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CHER Number:01778
Type of record:Monument
Name:Castle Hill, Cambridge

Summary

Motte fairly perfect, no original stonework left. Earthwork of bailey survives in part on the east side

Grid Reference:TL 445 591
Parish:Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Castle, Cambridge City

Monument Type(s):

  • CASTLE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BASTION (English Civil Wars - 1642 AD to 1651 AD)
  • GATEHOUSE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CHAPEL (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • PRISON (19th century - 1801 AD to 1900 AD)
  • MOTTE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BULWARK (English Civil Wars - 1642 AD to 1651 AD)

Associated Events:

  • Excavations at Castle Hill, 1988 (Ref: CH 88)
  • Watching Brief on repairs to Castle Mound fence, 2008
  • Monitoring work at Castle Hill, Cambridge, 2009 (Ref: CAM CHM 09)
  • Monitoring of the works on Wall Repair at Castle Hill (Ref: CAMCHM13)

Protected Status:

  • Scheduled Monument 1006905: Cambridge Castle Mound

Full description

2. There is no evidence that any stronghold existed on Castle Hill before Norman times, with the exception of the rampart and ditch round the Roman settlement. At the present day no structural remains of Cambridge Castle survive, and the only earthwork relics belong to two periods of its history, the Norman and the Cromwellian. The chief feature is the Norman motte belonging to the castle built by William the Conqueror in 1068 on his return from taking the submission of York, and according to Domesday Book, 27 houses were removed to make room for the new fortress. It stands some 40ft high and had an original diameter of about 100ft at the top and 200ft at the bottom. Its profile has been damaged by various surface disturbances. To the N it was originally separated from its bailey by a ditch which Bowtell, writing in the early C19, states to have been 16ft deep. On the S side, where the ground falls away rapidly towards the river, the steepness of the slope has been increased by scarping. The castle underwent various reconstructions during the Middle Ages, notably under Edward I, when it assumed the form which lasted in various stages of decay till the C19. Nothing is known of the earthworks which accompanied these rebuildings, but the Norman motte survived throughout and presumably the curtain wall of Edward I's castle in general followed the bailey rampart of the earlier structure. In any case the castle belonged to the second rank and was early degraded to the status of a civil prison.
The curtain wall had originally been fronted by a deep moat, which contained water derived from springs, and there had been a barbican on the W side of it. In the early C17 the moat, now dry, began to be used as a bridle way and so developed into the present Castle Street, the barbican disappearing entirely. It appears from inquiries instituted in the C17, before the Civil War, that there was a double bank outside the wall on the Chesterton side. It is difficult to account for this unless it was some trace of the older Roman defences, but it was destroyed when the castle was remodelled.
At the opening of the Civil War the importance of Cambridge as the headquarters of the Eastern Counties Association made it necessary to put the castle into a state of defence. The only parts of the older castle retained were the motte and the massive gatehouse. The line of the curtain wall was reconstructed in accordance with the principles of C17 fortification. Three bastions occupied sites which once carried towers of the curtain, and the line between was heavily embanked. These works were carried out in the years 1642 -1643. They were never tested in action, and in 1647 both they and the defences of the town were ordered to be slighted. So far as the town was concerned this appears to have been carried out thoroughly, but the decline of the castle was more gradual.
In July 1802 the last surface traces of the ditch round the base of the motte on the N side were filled up with earth removed from the foundations of the new prison being built in the castle yard. The earthworks surviving in 1937 consisted of the Norman motte, a short stretch of the Cromwellian curtain bank connecting it with the SE bastion, the remains of this bastion, and the curtain bank, much degraded, connecting it with the NE bastion. This last is still in tolerable condition. The height of its banks above the level of the castle yard is 9ft and the drop to the level outside is fully 17ft. The bank is about 8ft thick at the top, and perfectly level, with no signs of gun emplacements.
In considering the height of this bank above the outer ground it must be remembered that in 1802 this area, then known as Blackmoor Piece, was dug for clay to make bricks for the new prison. At this time a ditch from 10ft to 12ft wide was revealed in section, but it is impossible to say whether this was the ditch of the Roman town or that of the bailey of the Norman castle. The probability is in favour of the former. The NE bastion has been removed on its western side where it joined the curtain bank, and every trace of the defences on the N side has vanished.

