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HER No.:468
Type of Record:Monument


Cropmarks indicating the remains of a medieval ringwork and bailey castle. Small-scale excavation in 1962 produced 12th century pottery and evidence of timber and daub buildings, The ringwork consists of a circular platform, 40m in diameter, surrounded by two concentric circuits of ditches 5m apart, each approx 6m in width. Two oval baileys adjoin the north western and south western sides, these and the ringwork together forming an oval enclosure 140m from north to south and 100m from east to west. A causeway crosses the two ditches on the northern side of the ringwork, giving access from the northern bailey. The castle has been suggested to be an Anarchy castle, dating from the reign of Stephen.
Additional cropmarks also indicate a ring ditch under the eastern bailey ditch, which itself overlies a ditch arcing to the east and north, flanked by a similar ditch. Both these ditches are thought to be part of a Neolithic or early Bronze Age enclosure. North of the northern bailey lies a square cropmark, possibly of Iron Age or Roman date. All these early features are overlain by a cropmark of a palaeochannel.
The site is a Scheduled Monument, number 1010115.

Grid Reference:TL 184 445
Map:Show location on Streetmap

Full Description

<1> Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photographs (CUCAP), Cambridge AP: Index, Various references (Aerial Photograph). SBD10593.

AAN 47-52 (7/8/1959) - Cropmarks TL 184444
ACP 7-8 (13/4/1961) - Castle earthworks TL 184444
ADO 22-25 (5/7/1961) - Cropmarks TL 184444
AFC 3-5 (7/6/1962) - Cropmarks TL 184444
AGA 47-49 (9/7/1962) - Castle earthworks TL 184445
AHO 3-9 (11/7/1963) - Castle earthworks TL 184444
AIT 76-78 (9/5/1964) - Castle earthworks TL 184444
AOR 68 (30/6/1966) - Castle earthworks TL 184444
ARL 44 (7/6/1967) - Castle earthworks TL 184444
ARW 14-16 (15/6/1967) - Cropmarks, castle TL 184444
ATY 17-18 (13/3/1968) - Castle earthworks TL 184444
BBR 29-30 (5/6/1970) - Soilmarks TL 184444
CBS 33-34 (26/1/1977) - Soilamrsk ¼m west of Biggleswade TL 184444
CFR 74-75 (7/5/1978) - Castle, Biggleswade TL 184444
CMI 62-66 (2/7/1980) - Biggleswade Castle TL 184445
NQ 17 (22/4/1954) - Soilmarks TL 184444
VQ 74-78 (9/7/1957) - Cropmarks TL 184444
VR 59-63 (13/7/1957) - Cropmarks TL 183444
YX 19-22 (23/6/1959) - Castle earthworks TL 184444

<2> Hunting Surveys, 1968, Hunting Aerial Photos 1968, HSL UK BED 69 858: 16/7644-7645 (8/4/1969) (Aerial Photograph). SBD10637.

<3> Hunting Surveys, 1976, Hunting Aerial Photos 1976, HSL UK 76 25: 5/1862-1864 (25/6/1976) (Aerial Photograph). SBD10652.

<4> Antiquity, Vol 40, 1966, pp. 142-144 (Article in serial). SBD11098.

On gravel 'island' 650 ft E-W by 900 ft N-S. Cropmarks suggest long history of occupation. Entrance from right-hand 'bailey'/ Curious sub-division of ditches not easy to explain; gang-work is hardly the explanation. Considered as a castle site, the position is a good one from which to command this reach of the Ivel and a crossing of the river near Biggleswade.
Roughly rectangular enclosure represents yet another period. Straight parallel lines mark former field division.

<5> Bedfordshire Archaeological Council, 1966, Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal, Volume III, Vol. 3, 1966, pp. 15-18 (Article in serial). SBD14113.

In 1962, slight hollows rarely more than one foot below level of field showed position of main ditches.
Brief excavation in 1962 to establish date of site & state of preservation. Trial trench across edge of ringwork revealed 2 ditches not quite on line of those on aerial photographs, with destruction layer from timber & daub buildings. Pottery of probably early C12 date.
May be a member of considerable local group of anarchy castles.

