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English Bicknor Castle

In the civil parish of English Bicknor.
In the historic county of Gloucestershire.
Modern Authority of Gloucestershire.
1974 county of Gloucestershire.
Medieval County of Gloucestershire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SO58131576
Latitude 51.83875° Longitude -2.60938°

English Bicknor Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The motte and bailey castle at English Bicknor survives well as an impressive monument in the village. Their distribution marks the progress of the Norman campaigns in the years after the Norman Conquest. Proximity to the church of St Mary the Virgin reflects the close links between temporal and secular power in the medieval period. The two formed the axis for the subsequent development of the village. The castle has not been excavated, and the earthworks of the monument will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to the way of life of the occupants of the castle, and will also preserve evidence of changes in the use of the site over time.
The monument includes a motte and bailey castle on high ground above the River Wye in the Forest of Dean. The castle includes a motte and inner and outer bailey; each bailey is surrounded by a moat, or ditch, with the remnant of a leat adjoining the moat of the outer bailey which is thought to be part of a water management system for the moat. The whole castle takes the form of a rough oval oriented north to south. The motte lies in the south west quadrant of this oval within the inner bailey which is in turn encircled by a moat. The west and south ditches of the inner bailey are confluent with the ditch of the outer bailey. The motte is not a perfectly circular mound, but rather resembles a lozenge shape, aligned north west-south east. The whole mound measures 40m east-west and 50m north-south, and its flattened top is 30m east-west by 20m north-south. The motte stands to 4m high. A berm of maximum width 16m and minimum width 4m separates the motte from the inner bailey moat. There are traces of an inner bank at the north and south sides of the inner bailey standing about 0.1m high. The moat of the inner bailey is 'V' shaped and 2m wide at the bottom, 9m wide at the top and about 4.5m deep. Alignments of roads around the castle suggest that there was possibly an entrance directly into the inner bailey on the south side, with perhaps another entrance into the outer bailey on the east or south east side. The outer bailey forming a dog-leg around the north and east of the inner bailey measures approximately 100m east-west and the same north-south. It was originally surrounded by a moat of which only a small complete portion to the north still survives, showing that the outer moat was originally about 5m wide. The inner slope of the moat, however, survives for most of its circumference up to 1m high, but up to 2m high in places, and gives the appearance that the bailey is artificially raised above the prevailing ground level. There is no evidence of an internal bank on the inner side of the moat. From the north part of the outer bailey moat, a short section of ditch extends north for about 20m. This is considered to be the remains of a water overspill system from the outer moat. (Scheduling Report)

A regular moated mound of the 8th or 9th cent. in the village of English Bicknor, consisting of a conical flat-topped mound, which was originally surrounded by a ditch, but this is now filled up, except on the western side, where it is of considerable depth. The motte stands on a horse-shoe shaped platform, also surrounded by a ditch which is connected with the ditch of the mound. Beyond this, extending to the north and east, is a second and larger platform, also defended by a deep ditch, which, as well as the former, unites with that of the inner platform and of the motte. The parish church stands on the outer platform. The whole forms an irregular circle of about 150 yds. in diameter.
It is evident that after the Norman Conquest the site was utilised for the erection of a small stone-built castle upon the mound. About 4 years ago, (circa 1876) certain excavations were made into the side of the mound for the purpose of filling the ditch to make a garden, a small room about 12 ft. square was discovered, constructed of Norman masonry. It was nearly all removed before the writer saw it, but he succeeded in preserving a small piece. At the time this walled castle was erected a further addition was made to the fortification by the formation of a quadrilateral enclosure on the north side by means of a deep ditch. This now forms the site of the parsonage, garden and grounds. The field on the west side is known as the 'Castle Bailey'.
Making a circuit of the entrenchment and beginning on the western side of the mound, the ditch is of considerable depth, and in it, at the foot of the mound, still remains the castle well. On this side, external to the ditch, is a continuous bank, but it was never defended by a moat. Around the mound the ditch would seem to have been obliterated by the debris of the castle: the second ditch, however, throughout its entire length, is very distinct. Passing the end of this by the school, the bank has been levelled down and the ditch filled. Within the recollection of persons now living, there was a wooden bridge passing over the ditch to the church and also a similar bridge crossing the ditch between the churchyard and the parsonage. Beyond the schoolhouse is a portion of a ditch still open and water filled, but its course farther followed the churchyard fence through the rectory grounds to the lich-gate on the east side of the churchyard but it has been filled in recent times. From the lich-gate the ditch has been destroyed and the site is occupied by a cottage, and for a part of the distance by the highway, but the bank inside the ditch may be traced bordering on the road, as far as the cottage now used as the Post Office. This portion was open and water filled until recently. From the back of the Post Office the ditch may be traced to the well. On the north side the ditch of the barbican branches off nearly at right angles, following the fence of the western side of the rectory garden. The late rector was repsonsible for filling up most of this ditch. At the NW corner of the gardens the ditch turns at nearly right angles towards the east, and this portion, 15 ft. wide, is always full of water. All trace of it is now lost. After extending a short distance eastward, it, doubtless, turned again southward, before the front of the parsonage, uniting with the old ditch near the lich-gate (Maclean 1879).
The site is for the most part grass covered and the earthworks are in a fairly good state of preservation. The motte is of a squarish plan and is encompassed by a ditch (with traces of an inner bank). The ditch, which was probably a wet moat has been mutilated on the south and west sides by modern building.
CASTLE BAILEY WELL is in the ditch to the west of the motte. It consists of a square aperture formed by stone slabs through which protrudes the remains of an iron pump. The aperture is approximatley 0.5m. square and is overgrown with turf. It is at ground level and appears to be over a stone chamber whose size could not be determined except that it is approximately 3.0m. deep. A spring gives rise to a swift but underground flow of water. The aperture and its surrounding stone collar is unsafe and the wall has not been used for many years. No evidence of its antiquity was seen, but from its position it is more likely that the spring supplied water to the moat than the castle proper.
The 'MOAT' described on the O.S. 6" at SO 58171589 has been destroyed and its site is occupied by a modern cowshed. There are no traces of any of the castle masonry within the bailey or upon the motte (F1 NVQ 14-APR-58).
A map of 1608 (c) seems to show a large concentric square keep surrounded by a circular moat on the site of the castle south of the church. On the ground the site is clearly a motte and bailey castle with the church in an outer earthen bailey. The situation makes it unlikely that there were ever water-filled ditches (Aston 1980). (PastScape)

The late C19 'excavation' that removed the 'small room about 12 ft. square constructed of Norman masonry' found on the side of the mound must have destroyed a good part of the archaeology of that part of the castle. The castle is first mentioned, as such, in 1217 but clearly dates from before then although it is not certain as to whether it is C11 or C12. The fact the church is within the castle enclosure may suggest an earlier date, or even that the Norman castle was a strengthening of a Saxon thegnal site.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:29

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