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Historic England Research Records

Berkhamsted Castle

Hob Uid: 346252
Location :
Hertfordshire
Dacorum
Berkhamsted
Grid Ref : SP9953008233
Summary : The now ruined Berkamstead Castle is believed to have been erected by Robert, Count of Mortain and half brother of William the Conqueror and dates from the late 11th century. Between 1155 and 1165 the castle was owned by Thomas a Becket, the Chancellor, when considerable sums were spent on building. In 1254 Richard Earl of Cornwall was responsible for the construction of a three storey tower and in 1337 it was acquired by Edward III. Further alterations were carried out in 1360 to make the castle habitable for King John of France. The castle has been unoccupied since 1495.The castle comprises a steep-sided earthen mound, or motte, standing at the north-east corner of an oblong courtyard, or bailey. On the motte are the foundations of a keep, about 18 metres in diameter and containing a well. The motte mound is around 14 metres high and 55 metres in diameter at the base. The bailey, covering an area of about 1.3 hectares, measures approximately 130 metres north-south by 100 metres east-west and is enclosed by a flint-built curtain wall with half-round towers at intervals of about 55 metres. At the edge of the keep are traces of a building, the function of which is unclear. On the west side of the bailey the remains of a rectangular building are thought to represent a chapel while it is probable that the hall and living quarters were also on this side. A wide ditch surrounds the bailey and the motte and an outer bank and ditch surrounds these earthworks. The outer defences have been altered by the construction of the railway and road to the south. To the north and east is a bank that has at least eight earthen bastions set against its outer face which are considered to be the remains of siege platforms. This site is under the guardianship of English Heritage.
More information : [Area centred SP 99520824] CASTLE [GT] (Remains of)
TOWER HILL MOAT [Twice] [GT] (1)

There is no reason to suppose that there was any defensive work at Berkhampstead in 1066, but the place was given by the Conqueror to his half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain, and it is likely that the nucleus of the mount and bailey earthworks dates from Roberts tenure. From 1155 to 1165 the castle was farmed by Thomas Becket, as Chancellor, and it seems likely that the oldest masonry to be seen may date from his time. Evidence of building in the latter part of the 12th cent can be gained from the Pipe Rolls from 1155 to 1186. Work in masonry was proceeding in 1160 and the King's houses on the motte and a chamber in the bailey are mentioned. After 1186 the entries cease and it is assumed that the curtain walls and the keep were by this time in existence. In 1225 Richard, Earl of Cornwall received a grant of castle and honour and he is recorded to have built a tower of 3 storeys in 1254. The motte is 45ft high with a dia. of 60ft. and at base 180ft. It stands at the NE corner of the oblong bailey, 450ft by 300ft. There was a wide wet ditch round the bailey and round the motte, and a second bank and ditch surrounds the inner earthworks, but the outer defences have been disfigured and obliterated by the making of the railway and road to the south. The levels of the ground fall from north to south and on the higher ground north and east a third bank remains, having the peculiar feature of a number of earthen bastions set against its outer face. These have been explained as siege-platforms thrown up in 1216, but the assertion lacks proof. As far as masonry is concerned there is nothing to show there were defensive works outside the main ditch, except the southern barbican; the other earthworks can have had no other protection than wooden palisades. Such walls as now remain are almost featureless and consists of little more than flint rubble. On the motte are the remains of a circular keep, 60ft in dia, containing a well. Little detail is left. Two wing-walls run up the south side of the motte to the keep, and at the point of its junction with the Keep there are traces of a fore-building. The bailey was enclosed by curtain walls with half-round towers and was divided into 2 by a wall running across its northern end from east to west, making a forecourt to the motte. On the N. side of this court was a small gate, known as the Dernegate from which a wooden bridge crossed the moat. The remains of a rect. building on the W. side of the bailey may belong to a chapel, and it is prob. that the Hall and living rooms were on this side. The main gateway was on the south opening to a wooden bridge, with a barbican at the bridgehead. (2)

Roman coins from the Castle and especially from its court. (3)

Published 1/2500 revised. See illustrations Card (4)

Additional reference. (5)

Excavations in 1962 and 1967 revealed 13th cent pottery and an iron arrow head. (6)

SP 996083. Scheduled. (7)

Under Guardianship. (8)

Berkhampstead Castle. Concise description and detailed plan and sections of the remains as they existed c1884. The plan shows three concentric lines of defence, the third consisting of five bastions flanking the defences on the NW with a further three on the NE described as tower and less well defined. Immediately outside the W edge of the defences a small rectangular earthwork is shown with a ditch connected to the outer moat, interpreted by Clark as a ravelin plus a mill pond and fish stew (these earthworks are not shown on later plans and are now cut by Brownslow road) (9)

SP 995082 Motte and bailey castle with double moat. A remarkable outer bank may be a siege work (extensive additional bibliography of 19th and 20th century sources) (10)

Earthwork remains of a Medieval motte and bailey with building remains of a keep and walls.