<6> Ordnance Survey, Ordnance Survey Archaeology Record Cards, OS: TL 14 SE 8 (Unpublished document). SBD10879.

A previously unknown ringwork and bailey on the west bank of the River Ivel was observed from the air at TL 184445 as a cropmark by St Joseph in 1954. (Antiquity, Vol 40, 1966, p. 143)
The remains suggest a ringwork and bailey rather than a motte, and the position is good for a castle site.
The site was endangered by the construction of the A1 Biggleswade by-pass, and a brief rescue excavation was undertaken by the M.O.W in 1962. This consisted of one trench cut obliquely across the line of the ringwork ditches and on the edge of the ringwork platform. A few sherds of cooking-pots were found of similar fabric to early medieval wares recently defined by Hurst (3) and probably early 12th century. The trial excavation has shown that the ringwork and bailey almost certainly dates from the century following the Norman Conquest, and that it contained wattle and daub-clad timber structures associated with ditch defences. Scheduled. (Medieval Archaeology : Journal of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 5, 1961, p 259; Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal, Vol 3, 1966) BRS 16.10.67
Only the central mound with faint traces of its encircling ditch survive - all the other features are ploughed out. Surveyed at 1:2500. (First OS Archaeology Field Investigator 28/02/1968) C.F. Wardale F.I. 28.2.68

<7> Correspondence, Letter from J K St. Joseph, 29/11/1971 (Unpublished document). SBD10802.

Biggleswade 'Castle' site, TL 184444, listed as one of most important archaeological sites in Beds.

<8> Northamptonshire County Council, Northamptonshire County Council Air Photos, 2505/3 (20/7/84) (Aerial Photograph). SBD10646.

Cropmarks TL 184446

<9> Ken Field, Ken Field Aerial Photographs, 3/7-9; 2714/12-13 (29/8/1984) (Aerial Photograph). SBD10748.

Cropmarks TL 184445

<10> National Monuments Record, NMR Aerial Photograph, TL 1844/9/12 (29/8/1984) (Aerial Photograph). SBD10595.

Cropmarks TL 183445

<11> English Heritage, Field Monument Warden's Scheduled Ancient Monuments Record Form, 26818 (Unpublished document). SBD11859.

Aerial photographs revealed circular earthworks on the east side of the Biggleswade by-pass. The fields they appear in are being cultivated, and the ditches are visible as darker soil, and the banks as lighter gravel; but there is only a difference of about 0.60-0.70m in levels. The ring marks exceed 36m into the field to the east. Whilst the plan is of motte and bailey, it is difficult to imagine how mound and banks could have been obliterated, leaving the ditch visble as they are. Further the rings to the east may belong in the earlier period to the monuments history. The rectangular shape in the north corner of the field is not, I think, of any antiquity as recent ploughing to the east shows that the marks continue right across this field in an east direction, and are formed of comparatively modern builders rubble - broken bricks and tiles. {1}
The area is bisected by a farm track running E-W across the S end of the site. To the south of this track the field appears uncultivated with a crop of clover and thistles, to the north a corn crop had just been harvested at the time of visit. Earthworks are barely visible. There is a little brick scatter throughout the plough soil and 2 sherds of pottery were noted. These appear to be of post medieval date. {3}
Whole area freshly ploughed. Ringwork showing up as raised circular feature, outlined by a gravel spread. Square enclosure to north is particularly defined by a lighter soil in this area. No artefacts recovered. {4}

{1} O.E.C. 13/3/1966
{3} Paterson, H, FMW 25/9/1984
{4} Paterson, H, FMW 26/2/1988

<12> Aerofilms, 1996, Aerofilms 1996 air photos, 19/1696-1697 (18/7/96) (Aerial Photograph). SBD10645.