3. Cambridge Castle stands on the highest ground adjacent to the city centre, on a spur called Castle Hill, some 300yards NNW of Magdalene Bridge. In 1068 William I gave orders for a castle to be raised at Cambridge. Domesday Book states that 27 houses were demolished to make way for it. Of motte and bailey type, this is the earliest structure of which parts survive. A general reconstruction was undertaken by Edward I when the bailey appears to have been remodelled in a roughly rectangular form orientated diagonally N and S with the S angle adjacent westward to the C11 motte. The evidence of the original accounts, later maps and surveys of the site and ill-recorded finds made in the C18 and C19 indicate the building in stone of a curtain wall, a SW gatehouse with barbican opposite the moat, towers at the E, N and S angles of the defences, the first probably to be identified with the postern and on the motte, and a great hall in the NW part of the bailey. The whole was completed between 1283 and the king's death, a chapel first mentioned in the Pipe Rolls of I Ed II being built or rebuilt probably during the same period. Edward I's expenditure upon it was $2,525. (WM Palmer, Cambridge Castle). It was, it seems, largely surrounded by wet moats; a moat also skirted the N of the motte to separate the last from the bailey.
An inquest in1367 into the defective state of wall, towers and houses, and the extensive alienation of stone from here for College buildings in the C15 and C16 show the progress of deterioration, although as late as 1585 attempts were still being made to retain the curtain wall; by 1606 the SW gatehouse was the only complete building left, being preserved by its use as a prison. This is the state shown in Fuller's view of Cambridge of 1634. Lyne's and Braun's views, of 1574 and 1575, are too stylised for reliable evidence and show improbably complete buildings, for, though a bridge leading to the SW gatehouse survived into the reign of Elizabeth I in 1590 the castle was described as 'old, ruined and decayed'
In 1643, Cambridge being the headquarters of the Eastern Counties Association, the bailey works were reconstructed as a bastioned trace fort; fifteen houses were cleared and a brick barracks built on the site of the old great hall. In 1647 the new defences were slighted, but the three bastions, to E, N and W, remained (see William Custance's map of Cambridge, 1798); the W bastion was removed in 1811. The gatehouse again and the barracks were retained as prison buildings. Between 1801 and 1807 a new octagonal County gaol designed by G Byfield was built, the surface of the bailey lowered and levelled, and the moat N of the motte filled in with building debris.
In 1842 the SW gatehouse was pulled down to make way for the Court House designed by TH Wyatt and D Brandon, which itself was demolished in 1954.
In 1932 a new Shire Hall was built on the site freed by the demolition of the County gaol. The much mutilated earthworks of Cambridge Castle, apparently mainly of the Norman and Civil War periods, with little of the Edwardian castle certainly distinguishable, are in poor condition. The motte is of interest for the traces of a berm below the summit perhaps marking the site of an apron wall round the keep. The motte, a truncated cone in shape, is 200ft in diameter at the base, 34ft across the top, and rises 33ft above modern ground level on the N, 53ft on the S. The N base is about 70ft above OD. It covers some two thirds of an acre. Paths are cut into the sides and original features are not certainly identifiable, but on the S, some 9ft below the top a narrow terrace begins and curves downward to the E, where it is 10ft wide, then rises again towards the N; It is shown clearly as a level berm in plans and elevations of 1785 (BMADD MSS 6735, 65, 68) and indicated in Fuller's view of 1634. Leading NE from the motte, the bank of the bailey 5.5ft high on the inside, 8ft across the top, with a drop of 15ft to a modern wall on the outside, extends for some 40 yards to where it is abruptly cut away down to the mutilated remains of the E bastion of the Civil War defences. From the latter work a bank, 3.5ft high inside and 4ft outside above the scarp of the old ditch, leads NW for some 40yards; it is then cut back. The N bastion 50 yards further on preserves more clearly the angularity of the Civil War earthwork, but is much cut into on the N and W. The defences on the NW and SW are destroyed except for traces of the bailey bank branching NW from the motte. The total area enclosed was some 4 acres.

