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The Historic Environment Record is the primary index about the physical remains of past human activity in the unitary authority of West Berkshire. Not all records are published on the Heritage Gateway. Please read the important guidance on the use of the West Berkshire HER data.

This site is designated as being of national importance and is afforded additional protection. Consult the West Berkshire archaeology service if more information or advice is needed.

HER Number MWB1543
Record Type Monument

Grid Reference SU 421 669
Map Sheet SU46NW
Parish Hamstead Marshall, West Berkshire
Map:Show location on Streetmap


Part of SM 19010/01 and all of SM 19010/02, a motte and bailey castle truncated by the road.

Associated Legal Designations or Protected Status


Other Statuses and Cross-References

  • Berkshire SMR No. (pre 2000): 01040.02.000
  • National Monuments Record No.: PRN 1601-1602
    Not sure which motte was 1601 or 1602
  • Old Scheduled Ancient Monument (Berkshire): BK 11

Monument Type(s):

Full Description

Two motte and bailey castles lie in close proximity at Hamstead Marshall, their centres only 115m apart, to the northeast of the church and the remains of the former village. They are part of a larger scheduled monument. 'The second and larger motte lies to the north-west (of the first). It is steep-sided and circular in plan and has a diameter of 62m rising to a flat summit at a height of 6.8m. Around the southern half of the mound a substantial ditch survives, averaging 10m wide and 2.7m deep. This is crossed at its most southerly point by a causewayed ramp which appears to be of a later date than the ditch or motte. To the north are the probable remains of a small bailey projecting towards the River Kennet. Today its shape and form and obscured by the modern road which cuts it off from the motte. A second larger and better preserved bailey can be traced around the west side of the motte, again cut by the modern road but surviving as a bank enclosing a roughly rectangular area. Platforms and hollows within the bailey identify the site of former buildings, possibly including the manor house.' <1>

This motte and the two others nearby were categorised in Victorian times as tumuli <02>, based on earlier sources; this is perhaps surprising because Aubrey in the 17th century noted "by Hamstead Marshall in Berkshire (a seat of the Earl of Craven) is a hill like Silbury Hill, on which Captain W Winde designs to make a screw-walk, as at the keep of the Castle at Marlborough", and "Captain Wynd farther tells me that there is a hill called Castle Hill near/within a mile of Hamstead Marshall, greater than that before mentioned (Marlborough), and there is also another mount near, but not so great" <03>. In 1930 their true character was reestablished by Myres and Williams <04> and subsequently Grinsell <05>.

Following survey work by RCHME, a discussion of the reason for the presence of three castles close to each other suggested three explanations <06>. Firstly that they were the product of separate ownership; but this can hardly apply when two mottes are only a hundred metres apart (MWB1542 and MWB1543). Secondly that one was a siegework; again the proximity and structure of the two westerly mottes makes this unlikely here. However, the unfinished easternmost castle (MWB1549) occupies a strong natural site away from the manor, and faces the other two: it could well be an incomplete siegework. The third possibility, that the location of the castles moved over time, is plausible for the westernmost motte (MWB1543) which is larger and more heavily defended than its close neighbour, and could have superseded it.

The date for the construction of these monuments is hard to ascertain from documentary sources. Myres found a gap between 1233 and 1241 when some destruction or rebuilding could have occurred. However, earthwork castles would have been outmoded by the 13th century, most being built in the hundred years after the Norman Conquest, with a peak during the reign of Stephen (1135-54).

A more recent theory <07> about this motte and the other two at Hamstead Marshall derives from a study of the lack of evidence tying Newbury Castle to a supposed location by the wharf in that town <08>. It has been suggested that in fact the castle "at Newbury", besieged during 1152-3 and described in an epic poem on the life of William the Marshall <09> could be the smaller of the two mottes close to the church (MWB1542). The site might have been referred to in this way because Newbury was larger and better known than the village of Hamstead Marshall.

