Earls Barton Berry Mount

Has been described as a Possible Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameEarls Barton Berry Mount
Alternative NamesBury Close
Historic CountryNorthamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough
Modern AuthorityNorthamptonshire
1974 AuthorityNorthamptonshire
Civil ParishEarls Barton

Earls Barton motte castle lies in an unusual position very close to a church with a rare 10th-century Saxon tower and it is considered that the defensive ditch of the motte is also of Saxon origin. The site survives in good condition and has considerable potential for archaeological evidence from the Saxon to the later medieval period.

Earls Barton motte castle lies beside All Saints Church in the centre of the village. The castle motte is an oval, flat-topped mound. It is conical in shape and about 3m high with a basal diameter of between 60m and 65m. The south of the motte lies within the closed churchyard of All Saints Church and the north side of the mound is bounded by a flat-bottomed ditch. The ditch is 3m to 4m deep and up to 10m wide with traces of an outer bank on its north side; the east and west ends of the ditch have been partially infilled. The site stands adjacent to the 10th-century Saxon church tower and it is thought that the ditch provided a defence around a Saxon manor house with the existing earthwork being re-used as the motte. The site is under grass at present and forms part of a recreation ground. (Scheduling Report)

The church at Earls Barton (SP 86 SE1) stands on a small spur which projects southward towards the valley of the Nene. On the north a flat-topped motte, and a bank and ditch, now much obliterated, protect the spur. The motte is later than the bank and ditch; it has been cut back and the south side of the ditch filled, in order to enlarge the churchyard.

The original church (SP 86 SE1) of which only the tower remains was late Saxon and belongs to a group of private churches built by the larger Saxon landowners alongside their dwellings. They recall the provision of an 11th c document according to which a villein who so flourished that he possessed five hides of land, his own church and bell-tower, kitchen and 'gate' became worthy of thegn right

That the 'gate' was a fortification is implied by an earlier text. Earls Barton was held in 1066 along with other adjacent Manors, by Bondi, and the small church (and presumably the bank and ditch defences) was built by one of his immediate predecessors. (The later Motte is by inference Norman) (Radford 1953).

Conjecturally the defences could be connected with the church as part of a private 'burh' of pre-conquest date. To text this hypothesis the RAI hopes to carry out trial excavations in 1969. (Note this article refers only to bank and ditch defences entirely ignoring the 'motte')

The name 'Barry Mount' is apparently of no great authenticity. It is noted in EPNS (10, 138) only as the name used by the OS 6", although 'Berry Close' occurs in 1772, the VCH (II, 405) refers only to 'Earls Barton Castle' (Davison 1967).

Mound and ditch (SP 85176384) lie immediately N of Earls Barton church, on the N side of the village square on the neck of a small S-facing spur at 84 m. - 90 m. above OD. It is known as Berry Mount. The mound is ovoid, flat-topped and 2 m. high. It appears to have been cut back a little on its S side as a result of alteration to the churchyard. It is bounded on the N side by a wide curving ditch up to 4 m. deep which has been truncated at both ends by later infill. The relationship between the mound and the ditch is unusual, especially on the E side where the ditch appears to be turning SE on an alignmment different from the curve of the mound. This may indicate that the two features are not contemporary. Interpretation of the date and function of the earthworks must take into account the existence of the well-known Saxon tower of the adjacent church. This tower is usually assigned to the second half of the C10th. It has been suggested that the ditch in its original form either extended a little further SE so cutting across the whole neck of the spur and is therefore part of a ring work. Either interpretation could mean that it is contemporary with the church tower and is the defence work around a Saxon thegn's dwelling. However it is also possible that the ditch is prehistoric in origin, and part of an Iron Age fort or cross-dyke. The mound has been described as a motte and thus, by inference, is Norman, and later than the tower and presumably the ditch. If the mound is a motte, however, it is sited in a curious position, totally overlooked by the church. It could have functioned only as a defence additional to the ditch protecting the approach to the spur from the N. (RCHME). (PastScape)

Gatehouse Comments

To Gatehouse this seems, in many ways, a typical post-Conquest castle in that it is probably a Norman rebuilding of an existing thegnal site. The only difference being the neighbouring church was not also rebuilt by the Normans. The reason some authors seem to find this an untypical site has more to do with those authors failing to realise that most Norman castles are, like most Norman churches, a rebuilding of Saxon precursors. Michael Shapland states the Saxon Church tower was initially a free-standing tower nave built as a private lordly chapel and displaying lordly status, it may have been within the original burh enclosure but either by the time the motte was constructed or before that enclosure had changed to no longer include the tower.

- 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)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSP851638
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  • Shapland, Michael, 2012, Buildings of Secular and Religious Lordship: Anglo-Saxon Tower-nave Churches (PhD Thesis University College London) passim but notable appendix 1.8
  • 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. 525-27