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Sharnbrook Castle Close

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Gibbards Wood; Tricket Bury

In the civil parish of Sharnbrook.
In the historic county of Bedfordshire.
Modern Authority of Bedfordshire.
1974 county of Bedfordshire.
Medieval County of Bedfordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SP98915955
Latitude 52.22549° Longitude -0.55281°

Sharnbrook Castle Close has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a probable Fortified Manor House.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


A sub-circular earthwork comprising a ditch with inner bank situated at SP 98915955 within a wood named Castle Close. It measures overall c 62.0m NE-SW by 53.0m transversely. The ditch, being more prominent than the bank, is 8.0m average width and c 1.4m average depth, though it is deeper and wider around the SE are which is water-filled. The bank is spread, but is c 1.2m high above the interior which is raised c 0.4m above the surrounding ground. No entrance is apparent, though there is a slight lowering of the bank on the N side.
The purpose and date of the earthwork cannot be established, but is has medieval ringwork characteristics and is similar to other unclassified works (eg Suffolk (Burgate Wood TM 0775 and Cromwell's Plantation TM 0471)) where random finds of C12/C13 pottery have been made (F1 NKB 02-APR-1974). (PastScape)

In spite of the name 'Castle Close' the earthwork is not the remains of a mediaeval castle. It is in fact a moated site probably built between the 12th and 14th centuries. The moat was more likely to have been dug as a status symbol around a prestigious home or farmstead with a range of buildings, rather than as a defensive fortification. Bedfordshire has the highest density of moats of any county in England. There are records of 297 moated sites in the county of which 174 have been wholly or largely destroyed. Moats can be found throughout Bedfordshire but they are most common in clay areas because it is easier to build moats that will hold water in that geology. Typically moats in Bedfordshire are simple rectangular enclosures, there are only four other circular moats besides Castle Close. Not much is known about the history of the earthwork. There is no direct evidence for its construction or use. The first reference we have to it is in a document of 1617 when it is referred to as Castle Close. Closes are small parcels of enclosed land usually found near settlements. Even at this date the earthworks were recognised as a significant and unusual feature. During the Middle Ages Tofte Manor was owned by the Tricket family, a holding which can be traced back to the Domesday Book when it was held by Robert, son of Rozelin. It is known that the Tricket family had a manor house in Sharnbrook, Tricket Bury, referred to in a document of 1202. It is possible that Castle Close could be the site of Tricket Bury. (Anon pdf of leaflet previously on

The earthwork at Castle Close is a well-preserved example of a small, later medieval moated site. The history of the site is well documented and it is believed to form part of an important defensive network of sites in Bedfordshire, extending from Thurleigh to Odell.
The monument at Castle Close is a slightly oval moat, about 60m across. The moat ditch is about 7m wide by up to 3m deep. The central island is surrounded by a bank 1.5m high. A small area of flat ground in the middle of the island measures roughly 25m by 20m. There are no causeways across the moat. The eastern side of the moat holds standing water and is fed by a leat or stream, 4m wide and 0.5m deep, which runs for some 100m to the east where it joins other field drains. A survey dated 1617 refers to the land in which the monument lies as 'Castle Close' and, although the monument has been described as a type of Norman castle, the defensive appearance of the earthworks is considered to represent a later fortification of the moat. The moat at Sharnbrook is one of a number of medieval sites located on the northern slopes of the Ouse valley, such as the moats at Bletsoe and Thurleigh and castles at Thurleigh and Odell. (Scheduling Report)

Whether the site should be termed a ringwork or a moated site is to some extent simply a semantic issue, as the two types of site may not have been clearly differentiated in the medieval period and it can in any case be difficult to distinguish between them (Taylor 1978, 5). However, in terms of form and (now) date, the site in Castle Close fits much more comfortably into the category of ringwork than moated site. The excavated features within the Castle Close ringwork are largely domestic, notably the oven/hearth and the domestic nature of the deposits is also indicated by the large amount of pottery. Some specialisation is indicated by the possibly zoned nature of the deposits (with little domestic refuse present in the excavated area) and the presence of a sizeable assemblage of horseshoe nails. Seignorial origin/status is indicated by the form of the site and its date, but whether this site in the 12th century was the lord's demesne residence or a strategic defensive outpost remains unclear. Castle Close has added significance as one of a relatively small number of ringworks to have been dated by excavation. As a small, late example of a ringwork it may represent a transitional developmental phase between earlier ringwork castles and later rectilinear unbanked moated sites. (Lewis and Pryor 2013)

The 2013 Report by Lewis and Pryor needs to be read with a little care. The 'castle studies' aspects of the report are elderly (are there any real examples of C12 'strategic defensive outposts' outside the writings of R.A. Brown) and consist of rather a lot of old 'received' wisdom about Anarchy castles and their destruction by Henry II which Gatehouse finds rather dubious.
The date of site is actually still open to some question. The pottery finds are dated as C12/C13 but are mainly Early Medieval Shelly Ware which some authorities give a date range of 1050-1250.
While the pottery does refute the Scheduling Report date of 'later medieval' on the bases of form and the recorded history this could be a pre-Conquest site and the pottery finds (which come from a very small part of the site) may well be consistent with this. Even if post-Conquest in date there is nothing to suggest the site was fortified in the Anarchy (although it may well have been) or that it was 'destroyed' or de-fortified when Henry II took control.
Lewis and Pryor seems to dismiss the possibility of a pre-Conquest date on the bases of their dated 'castle studies' theories. They write "It has been suggested (although hotly disputed), that possession of a defended enclosure was an essential prerequisite of late Anglo-Saxon thengly status (Brown 1954, 46-9), although one might suspect that if this were the case, more such sites would be known" More sites are known but this sort of thinking (a form of confirmation bias) means these sites are contested, mis-described, underplayed or, as in this case, the possibility of a pre-Conquest date is dismissed beforehand.
Discussion as to 'transitions' between forms also needs to done with some care. It is entirely possibly that a range of forms for manor houses was available at all periods, with manor house owners choosing the form of their manor house boundary marker dependent on a number of factors (expense, fashion, local topography, what the neighbours were doing, perceptions of threat, etc.) although, clearly some forms were more fashionable and more used at different periods (The square moat is rare before the C13). At Sharnbrook the ditch and bank may represent a choice made because of flooding and drainage considerations rather than defence. The boundary line between what is a castle and what is a fortified manor house is blurred and ill defined and is more a 'zone' than a line. This site sits in that zone and could be described as 'transitional' (as was done in earlier comments by Gatehouse on this page) in that sense.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:02

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