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Burwell Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Springe Copse; castelli de Burwelle

In the civil parish of Burwell.
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: TL58756605
Latitude 52.26959° Longitude 0.32541°

Burwell Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Large, low platform with a very small motte in its centre. This is a complex site which originated on a Roman site. Part of a raised platform on which there was a village was appropriated by King Stephen's forces in 1143-4 and a motte castle was started. This castles does not seem to have been finished and may have been attacked during construction. The site continued as an, unfortified, manorial site and a private chapel was added in 1246. The castle is thought to have formed part of a chain of defences constructed by King Stephen's forces in 1143-4. It is of unusual design, formed by the excavation of a broad flat bottomed moat to leave a rectangular island 35m by 60m across. The bulk of the material from the moat forms two large mounds flanking the outer edges of the north and western arms. The northern mound overlies the southern parts of three rectangular enclosures within a line of four or five such features defined by shallow banks and ditches. These are interpreted as the curtilages of medieval houses, part of a settlement abandoned when this relatively elevated position was appropriated for the castle. (Derived from Cambs HER and PastScape)

Burwell, Cambridgeshire, is best known as possessing a castle constructed by King Stephen during the mid- twelfth-century civil war commonly referred to as 'the Anarchy'. Documentary sources confirm that the king built a series of fortifications around the East Anglian fen-edge during a.d. 1144 in an attempt to restrict the activities of the rebellious baron Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who was using the Isle of Ely as a base to raid the surrounding countryside. Written texts also reveal how de Mandeville was mortally wounded during a skirmish or siege which subsequently took place at Burwell. A combination of topographic and geophysical survey, supplemented by documentary analysis, suggests that the castle was constructed in a landscape with a complex earlier history. It is suggested that during the Romano-British period a temple complex was developed on the site, with a spring rising on the edge of the fens providing the likely focus for ritual activity. Burwell later developed into an important early medieval place and the castle itself may have been inserted into a thegnly enclosure — an act which probably sought to appropriate a recognised pre-existing centre of power. The current research provides the most comprehensive assessment of the site to date, and supports existing interpretations which consider the twelfth-century castle to be incomplete. Analysis also gives additional insight into the functional and symbolic significance of the castle at Burwell, and sheds important light on the character of power and conflict in the fenland during the mid-twelfth century. (Wright et al 2016 - paper abstract)

See the Cambs HER online record for a particularly full description.
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:46

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