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CHER Number:01769
Type of record:Monument
Name:Camps Castle


Norman motte and bailey castle

Grid Reference:TL 626 424
Parish:Castle Camps, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire

Monument Type(s):

Associated Events:

  • Earthwork survey, Castle Camps
  • Watching brief at Castle Farm, Castle Camps, 2000 (Ref: CSC CF 00)

Protected Status:

  • Scheduled Monument () 1006884: Camps Castle

Full description

1. A fine example of a Norman keep and bailey earthwork castle. Very faint traces of flint rubble foundations are to be seen within the farm area NE of the farmhouse, which, with the farm buildings occupies approximately the site of earlier construction. The moat of the keep is perfect on three sides, and the outer defenses (earthen) are practically complete.

2. This keep and bailey castle was formerly a seat of the de Veres. The estate was given to Aubrey de Vere by William I and the existing earthworks are probably his in the main. The site remains in the hands of the family until 1580, when the manor was sold by Edward, Earl of Oxford, to Thomas Skynner, citizen of London. In its original form the castle appears to have consisted of a large round keep and a smaller horseshoe shaped bailey, traces of which are still visible as a faint bank by the church of All Saints, and as a clearly defined fragment of moat NE of the church. The castle stands on a hillside 380ft above sea level and sloping down gently from the NW. There is no sign that the keep area ever received more attention then to be strongly moated and levelled. Between the years 1265 and 1331 important works were carried out on the site, which probably involved the abandonment of the small bailey and the construction of the much larger enclosure, the moat and bank of which still remain clearly preserved at all points except S of the church, where the moat has been filled in. The enlargement of the bailey brought the total area covered by the castle and its outworks to 8 acres.
Within living memory the keep area was entered from the bailey by a bridge across the deep inner moat, but this has now been replaced by a solid causeway carrying the road up to the farmhouse which, with its outbuildings and gardens, now occupies most of the 2 acres of the keep site. On the NW the keep moat has been completely filled up, but on the other sides, it is still a formidable obstacle, at least 25ft in depth, and it contains water. It is not easy to assign a reason for the construction of the castle at this spot. The main de Vere castle in the district was the great stronghold at Castle Hedingham in Essex, but Camps Castle never attained either the size or the strategic importance of that structure. It does not command any important traffic route nor has its site any particular natural strength.
O1, The account as contained in VCH is reasonably accurate. The site is correct on OS 6in, except that slopes have been omitted on the SW from 52/6242/4642 to 52/6242/6037 and on the N from 52/6242/6058 to 52/6242/6561, as shown on field sheet. The moat surrounding the motte is very heavily overgrown with trees, bushes etc and the moats of the bailey are also overgrown, but to a lesser degree. There is a causeway across the NW side of the motte. The motte is now occupied by Castle Farm and its outbuildings.

6. In view of the previously inadequate treatment of the massive fortifications of Castle Camps and the existence of an unrecognized deserted village adjacent to it, the whole complex has been re-examined. The castle lies near the SE end of Castle Camps parish in a now remote situation and in a position of no strategic importance and little tactical strength. It is entirely on Boulder Clay about 380ft above OD at the end of a low NW projection spur between two small valleys. The castle commands extensive views to the N, E and W, but is overlooked by the rising ground to the SE. The main feature of the site is a very large motte, whose flat top covers just over an acre. It is encircled by a wide ditch 10 - 15ft deep on all but the SE side, where it has been completely filled in. The motte is level with the ground to the SE but stands 10ft above that to the NW (Profile A - B). It is now entered by a wide causeway in the NW side, but this is a Mod replacement for a bridge which is alleged to have existed until relatively recently. To the NW of the motte are the much mutilated remains of a small bailey. Only the SW side of this is still complete as a deep ditch with a large outer bank (Profile C - D). However, slight remains of the rest of the filled in ditch indicate that it curved NE, ran through the present churchyard and passed under the existing church before turning SE to meet the ditch of the motte. Part of the junction of the bailey ditch with that of the motte still survives. Beyond this inner bailey is a much larger outer bailey, bounded by a rampart and a deep outer ditch (Profile E - F). This is virtually intact, except to the NW of the church where the ditch has been filled in. Within this outer bailey are various low scarps and platforms, some undoubtedly the sites of former buildings. Beyond the outer bailey to the SW are traces of a low bank, only 1ft high, which continues in a NW direction beyond the castle. This castle, the largest Medieval fortress in the county, was undoubtedly built by Aubrey de Vere, soon after the Norman Conquest, as the administrative centre of his large estate. This included not only Castle Camps itself, but land in Babraham, Abington, Hildersham, Horseheath, Wilbraham and elsewhere, as well as other lands in Essex. The date of the enlargement of the bailey to its present form is unknown. There are records of work being carried out in the castle between 1265 and 1331, and it has been suggested that this could refer to the construction of the new bailey. This is, however, by no means certain. The fact that the present parish church is partly over the ditch of the first bailey means that it could not have been built until that bailey was out of use. However the church is almost entirely C15 and therefore can hardly be used to date the extension of the castle, which must have taken place well before this. There is a reset C13 priest's door in the S side of the chancel, and this, together with a C13 font, suggests the existence of an earlier church in the area, but not necessarily on the exact site of the present one. No record exists of the castle ever being used for military purposes, and it remained largely a private residence for the De Veres throughout the Medieval period. It was sold in 1558 to Thomas Skinner, a London merchant, and later passed to Charterhouse, in whose hands it still remains. There is no trace of any Medieval building in situ on the motte, except for a small piece of flint walling near the NE angle of the house. Within the garden are two large pieces of Barnack type stone, one of which is part of a moulded cornice which may be Med. On an engraving of 1730 a high tower and a large gabled range, probably of C16 date, are depicted. The tower fell down in 1738 and soon afterwards the existing farm, an L-shaped mid C18 structure was erected, which was then altered in the late C18 or early C19. The garden wall to the NE of the house is largely of C16 or C17 brick.

