Fenny Castle

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

There are earthwork remains

NameFenny Castle
Alternative NamesFenney; Wells 2; North Moor; St Cuthbert Out
Historic CountrySomerset
Modern AuthoritySomerset
1974 AuthoritySomerset
Civil ParishWookey

A motte and bailey castle set on a small natural hill. The north-west end of the hill has been scarped into a steep-sided conical to form a motte, while the south-east end has been levelled to create a narrow bailey. Motte and bailey castles are said to be characteristic of the 11th to 13th centuries: it has been suggested that Fenny Castle may have its origins in the Anarchy or first English civil war between Stephen and Matilda (1138-53), associated with the de Tilly family. The first secure reference to the existence of the castle was in 1327, with the owner being a William atte Castle. It was then described as ruinous by William Worcestre in 1480, who noted the remains of the ground plan in the foundations. Digging in the castle unearthed a wall which defended the summit, as well as iron rings, an iron implement and pottery. It was recorded in the 19th century that part of the slope at the north-west end of the hill was removed to enable easier access around it. In the process the remains of 20 skeletons were removed; they were dated to an unspecified period before the construction of the castle. There is a local tradition that the mound was associated with King Alfred. (PastScape)

Fenny Castle, despite some later disturbance, survives well. Soils present exhibit a high presence of snail shells, indicating a good potential for environmental evidence regarding the surroundings of the site. Earthworks and excavated evidence suggest that stonework and other features will survive below the surface. The hill and castle are prominent features in the landscape, and are traditionally associated with King Alfred.

The monument includes a motte and bailey castle set on a small natural hill surrounded by flat, formerly marsh land. The hill is an elongated ridge, orientated north west-south east

The north west end of the hill has been scarped into a steep-sided conical mound to form a motte, while the south east end has been levelled to create a narrow bailey. Beyond the motte to the north west, but still above the level of surrounding land, are earthworks and platforms representing an additional area of occupation.

The motte rises 11m above ground level on its north west side and 8m from the base of its quarry ditch to the south east. It has a small flat oval top 20m across. The bailey, to its south east, is a levelled area 70m by 20m wide. A number of mounds, hollows and scarps indicate the presence of former buildings in this area, though stone robbing has confused the plan at ground level.

Beyond the monument to the north west is a former river course, visible as a broad shallow depression flanked by slight banks. This will have added to the defensive nature of the site if, as is likely, this was flowing in the medieval period.

In the 19th century it is recorded that part of the slope at the north west end of the hill was removed to enable easier access around it. In the process, the remains of 20 skeletons, possibly of a period predating the construction of the castle, were removed.

The castle is first referred to historically in 1327, when William atte Castle is recorded as a local resident and taxpayer, and again in 1354 when Alice atte Castle was a tenant. In 1470 William Worcestre wrote of a castle called Fenney Castle, which was a ruin, and had been built of stone, of which traces were still visible. The historian Leland, writing in 1540, confirms this.

In 1825, the Rev J Skinner visited the site shortly after damage had been incurred by a farmer, and recorded that 'foundations of buildings may yet be seen, and quantities of squared free-stone have been conveyed from thence in the memory of man, and employed in the walls of some of the edifices in the neighbourhood'. Some digging in the castle was undertaken, to a depth of 6 feet, and a strong wall was found defending the summit, as well as iron rings, an iron implement and pottery. Skinner also mentions a paved causeway running to the hill from the hamlet of Castle, and this was apparently still visible as a slight grassy bank in 1928, running across the field from near Fenny Castle House. It is not obvious today. Local tradition has it that King Alfred is buried in Castle Hill. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Built on an isolated hill in marsh land, although overlooked by nearby hills. Isolated from settlement. Not large enough to be a military base but may represent a private, high status, large house built in a secure position with some elements of domestic security and some symbolic representation of the knightly status of the family. The form would suggest C11-C12 in origin but associations with the Conquest or the Anarchy as a date for construction are speculative.

- 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 ReferenceST507435
Latitude51.1893997192383
Longitude-2.70588994026184
Eastings350780
Northings143570
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Sharon Loxton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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Books

  • Prior, Stuart, 2006, A Few Well-Positioned Castles: The Norman Art of War (Tempus) p. 68-109
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 76
  • Dunning, Robert, 1995, Somerset Castles (Somerset Books) p. 58
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 445
  • Bothamley, 1911, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Somerset Vol. 2 p. 529
  • Holmes, n.d. c. 1880, History of the Parish and Manor of Wookey (Bristol) p. 10

Antiquarian

  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 413
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 147 online copy
  • Harvey, J.H. (ed), 1969, Itineraries (of) William Worcestre (Clarendon Press) p. 292-3

Journals

  • Luker, Brian, 2002, 'Another Look at Fenny Castle' History Round Wells No. 5
  • Wicks, 1928, Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society Vol. 40 p. 41-4

Other

  • Prior, Stuart, 2004, "Winning Strategies" An Archaeological Study of Norman Castles in the Landscapes of Somerset, Monmouthshire and County Meath, 1066-1186 (PhD thesis; University of Bristol) Vol. 2 p. 142 Download via EThOS