Sulgrave Castle Hill

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

There are earthwork remains

NameSulgrave Castle Hill
Alternative NamesSalgrave
Historic CountryNorthamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough
Modern AuthorityNorthamptonshire
1974 AuthorityNorthamptonshire
Civil ParishSulgrave

The site at Castle Hill survives well and is one of only seven ringworks in the county, which together with Culworth and Weedon Lois forms a distinctive and unusual cluster. The site is well documented historically and archaeologically and will retain considerable economic, social, and environmental evidence dating from its development in the Saxon period.

The site known as Castle Hill is situated on the south western side of the village of Sulgrave and includes a ringwork. The plan of the village of Sulgrave is a rough figure-of-eight, with the church and ringwork in the centre of the south western loop and the manor house at the north east end of the north eastern loop. The village, which appears to have originated around the church and ringwork, both of which may date from before the Norman Conquest, later expanded to the north east in the early 16th century when a manorial residence was established by Lawrence Washington. Two areas of village settlement earthworks survive (not included in the scheduling); one 150m to the north of Castle Hill, the other on the north east of the present village. The two sites contain slight settlement remains of house platforms, scarps and banks demonstrating how the pattern of village settlement has changed. At the time of Domesday Book, Sulgrave was held by Ghilo of Picquigni in Picardy as part of an honour (a term applied to a group of estates which came under a single administration). Tenure of the estate at Sulgrave was divided between three men, Hugh, Landric, and Otbert. Landric held land at Culworth, 2km to the north west, which also contains a ringwork adjacent to the church. A third similarly situated ringwork exists 4km to the east at Weedon Lois, which was also held by Ghilo. In the mid 12th century the site was abandoned as a manorial residence and was given to the priory of St Andrew at Northampton

The ringwork lies immediately adjacent to the Church of St James, which comprises a 13th century tower containing a reset Saxon triangular-headed doorway. The ramparts of the ringwork comprise a roughly circular inner bank 3m-4m above an outer ditch. The bank may have been made up of five straight sides enclosing a central area 30m across which is slightly raised above the surrounding land surface. An outer ditch, which is largely infilled, measures up to 15m wide and 0.5m deep. It is truncated by the churchyard on the eastern side and partly modified by modern development on the south western side. An entrance on the north western side which cuts through the bank was shown by excavation to date to the 19th century; the site of the original entrance is unknown but would most likely have been adjacent to the church on the east side. Adjacent to the ringwork on the south side is an area of uneven ground extending c.70m from the ringwork ramparts (included in the scheduling), containing fragments of stone walling, now grassed over. The proximity to the ringwork and location within a sunken trackway suggests they may be part of manorial buildings contained within a bailey area. The bailey may have extended to Magpie Road to the north and Park Lane on the west of the ringwork, and to School Street to the east to include a possible Saxon church on the site of St James's. Evidence for this cannot at the present time be substantiated, however, and these areas are not included in the scheduling. Excavation of the northern part of the ringwork between 1960 and 1976 revealed that the Norman manorial centre had been established on the site of earlier Saxon buildings, themselves apparently of manorial status, dating from the end of the tenth century. The Saxon buildings were mainly of timber construction which were followed by the construction of the first rampart bank. The Norman hall was a stone structure measuring 12m by 5.5m, during the life of which the rampart bank was heightened twice, and small timber-framed structures were erected. The excavation suggests that the site was abandoned by about 1140. (Scheduling Report)

Ringwork (SP 557453); Figs. 107 and 108; Plate 5), known as Castle Hill, lies at the S.W. end of the village, immediately S.W. of the church, on limestone of the Upper Estuarine Series at 155 m. above OD. The earthworks now consist of a roughly circular bank, though there are indications that this is actually made up of five approximately straight sides. The bank survives up to 3.6 m. high, with a flat top, and there are traces of a surrounding ditch 0.3 m. deep. A causeway across the ditch on the N.W. side leads through the bank and provides the only entrance.

Nothing is known of the history of the site beyond the fact that Domesday Book records that the manor of Sulgrave was held by Ghilo in 1086 and that three undertenants, Hugh, Landric and Otbert, held it of him (VCH Northants., I (1902), 345). A ringwork at Culworth was probably also held by Landric of Ghilo, and a ringwork or motte at Weston and Weedon was held directly by Ghilo.

The site was excavated between 1960 and 1976 and during this period different interpretations of the evidence have been put forward. The most recent of these theories is presented here (Arch. J., 134 (1977), 105–14).

The earliest structure, probably dating from the late 10th century, consisted of a timber building, almost certainly a hall, with a detached stone and timber building, possibly a kitchen. In the early 11th century the hall was altered and repaired and a stone building was erected to the N. Shortly afterwards a bank and ditch were constructed which perhaps surrounded the whole site. In the mid 11th century a massive rampart was added to the earlier bank and the earlier stone building was incorporated into this. This rampart may also have enclosed the adjacent church. At the same time the earlier timber structure was dismantled and replaced by a stone hall. Soon afterwards the stone building in the rampart started to collapse under the pressure and was therefore filled in. A timber tower was then raised on the rampart, using the walls of the stone building as foundations; the rampart itself was heightened and widened and it was perhaps at this stage that the present ringwork was created. In the early 12th century the rampart was heightened again and the tower rebuilt. However, apart from some apparent traces of huts, the interior shows no evidence of use at this period. The whole site was abandoned by the mid 12th century. The entrance in the N.W. corner of the ringwork is a 19th-century modification. (RAF VAP CPE/UK/1926, 1215–6; CPE/UK/1994, 1028–30, 1097–8; Med. Arch., 6–7 (1962–3), 333; 17 (1973), 147; BNFAS, 2 (1967), 28; 3 (1969), 27–9; Northants. Archaeol., 8 (1973), 19; Arch. J., 125 (1968), 305; 126 (1969), 131; Current Arch., 12 (1969), 19–20; Chateau-Gaillard, 2 (1967), 39–48; CBA Group 9, Newsletter, 3 (1973), 20). (RCHME)

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 ReferenceSP556453
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