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CHER Number:01774
Type of record:Monument
Name:Huntingdon Castle

Summary

The castle consists of a large defensive mound or motte and a roughly rectangular bailey with rounded corners. The bailey retains evidence of stone buildings with grassed over wall footings surviving up to 0.3m in height. A chapel within the castle was granted to the Huntingdon Priory in 1327. A windmill was erected atop of the motte before 1807 and in 1875 the windmill was demolished.

Grid Reference:TL 240 714
Parish:Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire

Monument Type(s):

  • CASTLE (Medieval to 19th century - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • WELL (Medieval to 19th century - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • WINDMILL (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CHAPEL (Medieval to 19th century - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • INHUMATION (Medieval to 19th century - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • BATTERY (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Finds:

  • HUMAN REMAINS (Middle Saxon to English Civil Wars - 690 AD to 1650 AD) + Sci.Date

Associated Events:

  • Huntingdon Castle, Huntingdon
  • Geotechnical boreholes survey, Huntingdon Spiritualist Church, 1999

Protected Status:

  • Scheduled Monument () 1011712: Huntingdon Castle (Castle Hills): a motte and bailey castle and Civil War fieldwork

Full description

1. There is said to have been a pre-Norman castle on this site, but any evidence of this was destroyed when a motte was thrown up in 1082.

2. Remains of a Norman motte with a bailey built by William I in1068 and destroyed in 1174. The motte is 200ft in diameter at base and rises 38ft above the river. The railway cuts through the site.

3. A motte and bailey on the north bank of the river just west of the Bridge. The earthworks consist of a roughly oval motte with a half-moon shaped inner bailey of 2.5 acres on the east and a large outer bailey on the west. The motte is 90 yards in diameter at the base, 40 yards in diameter at the top and rises 12ft above the lower part of the inner bailey. The site has been considerably denuded. A causeway connects the east side of the motte to the inner bailey and both motte and inner bailey have their own ditches. The entrance to the inner bailey is on the east with strongly marked ramparts at the north-east and outh-east angles. The outer bailey is without ditch or rampart, but its limits on the north, south and west are indicated by a scarp. Condition (at the time of RCHM): Fair, the works having been much cut into during the construction of the railway, which runs through the southern ends of the motte and inner bailey and through the middle of the outer bailey.