The now ruined Berkamstead Castle is believed to have been erected by Robert, Count of Mortain and half brother of William the Conqueror and dates from the late 11th century. Between 1155 and 1165 the castle was owned by Thomas a Becket, the Chancellor, when considerable sums were spent on building. In 1254 Richard Earl of Cornwall was responsible for the construction of a three storey tower and in 1337 it was acquired by Edward III. Further alterations were carried out in 1360 to make the castle habitable for King John of France. The castle has been unoccupied since 1495.

The castle comprises a steep-sided earthen mound, or motte, standing at the north-east corner of an oblong courtyard, called the bailey. On the motte are the foundations of a shell keep, about 18 metres in diameter and containing a well. The motte mound is around 14 metres high and 55 metres in diameter at the base. The bailey, covering an area of about 1.3 hectares, measures approximately 130 metres north-south by 100 metres east-west and is enclosed by a flint-built curtain wall with half-round towers at intervals of about 55 metres. At the edge of the keep are traces of a building, the function of which is unclear. On the west side of the bailey the remains of a rectangular building are thought to represent a chapel while it is probable that the hall and living quarters were also on this side. A wide ditch surrounds the bailey and the motte and an outer bank and ditch surrounds these earthworks. The outer defences have been altered by the construction of the railway and road to the south. To the north and east is a bank that has at least eight earthen bastions set against its outer face which are considered to be the remains of siege platforms. Access to the interior was provided by the main gateway on the south of the bailey which would originally have had a wooden bridge.

This site is under the guardianship of English Heritage.(11)

Additional references. (12-15)

The site is listed in the English Heritage Visitor Handbook for 2009/10. (16)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1937-9/1947
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Source Number : 2
Source : Berkhamsted Castle : Hertfordshire
Source details :
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Source Number : 11
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 16-Nov-92
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Source Number : 12
Source : The English Heritage visitors' handbook 1998-99
Source details :
Page(s) : 105
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Source Number : 13
Source : Ordnance Survey guide to castles in Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 152
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Source Number : 14
Source : Berkhamsted Castle, 1066-1495
Source details :
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Source Number : 15
Source : The history of the King's Works, volume 2 : the Middle Ages
Source details :
Page(s) : 561-563
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Source Number : 16
Source : English Heritage Visitor Handbook 2009/10
Source details :
Page(s) : 135
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Source Number : 3
Source : Externally held archive reference
Source details : Stukeley, W., Itinerarium Curiosum, or an Account of the Antiquitys and remarkable Curiositys in Nature or Art, observ'd in Travels thro' Great Britain, London: William Stukepey, 1724
Page(s) : 104
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Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : FGA F1 20-MAR 1968
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Source Number : 5
Source : The Victoria history of the county of Hertford, volume four
Source details :
Page(s) : 150
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Source Number : 6
Source : Hertfordshire archaeology
Source details : (P.E. Curnow)
Page(s) : 66-71
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 2, 1970
Source Number : 7
Source : List of ancient monuments in England: Volume 1, Northern England; Volume 2, Southern England; Volume 3, East Anglia and the Midlands
Source details :
Page(s) : 52
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Vol(s) : III
Source Number : 8
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : HBMC 2 1984
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Source Number : 9
Source : Medieval military architecture in England. Volume 1
Source details :
Page(s) : 223-8
Figs. :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 10
Source : Castellarium anglicanum : an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the islands. Volume I : Anglesey - Montgomery
Source details :
Page(s) : 219
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Late C11
Monument End Date : 1099
Monument Start Date : 1067
Monument Type : Motte And Bailey
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Late C12
Monument End Date : 1199
Monument Start Date : 1167
Monument Type : Castle, Curtain Wall, Angle Tower
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : 1216
Monument End Date : 1216
Monument Start Date : 1216
Monument Type : Siegework
Evidence : Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Erected 1216
Monument End Date : 1216
Monument Start Date : 1216
Monument Type : Siegework
Evidence : Conjectural Evidence
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : 1254
Monument End Date : 1254
Monument Start Date : 1254
Monument Type : Shell Keep
Evidence : Ruined Building
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Altered 1360
Monument End Date : 1360
Monument Start Date : 1360
Monument Type : Castle
Evidence : Ruined Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : HT 16
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 20626
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : NMR 3101/8
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 3
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : AA075835
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : AA075841
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SP 90 NE 3
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : BERKHAMSTED CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1905-01-01
End Date : 1905-12-31
Associated Activities : BERKHAMSTED CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1962-01-01
End Date : 1962-12-31
Associated Activities : BERKHAMSTED CASTLE, SOUTH EAST TOWER
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1967-01-01
End Date : 1967-12-31
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SP 90 NE 3
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1968-03-20
End Date : 1968-03-20
Associated Activities : BERKHAMSTED CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1973-01-01
End Date : 1975-12-31
Associated Activities : BERKHAMSTED CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2009-01-01
End Date : 2009-12-31
Associated Activities : LAND AT 9 CASTLE HILL
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2012-01-01
End Date : 2012-12-31