Cropmarks TL 183445

<13> Angela Simco, Comments (Observations and Comments). SBD10509.

Plot of cropmarks

<14> Bedfordshire County Council, 1970 - 2000s, HER Photograph Archive, F688/22-26; 1990 (Photograph). SBD10506.

Images of the cropmarks from the ground.

<15> English Heritage, SAM Record Form, No. 20414; 20/2/1995 (Scheduling record). SBD10803.

The ringwork and bailey is visible primarily as a cropmark but is also marked by slight undulations on the ground. The site covers an area which extends for about 100m east of the A1 Biggleswade bypass and straddles the track, which crosses part of the monument. The main stronghold, the ringwork, is 30-35cm in diameter and is surrounded by a ditch up to 18m wide. The ditch is largely infilled but is visible as a slight hollow. The centre of the ringwork is slightly raised, to about 0.5m above the general ground level, and would originally have held a defensive earthen bank, probably strengthened with wooden palisades. An outer defended court, or bailey, lies on the western side of ringwork. This is oval in shape, measuring about 120m north-south by 75m east-erst, and is surrounded by a 10m wide, infilled ditch which is linked to the ditch of the ringwork on the eastern arm. The interior of the bailey is raised by about 0.5m. The bailey is sub-divided into two roughly equal parts by a ditch runnning west from the ringwork. There is a causeway across the ringwork ditch, at the north-west, giving access to the bailey.
Partial excavation in 1962 of a section of the ringwork defences revealed the remains of timber and daub buildings and pottery dated to the 12th century. Organic materials were also found in the ditch. The ringwork is considered to be one of a group of 12th Century Anarchy castles in Bedfordshire.
The metalled surface of the trackway is excluded from the scheduling but the ground below is included.

<16> Hunting Surveys, 1981, Hunting Aerial Photos 1981, HSL BEDS 81 1: 6/8685-8686 (13/6/1981) (Aerial Photograph). SBD10659.

<17> Bedfordshire County Council, HER Slide Archive, 473-475; 2147-2148; 2862; 5955-5956; 6012-6013 (Slide). SBD10508.

Aerial photos and plans

<18> English Heritage, Notification of Scheduling, or an Affirmation or Revision of Scheduling, 20/11/1995 (Scheduling record). SBD12102.

Amendment to scheduled area.

<19> Angela Simco, Comments (Observations and Comments). SBD10509.

Pottery & tile found 15/12/1988, passed to St Mary's for storage 12/91

<20> Bedfordshire County Council, Planning Dept File, 1977-1980 (Unpublished document). SBD11426.

Information on proposed gravel extraction

<21> NMR/AMIE, HE NRHE Monument Inventory, 362741 (Index). SBD12367.

The earthwork and cropmark remains of a medieval ringwork and bailey castle together with a complex of other buried ditches and enclosures on a low gravel island to the west of Biggleswade. The site was initially identified from the air in 1954. Some rescue excavation was undertaken in 1962 in advance of the A1 Biggleswade by-pass. The site appears to date from the century or so after the Norman Conquest. Finds included pottery and evidence for wattle & daub and timber structures. Ordnance Survey field investigation in 1968 suggested that only the central mound and faint traces of the encircling ditch were still visible on the ground. The remainder had been levelled by the plough. The site is scheduled.

<22> Andrew Miller, 1995, RCHME: AP Primary Recording Project (Archaeological Report). SBD12554.

A rapid examination of air photography (NMR, TL 1844/5/291-4, TL 1844/7-9, TL 1844/13/2170-2, TL 1844/14-9, 21-51) shows the ringwork and bailey, including a possible sub-dividing ditch in the bailey, and the unusual nature of the ditch cropmarks, which appear divided into small blocks.

<23> Google, Google Earth Aerial Imagery/Google Maps, Google Maps (viewed 21/12/2020), original photo date? (Website). SBD11824.

