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Radcot; The Garrison

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Grafton And Radcot.
In the historic county of Oxfordshire.
Modern Authority of Oxfordshire.
1974 county of Oxfordshire.
Medieval County of Oxfordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU28489964
Latitude 51.69491° Longitude -1.58938°

Radcot; The Garrison has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle, and also as a probable Tower House.

There are earthwork remains.


Probably large homestead moat altered by construction of draingage works on all sides. Interior uneven, but no buildings seen. Geophysical work by AAAHS and Time Team as well as evaluation trenches have proved presence of Matilda's keep and Civil War earthworks.
1) Observation located the/an original entrance to the moated enclosure
2) Site has yielded C13th or C14th glazed pottery and clay roofing tile and is probably a homestead moat of that period. The writer of the 'Gesta Stephani' states that in 1141 the Empress Matilda built a castle at Radcot, surrounded by water and marsh. This may have been a flimsy affair as it is listed with another 'in the village of Bampton on the tower of the church there'.
3) Moated meadow, 121m x 152m. Does not seem to have been constructed to surround buildings
5) Geophysical work by Roger Ainslie identifed keep structure; J Blair and AAAHS put in single trench and found footing layer, as well as evidence of robbing and burning. Blair's single trench was located on W side of the square keep built by Hugh of Buckland (c1100-1120) to control the road between Witney and Faringdon.
6) Radcot (Rocote) is mentioned from Domesday. A castle was situated from the early C12 to control the crossing over the Thames. Previous excavations showed that the keep was demolished in the late C13. The 'Garrison' is likely to be so called from the fortification of Radcot in 1142 by Matilda. Past geophysical work had already demonstrated that magnetometry worked well at Radcot; this project confirmed those findings with clear pictures of the 'Garrison' and surrounding buildings (possible kitchen and apsidal chapel). More extensive survey would be beneficial. GPR produced the most striking results.
7) Evaluation by Time Team revealed the NE corner of the keep and also the supporting pier for the first floor of the castle. No evidence of a main entrance, stairway or fore-building identified. Remains of the heavily robbed gatehouse and main access road into the castle complex, remains of the demolished curtain wall and the northern moat were identified, as well as a heavily robbed structure interpreted as a chapel. These structures post-dated deposits containing C11-12 pottery, consistent with an early post-conquest construction date which could link it with Hugh of Buckland, the local major landowner around the turn of the C12. Possible evidence of the subsequent strengthening of the keep was observed (in what Blair described as demolition rubble), perhaps associated with Matilda's fortification of the castle during the Anarchy Period of C12, shortly thereafter surrendered to Stephen. Abandonment of the castle was dated to late C13-early C14, and there was a clear hiatus in the pottery sequence from that date until the C16 which fits with the later occupation of the site (as a homestead moat) by the de Besilles family. In the mid C17 a 'minor Royalist fort' was constructed that involved the refortification of the E half of the medieval moated complex by the excavation of a large ditch which split the moated site in two. The C17 defensive ditch was shown to surround an earthen bastion for the placing of cannon. These remains are still visible as earthworks. Also found were late Roman ditches, possible field boundaries, as well as low level of residual later prehistoric material, suggesting activity on or close to the site. (Oxfordshire HER)

Suggested Stephanic castle site at a strategic crossing of the River Thames.. There is documentary evidence of a Stephanic castle at Radcot built and taken in 1142. This castle was presumably sited close to the Thames crossing at a site now called The Garrison. The Garrison is recorded in PastScape as "Large medieval moat altered by later drainage works. Medieval pottery, C13 or C14 in date, and roofing tile have been found. Field investigations in 1973 noted no visible traces of buildings within the interior. The examination of aerial photographs as part of the Thames Valley Mapping Project in 1996 found it to be rectangular in plan, measuring 130m by 110m with cropmarks of a linear ditch, possibly part of an enclosure within the interior. A linear bank, 64m long abutted the southeastern corner of the moat, this may have formed part of a second enclosure." Leland wrote 'this used to be a strong tower and is now a mansion house' of the Bessel family. What did Leland mean by 'strong tower' here? Omen writes was a peel-tower apparently built by the Lovells in C15.
Site of TimeTeam evaluation excavation in May 2008. A square building had been identified by earlier investigations and this was re-examined as is suggested to be dated c. 1100 and to be similar to the bishop's castle at Witney (although Gatehouse would suggest also considering St George's tower at Oxford Castle.). This was a square building with 4m thick walls 'the excavation revealed a cross wall on the interior of the keep, which was added later than a central pillar built at the same time as the main walls. The archaeologists speculated that this cross wall, which showed signs of having been added in a hurry, may have been part of Matilda's fortifications as Stephen's army approached. ... the keep didn't survive for long. Pottery finds suggest it was demolished towards the end of the 12th century, having been built barely a hundred years previously.' (Time Team website) The surviving earthworks are complicated by C17 Civil War entrenchments, the later medieval manor house and associated earthworks (?moat and drainage ditches) and possible Roman earlier works.
The C12 tower is of considerable size and one would expect it to be part of a castle complex, with a good sized bailey and associated outbuildings. However, Radcot was not a holding of one of the great lords and isolated towers of this age are not entirely unknown (see St Leonard's Tower, West Malling).The Gesta Stephani does not call Radcot a 'castle' and the other site mentioned, Bampton, was a temporally fortified church. The site at Radcot, although a strong tower, might be better thought of as a domestic house (possibly built by an Englishman trying to express himself as a 'Norman' through his new 'military' stone building) temporally fortified. The walls may be so thick because of over engineering by Saxon workers who were not familiar with masonry work, particularly the tricky flint rubble (Tall thin walls require very solid foundations, accurate leveling and skilled builders.) (Thoughts of Philip Davis shortly after seeing TimeTeam programme and reading their online report)
The geophysics does show a castle complex around the tower including an apsed chapel in the east of the site very similar to Witney. Professor John Blair (Feb, 2010) cites good, if not absolute, evidence for the tower being of around 1100 although the fortified site may be of early C11 date. A putative settlement lay to the north. Probably built by Hugh de Buckland, who was High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1097 and 1110. Hugh may have been the son of Aiulf the major Saxon Thegn who continued to hold his lands and position (Sheriff of Berkshire in 1086) after the Conquest. Hugh's estates were several manors in the upper Thames reaches around Radcot a manor in Gloucestershire and a couple of manors in Buckinghamshire. Hugh was an important administrator of similar status to the d'Oilly's of Oxford castle and the de Vere's of Hedingham. At this time Radcot was the headwater of the navigable Thames and there was a long causewayed crossing over the wide Thames flood plain here. Thus Radcot was in an important economic and military position. Professor Blair calls the tower a keep which emphasises the military function although I suggest the similarity to the bishops palace at Witney suggests the more complex role of this castle as the administrative caput of a relatively minor, although noteworthy, baron. The tower was totally destroyed in the C13, presumably when the Buckland family line came to an end. This was replaced by the Bessel's, with a tower house of three storeys, which was probably what Leland was describing but this is totally lost now. The site is much damaged by a Civil War fortification with diamond bastions. (Philip Davis–11 Feb 2010–owing much to Professor John Blair. My thanks go to the Royal Archaeological Institute for allowing me to attend his talk.)
Coulson makes the point that the Gesta Stephani needs to be read with care and without modern preconceptions "firmare frequently meant refortification, indeed often only munitioning". The record of 'building' a castle in 1142 probably means a occupation of this pre-existing strongly built, but not necessarily fortified, house.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:08

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