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Medieval castle ringwork dating to the C11 and located at the south of Newnham village.
County: Gloucestershire
NGR: SO 68 11
Monument Number: 5177
Scheduled Monument Description:
Summary of Monument
The monument includes a medieval ringwork castle, and a Civil War defensive earthwork later adapted as a promenade in the C18 and C19.
Reasons for Designation
The ringwork castle and adjacent Civil War earthwork are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
• Archaeological interest: the monument includes two elements, a medieval ringwork castle and a Civil War fieldwork, both of which are classes of monument important for our understanding of the period they represent;
• Rarity: there are perhaps only 200 ringworks identified in England, and as one of a restricted number and very restricted range of monuments of the period, the example at Newnham is of particular significance to our understanding of the period; and surviving Civil War fieldworks number only around 150, and are thus rare in the national context;
• Survival: both the ringwork and the Civil War fieldwork survive to a significant height above ground, with little loss or erosion despite some minor antiquarian excavation to the interior of the ringwork and the slight truncation of the earthwork;
• Potential: the ringwork has significant potential to reveal evidence of structures and occupation, and the ditches and ground beneath the banks may retain valuable environmental information; the Civil War fieldwork has some potential to reveal technical details of its construction;
• Group value: the grouping of the two defences demonstrates the long duration of the value of the site in the defence of the town.
Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the later C12. They comprised a small defended area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. The castle at Newnham is situated on a bluff of high ground from which it commands views over the surrounding, lower countryside, and a bend in the River Severn. There is evidence for a river crossing at Newnham since at least the Roman period, reflecting the strategic significance of the area. The first reference to a castle at Newnham dates from the C12, which suggests that it was unoccupied by this date and it is likely, since it was allegedly built as defence against the Welsh, that it may be C11. There is mention in a source from the C12 of land by the ditch of the old castle, and further references in circa 1240 and 1418. The castle must have presented in 1594 a similar appearance to today, as it was then identified as a hollow green. It appears to have been planted with a ring of deciduous trees to the perimeter and a specimen pine to the centre as part of the development of the site as amenity land in the C19.
English Civil War fieldworks are earthworks which were raised during military operations between 1642 and 1645 to provide temporary protection for infantry or to act as gun emplacements. The earthworks, which may have been reinforced with revetting and palisades, consisted of banks and ditches and varied in complexity from simple breastworks to complex systems of banks and inter- connected trenches. They can be recognised today as surviving earthworks or as crop- or soil-marks on aerial photographs. The circumstances and cost of their construction may be referred to in contemporary historical documents. Fieldworks are recorded widely throughout England with concentrations in the main areas of campaigning. Those with a defensive function were often sited to protect settlements or their approaches. Those with an offensive function were designed to dominate defensive positions and to contain the besieged areas. Such a fieldwork is recorded as having been thrown up by Royalists at the upper end of Newnham in 1644, and this appears to survive as the long earthwork running northwards from the northern end of the ringwork castle, with a ditch and bank partially surviving to its western side. The earthwork describes the edge of the bluff on which it stands, indicating a defensive purpose. Newnham was garrisoned several times in the Civil War by Royalists seeking to protect lines of communication between the city of Gloucester and Wales. In April 1643, the Royalists based themselves in the parish church, just to the south of the site, and are recorded as having dug defences. The earthwork may have been built on the line of an earlier town wall: a William atte Wall is recorded in 1327, and there are records of rents for part of the town ditch in 1637, so it seems that some town defences did exist; there is no indication of town walls on any other part of the settlement. By the mid-C18, the earthwork had become public open space, forming what Daniel Defoe described as an "agreeable terrace walk", known as the Round Green. By 1849, the green had been laid out as a more formal promenade, with paths up and down, and an avenue of trees; a short flight of steps was set into at its northern end. A new lane running north-south was laid out alongside the eastern edge of the green in 1873. Formerly part of the manorial waste, the lord of the manor sold to the town all his rights over the green, which had already been long-established as public amenity space. Townspeople's wills of the late C19 and early C20 left bequests for the provision of benches and the maintenance of the green. The site of the ringwork was subject to some excavation in the C19, but was never published, and there is no record of the results; however, it is likely that some form of building was uncovered which confirmed its identity as a castle, as it prompted the owners of the adjacent C18 house to rename it Castle House.
