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Hamstead Marshall 3 – 'conquest castle'

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Hamstead Marshall.
In the historic county of Berkshire.
Modern Authority of West Berkshire.
1974 county of Berkshire.
Medieval County of Berkshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU42106690
Latitude 51.39978° Longitude -1.39606°

Hamstead Marshall 3 – 'conquest castle' has been described as a certain Timber Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Medieval bailey, two mottes, moat and fish pond seen as earthworks in Hamstead Marshall Park. One of the mottes is an oval mound, approximately 60m across, and is surrounded on the western side by a wide ditch, probably a moat. The bailey is an oblong mound, 130m by 65m in size. (PastScape)
The dating of the mottes is a matter for some speculation. Myres considers that the mottes are neither to be dated between 1066 and 1154 where they could be associated with the probably illicit activities of Hugolin Stirman and the early Marshals, nor to the 13th century. Certainly there must have been buildings on the site in 1218 as King Henry III was entertained there. The date of the pottery from the bottom of the hill on which the mottes are situated might be seen as supporting the idea of an early date for the construction of the mottes. (PastScape–ref. field investigators comments 1963)
The site comprises two mounds one 40m by 50m and 4.7m in height the other 60m in diameter and 6.8m high. The smaller of the pair is surrounded by a ditch with a maximum depth of 2m. The summit is heel-shaped and has been damaged by trees. Below the top of the mound the profile is interrupted by a step, this is either the original surface or the result of later alterations. The other larger mound is slightly oval in plan and has traces of a low ring bank on the NW side. The mound is surrounded except to the N by a 2.7m deep ditch. (PastScape–ref. Catherall et al, 1984)

Two motte and bailey castles lie in close proximity at Hamstead Marshall, their centres only 115m apart, to the northeast of the church and the remains of the former village. They are part of a larger scheduled monument. 'The second and larger motte lies to the north-west (of the first). It is steep-sided and circular in plan and has a diameter of 62m rising to a flat summit at a height of 6.8m. Around the southern half of the mound a substantial ditch survives, averaging 10m wide and 2.7m deep. This is crossed at its most southerly point by a causewayed ramp which appears to be of a later date than the ditch or motte. To the north are the probable remains of a small bailey projecting towards the River Kennet. Today its shape and form and obscured by the modern road which cuts it off from the motte. A second larger and better preserved bailey can be traced around the west side of the motte, again cut by the modern road but surviving as a bank enclosing a roughly rectangular area. Platforms and hollows within the bailey identify the site of former buildings, possibly including the manor house.' (Scheduling Report).
This motte and the two others nearby were categorised in Victorian times as tumuli (VCH 1924), based on earlier sources; this is perhaps surprising because Aubrey in the 17th century noted "by Hamstead Marshall in Berkshire (a seat of the Earl of Craven) is a hill like Silbury Hill, on which Captain W Winde designs to make a screw-walk, as at the keep of the Castle at Marlborough", and "Captain Wynd farther tells me that there is a hill called Castle Hill near/within a mile of Hamstead Marshall, greater than that before mentioned (Marlborough), and there is also another mount near, but not so great" (Aubrey). In 1930 their true character was reestablished by Myres and Williams and subsequently Grinsell.
Following survey work by RCHME, a discussion of the reason for the presence of three castles close to each other suggested three explanations (Bonney and Dunn 1989). Firstly that they were the product of separate ownership; but this can hardly apply when two mottes are only a hundred metres apart (MWB1542 and MWB1543). Secondly that one was a siegework; again the proximity and structure of the two westerly mottes makes this unlikely here. However, the unfinished easternmost castle (MWB1549) occupies a strong natural site away from the manor, and faces the other two: it could well be an incomplete siegework. The third possibility, that the location of the castles moved over time, is plausible for the westernmost motte (MWB1543) which is larger and more heavily defended than its close neighbour, and could have superceded it.
The date for the construction of these monuments is hard to ascertain from documentary sources. Myres found a gap between 1233 and 1241 when some destruction or rebuilding could have occurred. However, earthwork castles would have been outmoded by the 13th century, most being built in the hundred years after the Norman Conquest, with a peak during the reign of Stephen (1135-54).
A more recent theory (Higgot 1998) about this motte and the other two at Hamstead Marshall derives from a study of the lack of evidence tying Newbury Castle to a supposed location by the wharf in that town (Cannon 1990). It has been suggested that in fact the castle "at Newbury", besieged during 1152-3 and described in an epic poem on the life of William the Marshall (Crouch, David, 1990, William Marshall, Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 ) could be the smaller of the two mottes close to the church (MWB1542). The site might have been referred to in this way because Newbury was larger and better known than the village of Hamstead Marshall. (West Berkshire HER)

Hamstead Marshall is, probably the 'Newbury' castle besieged in 1152 (Higgot, 1998), See Newbury Castle for discussion.
It seems probably that this and the Hampstead Marshall 2 motte are one castle with two mottes and not two separate castles as often stated. The distance between the two motte summits is 140m compared with 100m at Lincoln and 180m at Lewes.
See also Hampstead Marshall palace the, now lost, successor manor house to the castle, which was briefly a royal palace used on a few occasions by Edward III.

The Round Mound Project coring of the motte in 2015 dated it to late C12 to mid C13. These results mean this can not have been the original conquest castle. The have cored Hamstead Marshall 2 but Gatehouse is currently awaiting the results of this investigation.
Until these result come out it may be speculated that HM2 is the original motte of the castle, and was the heart of the castle besieged in 1152. HM3 was a latter addition to the existing castle, perhaps a mound built to strengthen the castle during the wars and French Invasion of the reign of King John, although for much of the period before 1215 William Marshall was in self imposed exile in Ireland.
Alternatively the mound may have been constructed for the visit of Henry III in 1218 so he and a 'castle' of his own on that visit - its larger size would reflect it being for the King. As this was the likely site for the siege of Newbury where as a young boy William Marshall had been, as a hostage of King Stephen, threatened with being thrown into the castle one can image an event where the, by then elderly William, now regent of the realm, entertained the young boy king with a theatrical retelling of this story from his early life.
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:52

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