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The scheduled Norman Motte and Bailey Castle within English Bicknor village, English Bicknor.
County: Gloucestershire
NGR: SO 58 15
Monument Number: 249
Scheduled Monument Description - SAM 28862
The moument includes a motte and bailey castle on high ground above the River Wye in the Forest of Dean.
The castle includes a motte and inner and outer bailey; each bailey is surrounded by a moat, or ditch, with the remnant of a leat adjoining the moat of the outer bailey which is thought to be part of a water management system for the moat. The whole castle takes the form of a rough oval orientated north to south. The motte lies in the south-west quadrant of this oval within the inner bailey which which is in turn encircled by a moat. The west and south ditches of the inner bailey are confluent with the ditch of the outer bailey. The motte is not a perfectly circular mound, but rather resembles a lozenge shape, aligned north-west - south-east. The whole mound measures 40 metres east-west and 50 metres north-south, and its flattened top is 30 metres east-west by 20 metres north-south. The motte stands to 4 metres high. A berm of maximum width 16 metres and minimum width 4 metres separates the motte from the inner bailey moat. There are traces of an inner bank at the north and south sides of the inner bailey standing about 0.1 metre high. The moat of the inner bailey is 'V' shaped and 2 metres wide at the bottom, 9 metres wide at the top and about 4.5 metres deep.
Alignments of roads around the castle suggest there was possibly an entrance directly into the inner bailey on the south side, with perhaps another entrance into the outer bailey on the east or south east side. The outer bailey forming a dog-leg around the north and east of the inner bailey measures approximately 100 metres east-west and the same north-south. It was originally surrounded by a moat of which only a small complete portion to the north still survives, showing that the outer moat was originally about 5 metres wide. The inner slope of the moat, however survives for most of its circumference up to 1 metre high, but up to 2 metres high in places, and gives the appearance that the bailey is arifically raised above the prevailing ground level. There is no evidence of an internal bank on the inner side of the moat. From the north part of the outer bailey moat, a short section of ditch extends north for about 20 metres. This is considered to be the remains of a water overspill system for the moat.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the house known as 'Castle House' and its outbuildings, the post and wire fence accross the top of the motte, the wooden steps cut into the motte, the tarmac surface and make-up of the school car park where it impinges onto the edges of the bank of the moat, the tarmac path on top of the bank of the moat, the school building and mobile classrooms, the school gates, outbuildings and fittings in the playground, the tarmac surface and make of the playground and the playground wall, the garage to the rear of 'Lucy Court', the stone wall and the 'Lych Gate', although the ground beneath all these features is included.
The motte and bailey castle at English Bicknor survives well as an impressive monument in the village. Their distribution marks the progress of the Norman campaigns in the years after the Norman Conquest. Proximity to the church of St. Mary the Virgin reflects the close links between temporal and secular power in the medieval period. The two formed the axis for the subsequent development of the village. The castle has not been excavated and the earthworks of the monument will contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the way of life of the occupants of the castle, and will also preserve evidence of changes in the use of the site over time. {Source Work 2873.}
The motte and bailey castle is thought to have been constructed in the 11th century to replace an earlier timber structure at Eastbach. It was re-sited here and later rebuilt in stone. {Source Work 3106.}
The inner and outer bailey are of about 150 yards overall diameter. Norman masonry has been found in the motte, and the castle wall is still visible.
It stands in an orchard and partially in the garden of Castle House. Motte c.5 metres high, bailey c.2 metres above surrounding land, to some extent encroached upon by main road.
1608 - Map of 1608 seems to show a large concentric square keep surrounded by a circular moat on the site of the castle, south of the church. On the ground, the site is clearly a motte and bailey castle with the church in an outer earthern bailey. The situation makes it unlikely that there were ever water-filled ditches. {Source Work 1.}
Labelled 'Castle Balyes' on a map of the western part of the Forest of Dean, dating from 1608. {Source Work 2919.}
Detailed description of the site by Maclean, includes a plan of the earthworks as they appeared at the end of the 19th century. {Source Work 1704.}
An aerial photograph of uncertain date shows the motte has a building on it and is partially tree covered. {Source Work 615.}
The earthworks form three consistent parts -
1. A motte, 10-12 feet high, robbed on the east and substantially levelled in a garden, to the south-west. No visible ditch to the east.
