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Wallingford Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
castellum Walingafordense; Walingef'; Walingeforde

In the civil parish of Wallingford.
In the historic county of Berkshire.
Modern Authority of Oxfordshire.
1974 county of Oxfordshire.
Medieval County of Berkshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU60958973
Latitude 51.60254° Longitude -1.12137°

Wallingford Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Medieval motte and bailey castle, built circa 1067-71, slighted 1652. excavations in the bailey revealed a mid C12 bank and ditch and C17 wall. The excavations also indicated that the castle defences were extended in circa 1275. Medieval pottery was found. Large and important early motte castle built in corner of Saxon burgh. Used throughout the medieval period and besieged in both the Anarchy and the Civil War. Impressive earthworks remain but only fragments remain of the shell keep, curtain wall and interior buildings. The motte is 60 m. round and 13.2 m. high without a ditch.

The extensive and evocative earthworks of Wallingford Castle occupy much of the north-east quarter of the town. The Castle Meadows enable you to explore a complex array of banks, ditches and other features relating to late Saxon, medieval, post-medieval and early modern works and landscaping.
While the foundation of Wallingford castle is not documented specifically, it can be assumed with a reasonable level of certainty that the first castle was constructed in the immediate wake of the Norman Conquest, possibly as early as 1067. The likely context for this building operation was William the Conqueror's systematic programme of castle-building within the major pre-Conquest urban centres of southern England, designed to suppress populations and seize control of the apparatus of royal government across the shires. The existence of a castle at Wallingford is first documented positively in 1071 when Abbot Aldred of Abingdon was imprisoned there as the result of probable complicity in the rebellion of Edwin and Morcar. The castle was subjected to a series of sieges from 1139-53, when it acted as one of the main power bases of forces loyal to the Empress Matilda. This succession of military actions led to construction of a number of siege castles (or 'counter castles') designed to blockade Wallingford and its garrison, although the precise numbers and locations of these short-term fortifications have been the subject of debate. Following the disturbances of the Anarchy, the castle passed to Henry II; it was repaired and strengthened in the last quarter of the twelfth century, and extensive construction work, including renovations to the ditches of both castle and town is recorded in the reign of John. The castle, honour and town were bestowed on Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1231, and subsequently passed to his son, Edmund, before reverting to the Crown in 1300; the castle was again the subject of occasional royal investment before its general dilapidation in the late Tudor period, and was systematically demolished in 1652 following a Civil War siege.
Given the enormous potential of Wallingford's topography and archaeology to illuminate the Saxo-Norman transition, the evidence of Domesday Book is especially relevant. The separate Domesday entry for Wallingford heads the entries for the rest of the shire, indicating a flourishing town with a Saturday market and mint, and also affords a tantalising glimpse of how the new Norman presence represented by the castle impacted on the town. In 1066 the royal borough contained 276 houses (hagae) on eight virgates of land; by 1086 eight of these properties had been destroyed to make way for the castle. This figure seems minimal in comparison to other urban centres into which castles had been inserted, such as Cambridge (where 27 dwellings were destroyed because of the castle) or Lincoln (166), and the reasons why less than 3% of properties were displaced at Wallingford remain open to speculation. Explanations include the likelihood that the original castle took up a far smaller area than the earthworks of the motte and inner bailey suggest, or perhaps more likely, that it was imposed upon a zone where settlement was undeveloped or had contracted. A further possibility is that part of the early castle occupied an area lying beyond the custom-paying boundaries of the borough, as at Stamford, where the Norman castle lay within a royal estate, and the number of properties displaced at Domesday (five) was similarly low. Possible evidence of high-status antecedent occupation on the site of Wallingford castle is provided by the reference in Domesday that Miles Crispin, the Norman lord of Wallingford and probable castellan of the castle, held the land, previously in the hands of Edward the Confessor, 'where the housecarls lived'. (University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History Website)

Excavations in the bailey revealed that a mid C12 bank and ditch and later C17 wall constituted the main defensive earthworks. A C12 cob building was also found, preserved to a height of 1.8m, various internal features including wall plaster and door jambs impressions survived. (Carr)

Wallingford featured prominently in the wars between Stephen and Matilda, and had become a royal possession before 1173. It was strongly refortified in 1215-6, and in 1220 the old hall was replaced by a new one. Used as a prison from the 1430s. (HKW)

The original castle was probably built over an existing Saxon royal site within the Saxon burh and was funded by a large lordship of over 100 knights fee's spread over nine counties which also existed pre-Conquest. Thus the castle, while altered and much enlarged over time, represents the continuity of Saxon lordship by the Norman's after their conquest.
See also Wallingford siege castles.
The Round Mound Project coring of the motte in 2015 dated it to mid/late C11 to mid-C12.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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Sources of information, references and further reading
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:51

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