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Burrow Mump, Burrowbridge

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Othery Burrow Mump, Barrow Mump, Toteyate, Myghellborough

In the civil parish of Burrowbridge.
In the historic county of Somerset.
Modern Authority of Somerset.
1974 county of Somerset.
Medieval County of Somerset.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST35903052
Latitude 51.07048° Longitude -2.91613°

Burrow Mump, Burrowbridge has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a Masonry Castle although is doubtful that it was such.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Barrow Mump survives as a good example of a natural hill utilised in various periods, including as a look-out point in Saxon times, as a Norman castle, and as the location for a later medieval chapel. The survival of burial remains has been confirmed by limited excavations. This monument is a prominent landmark in the area of the Levels.
The monument includes a motte castle formed from the top of a natural conical hill, with a terraced track spiralling up to it, an unfinished church on the summit, and field and settlement features on the lower slopes. The hill stands at the junction of two rivers crossing the flat Somerset Levels. The top 5m of the hill have been scarped to form a motte, with a flat surface 45m by 25m, and a berm or terrace 3m-4m wide around the foot. An approach track curves up around the south of the hill from the direction of the village below. It stops short of the berm on the east, and the ascent would probably have been completed by steps. Around the lower part of the hill on the north west, north and east are shallow lynchets, scarps and ditches, up to 0.4m high/deep forming a group of narrow or small enclosures along the edge of the road. These represent agricultural and settlement plots, and lie between the village and surviving roadside settlement on the far side of the hill. Such plots often resulted from squatter occupation in medieval times. Burrow Mump is today crowned by a roofless unfinished church of the late 18th century. A shallow hollow way leads up to the west end from the village. The site has been thought to be associated with King Alfred's fortifications at nearby Athelney and Lyng, but though it seems likely that its strategic position would have been utilised, no evidence has been recovered to substantiate this. The earliest reference to the hill is in AD 937 when, under the name of 'Toteyate', it was given to Athelney Abbey as part of the manor of Lyng. Its association with Lyng survived until the 19th century in the parish boundary, which crossed the river at this one point to include it. There is no further mention of the hill until more than four centuries after the Norman Conquest. The castle does not appear in the Domesday Book of 1086, and either it had already passed out of use by this time, or was not constructed until later, perhaps during the years of The Anarchy in the early 12th century. In a 1480 reference the hill is called 'Myghell-borough', and in 1544, 'Saynt Michellborowe' was part of the lands granted to one John Clayton by the king following the dissolution of the abbey. The dedication to St Michael indicates a church or chapel, and in 1548 this is directly referred to as 'The Free Chapel of St Michael'. The chapel was extant in 1633, but in 1645 was the scene of a short stand by 120-150 Royalist troops in the Civil War, who surrendered after three days. The next reference is in 1663 when two shillings and four and a half pence from Corton Denham and one shilling from Langton were detailed for its repair and rebuilding. This was apparently begun c.1724 but never finished, and by 1793 a new church was subscribed for, with contributors including William Pitt the Younger and Admiral Hood. The building again was never completed, and remains roofless to this day, overlooking the later church of St Michael at the foot of the hill. Partial excavation on the top of the hill in 1939 revealed foundations of the medieval church, with a crypt in which was a burial with a lead bullet beside it, possibly from the Civil War skirmish. A wall foundation on a different line associated with early medieval pottery was interpreted as part of the Norman castle. There were also square medieval pits, post holes, a sunken passageway and finds of bones, pottery, coins, nails and lead bullets. One of the square pits was sunk deeper than could be excavated and is perhaps a well. The hill was given to the National Trust in 1946 as a memorial to those who died in the Second World War. (Scheduling Report)

Burrow Mump is a prominent natural formation C.77 feet high which may have been scarped to some extent in the upper part. It is surmounted by a ruined church. The site was excavated in 1939, when a number of terraces encircling the hill were found to have no ditches, but showed evidence of artificial scarping, modified by hill-creep; they yielded Md. material. Md. pits were found on the summit, and west of the ruined church, part of a Norman building which may have been an adulterine castle. The present church was rebuilt in 1724 and 1793 on the foundations of a church, mentioned temp. Edward VI of which the plan was recovered. It was St. Michael's Borough. The excavations revealed no evidence to substantiate the identification of the Mump as a hill fort, or as the site of one of Alfred's forts. The finds were presented to Taunton Museum. The upper part of Burrow Mount has been scarped and is similar to a motte. It has a flat top and the steeply scarped sides end on a slight berm after which the hill slopes away naturally. A terrace starting at the foot of the hill on the west winds around the southern side terminating on an old field bank 40 metres from the foot of the motte on the east. This is probably the track up the hill but the final route is uncertain. (PastScape)

The natural hill rising above the Levels where the River Cary used to join the Parrett was an obvious defensive site, but claims that a Norman castle stood there were not proven in excavations published in 1940, and were, in any event, based on a mistaken view that there was a castle on the site in 1315-16. Historically the hill, known in the Middle Ages as la Bereg or Burgh, was a small detached part of Lyng parish, the parish in which Athelney abbey lay, and the connection between the hill and the abbey was made by Collinson. There was a chapel on the hill in the mid thirteenth century.
The obvious strategic importance of the site emerged only when the surrounding Levels had been drained and a bridge built. During the Civil War a fort was built on the hill by the royalists, but was lost by them after the battle of Langport in 1645. (Dunning 1995)

This prominent natural feature controls route across Somerset levels. It has a long historical association as a fort of Alfred the Great and the earlier documented historic names are Burgh and Borough, Burrow being a later corruption (Susan Carter 2010)

It might be argued that there was insufficient useable agricultural land to support a castle here in the C11/C12 before the Levels were drained. Indeed was there was a population large enough here to warrant governing and was it was possible to get on and off the hill in a way which allowed such government? Possible short term use as a Saxon fortification and/or Norman castle can not be excluded but may well be considered unlikely. The surrounding marsh would have made digging a ditch around the hill both very difficult and, for a military view, unnecessary. Certainly it could have be a useful rally point for a call up of the fyrd, and/or as a moot meeting point, and as such a site for a Norman lord to place a mainly symbolic fortification to demonstrate the change of government post Conquest but, arguably, nearby Athelney or Lyng would serve much better for such a purpose. It may be the artificial scarping is entirely to do with the chapel on the hill and not military works at all.
King called this a 'possible' castle which is a term he generally used for sites about which he had considerable doubt. Because it is currently scheduled as a motte castle Gatehouse has categorised the site as 'probable' but this site is at the bottom end of that category.
There is said to be a Norman keep here based on the find of some foundations. Where these foundations that of a secular building or of a precursor church building?

NB the etymology of Burrow is open to question. It could come from beorg meaning hill rather than from burh meaning fortress although these two terms are related. The OED seems to suggest the hill meaning is common in the South West whereas the burgh meaning is more Scottish.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:32

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