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Calne Castle House

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Cerne, Cernei

In the civil parish of Calne.
In the historic county of Wiltshire.
Modern Authority of Wiltshire.
1974 county of Wiltshire.
Medieval County of Wiltshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST99657094
Latitude 51.43667° Longitude -2.00637°

Calne Castle House has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Masonry Castle.

There are no visible remains.

This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law*.


An author writing c. 1000 possibly implied that in the 9th century the king had a house at Calne occupied by one of his officers, and the witan met at the king's house there in 978 and 997. Unusually for the time the building in which the witan met in 978 incorporated a hall on an upper floor. The witan, which was attended by St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, met on the upper floor, and some of those attending were killed when the floor collapsed. The 9th-century building, if it existed, and the house in which the witan met, whether the same or different, may have stood on the elevated site on the right bank of the Marden. In the mid 16th century land, known from 18th century evidence to lie near the site, was called Castle field, and in 1621 a house presumably on the site was called the Castle and was approached from the town by Castle Street. Castle House, said by John Aubrey in the later 17th century to be on the site of a castle, was built on the site probably in the mid 17th century. Although an important building may have occupied the site before the Conquest, there is no reference to one there later in the Middle Ages or to one as being fortified. In the 19th century an antiquarian thought, almost certainly wrongly, that two statements, that in 1139 the Empress Maud passed through Calne on her way to Bristol, and that in the same year King Stephen attacked a castle between Wallingford (Berks., later Oxon.) and Trowbridge, suggested that a castle stood at Calne: the castle attacked by Stephen was probably at South Cerney (Glos.). (VCH 2002)

There is documentary evidence suggesting a castle in the town by the Anarchy period. Local tradition and place-name evidence may indicate that the site of this lies within the immediate vicinity of the present Castle House. Successive episodes of fieldwork, including topographical survey (Ordnance Survey 1968) and geophysical survey (GSB Prospection 2000) have, however, produced negative results. A watching brief during construction groundworks (Wiltshire Archaeological Service 1972) (CA009) at Castle House did record substantial undated wall footings on the south side of the house, which appeared to be excessively large for the building now standing on the site. Earlier, C19 observations during construction work encountered 'vaults too large for a modern private house', and a 'stone- walled chamber' was found close under the boundary wall of Castle House Lawn (exact location unknown), indicating if not a castle then the former presence of a building of some substance. (Mcmahon 2004 p. 7)

Geophysical Survey done in 2000 "During the course of the survey there were no indications of significant structural remains. Since the castle comprised timber structures, they would not have been detected with the resistance technique"

Intensive GPR, Magnetometry and Resistivity surveys, supervised by Robin and the Bath & Camerton Archaeology Society indicated the area to the south of the Baptist Chapel and Castle House, on what was almost certainly an Iron Age Fort, had stone features and disturbed soils and so a licence to excavate was sought from Wiltshire Council. What was unearthed appears to be a substantial fortified Tower House from circa 13thC. So far document research has revealed the earliest owner of the land was Elizabeth Burnell in 1620 but it is possible that she had ancestors related to Robert Burnell, (Lord Chancellor to Edward 1st 1274-1292) who built a similar Tower House at Acton Burnell, Shropshire in 1284. This relationship has yet to be verified but the land was granted to Fulk de Cauntelos by the King in the early C13. The possible relationships between Burnell, de Cauntelos and Zouche families need further investigation. The walls uncovered were nearly 2m wide with a tower diameter of around 10m making a 2-3 storey building likely. This would afford dominant views of the countryside in all directions. The two week dig generated circa 10,000 finds with masses of animal bone, pottery (including Laverstock ware) and key small finds including William III half-crown, trade tokens, a rose farthing, a spur, and two musket balls (unfired!). Whilst some worked flint and Iron Age pottery with lots of Roman, Medieval, and Post Medieval pottery was found there were surprisingly few C19 artefacts. Clay pipes were found in abundance with several by Richard Green(land) of Marlborough probably made circa 1660–80 aligning with the William III coin and the demolition of the Tower House in the late C17. An important find was a large fragment of medieval floor tile carrying the fleur de lyse. This type of heraldic tile was used for high status households from the C12 onwards, indicating the importance of the owners. The Cauntelos/Cantelupes coat of arms has the fleur de lyse and there is a known relationship between this family and the Zouches in the C14. (Baumber, 2010)

The 2010 excavation would suggest an Iron Age hillfort site may have been the base for the C12 timber castle and the site was then used in the C13 for small masonry castle or fortified tower house.
Regarding the castellum de Cernei mentioned in 1139 this castle was stormed, rather than besieged, so this may suggest a small castle although still significant enough to be mentioned. South Cerney is most generally accepted as the site of this munitiunculam of Miles of Gloucester. The other places mentioned in this paragraph of the Gesta Stephani are Trowbridge and Malmesbury which might suggest this was a campaign against urban centres in Wiltshire, which does makes Calne a possibility. However, South Cerney was a holding of Miles of Gloucester and is, therefore, probably the correct identification.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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