The County of Huntingdonshire UK

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Earthwork Mounts in Huntingdonshire

MOUNTS [Class D.]

KIMBOLTON, CASTLE HILL

Speaking of Kimbolton, Leland says:

 
 'The Castelle is double diked, and the building of it is metely strong, it longed to the Mandeviles, Erles of Essex…….There is a plotte now clene desolatid not a mile by west of Kimoltoun caullid “Castel Hylle,” where appere diches and tokens of old buildings.'
Kimbolton Castle Hill

Kimbolton Castle Hill

The double dykes of the castle are no longer to be seen, and were doubtless filled in when Vanbrugh built the present house; but in the park, less than a mile to the west, is a large flat mound surrounded by a moat, now known as ‘The Mound,’ but its name of ‘The Castle Hill’ was known less than a hundred years ago. The mound stands near the top of strongly rising ground and is roughly circular, 140 ft. in diameter; it now rises 5 ft. 3 in. above the water level of the moat, but owing to the sloping site the normal line of the ground is nearly down to the water edge on one side, while it is 5 ft. higher on the other. The mound, although now so low, is evidently a Norman motte, but there are no ramparts of any kind, nor are there any traces of a bailey or other outer works.

A few trees were planted on it circa 1800-1828, and it has for many years been a rabbit warren.

 

MOUNTS WITH ONE OR MORE ATTACHED COURTS. [Class E.]

HUNTINGDON CASTLE

The fine earthwork of Huntingdon Castle stands at the southern end of the town, near the bridge. It consists of a motte and bailey, surrounded on three sides by moats but on the south side the moat was omitted and the River Ouse served the purpose.

 

Ground plan of Huntingdon Castle

Ground plan of Huntingdon Castle

 

The site is now divided into three parts: the central and largest part belongs to the town and is open to the public, and contains the motte and the greater part of the bailey; the southern part has been separated from the rest by the railway which cuts through the outer rampart at the south-east corner and runs through the southern side of the inner moat, and this part is now in a private garden; the northern part, divided from the central portion by a fence, is in the garden of Castle Hill House. The rampart of the southern portion remains, except at its eastern end where the railway cuts through the site, but the adjacent parts of the bailey have been entirely destroyed.

The outer moat of this part is fairly well preserved, but the bottom appears to have been raised by an accumulation of rubbish. At the south-east corner, where the moat joins the river, the slope of the rampart is well shown. Of the central portion the rampart on the eastern side is well preserved and the moat is almost complete, being only encroached upon to a small extent by the garden wall of the adjoining Bridge House Hotel. At the northern end of this side the rampart appears to attain its greatest height, and this height seems to be contained on the section of the rampart now in the garden of Castle Hill House. Between the two sections, a roadway has been formed from the High Street into the middle of the bailey, and the earth of the rampart, cut away fro this purpose, has apparently been thrown into the moat, the bottom of which at this point is very high. It is probable that the original entrance to the castle was at this point. The portion of the moat in the garden of Castle Hill House is well defined, and, on the whole, this part of the Castle does not seem to have been much injured by the making of the garden, except at the extreme end where part of the slope has been cut away into and a kind of rockery and grotto has been built up with ancient stones brought from elsewhere.

The motte, which stands at the western end of the central portion, is very fine; it is 200 ft. in diameter at its base and 120 ft. across the top, and it rises to a height of 38 ft. above the river. On the southern side part of the slope has been cut away in forming the railway. For many years a windmill stood upon the top, and there are evident signs that a readway to this mill was formed, partly by filling up the inner moat and partly by cutting into the sides of the motte.

It is difficult to say what was the original level of the bailey, the Castle having been destroyed to long ago as 1174 and the surface being now extremely irregular and presenting the appearance in places of having been dug for clay or gravel. The height of the rampart above the present level of the bailey varies from 3 ft. 6 in. to 8 ft., the difference being chiefly due to the irregularity of the bailey. The rampart itself appears to have risen 30 ft. above the river, and in places it is rather more.

On the outside of the rampart, at the south-east corner, close where the railway cuts through, there is a well which is called the Castle Well; whether it is really ancient or whether it has been made since the Castle was destroyed, is perhaps open to question.

Mrs. Armitage, in The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (1912) says that ‘another bailey was subsequently added.’ In her plan she indicates some earthworks to the west of the Castle as being probably this additional bailey, and these have been shown upon the plan here given for what they may be worth and without passing any opinion as to their origin. They appear to consist of a deep depression on the east side of the road leading from the town to the great meadow called Portholme, very like a moat, and now being rapidly filled up with rubbish. At the northern end the inner bank of the moat, if such it be, may be followed, curving round to the east, and running through what was until recently a paddock into the garden of Castle Hill House, where it comes to an end within 80 ft. of the outer moat of the Castle. It is, however, very shallow, and there is nowhere anything resembling a rampart.

