Bedford Town Bank and The Kings Ditch

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameBedford Town Bank and The Kings Ditch
Alternative NamesKings Dyke
Historic CountryBedfordshire
Modern AuthorityBedfordshire
1974 AuthorityBedfordshire
Civil ParishBedford

A battle is said to have taken place at Bedford in 571. Bedford's position on the Saxon/Norse frontier meant that it was frequently involved in conflict between the English and Danes in the 10th and 11th centuries. In 919, Edward the Elder recaptured the burh from the Danes and ordered the construction of a second burh on the south side of the river. The fortifications are still to be seen as a water filled ditch, known as the King's Ditch, although the western part has now been built over. The town was captured and burned by the Danes in 1010. Excavations have revealed evidence for late Saxon and early medieval occupation. (PastScape)

A section across the bank inside the Kings Ditch in the south-east part of the town indicated a primary Norman date rather than the traditional early 10th century context of Edward the Elder's burh construction. It may have functioned as a flood-prevention earthwork, and was heightened several times in the Medieval period. (Kennett, 1972)

Loop of ditch and trace of bank, prob. C10 origin, to south of river, no traces remain of Anglo-Saxon defences north of the river. Does not seem to have lasted as a defence very long into post-Conquest period and Bond puts the defences in his 'of no post-Conquest significance' list.

Gatehouse Comments

Edgeworth (2011) makes the point the King's ditch was multifunctional, including being a sewer, flood defence and transport route. The weir needed to make the King's ditch a flowing stream was across the River Ouse at the castle and can be seen on the air photo as a slight band of green diagonally crossing the river between the castle and a small isle on the south bank. If the King's Ditch was constructed by the Saxon's in the early C11 and if the weir was part of the works built to make the King's Ditch a flowing waterway then the castle may have been sited to control this weir.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTL050449
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  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 157 (slight)
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 26, 48, 60, 64, 143, 216, 258
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of The Thames Valley and The Chilterns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 12
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 8
  • Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 124
  • Wadmore, Beauchamp, 1920, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire (Bedford) p. 61-3
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1912, VCH Bedfordshire Vol. 3 p. 1-2 online transcription
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Goddard, A.R., 1904, 'Ancient Earthworks' in Doubleday, H.Arthur and Page, Wm (eds), VCH Bedfordshire Vol. 1 p. 280-1


  • Speed, John, 1611-12, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain online copy


  • Edgeworth, Matt, 2011 Nov/Dec, 'The weir and the flowing earthworks of Bedford' British Archaeology no. 121 p. 22-7
  • 2001, Bedfordshire Archaeology Vol. 24 p. 40-46 online copy (large file)
  • 1985, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 15 p. 18 (negative findings) online copy
  • Haslam, J., 1983, 'The origins and plan of Bedford' Bedfordshire Archaeology Vol. 16 p. 28-36 online copy
  • Baker, D. et al, 1979, 'Excavations in Bedford, 1967-1977' Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 13 (almost whole volume dedicated to castle excavations) online copy (large file)
  • 1977, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 7 p. 43 online copy
  • Hassall, J. and Baker, D., 1975, 'Bedford: aspects of town origins and development' Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 9 p. 75-94 online copy (large file)
  • (Baker), 1972, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 16 p. 186-7 download copy
  • Baker, David, 1972, 'Bedford' South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 2 p. 23 online copy
  • Kennett, D.H., 1972, Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 7 p. 89 online copy (large file)
  • Hill, D.H., 1970, 'Late Saxon Bedford' Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal Vol. 5 p. 96-9 online copy (large file)

Primary Sources

  • Ingram, James, (ed) 1912, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Everyman Press, London) AD919 view online transcription (Ingram's translation and notes date from 1823. More recent translations of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles should be consulted for serious study)