2 close up images of cropmarks extracted from aerial photography, one of the ringwork and baileys and another of the area immediately to the north faintly indicating the rectilinear enclosure present there but more particularly showing some roughly parallel WNW to ENE linears, the southernmost pair of trackway dimensions though very straight and clipping the northern edge of the northern bailey.

Protected Status:

  • Archaeological Notification Area
  • Archaeological Notification Area (AI) HER468: RINGWORK & BAILEY
  • Scheduled Monument 1010115: A ringwork and bailey castle, ring ditch and enclosures east of Brookland Farm
  • SHINE: Cropmarks close to the Biggleswade Ringwork

Monument Type(s):

Associated Finds

  • FBD5608 - SHERD (12th Century - 1100 AD to 1199 AD)

Associated Events

  • EBD1305 - Ringwork & Bailey at Biggleswade; Trial Trench

Sources and Further Reading

[1]SBD10593 - Aerial Photograph: Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photographs (CUCAP). Cambridge AP: Index. Various references.
[2]SBD10637 - Aerial Photograph: Hunting Surveys. 1968. Hunting Aerial Photos 1968. HSL UK BED 69 858: 16/7644-7645 (8/4/1969).
[3]SBD10652 - Aerial Photograph: Hunting Surveys. 1976. Hunting Aerial Photos 1976. HSL UK 76 25: 5/1862-1864 (25/6/1976).
[4]SBD11098 - Article in serial: Antiquity. Vol 40, 1966, pp. 142-144.
[5]SBD14113 - Article in serial: Bedfordshire Archaeological Council. 1966. Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal, Volume III. Vol. 3, 1966, pp. 15-18.
[6]SBD10879 - Unpublished document: Ordnance Survey. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Record Cards. OS: TL 14 SE 8.
[7]SBD10802 - Unpublished document: Correspondence. Letter from J K St. Joseph, 29/11/1971.
[8]SBD10646 - Aerial Photograph: Northamptonshire County Council. Northamptonshire County Council Air Photos. 2505/3 (20/7/84).
[9]SBD10748 - Aerial Photograph: Ken Field. Ken Field Aerial Photographs. 3/7-9; 2714/12-13 (29/8/1984).
[10]SBD10595 - Aerial Photograph: National Monuments Record. NMR Aerial Photograph. TL 1844/9/12 (29/8/1984).
[11]SBD11859 - Unpublished document: English Heritage. Field Monument Warden's Scheduled Ancient Monuments Record Form. 26818.
[12]SBD10645 - Aerial Photograph: Aerofilms. 1996. Aerofilms 1996 air photos. 19/1696-1697 (18/7/96).
[13]SBD10509 - Observations and Comments: Angela Simco. Comments.
[14]SBD10506 - Photograph: Bedfordshire County Council. 1970 - 2000s. HER Photograph Archive. F688/22-26; 1990.
[15]SBD10803 - Scheduling record: English Heritage. SAM Record Form. No. 20414; 20/2/1995.
[16]SBD10659 - Aerial Photograph: Hunting Surveys. 1981. Hunting Aerial Photos 1981. HSL BEDS 81 1: 6/8685-8686 (13/6/1981).
[17]SBD10508 - Slide: Bedfordshire County Council. HER Slide Archive. 473-475; 2147-2148; 2862; 5955-5956; 6012-6013.
[18]SBD12102 - Scheduling record: English Heritage. Notification of Scheduling, or an Affirmation or Revision of Scheduling. 20/11/1995.
[19]SBD10509 - Observations and Comments: Angela Simco. Comments.
[20]SBD11426 - Unpublished document: Bedfordshire County Council. Planning Dept File. 1977-1980.
[21]SBD12367 - Index: NMR/AMIE. HE NRHE Monument Inventory. 362741.
[22]SBD12554 - Archaeological Report: Andrew Miller. 1995. RCHME: AP Primary Recording Project.
[23]SBD11824 - Website: Google. Google Earth Aerial Imagery/Google Maps. www.google.com/earth; www.earth.google.com; www.google.co.uk/maps. Google Maps (viewed 21/12/2020), original photo date?.