April 1962 Site visit. The site of the castle is now occupied by buildings and grounds of the Cambridgeshire County Council. The motte is in good condition. The bailey ramparts to the north west and north east are reduced and in poor to fair condition. The Cromwellian earthworks have been mutilated and cut into for the construction of cycle sheds, etc. Published survey (25in 1927) revised; suitable for 1/1250.

April 1982. Site visit., No original stonework left. Earthwork (reconstructed in 17th century) of bailey survives in part on the east side. Motte fairly perfect, ditch dividing it from bailey filled in. Mound flat topped and grass covered, 12m in height, 70m diameter. The earthwork is in reasonable condition, though suffering from a certain amount of erosion from feet. The bailey is now impossible to define, much of the area under the new Shire Hall and attendant car park areas and Cambridgeshire County Council gardens.

13. Gives account of an early use of Collyweston stone slate at Cambridge Castle.

14. Development of Clare College Hostel allowed two trenches to be excavated in advance of construction. A waterlogged ditch up to 10m wide and over 4m deep was found going round the motte, with at least one secondary ditch outside it.

15. Magnetometer and resistivity surveys were undertaken on the lawn between Shire Hall and the Cambridge Castle mound as part of the preparations for National Archaeology Week in 2006. The survey revealed several areas of high resistance, which largely correspond with parchmarks on the lawn observed in 2004. The high resistance features correspond with the entrance buildings to the County Gaol, as depicted on Dunn’s plan of 1927. A number of anomalies were also recorded in the southern part of the survey, including a garden path depicted on the Ordnance Survey map of 1886. A plan of the medieval castle layout suggests that the original moat was not detected during the survey.

16. Three post holes were dug at the boundary wall for repairs to the boundary fence. The work was done under Class V consent (Health & Safety). Holes were hand dug to 40cm deep and 10cm wide. Only modern debris was located, showing a build up of modern material behind the wall.

17. An archaeological watching brief was undertaken during investigations into the retaining wall of Castle mound, Cambridge in March 2009. The wall skirts around the motte of the castle and three test pits excavated on the Clare College side of the wall revealed that there was a high level of disturbance directly beneath the wall. Pottery sherds of Roman and medieval date were found along with modern pottery but no features were recorded.

18. Investigations including an archaeological watching brief (see 16 above) were undertaken to investigate the structural condition and durability of the retaining wall of Castle mound, Cambridge in March 2009. The mound is at least 930 years old and has supported additional weight in the past - a stone tower and wing walls during the 13th century. The mound has most likely been constructed from local material dug to create the surrounding moat including gravelly sands, chalky marl and some gault clay although the construction method and sequence is unknown. The mound is relatively steep at 33 to 38 degrees which is too steep for a purely granular material, suggesting that the marl and granular material would appear to be partially mixed to produce a semi-cohesive material.

19. Cambridge Castle was built in 1068. It's great motte survives on Castle Hill, from which one enjoys the best view of the city. A bastion of the Civil War built on the Norman ruins can still be seen behind Shire Hall.

20. There was a defended enclosure on Castle Hill in the Iron Age; the ancient Romans replaced it with a fortress, probably wooden, and the Normans built a stone castle. This survived for many years of extensions and improvements and was last used during the Civil War. Its gatehouse had a long afterlife as a prison, but was eventually demolished by the Victorians who reused the stone to construct a purpose built gaol and courthouse. In Edwardian times there was great poverty in Castle End, the area around the castle site.

21. A watching brief was carried out during remedial conservation work at the base of the castle mound (DCB77) and retaining walls and Undercroft. The works included the provision of new fencing along the length of the existing wall, replacement of damaged brick wall, the removal of soil to the back wall.
The results give an indication of the over burden on the mound today and revealed parts of the original motte construction.

