Cambridge Castle

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

There are earthwork remains

NameCambridge Castle
Alternative NamesCastle Hill; Grentebrige; Grontebrugae; Grantebregge
Historic CountryCambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely
Modern AuthorityCambridgeshire
1974 AuthorityCambridgeshire
Civil ParishCambridge

Cambridge Castle stands on the highest ground adjacent to the city centre, on a spur called Castle Hill, some 300yds NNW of Magdalene Bridge. In 1068 William I gave orders for a castle to be raised at Cambridge. Domesday Book states that 27 houses were demolished to make way for it. Of motte and bailey type, this is the earliest structure of which parts survive. A general reconstruction was undertaken by Edward I when the bailey appears to have been remodelled in a roughly rectangular form orientated diagonally N and S with the S angle adjacent westward to the C11 motte. The evidence of the original accounts, later maps and surveys of the site and ill-recorded finds made in the C18 and C19 indicate the building in stone of a curtain wall, a SW gatehouse with barbican opposite the moat, towers at the E, N and S angles of the defences, the first probably to be identified with the postern and on the motte, and a great hall in the NW part of the bailey. The whole was completed between 1283 and the king's death, a chapel first mentioned in the Pipe Rolls of I Ed II being built or rebuilt probably during the same period. Edward I's expenditure upon it was $2,525. (WM Palmer, Cambridge Castle). It was, it seems, largely surrounded by wet moats; a moat also skirted the N of the motte to separate the last from the bailey. An inquest in 1367 into the defective state of wall, towers and houses, and the extensive alienation of stone from here for College buildings in the C15 and C16 show the progress of deterioration, although as late as 1585 attempts were still being made to retain the curtain wall; by 1606 the SW gatehouse was the only complete building left, being preserved by its use as a prison. This is the state shown in Fuller's view of Cambridge of 1634

Lyne's and Braun's views, of 1574 and 1575, are too stylised for reliable evidence and show improbably complete buildings, for, though a bridge leading to the SW gatehouse survived into the reign of Elizabeth I in 1590 the castle was described as 'old, ruined and decayed' In 1643, Cambridge being the headquarters of the Eastern Counties Association, the bailey works were reconstructed as a bastioned trace fort; fifteen houses were cleared and a brick barracks built on the site of the old great hall. In 1647 the new defences were slighted, but the three bastions, to E, N and W, remained (see William Custance's map of Cambridge, 1798); the W bastion was removed in 1811. The gatehouse again and the barracks were retained as prison buildings. Between 1801 and 1807 a new octagonal County gaol designed by G Byfield was built, the surface of the bailey lowered and levelled, and the moat N of the motte filled in with building debris. In 1842 the SW gatehouse was pulled down to make way for the Court House designed by TH Wyatt and D Brandon, which itself was demolished in 1954. In 1932 a new Shire Hall was built on the site freed by the demolition of the County gaol. The much mutilated earthworks of Cambridge Castle, apparently mainly of the Norman and Civil War periods, with little of the Edwardian castle certainly distinguishable, are in poor condition. The motte is of interest for the traces of a berm below the summit perhaps marking the site of an apron wall round the keep. The motte, a truncated cone in shape, is 200ft in diameter at the base, 34ft across the top, and rises 33ft above modern ground level on the N, 53ft on the S. The N base is about 70ft above OD. It covers some two thirds of an acre. Paths are cut into the sides and original features are not certainly identifiable, but on the S, some 9ft below the top a narrow terrace begins and curves downward to the E, where it is 10ft wide, then rises again towards the N; It is shown clearly as a level berm in plans and elevations of 1785 (BMADD MSS 6735, 65, 68) and indicated in Fuller's view of 1634. Leading NE from the motte, the bank of the bailey 5.5ft high on the inside, 8ft across the top, with a drop of 15ft to a modern wall on the outside, extends for some 40 yards to where it is abruptly cut away down to the mutilated remains of the E bastion of the Civil War defences. From the latter work a bank, 3.5ft high inside and 4ft outside above the scarp of the old ditch, leads NW for some 40yds; it is then cut back. The N bastion 50 yards further on preserves more clearly the angularity of the Civil War earthwork, but is much cut into on the N and W. The defences on the NW and SW are destroyed except for traces of the bailey bank branching NW from the motte. The total area enclosed was some 4 acres. (Cambs HER–ref. RCHME 1959)

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 ReferenceTL445591
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  • Grose, Francis, 1783 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 1 p. 21-2 online copy



  • Richard Nevell, 2014-15, 'Castles as prisons' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 28 p. 203-224
  • Thompson, S., White, H and Shepherd Popescu, E., 2010, 'Cambridge, Castle Hill Mound' in 'Fieldwork in Cambridgeshire 2009' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 99 p. 162 online copy
  • Cessford, C., 2008, 'Excavation of the Civil War bastion ditch of Cambridge Castle' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 97 p. 137-48 online copy
  • Anon, 2005, 'Cambridge Castle-Work underway to protect mound' Castle Studies Group Newsletter_Vol. 7 p. 3
  • 2003, South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 33 p. 107 online copy
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  • Sharp, H.B., 1982-3, 'Stone at Cambridge Castle – an early use of Collyweston stone slate' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 72 p. 62-78 online copy
  • King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
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  • (Alexander), 1957, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 1 p. 156 download copy
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
  • Palmer, W.M., 1925, 'Cambridge Castle Building Accounts, 1286-1299' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 26 p. 66-89 online copy
  • Hope, W.H.St John, 1907, 'On the Norman origin of Cambridge Castle' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 11.3 p. 324-46 online copy
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  • Hope, W.H.St J., 1903, 'English Fortresses and Castles of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 60 p. 85, 87 online copy
  • Hughes, T.M'Kenny, 1898, 'Further observations on the Castle Hill' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 9.3 p. 348 online copy
  • Hughes, T.M'Kenny, 1894, 'On the Castle Hill, Cambridge' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 8.2 p. 173-212 online copy
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  • Kerrch, T., 1814, 'Account of some Lids of Stone Coffins discovered in Cambridge Castle in 1810' Archaeologia Vol. 17 p. 228 (saxon graves)
  • Masters, R., 1787, 'An account of some stone coffins and skeletons, found on making some alterations and repairs in the Cambridge castle. In a letter to Rev. Dr. Lort' Archaeologia Vol. 8 p. 63- 66

Primary Sources

  • 1086, Domesday Book online copy
  • le Prevost, A. (ed), 1840, Orderici Vitalis, Historiae Ecclesiaticae Vol. 2 p. 184, 185 online copy
  • Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1833, Rotuli litterarum clausarum in turri Londinensi asservati (Record Commission) Vol. 2 p. 5 online copy
  • Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 428 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 114-7
  • E101/484/10 (Survey of 1 Edward III) The National Archives reference
  • E178/3612 (Survey of 5 James I) The National Archives reference
  • E178/477 (Survey of 28 Elizabeth) The National Archives reference
  • SP14/49/82 (Survey of 1609) The National Archives reference


  • Fradley, Michael, 2011, The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150 (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) available via EThOS
  • Fairbairn, J., 2009, Cambridge Castle Hill. Monitoring of Test Pits at Base of Motte (Oxford Archaeology East) online copy