Towcester Town Defences

Has been described as a Questionable Urban Defence

There are earthwork remains

NameTowcester Town Defences
Alternative Names
Historic CountryNorthamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough
Modern AuthorityNorthamptonshire
1974 AuthorityNorthamptonshire
Civil ParishTowcester

"There are no significant above ground remains of former medieval town defences or gates at …Towcester' (Creighton and Higham).

Bond puts in 'Roman defensive circuit partly or wholly re-utilized in Anglo-Saxon period, but of no post-Conquest importance' list.

Roman, Early Medieval, Medieval and Post Medieval town. Referred to by the Antonine Itinerary as Lactodorum, a ditched and walled town. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle records the fortification of Towcester after a Danish attack in 921. Excavations have found this wall set in the debris of the Roman wall. During the civil war the town was again walled on the Roman line, by Prince Rupert, but was slighted in 1644 and abandoned to the parliamentarians. (PastScape)

Gatehouse Comments

Viking raids during the late eighth and ninth centuries led to the establishment of the Danelaw in the east of Northamptonshire. Watling Street formed one of the boundaries of the Danelaw but it is thought unlikely that Towcester fell under Viking control. Mercia was supplanted by the kingdom of Wessex following the battle of Derby in AD918. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that Towcester, part of kingdom of Wessex, successfully resisted the Danish army, based in Northampton during the early 10th century, sometime between AD917 and AD921. The Chronicle refers to a burh at Towcester and states that following the defeat of the Viking army by King Edward the Elder in the same year, the town's defences were to be strengthened with a stone wall. To date, no evidence for this stone wall has been recovered. There is evidence that the Roman town defences were re-used but the dating remains imprecise. There is also evidence to suggest that the defended area was reduced in size from 29acres in the Romano-British period to 25 acres. Anglo-Saxon ditches and a possible palisade trench uncovered in Allen's Yard suggest that the line of the late Saxon defences ran along the eastern side of Richmond Road. Environmental evidence suggests that the SW corner of the former defended area may have become increasingly marshy, creating an additional, natural, line of defence. If the defences were capable of being restored in C17 then possible post-Conquest use can not be entirely dismissed. However, Towcester, while important because of its position on Watling Street, was not a significant town in the medieval period.

- Philip Davis

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 ReferenceSP691489
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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. 266
  • Woodfield, P., 1995, 'The Dark Ages and the Anglo-Saxon Period' in J. Sunderland and M. Webb (eds), Towcester The Story of an English Country Town (Towcester & District Local History Society) p. 55-8
  • 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. 2 p. 320
  • RCHME, 1982, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northampton Vol. 4: South-west Northamptonshire (HMSO) p. 149- online transcription
  • Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 122
  • Serjeantson, R.M., Ryland, W. and Adkins, D. (eds), 1902, VCH Northamptonshire Vol. 1 p. 184 (Roman) online copy
  • Baker, G., 1836-41, History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire Vol. 2 p. 318, 320 online copy



  • Woodfield, C., 1992, 'The Defences of Towcester, Northamptonshire' Northamptonshire Archaeology Vol. 24 p. 13-66
  • Brown, A.E. and Alexander, J.A., 1982, 'Excavation at Towcester, 1954: the Grammer School site' Northamptonshire Archaeology Vol. 17 p. 24-59 download from ArchLib
  • 1978, 'Archaeology in Northamptonshire 1977' Northamptonshire Archaeology Vol. 13 p. 182-3 download from ArchLib
  • Green, M.J., 1975, 'Romano-British non-ceramic model objects in south-east Britain' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 132 p. 54-61 (List 63, No. 28)
  • Alexander, J., 1967, 'Archaeology in Northamptonshire, 1966/67' Bulletin of the Northamptonshire Federation of Archaeological Societies Vol. 2 p. 19-20 download from ArchLib
  • Simms, R.S., 1953, The Archaeological Journal Vol. 110 p. 212

Primary Sources

  • Ingram, James, (ed) 1912, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Everyman Press, London) AD922 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)


  • Glenn Foard, J Ballinger, J Taylor, 2006, Extensive Urban Survey - Northamptonshire (Northamptonshire County Council, English Heritage) Download copy