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Historic England Research Records

Castle Acre Castle

Hob Uid: 357930
Location :
Norfolk
King's Lynn and West Norfolk
Castle Acre
Grid Ref : TF8194215124
Summary : The remains of Castle Acre Castle are located in the southern part of the modern village of Castle Acre, Norfolk. They include a roughly circular inner bailey with an adjoining outer bailey to the south east and a triangular barbican to the east.The inner bailey is surrounded by a ditch and an inner bank surmounted by a curtain wall, and contains the ruins of a large stone building. The outer bailey is also surrounded by a ditch, with internal banks on the east and west sides, and fragmentary remains of a wall crowning the banks and closing the southern end. The first stone building constructed in the centre of the inner bailey was a two-storey residential building, built between 1070 and 1085. Originally, it stood in the centre of a courtyard surrounded by a ditch and bank which survives as a buried feature beneath the later earthworks. In around 1140 the house was converted to a keep. The associated strengthening of the surrounding defences included the enlargement of the ditch, the raising of the bank and the construction of a curtain wall. A second period of development at the castle saw the area of the keep halved and the perimeter defences of the inner bailey strengthened yet again. The perimeter bank was heightened and on top of the existing curtain wall, was built a second curtain of solid flint. An eastern and western gatehouse provided entry to the outer bailey. The foundations of three buildings are located within the outer bailey and are thought to have been a great hall, detached kitchen and a chapel. The hall was thought to have replaced the house in the inner bailey, after its conversion to a keep.Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries the castle continued to be an important administrative centre, but by 1397 it was derelict. The estate was eventually acquired by Sir Edward Coke in 1615, in whose family it remains. The castle was taken into state guardianship in 1929 and is currently opened to the public by English Heritage (2009).
More information : (TF 81901510) CASTLE (NR) (Remains of) (1)

Castle mound with revetting octagonal shell wall in flint rubble, with ashlar pilasters at the angles, a large U shaped bailey and a square village enclosure to the south west which is called the outer bailey by Pevsner. (Formerly published as ROMAN STATION (R) on OS 25" 1905).
The foundations of a rectangular keep 50 by 40 ft have been excavated.Some fragments of bailey curtain survive, probably of 13th century date, together with building foundations within. East of the church a long straight N-S wall remains.

The castle is mentioned in a charter of 1088. Castle Gate or Bailey gate of 13th century date at TF 81721515 is the only complete surviving portion of the castle.(2,3,4)

A very fine example of a motte and bailey, the earthworks are in very good condition and the remaining standing masonry is now being restored by the DOE (1972). The outer bailey to the SW is also in good condition with the exception of the northern arm which has been destroyed by village development.
Excavation at the site has just commenced under the direction of J G Coad. The area at present uncovered is inside the shell keep and reveals walling which represents the foundations of a rectangular keep at TF 81881515. The 13th c gateway is in good condition.
Published survey 252 revised. See photographs.
NB The shell keep is not octagonal.(5)

Excavations under the direction of J G Coad (DOE) from 1972-5, revealed that the keep was strengthened and enlarged to 71 feet square early in the 12th century, and the surrounding banks were doubled in height, burying buildings built alongside it, a new curtain wall was added at the same time. The west gate has twin drum towers and is similar in plan to the surviving Bailey gate in Castle Acre village.(6,7)

Listed, grade I no 21/12.

Excavations in the upper ward of Castle Acre Castle from 1972-77 revealed a very remarkable construction sequence in the century or so after the Norman conquest. The first stone building, is best described as a 'country house'. In the first half of the twelfth century this was replanned as a keep but was apparantly not completed before it was truncated, occupation being confined to the north half. These two later phases, which ended with the abandonment of the upper ward by c 1200 were accompanied by successive strengthenings of the perimiter defences. A rich variety of finds was recovered associated with the three main building periods. Full excavation report (8).