4. The fine earthwork of Huntingdon Castle stands at the southern end of the town, near the bridge. It consists of a motte and bailey, surrounded on three sides by moats but on the south side the moat was omitted and the River Ouse served the purpose. The site is divided into three parts: the central and largest part belongs to the town and is open to the public and contains the motte and the greater part of the bailey; the southern part has been separated from the rest by the railway, which cuts through the outer rampart at the south east corner and runs through the southern side of the inner moat, this part is now in a private garden; the northern part remains, divided from the central portion, except at its eastern end where the railway cuts through the site, but the adjacent parts of the bailey have been entirely destroyed. The outer moat of this part is fairly well preserved, but the bottom appears to have been raised by an accumulation of rubbish. At the south-east corner, where the moat joins the river, the slope of the rampart is well shown. Of the central portion, the rampart on the eastern side is well preserved and the moat is almost complete, being only encroached upon to a small extent by the garden wall of the adjoining Bridge House Hotel. At the northern end of this side the rampart appears to attain its greatest height and this continues on the section of the rampart now in the garden of Castle Hill House. Between the two sections, a roadway has been formed from the High Street into the middle of the bailey, and the earth of the rampart, cut away for this purpose, has apparently been thrown into the moat, the bottom of which at this point is very high. It is probable that the original entrance to the castle was at this point. The portion of the moat in the garden of Castle Hill House is well defined, and, on the whole, this part of the Castle does not seem to have been much injured by the making of the garden, except at the extreme western end where part of the slope has been cut into and a kind of rockery and grotto has been built up with ancient stone brought from elsewhere.
The motte, which stands at the western end of the central portion, is very fine; it is 200ft in diameter at its base, 120ft across the top and rises to a height of 38ft above the river. On the southern side part of the slope has been cut away for the railway. For many years a windmill stood upon the top of the motte and there are evident signs that a roadway to this mill was formed, partly by filling up the inner moat and partly by cutting into the sides of the motte. It is difficult to say what the original level of the bailey was, the Castle having been destroyed so long ago as 1174 and the surface being now extremely irregular and presenting the appearance in places of having been dug for clay or gravel. The height of the rampart above the present level of the bailey varies from 3ft 6in to 8ft, the difference being chiefly due to the irregularity of the bailey. The rampart itself appears to have risen 30ft above the river, and in places it is rather more. On the outside of the rampart, at the south-east corner, close to where the railway cuts through there is a well, at TL24137140, which is called the Castle Well; whether it is really ancient or whether it has been made since the Castle was destroyed, is perhaps open to question.
Mrs. Armitage, in The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, says that 'another bailey was subsequently added'. In her plan she indicates some earthworks to the west of the Castle as being probably this additional bailey. They appear to consist of a deep depression on the east side of the road leading from the town to the great meadow called Portholme, very like a moat, and now being rapidly filled up with rubbish. At the northern end the inner bank of the moat may be followed curving round to the east and running through what was until recently a paddock into the garden of Castle Hill House, where it comes to an end within 80ft of the outer moat of the castle. It is, however, very shallow and there is nowhere anything resembling a rampart. In a private garden on the S side of the railway, the ground, which is rather high, appears to have been artificially sloped down to the river and is rather curiously formed at the south-west corner. The original arrangement has been destroyed by the making of the railway and the building of a house, but it looks as if the depression before mentioned may have continued on and joined the river at this point, thus enclosing the additional bailey to which Mrs. Armitage refers.
This Castle was built in 1068, by William the Conqueror, after his return from York. It came into the possession of the Scottish King, William the Lion (Earl of Huntingdon),who took the part of Prince Henry against his father King Henry II. Henry II's forces besieged the Castle, took it and it was pulled down. It is stated that King Henry's forces threw up a siege castle against it, and it is an interesting speculation that this may be the very fine hill which stands some 1,100ft to the west and which also became in later times the site of a windmill. This hill, although it stands on naturally rising ground, is chiefly artificial; it has a diameter of 150ft at its base and 60ft at the top, and rises about 10ft above the higher parts of the adjacent ground, but on the south side it slopes down with a continuous line (partly natural and partly artificial) to a backwater of the Alconbury Brook, a tributary of the Ouse, 25ft below. It had a very distinct ditch on its western side, still partly remaining but partly destroyed informing the gardens of a modern house. On the east is a deep ditch by the side of which a roadway has been formed leading to a watermill which stood across the backwater. On the north side the ground in the immediate proximity of the hill is high, but owing to the formation of the railway and to other causes the original arrangement on this side cannot now be definitively determined.
In giving a plan of Huntingdon Castle and the large hill west of it, it is convenient to show also a deep ditch some 500ft to the west of the latter hill. This ditch has much the appearance of a boundary ditch and towards its northern end is wide and its eastern bank is steep and has a low rampart. All the ground adjoining the backwater at this place rises with a steady slope from the edge of the stream, but eastward of this ditch it seems to have been artificially cut to a steeper slope at a short distance back from the waterside. Across the Common on the other side of the railway is a long trench, partly wet, with a wide bank on its eastern side. This trench seems to have been connected with the deep ditch above mentioned, but at its northern end it dies out, and its line cannot be traced any farther. Probably this trench dates from Cromwellian times.

7 and 8. During laying of telephone lines in the early 1960s, massive stone foundations were discovered a few feet below ground. It is believed that these represent a stone gatehouse inside the moat, probably replacing an earlier wooden construction. It is stated that the tooling marks on the stone indicate a date of around 1100.

9. Fieldwork has shown that the ramp and causeway which blocks the ditch of the motte and cuts through the top edge of the motte itself, cannot be contemporary with the early Medieval use of the castle. The motte also has a slight hollow in the top and this indicates that it was used as a gun battery in the seventeenth century. A section of the bailey rampart has been raised to a height of 4.0m and widened to 25.0m and was probably similarly used in the Civil War. Cannons set on these mounds would have covered the main river crossing of the Ouse.

10. Part of the southern rampart was examined in 1975. The rampart above the level of the bailey proved to be Post Medieval and presumably Cromwellian. It covered about 1.0m of loam containing much occupation debris of the Roman and Medieval periods. Below this were cut shallow graves containing skeletons lying W-E surrounded by coffin nails. There is no nearby church with which these might be associated but it is possible that a chapel stood in the castle bailey.

13. Motte and bailey as described by RCHM, but with principal bailey on the east and remains of another to the west. Within the main bailey against the north-east embankment are traces of possibly two buildings, probably modern. See annotated 25 inch survey.