2. An inner bailey to the north and east of the motte, encircled by a moat, now partially dug.
3. An outer bailey again to the north and east defended by a moat almost vestigal, but with surviving stretches. The northern part of the area is occcupied by the parish church and graveyard. The remainder of the site is an orchard. There are no traces of stone buildings. The earthworks seem to continue to the north - into the Rectory garden and a farm yard and it has been suggested that there was the site of a barbican. {Source Work 509.}
In 1627 a building known as the castle hall stood near the church which is in the outer bailey. The hall had been demolished by the late 18th century and a small huse south-east of the church, perhaps the remains of the ancient manor-house, was pulled down soon afterwards. {Source Work 3710.}
1838 - The castle site is labelled 'Castle Bailey' on the rectified copy of the English Bicknor tithe map and apportionment of 1838. Nearby fields are called 'Hither Castle Bailey', Middle Castle Bailey' and 'Far Castle Bailey'. {Source Work 6634.}
Mid 19th century - In the mid 19th century, when two bridges provided access to the churchyard of the parish church, part of a ditch was filled in to enlarge the rector's garden. {Source Work 3710.}
1880 - In 1880 part of the castle motte was excavated during work to make a garden for the schoolmaster. A small stone chamber was destroyed. {Source Work 3710.}
1946 - RAF aerial photograph shows a small section north-west of the Church visible as a cropmark - clipped by plough on the very edge of an arable field. {Source Work 863.}
1970 - The OS card notes the 11th century motte and bailey, mentioned in 1190 and 1217. {Source Work 862.}
1970-1971 - During the winter of 1970-1 the house south of the motte of the castle at English Bicknor was re-constructed. The DoE gave permission for a septic tank to be built within the scheduled area. A large irregular pit 2 metres x 4 metres was mechanically excavated to a depth of 3 metres at a point 13 metres north of the rear wall of the house, opposite a point along this wall 3 metres west of its north-east corner. At the same time two trenches approx. 0.5 metres deep were cut, one from this north-east corner to the pit for the septic tank, and the other north-west from the opposite side of the pit into the line of the Castle's outer ditch. It has been suggested that at the rear of the motte the ditch has been obliterated by stone debris from the castle. The sections exposed in the pit, apart from an average depth of 0.5 metres of modern material, consisted of loose stone rubble. Below the water level at the lowest point in the excavation, natural pink sandy clay was encountered. It was not possible to observe the profile of this boundary. There can be little doubt that the rubble, which included a number of worked stones, resulted from the destruction of a stone structure upon a motte, although because the motte has been levelled near this point there still exists the possibility that much of the debris is derived from the motte. No dating evidence was obtained. The position of the present excavation is 5 metres east of the ditch line suggested in Source Work 1704, but since the depth at which the natural sub-soil was observed was 3 metres below the present ground surface it seems likeky that a ditch existed at this point. {Source Works 1753 & 484.}
1978 (249/2) - In December 1978 Wessex Archaeological Trust undertook a watching brief on road widening of the B4228. The road widening removed 3 to 5 metres of the south and east side of the ringwork and cut 5 to 7 metres back into the area east of the dtch surrounding the ringwork. No dateable material other that post-medieval and modern was noted during the course of the watching brief. However, the owner of Castle House had found some medieval pottery in their garden over time: three flanged 13th century cooking pot rims, two 15th century sherds and a single sherd of 11th or 12th century date. {Source Works 484 , 5967.}
1983 - The site was visited on 01/11/1983 by J. Colombo of Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service. The ditch of the motte was clearly visible and very well-preserved. The owner could remember an outer ditch running right round, past the school, being full of water and filled in for this reason. The scheduling was thought to be as a result of a fight with the Council over a road widening scheme that would have affected it. In a corner of the garden of Castle House against the edge of the motte is a small piece of wall (now a retianing wall) which is all that remains of a subterranean room, round in construction, of the school house in the late 19th century. {Pers. comm. J. Colombo.}
1987 - The site was visited on 25/09/1987 by J. Isaac of Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service, during construction of an area of hardstanding adjacent to the school access road. An area c.10 metres wide and 20 metres long had been stripped of topsoil to a maximum depth of 20 cm. Along the east edge of the excavated area a strip c. 20 cm wide consisted of a stony rubble where the excavated area had clipped the bottom of the castle bank. {Source Work 484.}