Sources and further reading

---Bibliographic reference: Renn, D.F.. 1973. Norman Castles in Britain.
---Bibliographic reference: Taylor, A.. Castles of Cambridgeshire.
---Bibliographic reference: Osborne, M.. 1990. Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire.
<1>Article in serial: Hughes, T. McK.. 1894. On the Castle Hill, Cambridge. PCAS 8: 173-212.
<2>Bibliographic reference: Salzman, L.F (ed). 1948. The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Volume 2. 23 - 24(plan).
<3>Bibliographic reference: RCHM. 1959. An Inventory of the Historic Monuments in the City of Cambridge. Volume II. 304 - 306 (plan).
<4>Map: 1960. OS 6 inch map.
<5>Bibliographic reference:
<6>Article in serial: St Hope John, W.H.. 1907. On the Norman origin of Cambridge Castle. PCAS 11: 324-46. p. 324.
<7>Monograph: PCAS Octavo Series 20. p. 3.
<8>Bibliographic reference: Babington, C.C.. 1883. Ancient Cambridgeshire.
<9>Bibliographic reference: Armitage, E.. 1912. The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. p. 115-6.
<11>Article in serial: Masters, R.. 1787. An account of some stone coffins and skeletons, found on making some alterations and repairs in the Cambridge castle. In a letter to Rev. Dr. Lort. Archaeologia 8: 63-65. p. 63-66.
<11>Article in serial: Masters, R.. 1787. A second letter from Mr. Masters to George Steevens, Esq. On stone coffins found in repairing Cambridge Castle. Archaeologia 8: 66. p. 63-66.
<12>Bibliographic reference: Lobel, M.D. (ed). 1975. Historic Towns: The Atlas of Historic Towns. Volume 2, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Norwich. (plan).
<13>Article in serial: Sharp, H.B.. 1984. Stone at Cambridge Castle: an Early Use of Collyweston Stone Slate. PCAS 72: 62-78.
<14>Article in serial: Malim, T. and Taylor, A.. 1992. Cambridge Castle Ditch. TL44605925. PCAS 80: 1-6.
<15>Unpublished report: Archaeology Rheesearch Group. 2006. Shire Hall & Castle Mound Cambridge. Archaeology Rheesearch Group Report
<16>Unpublished document: Carroll, Q.. 2009. Watching Brief on Cambridge Castle, December 2008.
<17>Unpublished report: Fairbairn, J.. 2009. Cambridge Castle Hill: Monitoring of test pits at base of motte: Archaeological Watching Brief report. Oxford Archaeology East Report 1105
<18>Unpublished report: Atkins. 2009. Castle mound investigation, Non Intrusive Survey.
<19>Bibliographic reference: Palmer, W. M.. 1976. Cambridge Castle.
<20>Bibliographic reference: Petty, M., Woodall, S. and Inman, C.. 2007. Cambridge: Memories of Times Past. plate 69.
<21>Unpublished document: Webster, M.. 2013. Archaeological Watching Brief at Cambridge Castle Mound. Oxford Archaeology East Report 1519
<22>Article in serial: Cessford, C & Dickens, A. 2005. Cambridge Castle Hill: Excavations of Saxon, Medieval and Post-Medieval deposits, Saxon execution site and a Medieval coin hoard. PCAS 94: 73-101.

Related records

04831Related to: Civil War earthworks at the Castle, Cambridge (Monument)
MCB17288Related to: English Civil War Defence Line, Cambridge (Monument)
09875Related to: Fort at Four Lamps, Cambridge (Monument)
09877Related to: 'Mount Ararat' Fort, Chesterton (Monument)

Images

Trench at Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Trench at Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Trench at Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Trench at Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Snow on Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Snow on Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Erosion Scar of Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Erosion Scar of Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Reinstatement Works in Progress at Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Reinstatement Works in Progress at Castle Mound © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Parchmarks Showing Prison at Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

Parchmarks Showing Prison at Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

View from Castle Mound of Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.

View from Castle Mound of Shire Hall © Cambridge County Council. Click to open in a new window.