Gillingham Kings Court Palace

Has been described as a Questionable Masonry Castle, and also as a Questionable Palace (Royal)

There are earthwork remains

NameGillingham Kings Court Palace
Alternative NamesGilling
Historic CountryDorset
Modern AuthorityDorset
1974 AuthorityDorset
Civil ParishMotcombe

King's Court Palace moated site is a well preserved example of its class in an area of the country where moated sites are rare. It will contain archaeological deposits providing information about medieval high society, the local economy and landscape. The survival of many contemporary documents referring to the royal residence is unusual, and these provide details of the buildings and rooms in the house and allow a fuller understanding of the nature and development of the site.

The monument includes a moated site known as King's Court Palace, the site of a medieval royal hunting lodge, situated near the confluence of the River Lodden and Fern Brook. The moated site is defined by a ditch, internal bank and partial external bank which enclose a rectangular area 95m by 56m. The ditch is deepest on the northern and eastern sides where it is up to 12m wide and 1.7m deep. On the western side it measures 8m wide and 0.8m deep. The moat was probably water- filled and fed from the River Lodden at the north west corner of the site. The inner bank is best preserved on the western and northern sides where it averages 16m wide and up to 1.3m high. It has been disturbed on the south and south eastern sides where platforms have been cut into it, possibly in the area of the original buildings. In the late 18th century Hutchins recorded that foundations were formerly visible in one corner of the site forming an 'L'-shaped block. The inner bank has been reduced considerably in height at the north eastern corner, creating a gap with an external platform. There is an external bank on the lower western and southern sides, with a short stretch at the north western corner, 12m wide and up to 1.5m high. There is no indication of the original entrance, but it is likely to have been at or near the south western corner where there is a gap in the two banks and a causeway across the ditch

Two rectangular platforms on the inner bank either side of this gap may suggest the location of the 14th century gatehouse referred to in contemporary documents. The site is crossed by a modern trackway which bridges the ditch and truncates the banks at the south western corner and diagonally on the northern side. The earthworks are truncated by shallow drainage ditches, probably modern in origin, on the southern and western sides of the site. The moated site lies within Gillingham deer park, the boundary bank of which is the subject of a separate scheduling (DO 796). Gillingham was recorded as a royal manor in the Domesday survey. Henry I issued a charter in 1132, suggesting a residence at the site by that date. King John ordered extensive alterations to the house which were begun in 1199 and completed by 1203 when a feast was held to mark the opening of the castle. He visited the site every year until 1214. Further additions, alterations and repairs were made in Henry III's reign between 1249 and 1260 which included the construction of the moat, curtain wall, drawbridge and gatehouse, and a hedge around the courtyard which was later replaced by oak railings. Further repairs are recorded up to 1354. In 1369 Edward III ordered the demolition of the buildings and the sale of the materials. In the late 18th century foundations of the building were dug up and the stone used for road repairs. (Scheduling Report)

King's Court Palace: This may have been in existence in the time of Henry I who issued a charter from here in 1132. The palace seems to have been rebuilt or repaired by King John who was here at least once every year from 1205 to 1214, and visits are recorded in Hardy's "Itinerary", and the Pipe Roll of John. In 34 Hen. III (1250) a writ enumerates much work to be done at the Royal Palace. The work includes the completion of the chapel and the building of another for the Queen the extensions of the Queen's and other chambers, and the making of chimneys. In the following year the work had not been completed. In 37 Hen. III (1253) the bailiff of Gillingham was commanded to construct a wall and a ditch round the King's Court, and to make a bridge leading to the gateway. Edward I was at Gillingham in April 1278. After this the royal residence was chiefly confined to London, and the palace was no doubt neglected and fell into decay. In 4 Hen. IV materials from 'the old King's court' were used to repair one of the forest lodges. The palace was of considerable extent. It stood on level ground near two small streams, and the area enclosed by the moat is 320 ft. x 240 ft. The moat is in places 9 ft. deep and 20 ft. wide, with a low bank 30 ft. wide. Foundations were formerly visible in one corner of the enclosure, about 20 ft. from the bank, and formed an L-shaped block, one arm being 186 ft. x 80 ft, and the other 48 ft. x 40ft. In the late C18 the foundations of the building were dug up, and the stone used for road repairs. No trace of the buildings remains (Hutchins).

King's Court Palace is on low-lying ground with a very slight S.W. facing slope. The site consists of a levelled rectangular platform, 110.0m x 65.0 m, enclosed by a bank with a wide outer ditch. This ditch was evidently a water filled moat for the lower sides the W. and S. have outer retaining banks. The inner bank is generally low and spread but is best preserved on the W. and N. sides, where it averages 16.0 m wide and is from 0.7m to 1.3m high. At the NE corner the inner bank has been destroyed, and at the SE. corner it has been considerably mutilated. The ditch is deepest along the N. and E sides where it averages 12.0 m wide and 1.7m deep. On the S. side it averages 1.3m deep, with an outer bank 12.0m wide and 1.5m high. On the W. side the ditch is 8.0 m wide and 0.8m deep, with an outer bank 11.0 m wide and 0.7 m high. The moat is open at the NW and SW corners. It may have been fed via the NW corner by the river Lodden. At the SW corner the break in the outer bank may be modern. A probably modern causewayed track crosses the moat near the SW corner and across the N. side of the moat. There is no indication of the original entrance but this was perhaps at or near the S.W. corner. The whole earthwork is grass covered. The surface of the interior platform is slightly uneven, but no masonry or remains of building sites are available (Field Investigators Comments-F1 NVQ 03-FEB-56). (PastScape)

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 ReferenceST818263
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  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 69 (slight)
  • Wilton, P., 1995, Castles of Dorset (Wimborne)
  • RCHME, 1972, An inventory of historical monuments in the County of Dorset Vol. 4: north p. 51-2 no. 20 (plan) online transcription
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 944-46
  • Hutchin, J., 1868 (3edn org. pub. 1774), History of Dorset Vol. 3 p. 616-19 (Facsimile edn by EP Publishing produced 1973)


  • Farrar, R.A.H., 1952, 'List of R.A.H.Farrar' Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol. 74 p. 84
  • Grosvenor Bertelot, R., 1944, 'Vanished Mediaeval Castles of Dorset' Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol. 66 p. 71-4
  • Grosvenor Bertelot, R., 1943, 'Vanished Mediaeval Castles of Dorset' Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol. 66 p. 71-74
  • Hardy, T.D., 1829, 'Ininerarium Johannis Regis Angliae' Archaeologia Vol. 22 p. 124-60 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1901, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1216-25) Vol. 1 p. 124-5 online copy
  • Stamp, A.E. (ed), 1937, Calendar of Liberate Rolls Henry III (1245-1251) Vol. 3 online copy
  • Evans, D.L. (ed), 1959, Calendar of Liberate Rolls Henry III (1251-1260) Vol. 4 online copy
  • Rot. Forestae 4 Hen. IV