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Brackley Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Brackley.
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: SP58193646
Latitude 52.02352° Longitude -1.15334°

Brackley Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle.

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Historical records show that Brackley became the second most important town in the county in the medieval period, and the motte and bailey castle would have played a very important role in the administration of the locality. The motte is the site of the early Norman castle, and has potential for providing vital evidence on the standing of the town from the beginning of the pre-Conquest period.
The motte and bailey castle lies on the south west of the town of Brackley. The monument includes the remains of a motte mound 3m high and approximately 40m in diameter with an outer bailey on its eastern side. The perimeter of the bailey is no longer visible but archaeological excavations have identified a ditch 7m wide at the eastern edge of the bailey near the existing boundary of the garden allotments. The ditch is considered to follow the line of Hinton Road to the north and the existing stream to the south. Two fishponds, identified as the Upper and Lower Fishponds, originally lay outside the bailey, but have subsequently been infilled. Brackley Castle was constructed soon after 1086, and may have gone out of use in 1174 when the estates of the Earl of Leicester were seized by the Crown. By 1230-40 it had lost its military standing as the site was granted to the Hospital of St John. (Scheduling Report)

The site of the poorly documented Brackley Castle is said to have been S.W. of the town (SP 581346), but no trace of a castle has been discovered (J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 143; OS Record Cards). A sceatta in NM was perhaps found in Brackley before 1902 (VCH Northants., I (1902), 255; Brit. Num. J., 47 (1977), 34). (RCHME)