Limited excavations took place between 1975 and 1982 south of the upper ward gatehouse and in the area of the lower ward eastern entrance. The excavations revealed traces of four bridges which date from no later than the middle years of the twelfth century. The eastern gatehouse was shown to be an insubstantial structure, suggesting that the main defence in this area was concentrated forward on the great barbican. South of the upper ward gatehouse excavations revealed two pits one of which was a lime kiln sealed by a layer associated with the building of the 'country house' in the 1070s. Full excavation report (9)

Additional references (10-12)

The earthworks and other structural remains of Castle Acre Castle are located in the southern part of the modern village of Castle Acre. The remains include a roughly circular upper ward, with an adjoining lower ward on the south east side and a roughly triangular barbican to the east. The upper ward is surrounded by a deep ditch and an inner bank surmounted by a curtain wall, and contains the standing ruins of a massive masonry building. The outer ward is also surrounded by a ditch, with internal banks on the east and west sides, and fragmentary remains of a wall crowning the banks and closing the southern end. On the south side of the upper ward are the remains of a gatehouse which guarded the entry from the lower ward, and there are remains of two other gatehouses, sited at the junctions between the defences of the upper and lower wards on the east and west sides and giving access to the lower ward from the barbican and town respectively.

The walls of the main building in the upper ward, excavated between 1971 and 1977, display evidence of two major alterations, and limited investigation of the defences surrounding it have shown that these, also, were strengthened and enlarged twice. The original building, which is dated to the later 11th century and was probably constructed soon after the Conquest of 1066, was a strong hall, square in plan and of two storeys. Two small masonry buildings, no longer visible, abutted the outer face of the north wall. The house and associated structures stood within a courtyard surrounded by a ditch and an internal bank 3.3m high which survives as a buried feature beneath the later earthworks. The bank probably supported a timber palisade but was not strongly defensive. The gatehouse on the south side of the upper ward was inserted into the inner bank to replace an earlier timber structure, evidence for which was observed in excavation. It is rectangular in plan, with inner and outer openings, and the surviving walls are constructed of mortared chalk rubble. Part of the springing of the round-headed inner gate arch is preserved on the west side.

The major alterations to the house are dated to around 1140, and were designed to convert the building into a keep. Subsequently, in a second major alteration to the building, the walls of the southern half were demolished to ground level, and the spine wall was strengthened and refaced on the outer side to form the southern wall of the reduced keep, which still stands to a maximum height of about 8m.

The associated strengthening of the surrounding defences included, in the first stage, the enlargement of the ditch, the raising of the bank by approximately 2m, and the construction of a curtain wall of chalk rubble faced with flint. In the second stage, which probably followed the reduction in size of the keep, the bank on the north side of the ward was further raised to its present height of up to 9.5m above the original ground surface, and the height of the curtain wall on that side was also increased by building on to the existing masonry.

The remains of the western and eastern gatehouses to the lower ward are also exposed, together with the footings of parts of the curtain walls linking them to the wall around the upper ward to the north. The eastern gatehouse is less well preserved, but the remains are sufficient to show that it was a less elaborate structure. Excavations in the ditches opposite the eastern gatehouse and the gatehouse of the upper ward revealed evidence for timber bridges, now replaced by modern structures.

The barbican, which guarded the eastern gate to the lower ward, is protected by a substantial ditch and inner bank, and a gap in these earthworks on the eastern side marks what is thought to be the original entry. Adjoining the gap is a low, sub-rectangular earthwork which probably marks the site of the gate. A length of masonry across the ditch at the southern end is all that remains visible of the wall which would originally have stood on the earthworks and linked with the curtain walls of the upper and lower wards.

The earthworks of the lower ward are on a similar scale to those of the upper ward. The foundations of the curtain wall are visible in places on the surface of the banks, and part of it still stands to a height of up to 7m on the west side. Another length of wall, faced externally with coursed flint and including a rectangular opening, stands across the southern end of the enclosure.

Within the lower ward, the outlines of three buildings are clearly defined by turf-covered wall footings. The largest, in the middle of the enclosure, is a rectangular great hall, aligned on an east-west axis, with a private apartment at the eastern end. A much smaller, square building to the west of this was probably a detached kitchen, and another rectangular building to the north was perhaps a chapel. The hall was almost certainly built to replace the house in the upper ward, after the conversion of the latter to a keep.

Throughout the 12th and 13th centuries the castle continued to be an important administrative centre, but during the 14th century it was neglected, and an inquisition on the estate of Richard Earl of Arundel, executed for treason in 1397, recorded the value of the castle as nil, indicating that by then it was derelict. The estate, including the castle, was eventually acquired by Sir Edward Coke in 1615. (13)

Additional references, please see sources. (14-16)

Thompson considers that the early thin-walled keep is more an example non-military architecture than military. (17)

William I de Warenne began construction of Castle Acre Castle sometime between 1070 and 1085, by which time it was habitable. It is thought that the inner bailey building, constructed by William I de Warenne, may have been built for a purely residential purpose, rather than for both a residential and defensive function, however this remains unclear.