Between September 2015 and April 2016 a team of researchers from the University of Reading carried out a programme of archaeological fieldwork on the site of Castle 3. This fieldwork included the drilling of two boreholes into the mound, an analytical earthwork survey, and a Electrical Resistivity Tomography Geophysical Survey. This work indicated that Castle 3 was constructed from local geological material and most likely dates to the mid-12th to mid-13th centuries. The earthwork evidence suggests that Castle 3 was constructed utilising the natural topography, with the mound given the appearance of greater size by cleverly sculpting the natural spur on which it sat. The local environment immediately before Castle 3 was built was wet and marshy, and covered by scrubby Birch and Hazel woodland. During the drilling of the borehole in the centre of Castle 3 (BH1), a large air-filled void was discovered beneath the mound. This feature is most likely to be a natural dissolution feature in the underlying Chalk bedrock <12>. The geophysical survey appears to correlate well with the geotechnical investigation, and both ERT traverses show large areas of high resistivity which may represent the possible void <13>.

Sources and further reading

<01>Historic England (previously English Heritage). Schedule of Monuments. [Unpublished document / SWB12738]
<02>Page and Ditchfield (eds). 1924. Victoria County History (VCH) Berks IV 1924. Vol 4. p179. [Monograph / SWB10281]
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/berks/vol4 (Accessed 24/09/2015)
<03>Aubrey, J. late 1600's. Monumenta Britannica Part 3. Vol iii Fol 10. [Article in serial / SWB13092]
<04>Newbury District Field Club. 1932. TRANS NEWBURY DISTRICT FIELD CLUB 1932 VOL 6 NO 3. p114-126 Three unrecognised castle mounds at Hamstead Marshall by J N L Myres. [Article in serial / SWB6934]
<05>Berkshire Archaeological Society. 1936. Berkshire Archaeological Journal 1936 40. 40. In ADS Journals. 10.5284/1000017. P56 in An Analysis and List of Berkshire Barrows Part I Addenda by LV Grinsell. [Article in serial / SWB10457]
http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/berks_bas_2007/journal.cfm?volume=40 (Accessed 26/04/2016)
<06>Bowden, Mark, Mackay, D & Topping, P. 1989. Earthwork castles and settlement at Hamstead Marshall, Berkshire. [Article in monograph / SWB12812]
<07>Newbury District Field Club. 1998. TRANS NEWBURY DISTRICT FIELD CLUB 1998 VOL 14 NO 2/3. p28-9 Is Newbury's Medieval Castle at Hamstead Marshall? by Tony Higgott. [Article in serial / SWB12918]
<08>Cannon, P. 1990. Newbury Castle - a Reassessment of the Historical Evidence. [Unpublished document / SWB12757]
<09>Crouch, David. 1990. William Marshall, Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219. [Monograph / SWB13621]
<10>Andrews Downman, Rev Edward. 1901. Ancient Earthworks surveyed and drawn by Rev Edward Andrews Downman. [Unpublished document / SWB12877]
<11>RCHME. 1989. A Descriptive Account of Earthworks in the Garden and Neighbourhood of North Lodge, Hamstead Marshall parish, Berkshire. WBC Network. [Unpublished document / SWB13946]
<12>Stastney, P and Jamieson, E. 2016. Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds. Hamstead Marshall Castle 3, West Berkshire. Interim Report. 2017 WBC Network. [Unpublished document / SWB149242]
<13>Fry, R and Stastney, P. 2016. Geophysical Survey Report - ERT Survey - Castle Motte 3, Hamstead Marshall, West Berkshire. 2017 WBC Network. [Unpublished document / SWB149241]
<14>Historic England (previously English Heritage). 1987. Register of Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England. Hamstead Marshall Park. [Unpublished document / SWB12616]
<15>Archaeology Branch of Ordnance Survey & Newbury Museum staff. 1913 onwards. Newbury Museum Archaeology Map XLII NE.. 42NE. 6 inch. Annotated on map 'Three Castle Mounds' H H Coghlan. [Map / SWB11441]

Related Monuments

MWB1541HAMSTEAD MARSHALL PARK - Medieval Village core (Monument)
MWB1549Motte in Hamstead Marshall Park, 340m northeast of the Dower House (Monument)
MWB3425Newbury Castle (Monument)
MWB3333Site of Hamstead Marshall Mansion House (Monument)

Associated Excavations and Fieldwork

EWB421Barn extension at Hamstead Marshall, Newbury, Berkshire. SAM No 19010
EWB422Survey of earthworks at Hamstead Marshall
EWB1549Castle Motte 3, Hamstead Marshall, West Berkshire - Electrical Resistivity Tomography Survey (Ref: theunive1-253446)
EWB1550Castle Motte 3, Hamstead Marshall, West Berkshire - Coring and Earthwork Survey (Ref: theunive1-253786)