The RINGWORK CASTLE is situated immediately north-west of Castle House, and is set towards the end of a spur of raised ground above the High Street, forming a strategic defence of the bend in the River Severn. The ringwork dates from circa 1066-1086. It includes the earthwork remains of the former ringwork castle, roughly oval on plan, formed from earthen ramparts up to circa 2.5m high surrounding a saucer-shaped, hollow enclosure, with the remains of an outer bank and ditch to the south and north-western sides; it encompasses a total area of around 0.3ha. The interior of the enclosure is approximately up to 60m long NW-SE, and has an uneven surface, possibly the result of antiquarian excavation, and perhaps also indicating buried features. A circle of deciduous trees is planted around the ringwork, with a specimen pine at the centre. It appears that the eastern bank has been thrown down to fill its own ditch, and thus even out the approach to the site from the town; and the western bank has been replaced by a modern raised walkway which extends northwards. A bridge extends from the north-western corner of the ringwork to the raised Civil War defensive earthwork which runs northwards from the ringwork. The bridge, which appears to date from the C19 and C20, has squared and coursed rubble-stone abutments with prominent strap pointing, a concrete deck over a rectangular opening, and timber parapets with X-bracing. The remains of earlier abutments survive in the form of fragments of rubble-stone walls with dressed kerbstones to either end of the existing abutments. There is no visible evidence that a bailey was associated with the ringwork castle. One source suggests that it may have been situated to the east, but if there was a bailey, it may have been located to the north and has been overlaid by the Civil War earthworks.
The extent of the CIVIL WAR DEFENSIVE EARTHWORK is broadly defined by the scarp on the western side, and by the lane called The Green to the east. It includes the wide, flat-topped earthwork, circa 163m long and circa 25m wide at its widest, narrowing at the northern end. It has sloping edges to the north and east; the western side is bounded by a ditch. Below this, the former bank has been replaced by a raised walkway of modern date, which extends from the similar walkway below the ringwork on the same side. A short flight of uneven stone steps is set into the narrow northern terminus of the earthwork, which has been truncated at its north-western corner by the creation of a driveway to a house built to the west in the late C19 or early C20. The earthwork slopes steeply down into the ditch on the western side, and slopes more gently from its flat top towards the eastern edge. The surface is uneven in parts; it has a gravel path laid out from north to south towards the western side, and traces of an earlier path running more or less parallel to the eastern side. An avenue of trees is laid out along the north-south axis, with a specimen pine to the northern end. The trees, like those on the ringwork, are probably associated with the C18 and C19 adoption of the monument as public recreation space. Beyond the current northern terminus of the earthwork, the remains become fragmentary; it has been breached to create a wide entrance way, and exists north-west of this opening only as a possible bank set below the edge of the scarp, which does not survive well; small sections are identifiable but the extent is not possible to define, and the earthworks are much eroded. {Source Work 10426 & 11748.}