1992 (249/4) - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Gloucestershire County Council's Archaeology Service on 22/06/1992. A trench for a water main was excavated along the north-east side of the lane to the west of the castle, which leads to Bicknor Court. The trench was c.0.4 metres wide by c.1 metre deep by c.30 metres long. No finds or features were observed. {Source Work 484.}
1995 (249/6) - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on the 24/08/1995, at Bicknor Church of England Primary School. A trench for new electricity services was excavated within the school play ground, crossing part of the bailey of English Bicknor castle. The average depth of the trench was 0.4 metres. Below the playground tarmac was a layer 0.2 to 0.35 metres in depth of modern stone chippings and rubble. The layer included brick and slate fragments from the former school masters house which occupied the southern part of the site. Below the modern deposit over the entire length of the trench was a layer of "clean" mottled yellow/red clay containing infrequent irregular sandstone blocks up to 0.25 metres across. The layer appeared to be of natural origin although it is not impossible that it had been redeposited at some time. The trench was over 10 metres to the east of a visble bank that runs to the west and north-west of the motte and there is therefore no reason to suggest that the layer had ever been incorporated into the bailey bank. At one point an existing water supply trench was uncovered and excavated to ensure that it was not damaged. At that point the mottled sandy layer continued to a depth of 0.7 metres below the playground surface. No finds were recovered from this layer. The foundation wall that forms the southern boundary of the churchyard was seen to continue westwards under the school playground. It is possible that the churchyard was reduced in size when the school was opened. No finds were recovered from the trench to the north of the wall. Site archive deposited at Dean Heritage Museum under Accession Number 2003.2 {Source Works 484, 5124 , 4575.}
1997 (249/5) - An archaeological evaluation was carried out by the Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on 24/06/1997 on land at the rear of the Castle House. The evaluation was required in advance of the determination of an application for scheduled monument consent for levelling works on a lawn area. The stratigraphy exposed within two 1 metre square test pits was of modern topsoil over natural deposits. No archaeological features or deposits were visible. No finds pre-dating the nineteenth century were seen either in the upper surface of the natural clay or the topsoil. Despite the lack of evidence from the test pits it is probable that the site is within the inner bailey of the castle. The lack of the expected recently dumped deposits suggests that even shallow excavation may well damage archaeological deposits relating to the occupation of the castle. The site archive has been deposited with Dean Heritage Museum under Accession Number 2003.1. {Source Work 4284.}
1999 (249/7) - An archaeological evaluation was undertaken by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on 03/02/1999 in connection with proposed extensions to the school building. The north wall of the former school house was located and the area for development was established as being within the outer bailey of the motte and bailey defences. Two trenches were excavated. Trench one contained a wall with a rubble, lime mortar and ash foundation. The site archive has been deposited at Dean Heritage Museum under Accession NUmber 2003.2 {Source Work 5022.}
2003 - This area was mapped at 1:10,000 scale as part of the English Heritage: Gloucestershire NMP project.
The motte and bailey castle is only partially visible on aerial photographs due to trees covering the area of both baileys. The castle baileys are centred on SO 5813 1576 and form a rough oval, orientated north to south. The motte is situated within the inner bailey, in the south-western quadrant of the oval. The inner bailey measures 54m wide and the scarp along the northern side is flanked by a moat measuring 5m wide. The dark cropmark of a large ditch is situated in the corner of a field at SO 5808 1591. As Source Work 1704 states, the field names near to the castle incorporate a 'bailey' element and the ditch may represent the moat of a further outer bailey which possibly connected to a moat depicted on the OS 6" map of 1924 as situated at SO 5817 1589 {Source Works 4249, 7549, 7353, 6880.}
2005 - Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service undertook a watching brief and excavation at English Bicknor School between May and June. The work involved archaeological monitoring during the machine excavation for a new service trench outside the Scheduled area and the hand excavation of one trench within the Scheduled area. An excavation was carried out by hand in one trench within the scheduled area. The watching brief recorded no archaeological deposits and the excavation revealed evidence for a possible late post-medieval, playground surface and a demolition/construction layer associated with the current school building. {Source Work 8313}.
