Ancient Monuments

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Desborough Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Oakridge and Castlefield, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.6324 / 51°37'56"N

Longitude: -0.7776 / 0°46'39"W

OS Eastings: 484697.688738

OS Northings: 193323.060632

OS Grid: SU846933

Mapcode National: GBR D53.N6R

Mapcode Global: VHDW4.G7RG

Entry Name: Desborough Castle

Scheduled Date: 3 July 1933

Last Amended: 6 December 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020863

English Heritage Legacy ID: 19055

County: Buckinghamshire

Electoral Ward/Division: Oakridge and Castlefield

Built-Up Area: High Wycombe

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: High Wycombe Saint James

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument, which is divided into two areas of protection, includes
Desborough Castle, a medieval ringwork popularly known as The Roundabout,
an outer enclosure of earlier date and the probable remains of a round
barrow. Desborough Castle ringwork, believed to be the site of the castle at
West Wycombe first mentioned in 1210-11, is situated at the north eastern end
of a prominent spur overlooking the valley of the River Wye. The earthwork
remains comprise a sub-rectangular enclosure, approximately 0.5ha in area,
terraced into the hillslope to create a level flat interior. The defences
include an outer ditch 2.6m deep around the upslope south west side,
becoming shallower around the downslope north east side where it is
reduced to an average depth of 1.6m. The inner rampart is similarly more
massive around the south west, reaching a height from the ditch bottom of
3.6m, again becoming slighter around the north at only 2.9m. The interior
slope of this rampart reaches 2.7m around the south and only 0.3m around
the north. The effect of this has been to create a strong protective hood
around the upper south side where the site is to some extent overlooked by
the rising hillslope, while allowing a commanding view to the north. A
simple causewayed entrance is situated in the south east at the natural
change of slope. The earthwork thus created is a large platform protected
on its upper side by a strong rampart and open on its downhill side where
it overlooks and dominates the Wye Valley. There are reports of
foundations in the interior of the site visible in the 1950s and finds of
medieval roofing tile from the south east quarter of the monument,
indicating the existence of a substantial building in the medieval period.
Other finds include both Roman and medieval pottery. Excavations to the
south of the entrance in 1987 demonstrated the existence of a horn-work
defending the eastern approach to the entrance; this was dated as early
medieval from 12th century pottery found in association.
Around the north and west sides of the castle site are the remains of a
second earthwork comprising a spread rampart some 10m wide surviving
mainly as a substantial outer scarp up to 1.5m high, the inner slope
reduced to a slight ground rise 0.3m high. Around the north west corner
for some 40m there are traces of a vestigial ditch 5m wide and 0.2m deep.
The earthwork runs on a series of short straight sections, in an arc
around the north of the main enclosure and at a distance of between 30m
and 70m; the southern continuation is now lost in a housing estate. It
could represent the remains of an associated bailey; however its form
suggests that it is of an earlier date than the main ringwork enclosure
and that it probably represents the remains of a slight univallate
hillfort of a style belonging to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age;
there is however no dating evidence to support this identification.
In addition to the two enclosures there is a third feature situated on the
west side of the ringwork. The remains comprise a segment of a probably
once circular mound which has been cut through by the construction of the
ringwork ditch. Some 24m across and 0.7m high, it is believed to represent
the surviving portion of a bowl barrow.

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.

Bowl barrows, the most numerous form of round barrow, are funerary
monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age,
with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were
constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered
single or multiple burials.
Desborough Castle earthworks survive in good condition and represent an
excellent example of a complex site which has been occupied over a long
period of time. Though the main enclosure is regarded as a medieval
ringwork the occupation of the site is of a longer duration. There is
evidence for a continuation of occupation forwards from the Late Bronze
Age through to the medieval period with the survival of important
archaeological material relating to the occupation of the site throughout.
The surrounding earlier hillfort and possible bowl barrow add to this
potential, allowing the study of cultural and land use change over a
considerable period of time.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Winchester Pipe Role
Collard, MA, South Midland Archaeology, (1988)
Langley, T, The History and Antiquities of the Hundred of Desborough, (1797)
Card no 0018, Ref 13 Watts,
NAR (SU 89 SW 2),

Source: Historic England

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