The castle lay on the south west edge of the medieval town and may have been the first monument to be constructed outside the old town in the period immediately following the conquest, well before the foundation of the new town. Investigations in the early 1990s in the Castle Lane area demonstrated that the castle ditch lay at the western end of the lane, straddling the boundary of the Castle Close and showed activity from the 11th to the 13th century. Although not mentioned in 1086, the castle could perhaps have been constructed immediately after the conquest by Earl Aubrey. However, on the basis of the very limited ceramic evidence it seems more likely that the castle was built by the Earl of Leicester, in the late 11th century. It is to be expected that the castle became the capital messuage of the manor of Brackley cum Halse, which represented a combination of the two Domesday manors.
Leland states that 'Master Paynell told me that he saw at Brackley........ manifest tokens that it had bene a wallyd toune, and tokens of the gates and tours in the walles by the halfe cirkles of the foundations of them'. The town was certainly never walled and Leland continues that he 'sowght diligently, and could find no tokens of wales or diches', but that 'there hathe bene a castel, the dyke and hills whereof do yet appere (I saw the castle plott)'. Elsewhere he says 'There was a fayre castle in the south west end of the Towne on the left hand or ripe of the riveret. The site and hille where it stode is yet evidently sene, and benthe the name of the Castle Hill, but there is not sene any peace of a waull stondinge.' Today a mutilated motte and a much denuded bailey earthwork are visible in the former Castle Close. The motte was constructed at the western and highest end of a low, narrow east-west limestone ridge bounded on the west and south by a small tributary stream of the Ouse. On the north it was divided from the higher ground on which the new town was centred by a shallow depression. The northern line of the moat of motte and bailey may be defined by the present Hinton Road, which must presumably be a later medieval creation. On the east, at least from the Oxford road eastward, there was an extensive area of boggy ground in the 11th century (Gittins, A., St.James tenement excavation interim., unpublished report in SMR).
Small scale evaluation trenching has shown that the motte, though damaged by the construction of a barn in the later 20th century, and despite use of the whole castle site as allotments in the mid 20th century, contains surviving stratigraphy including rubble spreads and shallow features, from a depth of circa 0.16m and with a thickness of at least 0.15m. Though standing approximately 4m high the motte is in fact on its west and south sides essentially a natural limestone rise, expanded into a motte by construction on the north and east sides (OAU 1992) The small quantities of ceramics from the excavation indicate occupation from 11th to the 13th centuries.
The eastern bailey was defended on the east side by a substantial defensive ditch 7 metres wide, immediately outside the eastern wall of Castle Close. The steep rise in the ground immediately to the west may in part represent the remains if the rampart. The excavation trench which located the ditch was within the area of the small rectilinear enclosure occupied by the Pest House in 1830, which appears to define the width of the ditch. This would suggest that over much of its course the eastern boundary of Castle Close probably runs on or close to the inner edge of the castle ditch, although trenching approximately 10 metres north of Castle Lane suggests the ditch may have swung further to the west by this point. The sections revealed only one thin layer of silt at the base of the moat, containing a single sherd of late C12th/C13th date, while the remainder of the fill was primarily limestone rubble. No clear evidence of any stabilization phase was recognised and it is therefore suggested that the moat was probably backfilled with the material from the rampart soon after it went out of use. However, as it may have functioned in some way as a leet between the two fishponds, it may have continued to be scoured out after the castle went out of use. The bailey ditch must have remained a substantial feature in c.1280 because at that time a tenement in Castle Lane is described as lying adjacent to the castle moat. The absence of evidence for occupation from within the bailey is probably due to the small scale nature of the evaluation conducted within the bailey.
The castle's location seems to have been determined by two factors. Firstly the defensive position which could be easily surrounded by water yet was not too closely overlooked by high ground. Secondly, it was positioned close to the point at which the main Oxford to Northampton road crossed the small stream, and so controlling this nationally important route way. Two other castles were set along this road, at Towcester and Middleton Stoney, with major castles at Oxford and Northampton. The castle was not set back to accommodate tenements along Castle Lane, for these were not constructed until the later 12th century. The motte was positioned to take advantage of the natural limestone knoll at the western end of the site. With an area of approximately 11 acres, the motte and bailey compares favourably with other castles of the period. The presence of a large pond adjacent to the Oxford Road and linked to the castle ditch by a water filled channel might suggest that an outer bailey lay between the inner bailey and the Oxford Road, but it is perhaps more likely that this was just a fish pond or even a mill pond (see below). However even if this were the case it would appear that the ponds created around the castle, probably very extensive in the area on the south and north west, were an integral part of the defensive scheme. A single pit containing late 11th century pottery has been located within this area encompassed by the ponds, adjacent to Castle Lane, and this would suggest that occupation in the area in the late 12th century. This may relate to the use of an outer bailey, though alternative explanations are more likely.
The castle may have been destroyed, together with that at Leicester, after the 3rd Earl joined the Baron's Revolt in 1173, as a result of which all his estates, including Brackley, were seized by the crown (Pipe Rolls). The property was returned to the Earl in 1177 but by 1206 the Brackley estate had passed to the Earls of Winchester, providing another alternative context for the abandonment of the castle. However the castle may still have been in use in 1215 because in that year the army raised by the Barons, including the Earl and his supporters, marched to Brackley to confront the King who was then at Oxford (Bridges, 1, p.145). Brackley may have been chosen because of the presence of a castle held by one of the leaders of the revolt. It is possible that the castle was destroyed when the Earl lost his estates following his defeat in arms against Henry III in 1217. The castle had certainly gone out of use by the 1230s when the 'site' of the castle was granted to the Hospital of St. John in Brackley (Mag. Coll. D119). The area is first described simply as Castle Close in 1396 and then in successive rentals (Mag. Coll. C83). Whenever exactly the castle was abandoned, it would seem that the seigneurial residence was transferred to the nearby hamlet of Halse (see above). (Extensive Urban Survey 2006)

Some 1.25km from St Peter's the original parish church of Brackley, although the castle may be based on the smaller of two separate manors in Brackley mentioned in Domesday both acquired by Earl Aubrey (Foard et al 2000 p. 12). The New Town of Brackley was a development of the mid to late C12, possibly originally just north of the castle although it move northwards to the original Saxon Old Town.
The site was scheduled in 1970 well before the RCHME inventory was written but the major archaeological investigations took place in the 1990s which probably explains the scant reference in the Inventory.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:06

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