The Medieval earthwork at Newnham is a castle-ring rather than a motte. The enclosure has a maximum length of 190ft & traces of the bank survive on the NW & S sides. The bank on the E has probably been thrown down to fill its own ditch & on the westward side the earthworks have been superseded by a raised walk of modern date. The most favourable position for a bailey, if such ever existed would be to the E on the site occupied by the church since c1380. Excavations during the latter part of the C19 of which nothing more is known resulted in the owner of an adjoining property changing its name to Castle House, & more recently there has been evidence of possible masonry beneath the turf of the 'Round Green'. The old castle at Newnham has been identified by Ms Woods with the 'old castle of Dene' but this was more probably at Welshbury. Situated near the edge of a spur overlooking a bend of the River Severn.{Source Work 862.}
Newnham Castle, allegedly the first castle built beyond the Severn against the Welsh, was presumably in existence by 1086. It was referred to as the 'old castle' in C12 & similarly in C1240 & 1418. Land in Newnham was described in the early C13 as being by the chapel of the old castle. There is therefore no good reason for doubting that the 3 sided earthwork with ramparts & a ditch on the high ground at the S end of town was, it appears to be, a Norman castle rather than part of the defences thrown up in 1643. It was presumably the hollow green recorded in 1594 {Source Work 894.}
Vallum probably contained a wooden building. Possibly a royal hunting lodge rather than a castle. The placename is Newnham Castle & a nearby house is called 'Castle House'. {Source Works 902 and 133.}
Partially tree covered on RAF AP {Source Work 3475} and Fairey AP {Source Work 615} & purchased Russel Adams AP (part of E ditch visible) {Source Work 255?}
Corrrespondence is noted on the OS card between the Ordnance Survey and Mansfield RJ during 1970. This source could not be located on 14/04/2000.
Marked as "CAMP" on the 1st series OS 25" map {Source Work 5134}, and as "ROMAN CAMP" on the 2nd and 3rd series OS 25" maps {Source Works 5136, and 5138.}
2002 - The site was visited on 1st July 2002 by J.Hoyle, L.Butler and G.Tait of the Forest of Dean Archaeological Survey. The site was observed to be in good condition, largely grassed over, with some large broadleaved trees growing on the bank and one large coniferous tree in the centre. Some visitor erosion was noted on the top of the ramparts. {Source Work 484.}
2012 - Under consideration for designation to SM - tbc (BW 13/07/2012)
2018 - Schedulaed Monument Consent given to Newnham Parish Council for the repair and widening of an existing path, repair and removation of a bridge and the installation of information boards {Source Work 10426.}


Protection Status

Sources and further reading
862;Ordnance Survey;unknown;Vol:0;
894;Elrington CR & Herbert NM (Eds);1972;The Victoria History of the County of Gloucester;Vol:10;
5635;Crawley-Boevey AW;1887;Cartulary and Historical Notes of the Cistercian Abbey of Flaxley;
255;Woods MK;1912;Newnham on Severn: A Retrospect;Vol:0;
147;Lilley HT;1932;History of Standish;Vol:0;
5636;Stevenson WH;1893;Calendar of the Records of the Corporation of Gloucester;
862;Ordnance Survey;unknown;Vol:0;
615;Fairey Surveys;1975;Vol:0;
255;Woods MK;1912;Newnham on Severn: A Retrospect;Vol:0;
133;Hart C;1967;Archaeology in Dean;Vol:0;
302;Leech R;1981;Historic Towns in Gloucestershire;Vol:0;
3636;Jackson MJ;1980;Vol:1;
15218;Milward M;2017;GLEVENSIS;Vol:50;Page(s):29;
5923;Webb A;2000;
5134;Ordnance Survey;1878-1882;OS 1st County Series: 25 inch map;Vol:0;
5136;Ordnance Survey;1900-1907;OS 2nd County Series: 25 inch map;Vol:0;
5138;Ordnance Survey;1920-1926;OS 3rd County Series: 25 inch map;Vol:0;
4249;Historic England;Various;Vol:0;
484;Historic Environment Record;various;Vol:0;
13266;Milward M;2015;
14154;Milward M;2015;GLEVENSIS;Vol:48;Page(s):42-45;
4249;Historic England;Various;Vol:0;
10426;English Heritage;2010;

Related records
HER   5183     Civil War defences and siege, Newnham.
HER   5183     Civil War defences and siege, Newnham.

Gloucestershire County Council: Historic Environment Record Archive