In a private garden on the south side of the railway, the ground, which is rather high, appears to have been artificially sloped down to the river and is rather curiously formed at the south-west corner. The original arrangement has been destroyed by the making of the railway and the building of the house, but it looks as if the deep depression before mentioned may have continued on and joined the river at this point, thus inclosing the additional bailey to which Mrs. Armitage refers.

This Castle was built in 1068, by William the Conqueror, after his return from York; it came into the possession of the Scottish Kings (as Earls of Huntingdon), and William the Lion taking the part of Prince Henry against his father King Henry II, that King’s forces besieged the Castle and took it, and it was pulled down. It is stated that King Henry’s forces threw up a siege-Castle against it, and it is an interesting speculation that this may be the very fine hill which stands some 1,100 ft. to the west, and which also became in later times the site of a windmill. This hill although it stands on naturally rising ground, is chiefly artificial; it has a diameter of 10 ft. at its base and 60ft. at the top, and it rises about 10 ft. above the higher parts of the adjacent ground, but on the south side it slopes down with a continuous line (partly natural and partly artificial) to a backwater of the Alconbury Brook, a tributary of the Ouse, 25 ft. below. It had a very distinct ditch on its western side, still partly remaining but partly destroyed in forming the gardens, etc., of a modern house. On the east is a deep by the side of which a roadway has been formed leading to a watermill which stood across the backwater. On the north side the ground in the immediate proximity of the hill is high, but owing to the formation of the railway and to other causes the original arrangement on this side cannot now be definitely determined.

In giving a plan of Huntingdon Castle and the large hill west of it, it is convenient to show also a deep ditch some 500 ft. to the west of the latter hill. This ditch has much the appearance of a boundary ditch and towards its northern end is wide and its eastern bank is steep and has a low rampart. All the ground adjoining the backwater at this place rises with a steady slope from the edge of the stream, but eastward of this ditch it seems to have been artificially cut to a steeper slope at short distance back from the waterside.

Across the Common, on the other side of the railway, is a long trench, partly wet, with a wide bank on its eastern side. This trench seems to have been connected with the deep ditch abovementioned, but at its northern end it dies out, and its line cannot be traced any farther. Probably this trench dates from Cromwellian times.

WOOD WALTON CASTLE

This small castle of the motte and bailey type stands upon what appears to be a natural hillock overlooking the Fens, at the northern end of the parish of Wood Walton, and is evidently the castle built by Ernald de Mandeville, circa 1144, when he removed his soldiers from Ramsey Abbey. The outer moat encloses a roughly circular bailey, and the motte is in the centre. The space within the inner moat was about 90 ft. in diameter, but a large part of the north and west sides has been lowered practically to the bottom of the moat. It stands some 8 ft 6 in. above the bottom of the moat, and 2 ft. above the outer bank. The outer bank has been cut away in two places – namely, towards the north-west and the south-west. From the outer bank of this inner moat the ground slopes gradually away on all sides towards the outer moat, the bank of which is some 8 ft. to 9 ft. lower; the fall is steepest on the south side.

Ground plan of Wood Walton Castle

Ground plan of Wood Walton Castle

 

The outer moat remains as a strongly marked dry ditch on the north and north-east sides; at the south-east it appears as a deep ditch still holding water, which, however, becomes rather less marked at the southern end. At the north-west the line of the ditch can still be traced, but it has become rather faint, and on the west side it has been obliterated by a modern cart road. At the south-west a hollow place in the grass field evidently marks its line, but on the south-east is a farmhouse garden.

The space between the inner and the outer moats, which formed the bailey of the Castle, is about 190 ft. on the north and west, 230 ft. on the east, and probably slightly more on the south. Within the bailey, towards the north-east, is a pond, now dry; and towards the south-east is a farmhouse and garden.

A large dyke, apparently ancient, runs from the outer moat in a north-easterly direction, and slightly to the east of it is another large dyke by the side of a hedge, but his is probably of much more recent date.