Archive deposited with Dean Heritage Centre (SOYDH 2005.33)
2014 Headland Archaeology excavated four test pits and a series of auger holes at English Bicknor Primary School, within the scheduled area of English Bicknor Castle. Archaeological monitoring was also undertaken during the excavation of geotechnical boreholes on the site. The line of the inner bailey moat was identified and the sequence of deposits within the moat. A potential basal moat deposit was identified at a depth of 2.15m below ground level. A red clay deposit overlying the basal deposits is likely to relate to the backfilling and levelling of the feature in the 19th century. {Source Work 12614.}
2014 "Headland Archaeology undertook a watching brief during groundworks associated with the construction of a new classroom at English Bicknor Primary School. The development site was located on the line of the castle moat and adjacent to the castle motte. The lower courses of a medieval stone building believed to relate to the castle were identified in the south of the site, along with the course of the moat. A change in construction design allowed the preservation of the stone building in situ." {Quoted from Source Work 13295.}

Associated Finds
Associated Finds

Protection Status

Sources and further reading
1;Jacobi Saxtoy;1608;West part of the Plott of the Forest of Dean, 1608;Vol:0;
196;Renn DF;1968;Norman Castles in Britain;Vol:0;
291;Verey D;1970;Gloucestershire: The Vale and the Forest of Dean;Vol:2;
484;Historic Environment Record;various;Vol:0;
476;Cirencester Excavation Committee;unknown;Vol:0;
509;Richardson R;1984;Vol:0;
615;Fairey Surveys;1975;Vol:0;
862;Ordnance Survey;unknown;Vol:0;
1859;Rawes B;1977;GLEVENSIS;Vol:11;Page(s):39-41;
2873;English Heritage;various;Vol:0;
3106;Walters B;1992;The Archaeology of Ancient Dean and the Wye Valley;Vol:0;
3459;Moated Sites Research Group;1971-1986;
3460;White P;1968;Vol:0;
3668;Fowler PJ (Ed);1972;ARCHAEOLOGICAL REVIEW FOR 1971;Vol:6;Page(s):11-49;
3462;Gloucester Journal;1880;GLOUCESTER JOURNAL;Vol:0;
3636;Jackson MJ;1980;Vol:1;
4284;Catchpole T;1997;Vol:0;
4602;Nicholls HG;1966;Nicholl's Forest of Dean: an historical and descriptive account;Vol:0;
5022;Nichols P;1999;Vol:0;
5124;Catchpole T;1995;Vol:0;
10426;English Heritage;2010;
53;Burrow EJ;1919;The Ancient Entrenchments & Camps of Gloucestershire;
5923;Webb A;2000;
5967;Unknown;1974-1985;Western Archaeological Trust Ltd (also CRAAGS) Watching Briefs 1974-1985;
4249;Historic England;Various;Vol:0;
3710;Herbert NM (Ed);1996;The Victoria History of the County of Gloucester;Vol:5;
7549;English Heritage;2003-4;The Forest of Dean and Cotswolds National Mapping Programme Project maps;
7353;Ordnance Survey;1976;
8313;Wright N;2005;
13295;Craddock-Bennett L;2015;
12266;Ellis P;1979;
12610;Stewart JA;1995;
4249;Historic England;Various;Vol:0;
6634;Gwatkin G;1992-1998;6" to 1 mile scale rectified copies of selected Parish maps (1714-1852, but generally Tithe maps and apportionments);
2919;Jacobi Saxtoy;1608;Rectified compilation of "The West Part of the Plott of the Forest of Deane in the County of Glos, 1608" rectified by Gordon Clissold.;Vol:0;
1753;Spry NP;1972;GLEVENSIS;Vol:6;Page(s):5;
12614;Blackburn R;2014;
4249;Historic England;Various;Vol:0;
4249;Historic England;Various;Vol:0;
4249;Historic England;Various;Vol:0;

Related records
HER   26848     Field name 'Castle hill', located to the north-west of Eastbach Court, recorded on a map of 1608. Possible site of a castle.
HER   6013     Observation of work associated with the installation of a sceptic tank within the scheduled area of English Bicknor Castle, in 1970-1971.
HER   6164     Site of well of unknown date in the garden of Castle House, within the scheduled area of English Bicknor Castle (SAM28862).
HER   9792     Site of a pond of unknown date, labelled 'Moat' on maps of c.1900 and c.1925, immediately to the north of English Bicknor Castle.
HER   9793     Section of the medieval moat of English Bicknor Castle, labelled 'Moat' on maps of c.1900 and c.1925, and possiby water-filled at that time.
HER   6088     Listed Building grade I parish church, dating from the 12th century with Medieval and Post Medieval alterations, known as the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, English Bicknor.
HER   48015     Location of the school master's house at English Bicknor Primary School demolished sometime after 1990.
AIP RECORD;E.23.0512
AIP RECORD;C.23.4023

Gloucestershire County Council: Historic Environment Record Archive