route appears to have been supplanted by the railway, and a sample of this
is included in the scheduling. In 1807 `old foundations' and numerous human
remains were unearthed in a garden belonging to Church Farm Cottage (then a
small public house), and in the mid-19th century a stone coffin containing two
skeletons was discovered in much the same area. More recently, in 1948, six
burials were exhumed during the preparation of celery beds in the small
lozenge-shaped garden directly opposite Church Farm Cottage, the surface of
which is raised nearly 1m above its surroundings. This raised aspect is
typical of the `graveyard effect', caused by repeated burial in a confined
space, and points to the location of St Nicholas' cemetery as well as the
probable location of buried traces of the church itself.

Examining the site in 1908, the antiquarian A Hadrian Allcroft thought he
could detect traces of a circular mound between the moated site and the
present churchyard. This he interpreted as evidence for a motte castle at
Saunderton: a military phase predating the establishment of the more domestic
manor. The mound can no longer be seen due to the dumping of dredged material
in the 1940s, and Allcroft's interpretation of the earthwork may be somewhat
fanciful. There can be little doubt, however, that some related feature now
lies buried alongside the northern arm of the moat, and a sample of this area
is included in the scheduling.

All fences, fenceposts, gates and standing structures 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

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 430m north of Church Farm is well-preserved and will contain
significant archaeological information related to its construction in the
medieval period, and for the long duration of occupation which is suggested by
the extensive collection of documentary sources relating to the manors of the
parish. The waterlogged silts within the ditch, especially those sealed within
the infilled sections, will retain environmental evidence for the appearance
of the landscape in which the moated site was set, and for the development of
agricultural activity associated with the former manor. Evidence for
structures on the island is known to survive in the form of buried foundations
and other features. Artefacts such as those already found in association with
these features, as well as those buried within the silts of the surrounding
moat, will provide important evidence for the period of construction, the
duration of occupation and the lifestyles of the former inhabitants.

The second manor of Saunderton, that of St Nicholas, probably stood quite
close to the moated site, perhaps in the area of Church Farm House which is
also known to have been largely encircled by water in the past. Although the
site of this manor cannot be located with any certainty, there is evidence for
the site of the dependant church and former route which may have formed the
boundary between the two manorial demesnes. The pattern of settlement
suggested by the archaeological and documentary evidence allows a valuable
insight into the nature of medieval society and the ecclesiastical practices
of the period. Such close proximity between two churches is considered unusual
today, when a single church normally forms the focal point of the parish. The
situation at Saunderton, however, is a clear reminder of the medieval system,
under which most churches were founded, built and maintained through the
personal acts of manorial lords, and intended mainly for the benefit of their
families, retinues and estates. The situation at Saunderton is a more extreme
example than most, and perhaps served as the expression of a long held
(possibly pre-Conquest) division between the neighbouring manorial estates.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County, (1912), 92-95
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 476
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 476-7
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 476-7
Head, J F, Early Man in South Buckinghamshire, (1955), 114-5
Lipscomb, G, History and Antiquities of Buckinghamshire, (1847), 625-27
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1912), 93-4
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 909-910
Ashcroft, D, 'Records of Bucks' in Saunderton Villa, , Vol. 13, (1939), 399-419
Branigan, K, 'Records of Bucks' in The Romano-British villa at Saunderton reconsidered, , Vol. 18, (1969), 261-75
Kelke, W H, 'Records of Bucks' in Desecrated Churches in Buckinghamshire, , Vol. 3, (1865), 124-5
0367 Bledlow-cum-Saunderton, (1986)
Discussions with owner/occupier, Messer, C, (1998)
Information from local farmer, Messer, C, The Old Road to Saunderton, (1998)
Notebooks and photos in SMR files, Head, J, 0367: Settlement Features, South of Saunderton Parish Church,
Notebooks, letters and photos in SMR, Head, J, CAS file 0367,
occupier's recollection of dredging, Messer, C, (1998)
Ordnance Survey Surveyors card (in SMR), JRL, SP 70 SE 21, (1974)
Records of Pavry's discoveries, Farley, M, 0366: Settlement Features, South of Saunderton Parish Church, (1973)
Unsourced newpaper clipping c.1948, 0367,

Source: Historic England

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