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Castle Camps

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Castle Camps.
In the historic county of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.
Modern Authority of Cambridgeshire.
1974 county of Cambridgeshire.
Medieval County of Cambridgeshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: TL626424
Latitude 52.05657° Longitude 0.37057°

Castle Camps 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.


Motte and bailey built by Aubrey de Vere soon after the Norman Conquest, as the administrative centre of his large estate. It is the largest Medieval fortress in the county, being notable for its small bailey, and the size of the motte, whose flat top covers just over an acre. The date of the enlargement of the bailey to its present size is uncertain. There are records of work being carried out in the castle between 1265 and 1331, and it has been suggested that this could refer to the construction of the new bailey, although this has not been confirmed. The present parish church lies partly over the ditch of the first bailey, which means that the bailey must have been out of use by the construction of the church, which was in C15, although it is likely that the work would have been completed much earlier than this. (PastScape)

In view of the previously inadequate treatment of the massive fortifications of Castle Camps and the existence of an unrecognized deserted village adjacent to it, the whole complex has been re-examined. The castle lies near the S.E. end of Castle Camps parish in a now remote situation and in a position of no strategic importance and little tactical strength. It is entirely on Boulder Clay about 380 ft above O.D. at the end of a low N.W. projecting spur between two small valleys. The castle commands extensive views to the north, east and west, but is overlooked by the rising ground to the S.E. The main feature of the site is a very large motte whose flat top covers just over an acre. It is encircled by a wide ditch 10-15 ft deep on all but the S.E. side, where it has been completely filled in. The motte is level with the ground to the S.E. but stands 10 ft above that to the N.W. It is now entered by a wide causeway to the N.W. side, but this is a modern replacement for a bridge which is alleged to have existed until relatively recently. To the N.W. of the motte are the much mutilated remains of a small bailey. Only the S.W side of this is still complete as a deep ditch with a large outer bank. However, slight remains of the rest of the filled-in ditch indicate that it curved N.E, ran through the present churchyard and passed under the existing church before turning S.E. to meet the ditch of the motte. Part of the junction of the bailey ditch with that of the motte still survives. Beyond this inner bailey is a much larger outer bailey, bounded by a rampart and deep outer ditch. This is virtually intact, except to the N.W. of the church where the ditch has been filled in. Within this outer bailey are various low scarps and platforms, some undoubtedly the sites of former buildings. Beyond the outer bailey to the S.W. are traces of a low bank, only 1 ft high, which continues in a N.W. direction beyond the castle. This castle, the largest medieval fortress in the county, was undoubtedly built by Aubrey de Vere, soon after the Norman Conquest, as the administrative centre of his large estate. This included not only Castle Camps itself, but land in Babraham, Abington, Hildersham, Horseheath, Wilbraham and elsewhere, as well as other lands in Essex. The castle as it apparently then existed is notable for its small bailey, but the size of the motte is especially interesting for it is almost exactly the same as that at the De Veres main stronghold at Castle Hedingham, Essex. The date of the enlargement of the bailey to its present form in unknown. There are records of work being carried out in the castle between 1265 and 1331, and it has been suggested that this could refer to the construction of the new bailey. This is, however, by no means certain. The fact that the present parish church is partly over the ditch of the first bailey means that it could not have been built until that bailey was out of use. However, the church is almost entirely fifteenth century and therefore can hardly be used to date the extension of the castle, which must have taken place well before this. There is a reset thirteenth-century priest's door in the south side of the chancel, and this, together with a thirteenth-century font, suggests the existence of an earlier church in the area, but not necessarily on the exact site of the present one. No record exists of the castle ever being used for military purposes, and it remained largely a private residence for the De Veres throughout the medieval period. It was sold in 1558 to Thomas Skinner, a London merchant, and later passed to Charterhouse, in whose hands it still remains. There is no trace of any medieval building in situ on the motte, except for a small piece of flint walling near the N.E. angle of the house. Within the garden are two large pieces of Barnack-type stone, one of which is part of a moulded cornice which may be medieval. On an engraving of 1730 a high tower and a large gabled range, probably of sixteenth-century date, are depicted. The tower fell down in 1738 and soon afterwards the existing farm, an L-shaped mid-eighteenth-century structure, was erected, which was then altered in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. The garden wall to the N.E. of the house is largely of sixteenth- or seventeenth-century brick. (PastScape–Ref. Taylor, 1972)

Charles Holloway (2016) argues the castle was rebuilt by John de Vere in the 1490s 'as a home for his loyal brother George who had been with him at Barnet and St Michael's Mount'.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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