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Tetbury Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Tetbury Camp; Swinnerdown-Castle

In the civil parish of Tetbury.
In the historic county of Gloucestershire.
Modern Authority of Gloucestershire.
1974 county of Gloucestershire.
Medieval County of Gloucestershire.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST891928
Latitude 51.63454° Longitude -2.15876°

Tetbury Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Fortified Manor House.

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The site of an Iron Age hillfort 'on the SE side of Tetbury' is thought to have been later occupied by a castle built by Robert of Gloucester and taken by Stephen in 1144. Hewn stones, arrow and javelin heads, horse shoes, Norman spurs and ancient English coins, including those of Edward the Confessor, Stephen and Henry III, were found a few years prior to 1779, when the remains were levelled and transformed into a 'pleasure ground' (Rudder 1779: Playne 1871-6: Renn 1973).
This site occupies a prominent knoll on the south side of Tetbury adjacent to the church. It is under pasture with some trees on the slopes. Two separate features can be recognised on the hill. The first is a terraceway following the contour of the south and east slopes with ramps leading above and below, from one level to another, as in an ornamental walk. This is, undoubtedly, the work of 1779 and the construction of the pleasure-ground.
Nevertheless, its appearance is such that one can imagine it to have been constructed from ramparts previously existing on the hillside, eg. the work that provided the 'bury' element in Tetbury? But if these ramparts had originally encircled the hill then they have been effectively erased as no trace of them can be recognised elsewhere. The second work is situated on the top of the hill in the angle formed by the terraceway at ST 8917 9287. It comprises a ring ditch laid against the scarp slopes, enclosing a roughly circular area 40.0m in diameter (F2 CFW 19-JAN-73).
The ditch is 10.0m in width and 0.4m in depth and has the appearance of being much levelled. On the level ground to the east an annexe with ditch of similar proportions can be recognised enclosing an area of just under one acre. The evidence provided by finds etc certainly suggests a castle here and the ground evidence indicates a ring and bailey.
Tetbury town occupies a low but clearly defined hill, the south-east of which is emphasized by man-made ramparts and much of the rest has a sharp though apparently naturally formed ridge. The origin of the south-east ramparts is obscure but a tradition of a British fortification is recorded by Camden and the ramparts presumably existed by the 8th century when the name Tetbury is first recorded. Some kind of inner earthwork stood in the field above the ramparts until the mid 18th century when it was levelled to make pleasure grounds. The work revealed masonry and some late Saxon and early medieval coins, giving rise to the belief that a castle stood there (Warburton Walker 1914). The absence of documentary references to a castle (Lee) makes the supposition unlikely but the site may have been part of an early manor-house (VCH).
ST 890 929: Tetbury Castle mentioned in 1144 (Burrow 1919) in a context which strongly suggests it was Stephanic, has now vanished but a bank near the church is said to be a possible trace of it (King 1983).
An inner earthwork or enclosure stood in the fields between the (hillfort's) ramparts and the church until the 18th century, when the site was levelled and traces of earlier buildings together with late Saxon and early Medieval coins were discovered. Since then the site, which was known as Barton in 1574, has been referred to as that of a castle though this is now known to have been based on a misunderstanding of the Medieval documents. It is more probable that the site was either that of an early manor house or was associated with the Pre-Conquest monasterium. (see ST 89 SE 10) (Leech 1981).
The possible Iron Age hillfort or medieval manor house referred to above has been viewed on available aerial photographs as part of The Cotswold Hills NMP survey, but no earthworks or cropmarks were clearly visible in the areas known as The Pleasure Grounds. (PastScape)

fixisque circa Tetebiriam tentoriis, castellum duntaxat tribus a Malmesbiriam distans miliariis, viribus, et armis ad capiendum constantissime desudavit (Sewell 1846 edition of Gesta Stephani )

Marked Ring and Bailey on modern OS map although the archaeological justification for this labelling is ambigious.
The same earthworks are also cited as the Tetbury town defences. There is no documentary evidence for a castle. The Gesta Stephani records Tetebiriam as the place of an encampment three miles from Malmesbury Castle. The wording and context implies the use of a pre-existing site, probably an Iron Age hill fort. The nature and date of the lost earthwork, known as the Barton, within the circuit of hill fort is not known although the name may be suggestive of a defensible building and the location, beside the church, is certainly consistent with it being a manor house.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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