14. Despite alteration over the years, Huntingdon Castle is largely well preserved. The documentary evidence for the foundation, ownership and later reuse of the castle is good, and enables the surviving remains to be identified within their historic context. Partial excavation (within the area now overlain by the Huntingdon bypass) has demonstrated the survival of buried remains related to the occupation of the castle and the subsequent remodelling of the defences during the English Civil War. Detailed survey work has also shown that both the bailey and the summit of the motte retain evidence of former structures; and documentary evidence indicates that further masonry foundations and the remains of timber fortifications will survive as buried features. Environmental evidence, pertaining to the economic status of the site and its inhabitants, may be recovered from the accumulated silts within the ditches and on the river foreshore. The foreshore may also retain the remains of waterfront structures which would provide timbers suitable for dendrochronological dating. The importance of the castle is enhanced by its location within Huntingdon, an historically important town, and it is therefore associated with a wide diversity of contemporary and later monuments. Excluded from scheduling are: the electricity substation in the N part of the bailey, the surfaces of footpaths, concrete steps and the bases for benches; surfaces of Castle Moat Road and its footpath car park of the Spiritualist Church and The Huntingdon Glass Company building; wooden gate and information board at entrance, the fire beacon on the bailey rampart; the wooden fence along south side and to the north of the motte. The ground beneath these features is included to protect buried features.

15. Evaluation revealed significant late Iron Age/Roman and Medieval remains. The medieval remains consist of several occupation features, plus a reworking of the riverside escarpment that is almost certainly defensive and probably dates to the post-Conquest period, rather than being part of the Danish or Saxon burh. It may therefore represent a 'lost' western bailey of the Norman castle.

16. The castle site was refortified in 1644 to defend the approaches to Huntingdon. The access was broken down and replaced by a drawbridge, and the rampart nearest the town bridge was widened and heightened, and a ramp was built to access the motte. All this was to facilitate the use of cannon.

19. Aileen Connor (CCC AFU) refers to a drawing of a cross-section through the castle sitch which was dug when the ring road was built. The section is described as looking north and was drawn by RF Smith in 1963 at the approximate location TL2417471509. The drawing shows a ditch approximately 17ft wide and 12ft deep and was described as having been 'found beneath the lawn of the Old Bridge Hotel, Huntingdon during excavation and levelling for a new relief road'.

20. Report on human remains discovered in 1975.

21. Radiocarbon dating of samples from 14 of the skeletons suggests that the burial site was in use between the 8th and 17th centuries. The majority of skeletons dated from the late Saxon period, however there is some documentary and archeological evidence of post medieval gallows on the site, and several of the skeletons dated from this period. The lack of stratagraphic evidence makes it difficult to ascertain if the burial ground was in continual use, although it was thought probable that no burials took place during the medieval period due to the proxemity of castle building. One of the skeletons studied showed signs of treponematosis disease, one of the earliest cases in Britain.

22. Emergency excavations carried out on the front portion of the rampart. Contained occupation debris dated to the Roman and Medieval periods. Below this were cut shallow graves containing skeletons surrounded by coffin nails. There is no nearby church which these could be associated with, but it is possibly that a chapel stood in the castle bailey.

23. Geotechnical borehole survey undertaken prior to proposed at the rear of the spiritualist church on Castle Moat Road in 1999 to depths of 2.9m, 3m and 1.3m revealed depths of made ground and documented a poorly filled hole from an earlier tree removal. It is unclear whether the car park is constructed over the infilled moat at this location (see CB14925).

24. Assessment of Huntingdon Castle and its environs as part of a doctoral thesis on Urban Castles in the Anglo-Norman period. The report assesses the evidence of recent archaeological investigation in the town as well as carries out some original topographic survey at Mill Common.


Dickinson, P. G. M., 14/9/1963, Further discoveries at Castle Hills (Unpublished document). SCB20306.

Dickinson, P. G. M., 19/8/1973, Huntingdon Castle, its rise and fall (Unpublished document). SCB20307.

<1> Inskip Ladds, S., 1914, Proceedings of the Society: TCHAS 3: 375-92, p. 385 -386 (Article in serial). SCB14416.

<2> Armitage, E., 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, p. 149 (Bibliographic reference). SCB1236.

<3> RCHM, 1926, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Huntingdonshire, 149 - 151 (plan), (photo) (Bibliographic reference). SCB12619.

<4> Page, W. and Proby, G. (eds), 1926, The Victoria County History of Huntingdonshire. Volume 1, 288 - 290. (plan) (Bibliographic reference). SCB14952.

<5> 1958, OS 6 inch map (Map). SCB8930.

<7> Dickinson, P. G. M., Huntingdon Castle. An existence in the past (Unpublished document). SCB20305.

<8> Spoerry, P, 1998, A summary of fieldwork in Huntingdon to 1997 (Unpublished report). SCB21588.

<9> Taylor, C.C., 1974, Fieldwork in Medieval Archaeology, p. 64 - 765 (Article in serial). SCB5724.

<10> Taylor, A., 1975, Arch. Excavations, p. 82 (Bibliographic reference). SCB885.

<11> Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB4005.

<12> Wilson, D.R., Hassall, M.W.C., Tomlin, R.S.O. and Wright, R.P., 1975, Roman Britain in 1974. I, sites explored. II, inscriptions: Britannia 6: 221-94 (Article in serial). SCB15714.

