Barnwell Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are major building remains

NameBarnwell Castle
Alternative NamesBarnwell St Andrew; Bernewell
Historic CountryNorthamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough
Modern AuthorityNorthamptonshire
1974 AuthorityNorthamptonshire
Civil ParishBarnwell

Castle. Built about 1266 by Berenger Le Moyne; some building work may have taken place within the castle during C16. Squared coursed limestone with ashlar dressings. Rectangular plan of the concentric type with round corner towers of 2 stages. Entrance front, to east, has gate-house, to far left of curtain wall, with flanking semi-circular towers. Triple-chamfered gatearch, with pointed head and polygonal responds. Semi-circular, single-chamfered, inner doorway. Inside, the gatehouse has a pointed tunnel vault and grooves for a portcullis. Large square-head window opening above gatearch. Flanking towers have cross slits at ground floor and rectangular openings to upper level. Similar corner tower to left. North-east tower, to far right, is a trefoil arrangement of round towers. Cross slits to upper and lower stages. Blank curtain walls, between towers, on north and south elevations. West elevation to rear of entrance front has semi-circular south-west corner tower, to right, with a 2-light stone mullion window to the upper stage. Trefoil arrangement of round towers at north-west corner, to left. Centre linking tower of this arrangement is a narrower quadrant. Both corner towers have cross slits. Section of curtain wall, between towers, to left of centre, has been rebuilt. To the left of this section of wall is a postern gate with 2-centred arch head. The courtyard elevations have been stripped of their facing stone in certain areas. Elevation to rear of gatehouse has small doorways with semi-circular heads, giving access to gatehouse towers. Originally there was a square-head window opening above central gatearch. Small doorway, with semi-circular head, to right, gives access to south-east tower. - Similar doorways, set on an angle in the corners, give access to the other towers from the courtyard. Evidence of a fireplace, to right of the postern gate, was possibly also part of the domestic accommodation within the castle walls

Evidence of cross wall in east elevation of courtyard with traces of plaster recorded, was possibly also part of the domestic accommodation within the castle walls. The curtain walls are approximately 3.6 metres thick with the exception of the section in the west elevation which was rebuilt, which is approximately one metre thick. Interior: gatehouse towers each have 2 bays of single-chamfered rib vaults to ground floor. A rectangular chamber over the gateway was originally accessible from a flight of steps immediately north of the inner gatearch. The upper rooms of the gatehouse towers have square-head windows with an inner pointed arch. In the south-east tower are the remains of a pointed rib vault to the ground floor. In the south-west tower a staircase, off the entrance passage, gives access to a square room above which has a 2-light stone mullion window and a fireplace. A further room over this chamber also had a fireplace and a window. In the north-east and north-west towers the centre towers of the trefoil arrangement contained the spiral-staircase. The north-east tower also has a garderobe chute. The towers and curtain walls were originally probably higher and would have had a castellated parapet. The building date of 1266 is derived from a Jury statement of 1276 which records that Berenger Le Moyne had built a castle 10 years earlier. The Rector of Barnwell also agreed in 1257 to there being a Chapel at Barnwell Castle. An inquiry discovered that no licence had been obtained to build the castle, and Berenger le Moyne had to return the Manor to the Abbotts of Ramsey who held it before 1120, and with whom it remained until the dissolution. It was then granted to Chief Justice Sir Edmund Montagu, In 1540 Leyland describes "the meane house of a farmer" in the castle. Camden writing in 1586 mentions the "little castle which now of late Sir Edmund Monacute hath of late repaired and beautified with new buildings". It is unclear whether this statement refers to C16 domestic buildings within the castle, of which there is suggested evidence, or the house now known as Barnwell Manor (q.v.). The castle was probably used as a farmyard during C18 and C19 with access through the break in the west curtain wall. Barnwell Castle passed from the Duke of Buccleuch's estate in 1913 and was sold in 1938 to Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. (Listed Building Report)

Dicunt quod Berengers le Moygne constuxit castrum apud BERNEWELL decem annis elapsis et l'it in eadem villa forum quibus septimana per unum diem et nundinas semel in anno et assisam panis et cervisiae quinque annis elaps' nesciunt quo warranto. (Rot. Hund.)

Gatehouse Comments

Barnwell castle was not 'unlicenced' (there is no such thing as an unlicenced castle). However, it is much more castle-like than most fortified manor houses, licenced or not, of the late C13. The Rot. Hund. entry states the warrant by which le Moygne held a market and an assize of bread and ale and, perhaps, built the castle, was not known. The medieval terms licence ( licentia ) and warrant ( warranto ) are distinctly different. The concern for the inhabitants of Barnwell would have been the assize court, which had a power to fine and punish, rather than the defended house in which the profits from the market would be securely stored. The concern for le Moynge elite neighbours would have been the market, which would have been seen as a potential threat to their own market incomes. The house built in such a military style may have been seen as a genuine physical threat but, more likely, as a presumptuous statement by a knight with baronial aspirations. (The market had actually been given a charter in 1270 but was alleged to be be causing problems for the market at Oundle. After the transfer of the manor to Ramsey Abbey the market was given another charter but for a different weekday. See Letters, Gazetteer of markets_.) No attempt was made to reduce the defences of the castle in the C14 although it is entirely probably that le Moygne was forced to sell Barnwell Castle to Ramsey Abbey for his several presumptions of status including that of building such a strongly fortified house without having the courtesy to apply for the king's blessing (or licence) for such a venture.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
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Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTL049852
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Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved View full Sized Image

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  • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
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  • Coulson, C., 1994, 'Freedom to Crenellate by Licence - An Historiographical Revision' Nottingham Medieval Studies Vol. 38 p. 120
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  • < >Giggins, B.L., 1986, 'Barnwell Castle survey 1980–85' South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 16 p. 79–84 < > online copy
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  • Ardouy, M., 1981, 'Barnwell Castle' South Midlands Archaeology: CBA Group 9 Newsletter Vol. 11 p. 19-20 online copy
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  • Hussey, C.,1959 Sept 17, Country Life p. 298-301
  • Hussey, C.,1959 Sept 10, Country Life p. 238-41
  • Markham, 1912, Associated Architectural Societies' reports and papers (Lincoln, York, Northampton, Bedford, Worcester, Leicester and Sheffield) Vol. 31 p. 525-38
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Primary Sources

  • Illingworth, W. (ed), 1818, Rotuli hundredorum temp. Hen. III et Edw. I (London: Record Commission) Vol. 2 p. 7 online copy


  • 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. 512-13