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Castle Combe

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Castell of Cumbe

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

OS Map Grid Reference: ST839778
Latitude 51.49883° Longitude -2.23456°

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

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Castle Combe is a motte with four baileys. Most of the ramparts contain vestiges of coarse masonry and the innermost banks were originally rubble walling entirely. The motte was cleared of rubbish a few years before 1852 and the two lower stones of a stone keep revealed: identified as a shell keep (4) A rude round tower was built on the site in the mid 19th c. In 1956 some foundations were visible in the inner bailey and remains of the shell keep with a rectangular tower at the east corner. The tower had been partially demolished in recent years. Iron arrow-heads, bucklers, spurs and a few 'Saxon' coins have been found in the castle area.
Scrope suggests that the earthworks may originate in an earlier 'camp' and Grinsell lists it as an 'IA? hillfort (and/or remains of Norman motte-and-bailey?) 'but there seems no evidence for the suggestion of a prehistoric predecessor'.
Castle Combe is a motte and bailey as described. Although its position is ideal for a promontory fort its defences, particularly on the N., are not consistent with an I.A. fortification.
Traces of the wall around the top of the motte are still visible and in the E. corner are the walls of a rectangular tower which survive to a heigh of 3.5m. In the centre an irregular mound presumably represents the keep. Access to the motte is problematical but was probably by a bridge from near the E. tower across the dry moat to the S.E.
In three of the baileys there are indications of approximately 17 buildings together with other features which cannot be positively identified. In the large N. bailey there are two pillow-mounds and in the S.E. corner a dry pond which may be a Medieval feature.
The building of the castle may be ascribed to the de Dunstanvilles during the wars of Stephen in C.1140. It is certain that they resided there for several generations when Castle Combe was styled a Barony.
The last male de Dunstanville died C.1270 and the castle and Barony was transferred to Lord de Badlesmere in 1313. For how long after this the castle was occupied is unknown but the manor house which presumably superseded it is mentioned in 1392 and by the 15th c. this had been divided into tenements.
A Deer Park is mentioned in the Manorial Rolls of 1377 and a rabbit warren is recorded in 1416.
Castle Combe (name verified) motte and baileys are generally well preserved and, except for the northernmost bailey, are now under a dense cover of trees and scrub.
This work could equally be classified as a square keep within a ringwork and a minimum of 5 baileys. The defences appear to represent a remodelling of an IA promontory fort, the fort being divided by a series of transverses forming the baileys. A survey of the defences in 1991showed the internal earthworks to be stone-revetted and confirmed the existence of stone buildings within the two inner baileys, the large outer enclosure remaining free of stone structures. (PastScape)

Motte with four baileys probably dating to AD1140. Chippenham College students exposed some walls under the direction Dr R Wilcox in 1991. There was a deer park created by the Dunstanvilles which was disparked in the 17th century. The shell keep tower was revealed during the removal of undergrowth and trees, and restoration work undertaken by a stone mason during November and December 2005. (Wilts SMR)

The motte and bailey at Castle Combe is particularly important as it is an outstanding example of its class, survives well and has potential for the recovery of archaeological remains. The importance of the site is enhanced by the wealth of historical documentation available and by the possible association with an earlier Iron Age promontory fort.
The monument includes a motte with four associated baileys set on a steep promontory overlooking By Brook, a tributary of the River Avon. The earthworks are orientated SW-NE and follow the line of contours making the monument appear ovoid in plan. The motte is close to the steep SW-facing slope and is 8m high. Traces of a wall around the top of the motte are visible while in the eastern corner the walls of the rectangular tower survive to a height of 3.5m. The baileys vary in size, are separated from each other by banks and ditches and tend to radiate out from the motte towards the north-east end of the monument. In three of the baileys there are the remains of a total of around seventeen buildings while the largest bailey, covering some 1.5ha at the NE end of the monument, contains two linear pillow mounds aligned NE-SW across the centre of the bailey, probably associated with a rabbit warren recorded in 1416, and a dry pond on the SE side. Although never excavated, finds from the monument include iron arrowheads, bucklers, spurs and a few Saxon coins. The whole of the monument is defined by a single bank and a ditch with a counterscarp. The ditch averages 5m wide and 2m deep and the bank up to 3m high. The location of the site and the survival of an outer bank at the NE end of the monument suggest the site may have been built on the site of an earlier promontory fort, dating probably to the Iron Age. The building of the castle may be ascribed to the de Dunstanvilles at around 1140. The family line ended in 1270 and the castle and barony transferred to Lord de Badlesmere in 1313. (Scheduling Report)
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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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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