4. This was the property of the Vere Earls of Oxford from C11 to late C16. The castle with a circular keep was built c 1068. A 4 storey brick tower was added in late C15, to which was attached a substantial house which was rebuilt in late C16 with a 4 bay gabled front. In 1607 it was bought by the immensely rich money lender Thomas Sutton, who eventually gave it to his foundation, the London Charterhouse. It became decayed and fell down c 1738, though its appearance is recorded in an engraving by Buck. The Charterhouse built a farmhouse on the site which was itself rebuilt in C19. Today nothing survives of the castle but some earthworks and a fragment of a rubble wall.
O2, Ring motte and bailey castle in the hands of the de Veres from the Conquest until 1580. Very extensive ring motte on which a substantial, though altered hall or keep stood until the C18. Horseshoe bailey to NW later enlarged with right angled enclosure on either side. The church stands presumably just outside the original bailey bank. The churchyard now crosses the secondary bailey bank. Outer bank and ditch fairly complete. Fishponds in NE secondary bailey. The motte area is occupied by the farmhouse and gardens and the farmyard and associated buildings. The baileys are under pasture and are grazed. The inner moat is wet, the banks support mature trees some of which are dead with consequent dead wood in the moat itself. The outer moats are mostly dry, partly in the N lying in the churchyard. There is an L-shaped pond to the W, which is wet. The banks to the SW are covered in brambles and there is some evidence of cattle erosion in this area.
Function: administrative centre
Finished? yes
Occupation: Conquest onwards
Relationship to surrounding associated with church and settlements
village earthworks

10. A large Saxon estate was given to Aubrey de Vere after the conquest, and he built the original castle on a promontory of land, a highly strategic situation. The castle was designed like Castle Hedingham and the King's Castle at Cambridge as a motte and bailey. Its large motte was surmounted with a wooden keep and surrounded with a wide ditch and a small bailey.

<1> OS, Rec 6 in 1958 (Bibliographic reference). SCB9877.

<2> Salzman, L.F (ed), 1948, The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Volume 2, 21 (plan) (Bibliographic reference). SCB14649.

<3> Cambridge Chronicle (Serial). SCB1819.

<4> Watkins, D., 1971, Burke's and Savilles Guide to Country Houses, Cambridgeshire, p. 9 (Bibliographic reference). SCB15643.

<5> Palmer, W.H. and Fox, C., Shudy Camps, Castle Camps and Waltons Park, Ashdon (Bibliographic reference). SCB14142.

<6> Taylor, C.C, 1973, Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys. PCAS 64: 35-44, 38 - 43 (plan) (Article in serial). SCB10841.

<7> 1790 copy 1617 map Castle Camps (Map). SCB6142.

<8> Middleton, A. R., 2001, Proposed works at Camps Castle, Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire (Scheduling record). SCB17623.

<9> http://www.castlecamps.com/ (Digital archive). SCB17823.

<10> Taylor, A., 1998, Archaeology of Cambridgeshire, Vol.2: South East Cambridgeshire and the Fen Edge (Bibliographic reference). SCB21794.

<11> Taylor, A., Castles of Cambridgeshire (Bibliographic reference). SCB19242.

<12> 1960, OS 6 inch (Cartographic materials). SCB7670.

<13> Ordnance Survey, 1980, OS 1:10,000 (Cartographic materials). SCB63260.

<14> Colquhoun, F.D, 1978, Field Investigators Comments, 31/10/78 (Verbal communication). SCB60597.

Sources and further reading

<1>Bibliographic reference: OS, Rec 6 in 1958.
<2>Bibliographic reference: Salzman, L.F (ed). 1948. The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Volume 2. 21 (plan).
<3>Serial: Cambridge Chronicle.
<4>Bibliographic reference: Watkins, D.. 1971. Burke's and Savilles Guide to Country Houses, Cambridgeshire. p. 9.
<5>Bibliographic reference: Palmer, W.H. and Fox, C.. Shudy Camps, Castle Camps and Waltons Park, Ashdon.
<6>Article in serial: Taylor, C.C. 1973. Cambridgeshire Earthwork Surveys. PCAS 64: 35-44. 38 - 43 (plan).
<7>Map: 1790 copy 1617 map Castle Camps.
<8>Scheduling record: Middleton, A. R.. 2001. Proposed works at Camps Castle, Castle Camps, Cambridgeshire.
<9>Digital archive: http://www.castlecamps.com/.
<10>Bibliographic reference: Taylor, A.. 1998. Archaeology of Cambridgeshire, Vol.2: South East Cambridgeshire and the Fen Edge.
<11>Bibliographic reference: Taylor, A.. Castles of Cambridgeshire.
<12>Cartographic materials: 1960. OS 6 inch.
<13>Cartographic materials: Ordnance Survey. 1980. OS 1:10,000.
<14>Verbal communication: Colquhoun, F.D. 1978. Field Investigators Comments. 31/10/78.

Related records

07369Related to: All Saints' Church, Castle Camps (Building)
07366Related to: Castle Camps DMV (Monument)