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Merdon Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Hursley, Hampshire

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Latitude: 51.0359 / 51°2'9"N

Longitude: -1.4011 / 1°24'3"W

OS Eastings: 442089.23937

OS Northings: 126456.082585

OS Grid: SU420264

Mapcode National: GBR 864.SR2

Mapcode Global: FRA 76YC.XMZ

Entry Name: Merdon Castle

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 6 October 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019123

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34131

County: Hampshire

Civil Parish: Hursley

Traditional County: Hampshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hampshire

Church of England Parish: Hursley All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Winchester


The monument includes a substantial motte and bailey castle constructed within
the ramparts of an earlier slight univallate hillfort on a prominent, south
facing chalk spur near the village of Hursley. The hillfort is of probable
Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age date (eighth to fifth centuries BC). The
later castle was built by Henry de Blois, the Bishop of Winchester between
1129 and 1138, although there is tentative documentary evidence to suggest
that it may originally have been the site of a Saxon defended manorial
residence dating from the eighth century. It was partly demolished in 1155 on
the accession of Henry II but was used as a bishop's palace until at least the
14th century.
The polygonal hillfort defences enclose an area of approximately 3.7ha within
a single rampart and outer ditch which are reinforced across the neck of the
spur by a slight counterscarp bank. They have been modified or augmented
around much of the circumference by the later construction of the motte and
bailey defences, but are best preserved to the north east where the rampart
stands 2m above the interior and 4m above the outer ditch. They have been
further disturbed to the south by modern ploughing, but here there is evidence
either of an earlier phase of construction or an attached enclosure,
represented by a semicircular section of bank extending from the south eastern
defences. There is no clear trace of an original entrance, although there is a
slight out-turning and overlapping of the ramparts on the western side,
indicating a possible hornwork.
The later castle fits tightly within the hillfort defences and includes a
massive rampart and correspondingly large outer ditch which encompass an oval
shaped motte and a semicircular bailey to the south. They are most substantial
around the motte, where the rampart stands up to 5m above the interior and 12m
above the ditch. Here the rampart is capped to the east by a number of
subrectangular platforms and mounds and, to the west, is terraced into the
interior and partially revetted by two lengths of flint walling standing up to
3m high. The bailey's defences are comparatively simple, but are only slightly
less substantial.
The castle's ramparts have been disturbed between the motte and the bailey by
the construction of a modern farm track across the monument. The interior of
the motte stands some 2m-3m higher than the bailey and includes the remains of
a flint lined well and a substantial, two storeyed flint and stone rubble
tower situated within a break in the rampart on the northern side. It has an
archway facing the ditch and appears to form a gatehouse, although its use as
an entrance is flawed by the absence of an approach through the hillfort
rampart opposite, which has been bolstered by a series of earthen buttresses.
A more definite entrance is formed by a simple gap in the rampart on the south
side of the bailey.
A geophysical survey of the monument in 1994 indicated the presence of the
buried foundations of walls and buildings within the castle, particularly
within the motte where a polygonal arrangement of buildings around an inner
courtyard is indicated. Some of these buildings, however, may relate to the
castle's later use as a bishop's palace for which there is documentary
evidence of substantial structures within the motte, including a bishop's
chamber, chapel and hall, and of wooden structures within the bailey,
including stables and other farm buildings. Further buried remains associated
with the earlier use of the monument as a hillfort, including traces of round
houses, granaries and pits, can also be expected to survive.
The use of the monument during the medieval and post-medieval period is also
indicated by a series of hollow ways and banks to the north west which are
depicted in a map of 1588 as forming part of an old road curving around the
northern side of the castle. There are also documentary records of the site as
the location of a medieval village, although there is no visible
archaeological evidence to support this. Later, more recent use of the
monument as a military camp during World War I and World War II is represented
by a comprehensive series of earthworks and building foundations situated
between the castle and hillfort ramparts to the south east and west.
The modern fence posts, water pipes and fittings situated on the monument are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes,
generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and
defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively
small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth -
fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to
their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have
generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places
of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a
rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access
to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple
gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation
indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate
features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few
examples. Internal features included timber or stone round houses; large
storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and
square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often
represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. Slight
univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally.
Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of
the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is
relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the
Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within
the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh
Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight
univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition
between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive
comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further
archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain
by the Normans and built from the 11th to the 13th centuries. They acted as
strongholds, garrison forts, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences
and centres of local or royal adminstration. Motte and bailey castles
generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality. As
a result, they are the most visually impressive monuments of the early
post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape, with over 600 examples
recorded nationally. As one of a restricted range of early post-Conquest
monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and
the development of the feudal system.
The slight univallate hillfort and motte and bailey castle at Merdon Castle
survives well, and geophysical survey has shown that the monument retains
archaeological remains relating to its multiple episodes of use. Further
archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the original
construction of the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed can
also be expected to survive.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cole, M, Merdon Castle, Hurlsey, Hampshire. Report on geophysical survey, (1994)
Cole, M, Merdon Castle, Hurlsey, Hampshire. Report on geophysical survey, (1994)
Donachie, JD, Merdon Castle, Hursley, Hampshire: An earthwork survey, (1994)
Williams-Freeman, JP, Introduction to field archaeology as illustrated by Hampshire, (1915), 255-8
Hughes, M, 'Landscape Archaeology' in Hampshire castles, (1989), 31-32
Hughes, M, 'Landscape Archaeology' in Hampshire castles, (1989), 36
Roberts, E, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in The Bishop of Winchester's deer parks in Hampshire, 1200-1400, , Vol. 44, (1988), 76
Roberts, E, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in The Bishop of Winchester's deer parks in Hampshire, 1200-1400, , Vol. 44, (1988), 76
Roberts, E, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in The Bishop of Winchester's deer parks in Hampshire, 1200-1400, , Vol. 44, (1988), 76
Sheail, J, 'Deserted medieval village studies' in County gazetteer of deserted medieval villages (known in 1968), (1971), 188

Source: Historic England

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