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Towcester Bury Mount

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Towcester Mote, Certhill

In the civil parish of Towcester.
In the historic county of Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough.
Modern Authority of Northamptonshire.
1974 county of Northamptonshire.
Medieval County of Northamptonshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SP69344881
Latitude 52.13325° Longitude -0.98836°

Towcester Bury Mount has been described as a probable Timber Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Bury Mount at Towcester is a well preserved example of a small round motte castle situated within an urban location to maintain control over local communications. The castle had important royal connections in the early medieval period and also preserves earthwork fortifications known from documentary evidence to have originated in the Civil War. The motte stands within the area of the Roman town of Lactodorum and therefore is very likely to preserve archaeological evidence of occupation on this site from the Roman to post medieval periods.
This monument consists of the motte mound known as Bury Mount and the earthwork banks and ditches which lie around it. The motte lies on the north- east side of the town and is located in what was a corner of the Roman town. The mound of the castle motte is approximately 4m high and 70m in diameter. It is steep sided and bounded by the River Tove on its north-eastern side. Remains of a substantial ditch 3m deep and 8m wide are visible on the west side of the motte and indicate that originally the mound may have been surrounded by a continuous ditch with access being gained by a bridge. On the south side of the motte are the remains of an earthwork bank. At present the site is covered with trees and dense undergrowth. Records show that this area was the centre of extensive royal estate, and it is considered that the castle was constructed by the Crown in the late 11th century. The motte is known to have been altered during the Civil War by Prince Rupert, and this could be the origin of the earthwork banks which lie at the southern end of the mound. All above ground buildings, that is the ruined brick cottage on the motte and the outbuildings of the houses on Moat Lane and the store of the agricultural engineering premises, and the made-up roadways are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath these features is included. (Scheduling Report)

It is recorded that Edward the Elder ordered the defences of Towcester to be strengthened in 918, when the town was threatened by the Danes. Bury Mount, a mound formed of earth and gravel, is 22' in height, 102' in diameter, originally surrounded by a wet ditch. It overlooks the River Tove, and the E side of the town, controlling the old road to Northampton which crossed the river by a ford close at hand. It is a typical example of a post-conquest Motte or mound, the earlier fortifications (the whole perimeter defences of Towcester?) forming the bailey or outer enclosure. The summit has unfortunately been flattened by landscape gardening, and it is not possible to state whether it was surmounted by stone or timber defences. (Simms 1953)

Motte (SP 69344881; Figs. 113 and 117), known as Bury Mount, lies on the N.E. side of the town on land sloping gently to the R. Tove, on Upper Lias Clay at 87 m. above OD. Nothing is known of its history but it was presumably constructed in the late 11th or 12th century, perhaps by the Crown, as the centre of the extensive royal estate in this area (VCH Northants., I (1902), 305). Its tactical purpose is unclear, but it is thought to have controlled the medieval road to Northampton which formerly continued the line of Church Lane across the R. Tove. This road was presumably abandoned in the 17th or 18th century when Easton Neston Park was laid out to the E. of the town (G. Baker, Hist. of Northants., II (1836– 41), 318, plan).
The motte was apparently altered during the Civil War by Prince Rupert, who refortified the town in 1643 and made it 'very strong and brought the water around the town' (Baker, op. cit., 322–4). In the 'Journal of Sir Samuel Luke' (Oxford Record Society, III (1952–3), 207, 219) it is recorded that 'They are making a mount on the further side of the town to plant ordnance on' and that 'There are 8 pieces of ordnance in Toster, 6 in the markett place and 2 planted on a hill towards Northampton'.
The present state of the motte may be the result of these events as much as of its later land use. The site was described by Bridges ( Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 272) in the early 18th century, as being 'surrounded by a mote (sic) which is supplied with water from the brook'. The Tithe Map of Towcester (NRO, 1843) does not show the motte at all, but depicts the site of it completely surrounded by a broad water-filled ditch running off the adjacent mill stream. The area within this ditch is called Berry Hill Garden. A slightly later and perhaps more accurate plan of 1848–55 (NRO) shows the top of the motte as circular with two buildings set on the S. side of it. The surrounding ditch is shown as made up of four almost straight lengths and these are closer to the present property boundaries than the circular ditch depicted on the Tithe Map. By the late 19th century (OS 1:2500 plan, Northants. LVI 6, 1900), the ditch had been reduced to two arms extending S.W. from the mill stream. The S.W. of the ditch is not marked and a row of buildings which still stand occupied the W.
The motte now consists of a circular mound some 65 m.–75 m. in diam. The lower slopes are occupied by modern gardens. The gradient here is slight, rising to about 3 m. above the adjacent ground. On the S. side there is then a narrow ledge, backed by a near vertical face of gravel and clay up to 3 m. high which rises to the flat top of the mound. From the lowest point on the S.E. the ledge slopes gently upwards, reaching the summit on the W. The summit itself is rather uneven, but has no marked features except for a modern pit near its S.E. edge. Traces of the surrounding ditch survive on the N. and S.E., but only their N.E. ends are now water-filled.
The unusual profile of this motte is undoubtedly the result of later alterations. The upper part seems to have been cut back at some time after the original construction of a normal castle mound either to make the summit more difficult of access or to provide a gently sloping walkway to the top. This alteration may be contemporary with the surrounding water-filled ditch. The latter appears to have been cut into the N.W. side of the mound but lies a little distance from it on the S.E. These alterations may have been made in 1643 as part of the defensive improvements of Towcester but they are more likely to be the result of later gardening activities as the name given to the area in 1843 might indicate. (RCHME)

The site of the former motte and bailey castle has recently been the subject of archaeological investigation. The earliest features and deposits preserved beneath Bury Mount were probably of Roman origin. Two substantial pits were excavated, which were sealed by buried soils. The soils accumulated during the post-Roman period and had been continually disturbed. Ditches created during this period were allowed to silt naturally and were redefined and later backfilled in the late 11th century. A stone building was constructed following the Conquest, and was replaced by the Norman motte in the 12th century. A circular ring of embanked earth formed the base using sandy clay and gravels from the motte ditch and from the surrounding township. Further deposits were tipped onto the ring of earth, raising its height, and spreading down into the centre, where the deposits became thicker to fill the cone-shaped central hollow. By the later medieval period the motte was probably disused and remained so until the Civil War. During the 19th century Bury Mount was landscaped, planted with trees and the motte ditch was recreated as a watercourse. Two cottages were built into the south side in the mid-19th century and the land was used for garden horticulture. The watercourse was intermittently maintained until the cottages were abandoned and demolished. (Brown and Soden, 2008)

The site was purchased by the local authority in 2004 and is undergoing redevelopment but the motte remains a scheduled monument and will be preserved. Archaeological investigation, including some limited excavation, has taken place. In 2008 a larger secondary outer bailey was identified to the west of the motte. The mount has been cleared of trees and shrubs and will be 'restored'.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:03

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