Bassingbourne, John of Gaunts House

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Possible Masonry Castle, and also as a Certain Fortified Manor House

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameBassingbourne, John of Gaunts House
Alternative NamesBassingburn
Historic CountryCambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely
Modern AuthorityCambridgeshire
1974 AuthorityCambridgeshire
Civil ParishBassingbourn Cum Kneesworth

This moated site is situated at the N end of the village on the E side of the brook which flows northwards from Bassingbourn Springs to join the Cam. Until 1887 the earthworks were still well preserved and some structural features of the buildings which once stood on this site survived, but in that year the whole area was turned over by coprolite diggers and the moats were to a large extent filled up. In 1266 Warin de Bassingbourn received a licence to inclose his house with a dyke and a wall of stones and to crenellate it. When he died in 1268 his castle on this site is specifically mentioned, and Lysons states that in his time the manor was still called the Castle Manor. The site now consists of a large sub rectangular moated area measuring 400ft by 300ft, approached from the S by a causeway 600ft long from the Bassingbourn - Shingay road. In the northern part of the moated area and abutting close to the outer moat there is a rectangular mound, 200ft by 90ft, closely surrounded by a moat averaging about 30ft in width. This area was the strongest part of the site and the mound is said to have stood to a height of 10ft or 12ft above the general ground level before 1887. This is improbable, but it has now been reduced to about 3ft and much of it has been used to fill up the surrounding moat. Before 1887 the abutments of a bridge were visible on the S side, but in that year these stones and other remains of foundations were removed and used to mend the roads. The whole area inside the outer moat is now under the plough and only traces can be seen on the N and E sides. At each side of the causeway entrance the outer moat presents some circular projections which may have once carried bastions overlooking the entrance. There are traces of two lesser examples a few yards to the E and W of the larger ones. A high mound outside the moat on the W side of the entrance does not seem to be original

The site has been much damaged by digging, but it seems clear that the traces of banks on the inner side of the outer moat round the northern half of the Inclosure are original, though they have been much spread inwards. The SE corner of the inner moated area has been badly dug down, and there is a fair amount of brick and tile rubbish to be seen on the ploughed land, which suggests that buildings of post C15 date have stood here. The inner moat drew its water from a cut joining it with the outer moat to the SW. The whole was supplied from the Bassingbourn Brook. an earlier course of which may be plainly traced in the field to the W of the entrance causeway. A sudden inward bend of the outer moat on the E side suggests that it may have once followed a course along the S side of the inner moat and then have been later extended to take in a larger area to the S. On the W of the site the remains of an approach ramp for a bridge over the Mod course of the Bassingbourn Brook cannot be an original feature. The long approach causeway is an unusual feature of the site; it was until recent times flanked by an avenue of trees and is said by tradition to have once extended S to Bassingbourn Church. The carriageway is 18ft wide and is flanked by deep ditches which are prolongations of the outer moat. On the outer side of these ditches are banks of upcast, which have now been partly levelled, but on the E side the bank is part of the Inclosure of another large area, now mainly under the plough, probably related to the main site. There are signs of the prolongation of the causeway across the outer ward to the site of the bridge over the inner moat. The type of castle built by Warinde Bassingbourn after 1266 is unknown, but the central stronghold may be compared with Burwell, Rampton and Caxton, which appear to be at least 100 years earlier in date, so that this nucleus may be older than the licence to crenellate. It is doubtful whether this Bassingbourn site can be truly regarded as that of a castle, but the form of the inner mound suggests that it belongs to a class of minor local strongholds of the C12 in its earlier form. (VCH 1948)

Gatehouse Comments

The interesting and unusual C15 landscaping (Oosthuizen and Taylor) may have effected the earlier features and must be properly considered when looking at the interesting cropmarks visible on the air photo.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTL325451
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  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 188
  • Lowerre, A.G., 2005, Placing Castles in the Conquest. Landscape, Lordship and Local Politics in the South-Eastern Midlands, 1066-1100 (Oxford: John and Erica Hedges Ltd: BAR British Series 385) p. 231
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles of East Anglia (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 14
  • Taylor, Alison, 1986, Castles of Cambridgeshire (Cambridge)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 38
  • Wright, A.P.M. (ed), 1982, VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 8 p. 12-30 online transcription (manorial history)
  • Phillips, 1948, in Salzman, L.F. (ed), VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 2 p. 15-16 (plan)
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 402 online copy
  • Lysons, D. and S.. 1808, Magna Britannia Vol. 2 Part 1 p. 72 online copy


  • Oosthuizen, Susan M. and Taylor, Christopher, 2000, '"John O'Gaunt's house", Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire : a fifteenth-century landscape' Landscape History Vol. 22 p. 61-76
  • 1974, Antiquity Vol. 48 p. 136-9
  • Clark, G.T., 1881, 'The castles of England and Wales at the Latter part of the Twelfth Century' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 38 p. 258-76, 336-351 esp. 269 (mention) online copy

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 190?, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1258-66) Vol. 5 p. 648 online copy


  • Historic England, 2016, Heritage at Risk East of England Register 2016 (London: Historic England) p. 9 online copy
  • Historic England, 2015, Heritage at Risk East of England Register 2015 (London: Historic England) p. 10 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 11 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 10 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 28 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 26 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 24 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2009, Heritage at Risk Register 2009 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 35 online copy
  • Lowerre, A.G., 2004, Placing Castles in the Conquest. Landscape, Lordship and Local Politics in the South-Eastern Midlands, 1066-1100 (PhD thesis: Boston College) p. 484-5