<13> 1970, BHS of the Ordnance Survey (Verbal communication). SCB16659.

<14> English Heritage, 1995, Schedule of Ancient Monuments - 1995 (Scheduling record). SCB16660.

<15> Cooper, S. and Spoerry, P., 2000, Roman and Medieval remains at Watersmeet, Mill Common, Huntingdon (Unpublished report). SCB17342.

<16> Osborne, M., 1990, Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire, p.27 (Bibliographic reference). SCB9943.

<17> Taylor, A., Castles of Cambridgeshire (Bibliographic reference). SCB19242.

<18> Renn, D.F., 1973, Norman Castles in Britain, p. 207 (Bibliographic reference). SCB13873.

<19> Connor, A. and Spoerry, P., 2005, Emails from Aileen Connor and Paul Spoerry to Sarah Poppy re Huntingdon Castle (Unpublished document). SCB20452.

<20> Denston, C.B., Human Skeletal Remains from Huntingdon Castle, 1975 (Unpublished report). SCB20304.

<21> Mays, S. & Vincent, S., 2009, Huntingdon Castle Mound, Cambridge: Osteological Analysis of the Huntingdon Castle Population. (Unpublished report). SCB21817.

<22> Taylor, A., 1975, Huntingdon castle emergency excavations (Unpublished report). SCB38954.

<23> Gross, P. (Thorburn Colquhoun Ltd), 1999, Geotechnical site investigation: car park of Spiritualist Church, Huntingdon (Unpublished document). SCB54918.

<24> Fradley, M, 2011, The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150 (Unpublished document). SCB57162.

Sources and further reading

---Unpublished document: Dickinson, P. G. M.. 14/9/1963. Further discoveries at Castle Hills.
---Unpublished document: Dickinson, P. G. M.. 19/8/1973. Huntingdon Castle, its rise and fall.
<1>Article in serial: Inskip Ladds, S.. 1914. Proceedings of the Society: TCHAS 3: 375-92. p. 385 -386.
<2>Bibliographic reference: Armitage, E.. 1912. The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. p. 149.
<3>Bibliographic reference: RCHM. 1926. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Huntingdonshire. 149 - 151 (plan), (photo).
<4>Bibliographic reference: Page, W. and Proby, G. (eds). 1926. The Victoria County History of Huntingdonshire. Volume 1. 288 - 290. (plan).
<5>Map: 1958. OS 6 inch map.
<7>Unpublished document: Dickinson, P. G. M.. Huntingdon Castle. An existence in the past.
<8>Unpublished report: Spoerry, P. 1998. A summary of fieldwork in Huntingdon to 1997.
<9>Article in serial: Taylor, C.C.. 1974. Fieldwork in Medieval Archaeology. p. 64 - 765.
<10>Bibliographic reference: Taylor, A.. 1975. Arch. Excavations. p. 82.
<11>Aerial Photograph:
<12>Article in serial: Wilson, D.R., Hassall, M.W.C., Tomlin, R.S.O. and Wright, R.P.. 1975. Roman Britain in 1974. I, sites explored. II, inscriptions: Britannia 6: 221-94.
<13>Verbal communication: 1970. BHS of the Ordnance Survey.
<14>Scheduling record: English Heritage. 1995. Schedule of Ancient Monuments - 1995.
<15>Unpublished report: Cooper, S. and Spoerry, P.. 2000. Roman and Medieval remains at Watersmeet, Mill Common, Huntingdon.
<16>Bibliographic reference: Osborne, M.. 1990. Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire. p.27.
<17>Bibliographic reference: Taylor, A.. Castles of Cambridgeshire.
<18>Bibliographic reference: Renn, D.F.. 1973. Norman Castles in Britain. p. 207.
<19>Unpublished document: Connor, A. and Spoerry, P.. 2005. Emails from Aileen Connor and Paul Spoerry to Sarah Poppy re Huntingdon Castle.
<20>Unpublished report: Denston, C.B.. Human Skeletal Remains from Huntingdon Castle, 1975.
<21>Unpublished report: Mays, S. & Vincent, S.. 2009. Huntingdon Castle Mound, Cambridge: Osteological Analysis of the Huntingdon Castle Population..
<22>Unpublished report: Taylor, A.. 1975. Huntingdon castle emergency excavations.
<23>Unpublished document: Gross, P. (Thorburn Colquhoun Ltd). 1999. Geotechnical site investigation: car park of Spiritualist Church, Huntingdon.
<24>Unpublished document: Fradley, M. 2011. The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150.

Related records

MCB17283Related to: Battle of Huntingdon (1645) (Monument)

Reports

The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England © Fradley, M.. Click to open in a new window (10.18 MB).

The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England © Fradley, M.. Click to open in a new window (10.18 MB).