The castle was acquired by Sir Edward Coke in 1615 and it remains in the family to this day (2008). In 1929 the castle was taken into guardianship by the Ministry of Works.

Please see the source for detailed historic information, including illustrations. (18)

This site is noted in the English Heritage Members & Visitors Handbook 2009/10. (19)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1958
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 2
Source : Norman Castles in Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 86-7
Figs. : 2
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 11
Source : Medieval Britain from the air
Source details :
Page(s) : 18-19
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 12
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Kings Lynn and West Norfolk, 13-APR-1987
Page(s) : 8
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1851
Source Number : 13
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : 24-Jul-98
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Source Number : 14
Source : Excavation at Castle Acre, Norfolk, 1972-76: an interim report
Source details :
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Source Number : 15
Source : Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk
Source details :
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Source Number : 16
Source : Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk [guide]
Source details :
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Source Number : 17
Source : Fortress : the castles and fortifications quarterly
Source details :
Page(s) : 13-22
Figs. :
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Vol(s) : 12-Feb-92
Source Number : 18
Source : Castle Acre Priory and Castle
Source details :
Page(s) : 24-46
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Source Number : 19
Source : English Heritage Visitor Handbook 2009/10
Source details :
Page(s) : 137
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Source Number : 3
Source : North-west and south Norfolk
Source details :
Page(s) : 115
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Source Number : 4
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : Cambridge University Collection AZ 10, 11, 12
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Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 JB 06-SEP-72
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Source Number : 6
Source : Archaeological excavations
Source details :
Page(s) : 24-25
Figs. :
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Vol(s) : 1975
Source Number : 7
Source : List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest
Source details : Rural District of Freebridge Lynn 1947
Page(s) : 7
Figs. :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 8
Source : Excavations at Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk, 1972-77: country house and castle of the Norman earls of Surrey
Source details :
Page(s) : 138-301
Figs. :
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Source Number : 9
Source : Excavations at Castle Acre Castle, Norfolk, 1975-1982: the bridges, lime kilns, and eastern gatehouse
Source details :
Page(s) : 256-307
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 10
Source : Council for British Archaeology Group 6: Bulletin
Source details :
Page(s) : 21
Figs. :
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Vol(s) : 24 (1978)

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Built late 11th century, from 1070
Monument End Date : 1100
Monument Start Date : 1070
Monument Type : Ditch, Motte And Bailey, Castle
Evidence : Ruined Building, Sub Surface Deposit, Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Altered circa 1140
Monument End Date : 1150
Monument Start Date : 1130
Monument Type : Shell Keep, Curtain Wall, Bank (Earthwork), Ditch, Castle, Barbican, Gatehouse
Evidence : Ruined Building, Structure, Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Recorded as being derelict 1397
Monument End Date : 1397
Monument Start Date : 1397
Monument Type : Castle
Evidence : Documentary Evidence
Monument Period Name : Jacobean
Display Date : Acquired 1615
Monument End Date : 1615
Monument Start Date : 1615
Monument Type : Country House
Evidence : Ruined Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Listed Building List Entry Legacy Uid
External Cross Reference Number : 221880
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : NF 146
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 21441
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Norfolk)
External Cross Reference Number : 3449
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : EH Property Number
External Cross Reference Number : 12
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Unified Designation System UID
External Cross Reference Number : 1017909
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Unified Designation System UID
External Cross Reference Number : 1171480
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TF 81 NW 7
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 983797
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1157103
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 358002
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, THE CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1972-01-01
End Date : 1977-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON TF 81 NW 7
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1972-09-06
End Date : 1972-09-06
Associated Activities : Primary, THE CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1981-01-01
End Date : 1982-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CASTLE ACRE
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1999-01-01
End Date : 1999-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LAND OFF CASTLE SQUARE
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2006-01-01
End Date : 2006-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CASTLE ACRE CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2008-01-01
End Date : 2008-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CASTLE ACRE CASTLE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2008-01-01
End Date : 2008-12-31