Canons Ashby Castle Hill

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameCanons Ashby Castle Hill
Alternative Names
Historic CountryNorthamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough
Modern AuthorityNorthamptonshire
1974 AuthorityNorthamptonshire
Civil ParishCanons Ashby

During the Middle Ages a motte and bailey castle was constructed to the north west of the settlement and a monastery to the south east; the settlement subsequently expanded towards these features and, when the castle was abandoned later in the Middle Ages, onto the bailey itself.

Approximately 350m to the north west of Canons Ashby House is a hexagonal mound, now planted with trees, known as Castle Hill. The top of the mound is about 3m high and 30m-40m in diameter; it is nearly entirely surrounded by a shallow ditch about 15m wide. The mound stands within a roughly rectangular area bounded on the south, west and north by a broad depression up to 20m wide; on the east side of the road this boundary continues as a narrow ditch with an internal bank. These features represent the remains of a medieval motte and bailey castle which have been altered by later medieval and post-medieval activity. The bailey is represented by the area enclosed by the linear depression and covers an area approximately 180m square; it has been cut through from north to south by the Preston Capes Road which is thought to follow part of the course of an earlier trackway through the bailey. The castle was abandoned during the medieval period when that part of the bailey to the east of the road was overlain by the settlement which expanded northwards onto it. In the late 18th century that part of the bailey to the west of the road, and the motte which stands within it, were adapted to form features of the landscape park around Canons Ashby House: these works included the levelling of the top of the motte, the alteration of the sides to hexagonal plan and the planting of trees on it. Also at this time the area between the motte and the house, formerly occupied by part of the medieval settlement, was partly levelled and banks were raised for the planting of trees in order to create an enhanced vista towards the castle

Adjacent to the north of the settlement earthworks is a complete furlong of ridge and furrow cultivation in reversed S-shape aligned north east to south west. It is separated from the field to the north east by a linear ditch with a bank on its eastern side; this bank overlies the heads of another furlong of ridge and furrow to the east and is thought to represent a trackway established in the post-medieval period. To the west and south of the motte and bailey castle and settlement are further remains of ridge and furrow cultivation including several complete furlongs. These earthworks represent part of a wider agricultural landscape which was abandoned in favour of sheep- rearing in the mid-16th century. While other parts of the parish later returned to arable, these earthworks were incorporated in the late 18th century into the design of the landscape park; tree-planting, which included the establishment of avenues aligned upon the house and its formal gardens, was partly achieved through the employment of medieval cultivation ridges as planting banks. (Scheduling Report)

Mound (SP 57505091; Fig. 34; Plate 21), lies N.W. of Canons Ashby House on clay at 158 m. above OD. It has previously been described as a barrow (1st ed. 1 in. OS map (1834)) or as a motte (Pevsner, Northamptonshire (1961), 135). From its present form it is more likely to have been part of post-medieval landscaping of the park, particularly as it is in line with the N.W. elevation of Canons Ashby House. However even by the early 18th century its original purpose was forgotten for Bridges ( Hist. of Northants., I (1791), 223) described it as 'anciently a fortification', and said that 'Cannon-balls have frequently been dug up there and the place still retains the name of Castle-hill'. It is possible that there was an earlier mound here, which was later landscaped to its present form.

The mound is polygonal, with several straight lengths around its circumference. It is up to 3 m. high, with an uneven summit and an inner bank on the N.E. side. Traces of a shallow ditch surround it except on the E. To the S. and N. are broad hollow-ways leading into the former village (CUAP, BEN25). (RCHME)

In December 1992, RCHME's Cambridge office carried out an analytical earthwork survey of the mound following a request from the National Trust.

A large, tree-covered mound approximately 50m in diameter and up to 3m high stands within the parkland of Canons Ashby House (SP 55 SE 18). The summit is uneven, pitted with tree holes but generally flat topped with a prominent raised area on the north east part of the summit. A shallow ditch circles the base.

The size of the mound is equivalent to that of the motte of an earthwork castle. The outworks of a bailey survive in the form of broad hollows on the north, south and south-east sides. The south-east ditch has been converted partially into a pond, although it still preserves the angle of the putative defences. The area of the bailey was later colonised by the crofts and fields of the medieval village and the defences were slighted by a rectangular enclosure of probable later medieval date. (see SP 55 SE 1)

The motte was probably adapted as a post-medieval garden feature occupying a prominent position, but off-centre, at the end of a former tree-lined avenue leading from the north-western front of Canons Ashby House. (PastScape ref. RCHME 1992)

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 ReferenceSP574509
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  • 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. 242
  • RCHME, 1981, An inventory of the historical monuments in the County of Northampton Vol. 3: North-west Northamptonshire (HMSO) p. 36 online transcription
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; revised by Bridget Cherry, 1973, Buildings of England: Northamptonshire (Penguin) p. 135
  • Downman, E.A., 1906, 'Ancient Earthworks' in Serjeantson, R.M., Ryland, W. and Adkins, D. (eds), VCH Northamptonshire Vol. 2 p. 412 (in list of homestead moats) online copy
  • Baker, G., 1836-41, History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire Vol. 2 p. 5- online copy
  • Bridges, John, 1791, The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire (Oxford) Vol. 1 p. 223


  • 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. 520-21
  • 1992, Canon's Ashby Survey (RCHME)