Little Houghton Motte
Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)
There are earthwork remains
|Name||Little Houghton Motte
|Alternative Names||Cliffords Hill
|Historic Country||Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough
|Civil Parish||Little Houghton
Clifford Hill is a massive motte situated strategically beside a crossing place of the River Nene. The motte ditch on all but the south side is largely undisturbed and together with the mound of the motte has considerable potential for the preservation of archaeological and environmental evidence.
The motte castle of Clifford Hill lies to the north of the present village beside the River Nene. The site owes its name to its situation on a cliff, close to the old ford crossing of the River Nene from Little Houghton to Little Billing. The mound is round and stands to a height of about 14m and has a basal diameter of approximately 125m. The top of the mound is flat and about 30m across, and is surrounded by a wide, deep ditch up to 5m deep in places. On the north side of the motte beyond the ditch and alongside the river, lies a bank about 4m high which formed part of the original castle defences. The south side of the motte suffered from a series of landslips soon after it was constructed, causing the south ditch to be recut. The recutting of this ditch formed a low bank which has since been ploughed. The detailed history of the site is not known, but the present name of the site is recorded in the 13th century. The summit of the motte saw later use as a bowling green in the 17th century. (Scheduling Report)
Motte (SP 80606063; Fig. 82; Plate 5), known as Clifford Hill, lies N. of the village, on the edge of the R. Nene, on Boulder Clay and Lias Clay at 54 m. above OD. The motte is of exceptional size, standing some 14 m. high above the surrounding land. Though once circular in plan and regular in form, it is now considerably altered and damaged on its S
side, where the steep side has been reduced to a series of rounded and ill-defined terraces and mounds, as a result of landslips. The summit of the motte is flat and featureless, but its former circular shape has been changed, following the collapse of the S. side. The mound is surrounded by a large ditch up to 5 m. deep, but again on the S. side there are indications that this ditch has been recut, following the slipping of the side of the motte above it, which perhaps partly filled it. On the N. there is a steep drop, which forms a narrow rampart-like feature, 4 m. high above the R. Nene. On the S. is a wide and much spread outer bank which has been interpreted as additional defences. This may have originated as the spoil removed from the blocked S. ditch after the landslip, though its present form is the result of subsequent ploughing. A low bank, formed partly by the old river cliff, extends W. from the motte ditch and is truncated by the later mill pond. This may be part of a bailey but the evidence is inadequate. Part of the site was dug into in 1900 'but nothing was found that is worth recording' ( Ann. Rep. Northants. Exploration Soc., (1900), 7; copy in Northampton Central Library).
The motte, presumably of 11th or 12th-century date, was clearly built to control a ford across the R. Nene, leading from Little Houghton to Little Billing. However nothing is known of its early history beyond the fact that it bore its present name in the 13th century. The name has no significance except as a description of the motte's situation on the cliff near a ford (PN Northants., 149). The lack of any documented history concerning one of the largest mottes in England may be due to its early collapse. It is constructed from Lias Clay which is notoriously unstable when wet and the landslips on its S. side, as well as the attempted restoration of the ditch, may have taken place soon after it was built. The present flat summit is apparently due to the construction of a bowling green there in the 17th century. Before this the motte was alleged to have been higher (VCH Northants., I (1902), 218; IV (1937), 266–7; J. Bridges, Hist. of Northants., I (1971), 373).
Little Houghton is an unfinished castle, consisting of one of the largest mottes in England and a few vague grubbings which may have been the beginnings of its bailey: here then the motte was built before the bailey, and completed from the first to be a very great height. (Unfortunately it cannot be dated.) (King 1972)
This site is a scheduled monument protected by law
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
|OS Map Grid Reference||SP806606