Aldingbourne Tote Copse Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are earthwork remains

NameAldingbourne Tote Copse Castle
Alternative Names
Historic CountrySussex
Modern AuthorityWest Sussex
1974 AuthorityWest Sussex
Civil ParishAldingbourne

Site of a Motte and bailey castle excavated in 1961-2. It was found to be a small C12 castle with an oval plan bailey wall, moat and flat-topped motte erected against a circa 40 foot square keep with chamfered base, exterior garderobes and pilaster buttresses. The tower, which was constructed of flints and limestone was originally free-standing; the motte being added later. A well was found within the keep. The motte has since been levelled but the keep has been preserved by covering it with a mound. (PastScape)

At Tote Copse castle, although only the foundations and lower walls of the keep of the castle and some of the motte survive, these features still retain significant archaeological potential, for example for the study of building techniques of the Norman period. The keep was at the centre of a well- documented castle site which had associations with the bishops of Chichester for several centuries.

The monument includes part of the buried remains of Tote Copse castle, the rest of which was seriously damaged (having been partially excavated) in 1962. The surviving mound measures 20m by 10m and stands some 2.4m high. It represents part of a large mound, or motte, of clay which had been raised around the base of a central building of the castle, the keep. The foundations and walls of the western side of the keep within the mound comprise shaped blocks of Selsey limestone, with more carefully carved Caen stone for the slim buttresses which strengthened the wall. The eastern corner of the keep had been robbed of its stone during the Middle Ages and does not survive. In the cellar of the keep was a well 8.5m deep, and at the south-western corner was a little-used cess pit, both integral parts of the keep

Historical evidence and artefacts from the excavation showed that the castle had been built in the first half of the 12th century by Seffrid de Escures, the Bishop of Chichester, at this site near his palace and at the hub of his Aldingbourne estate. (Scheduling Report)

T. C. M. and A. Brewster excavating this mound for the Ministry of Works disclosed part of the foundations of a keep with walls 10 ft. thick in a deep, roughly circular hollow in the the centre. Only the SW. wall remained intact. The tower appeared to be 40 ft. square and contained a stone-lined well 28 ft. deep. The walls had a core of waterworn Selsey limestone slabs bonded with mortar. The inner surface was faced with this limestone but the outer face was of split flints resting on a stepped ashlar plinth of Selsey limestone slabs. Rising from this was a pilaster buttress of Caen and Chara limestone. This fine exterior work shows that the outside could not have originally been covered by the motte and it is thought that certainly the first four feet were constructed before any of the motte was raised. The entrance was on the SE.; on the berm between the edge of the moat and the mound were the foundations of a wall completely surrounding the mound. 12th-century coarse pottery was found on the upper surface of the mound and 13th-century glazed sherds in the robber-trenches of the keep. (Med. Arch 1962-3)

T. C. M. and A. Brewster, concluding the excavation for M.P.B.W. (ef. Med. Archaeol., VI-VII (1962-3), 323), showed that the 40-ft.-square keep probably originally had seven corner pilaster-buttresses and four central ones. Where the eighth buttress was expected, on the S. face, near the SW. corner, a solidly-constructed garderobe still stood 4.5 ft. from foundation level and cut into the chamfered foundation. This structure was of limestone blocks and flint faced with mortar. The corners, which were 9 ft. from the face of the keep, were well made of limestone blocks resting on large flint nodules of irregular shape. The outer width of the garderobe was 7.25 ft. and the interior c. 3.25 ft. The interior faces were covered with smooth mortar. Near the wall of the keep the faced side swept down smoothly to the bottom which was open and rested on Coombe rock. There was no evidence of excreting deposits on the wall faces or on the gravel bottom. The garderobe was filled to a height of 4 ft. with yellow mortar and faced Chara and Caen blocks. Just above the old ground level and resting against the keep walls was a deposit containing stone dust and fragments, large, faced Caen limestone blocks and boulders of Selsey stone with some mortar. This layer was found all round the foundation and was clearly marked; it must represent debris left behind when the tower was built.

Trenches to seek for the surrounding wall revealed it in one further sector only and this suggests that the outer wall was swamped in places by the movement of the Thames clay of which this part of the motte was constructed. Probings for foundations on the motte top were unproductive and no sign of robbing was visible. The motte was built of layers of Thames clay and Coombe rock. Thames clay was used chiefly on the S. side and Coombe rock on the N. side near where it occurs in the moat bottom. The work seems to be of one date and there are no traces of any stages of construction in the body of the motte, where it has not been disturbed by robbing, except for the mason's layer already mentioned. Without question the keep was constructed to at least the present level of the motte before the motte was constructed, so that the keep stood free on the old land surface, and thus the motte was raised from the material excavated from the moat. Pottery was discovered in the mason's layer on the top of the motte, but not within the floor of the keep or in the well. It is thought from this and other evidence that the site was abandoned immediately or soon after it was constructed. (Med. Arch. 1964)

Gatehouse Comments

What is left at the site is a spoil mound covering the 1961-2 excavation, the rest of the site has been destroyed by agricultural development.

- 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 ReferenceSU922047
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  • Brewster, T.C.M. and Brewster, A., 1969, 'Tote Copse Castle, Aldingbourne' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 107 p. 141-180
  • 1964, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 8 p. 259 download copy
  • 1962-3, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 6-7 p. 323 online copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1961, 'Motte Sunstructures' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 5 p. 305-6 online copy