RAMSEY ABBEY, BOOTH’S HILL

Within the moat surrounding Ramsey Abbey, and near its southern side, is a curious mound surrounded by a moat. The mound, which goes by the name of Booth’s Hill, is not large, but it has been adapted as an ice-house, in recent years, so its present form cannot be guaranteed as original; it now rises some 16 ft. above the bottom of the moat, which is itself 4 ft. below the surrounding surface. It stands about the middle of the south side of the enclosure, which is 310 ft. long by about 120 ft. wide. Within the enclosure, east-wards of the mound, is a large pond, and there are also three other depressions, but some of these may be modern. It is possible that this little castle was erected by Geoffrey de Mandeville for his own use when he took possession of the Abbey and quartered his soldiers there. He was killed in 1144, and his son removed the soldiers to Wood Walton.

Ground plan of Booth's Hill, Ramsey Abbey

Ground plan of Booth's Hill, Ramsey Abbey

SAPLEY

This interesting little earthwork, marked on modern Ordnance maps as ‘The Moat,’ but much more interestingly described on the older maps as ‘The Mount,’ lies at the northern end of the ancient Royal Forest of Sapley. In plan it is a small motte and bailey, each enclosed by its own moat. The bailey has a strong outer bank on its north-east, south-east and south-west sides which runs between it and the motte. Outside this bank is an outer moat on the south-east and south-west, but at the southern corner the moat round the motte serves the purpose.

Ground plan of the earthworks at Sapley

Ground plan of the earthworks at Sapley

 

This outer moat connects with the moat round the motte, and also with the western corner of the moat of the bailey, but at its north-east corner it comes to a dead end. On the north-east the outside ground rises with a fairly strong slope from the foot of the outer bank of the bailey, forming a wide gutter, but there is nothing now that could be called an outer moat on that side. The outer bank of the bailey has been slightly lowered at the south-east corner where it approaches the motte, but whether this is original it is impossible now to say. The moats are fairly wide and deep, but the bottoms have been much filled up by accumulations of mud and leaf mould and it is only in very wet seasons that they hold a little water in their deeper parts.

Both the banks and the earth of the inner enclosures are planned with trees and honeycombed with rabbit holes, and it is consequently difficult to say what their original shape was, but they have a distinctly bold elevation, the motte rising some 6ft. 6 in. above the present bottom of the moat, and the bailey rising, in places, as much as 10 ft., while the outer bank of the bailey rises about 8 ft. The top of the motte is very distinctly hollowed in the middle.

GREAT STAUGHTON, CRETINGSBURY

This interesting earthwork, although called a Manor House and not a Castle, nevertheless partakes so much of the motte and bailey type that it may be included in Class E. Its rectangular form no doubt betokens a late date. It was the manor house of Sir Adam de Creting (died 1294) who married on of the three co-heiresses of William de Crioll (died d, 1274) and thereby became possessed of the greater part of Great Staughton.

Earthworks at Cretingsbury, Great Staughton

Earthworks at Cretingsbury, Great Staughton

 

The earthwork stands on high ground, sloping away rapidly to the north and south, but fairly level on the other two sides, and comprises a rectangular space about 650 ft. long by 430 ft wide, enclosed by fairly wide and deep moat with a well-defined bank both inside and out. The outer bank, which varies considerably in width, stands some 4 ft. to 5 ft. above the adjoining ground and 6 ft. to 8ft. above the dry bottom of the moat. On the inside the rampart averages 9 ft. wide at the top and stands about 18 in. above the level of the ground inside the enclosure. In the middle of the enclosure, towards the northern end, is a roughly circular inner moat inclosing a mound, very suggestive of the earlier motte, and itself some 5 ft or more above the level of the bailey. This inner moat has an extension at the north-west corner which scarcely reaches the outer moat. The moat round the bailey is now dry except on the south side and part of the west where there is still water, and it shows a depth of 6 ft. to 9 ft. from the dry bottom to the top of the rampart, or 5 ft. to 7 ft. from the water line. The moat round the motte is still wet, and its water-line is about 5 ft. below the level of the bailey and 10 ft. below the top of the motte.

Along the south side and south-west corner of the bailey are two long ponds which have somewhat the appearance of a strengthening of the defences on these sides, but it is difficult to see how they could have served that purpose; perhaps they were fish ponds.

The present entrance to the bailey is on the east side, where the moat is filled up to form a roadway in, and a similar entrance, close to it, has been made into the motte. At the north-west corner a cart path has been cut through the outer bank into the bottom of the moat and then up and over the inner bank. Some farm buildings and a cottage have been built in the north-east corner. Subject to these slight alterations this earthwork appears to be in a very perfect condition.

The motte is now surrounded with a hedge and a belt of trees on the edge of the moat, and the space within this hedge is now a stack yard. The ground here is highest towards the north and the east, and at the south-west corner it shelves down rather rapidly towards the moat, a configuration possibly due to the removal of buildings. The place is now known as the Old Manor House.

 

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