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Isfield Motte

In the civil parish of Isfield.
In the historic county of Sussex.
Modern Authority of East Sussex.
1974 county of East Sussex.
Medieval County of Sussex (Rape of Lewes).

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ44251800
Latitude 50.94327° Longitude 0.05176°

Isfield Motte has been described as a certain Timber Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


A tongue of land at Isford is utilised as a motte and bailey castle, the motte, c 8ft high, being placed close to the river (Montgomerie). The inner bailey is protected by the motte and by a short cross ditch. The outer bailey has its own ditch on the N and a higher outer bank for two-thirds of the way stretching across the alluvium. The whole area comprises some 4 acres. It would appear that at some later date the motte-ditch was extended into the outer bailey ... forming, probably, a fish pond rather than serving any military purpose. The inner bailey contains a depression which may represent the site of a pond, and the outer bailey a 'meandering ditch'. The motte has a small rampart bank on its S and SE sides. There is no evidence of masonry or of foundations of buildings on the site, which is grass-covered (Field Investigators Comments–F1 RLBW 05-FEB-53). (PastScape)

The example at Isfield is unusual in its lowland siting. It illustrates an alternative defensive strategy to the high motte and, because of the absence of later disturbance of the site, it retains high archaeological potential.
This unusual motte and bailey castle occupies a low-lying area at the former confluence of the Rivers Uck and Ouse. It comprises a low mound or motte surrounded by a circular moat, a ditch leading eastward from the moat, another dog-legged ditch leading north-eastwards and a broad east-west ditch and bank defining the northern edge. The site was made defensible by the diversion of the River Ouse and the creation of an island 200m by 112m on which the castle was located. This diversion involved the digging of a channel 13m wide between two natural meanders of the rivers on the NE and NW sides. Within the island, another channel was cut taking water from the Ouse around the circular motte and out to rejoin the main stream of the river. In so doing, the island was raised above the level of the floodplain and was divided into a western inner bailey and an eastern, much larger, outer bailey. The central feature of the castle was the motte, which measures 22m in diameter and is raised 1.4m above the level of the surrounding land, or 3m above the base of the surrounding moat. The motte is stepped on the eastern and southern sides owing to a landslip in relatively recent times. On the southern edge of the castle is the site of a rectangular fishpond, 23m by 10m in size and with a drainage leat on the SW side. The dog-legged ditch is interpreted as a later addition to the monument since it is both deeper and more steeply embanked than the other channels. Its purpose is unclear, but it may be connected with the artificial lake created to the north, to which the 1.6m high bank alongside the east-west channel belongs. (Scheduling Report)

During dredging works at Isfield Mill Stream in 1991, part of the ditch of the earthworks adjacent to Isfielf Church were dumped upon a Scheduled Ancient Monument by the NRA. The latter funded sample excavations of the dumped spoil, which yielded pottery of C12-C13 date. (Gardiner 1992)

Clear manorial centre next to church. Reputedly the manor was held by Harold Godwinson and was the place of he stayed the night before his death at the Battle of Hastings. Adjacent to the line of the Roman Road where it crosses the River Ouse. Gatehouse suspects the motte may be a building platform mainly designed to raise the buildings above the flood plain of the river and the ditches mainly concerned with water management although they would also have served as defences. The difficulties of such a site (flooding, mosquitos and stench) may have lead to a fairly early move of the manorial centre to Isfield Place, 500m NE.
The modern settlement of Isfield is rather to the east of the church. Does this represent fairly modern movement to the later roadway or ancient position? Were the manorial centre and church built at a relatively early (ie Saxon) date to be near the Roman crossing point (often associated with temples) with the village always occupying rather better ground?
If this was purely a military site, built to defend an important crossing, as could easily be argued, why is the church so close? The church must predate the Conquest although the earliest surviving remains are a C12 Tower.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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