Clare Castle

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

There are masonry footings remains

NameClare Castle
Alternative NamesClara
Historic CountrySuffolk
Modern AuthoritySuffolk
1974 AuthoritySuffolk
Civil ParishClare

Motte and bailey first documented in 1090, and probably disused by the end of C14. There is documentary evidence that a secular college existed in the church within the castle at Clare in Edward the Confessor's reign until 1090, (then becoming a Benedictine alien cell until removed to Stoke by Clare in 1124). There is no other evidence for a fortified site pre-dating the present castle. Powerful motte and bailey with second bailey and wet ditches. Masonry shell keep. (Derived from PastScape)

It comprises a motte, 53ft high, surmounted by a fragment of a cylindrical tower of flint rubble, and two baileys, the inner southernmost having been walled. An outer ditch surrounded the whole. The situation is at the angle formed by the junction of the River Stour and Chilton Stream, protected by their floodplains on the S and E sides. The tower on the motte was originally 52ft internal diameter with walls 6ft thick, but only the W arc survives to a height of 25ft. The inner bailey is bounded by a bank and outer ditch; the bank was originally surmounted by a flint rubble wall defended by bastions and demi-bastions, but it only survives in parts in the N and S and on the E side of the motte to a maximum height of 20ft. Until c1720 it stood on the E and S sides, but now only the foundations remain. The entrance from outer to inner bailey was defended by flanking towers and probably a drawbridge, with what appears to be an outer "barbican of two demi-bastions of earth and outer ditch carried around". The outer bailey bounded by bank and ditch shows no trace of a wall. The W side is destroyed, but a sketch drawn in 1785 shows an entrance on this side. (PastScape–ref. Tymms, 1849)

That Clare was an important centre is attested by Doomsday, but the only evidence for a Saxon fortification is apparently that of Tanner. Tanner's source was presumably the foundation charter for the secular college at Clare, which is referred to in Domesday

It must remain open to question as to the status of the site prior to the Norman construction. As the centre of the largest of Aelfric's estates in Suffolk, it is not unreasonable to think that the site may have been occupied by a high status Saxon dwelling, or indeed a fortification. (PastScape {Tanner is a reference in the VCH but not otherwise identified - is this a mistake for Tymms 1849?}).

All that remains is a fragment of the keep on top of what was a Saxon mound, and some walling lower down. Originally said to have been built by one of the Earls of Clare. After its alienation it went to the Barnardistones. In the reign of Charles II it passed to the Elwes of Stoke until 1825, when it was bought by John Barker of the Priory, in which family it remained throughout the century. (Listed Building Report)

Clare Castle was a motte and bailey castle, the most common form of castle in the 11th and 12th centuries which went out of fashion as castles with keeps and curtain walls became popular. Clare Castle was unusually large, with two baileys (rather than the usual one) and a 16m high motte. The baileys at Clare may both be part of an original layout designed to allow for a staged progression into the inner bailey and the motte; alternatively the northern, outer bailey may be a later addition.

The motte lies west of the inner bailey, and is topped by a flint rubble wall, the remains of a 13th-century circular shell keep which may have replaced an earlier timber keep (tower). Another section of wall east of the motte protected the steps up to the keep. Both walls were restored in the 19th century, when the spiral path up the castle mound was also built. In 1846 the motte was still separated from the inner bailey by a curving section of water-filled ditch, now in-filled.

The southern, inner bailey comprised an earthen rampart topped with a stone w all. Three fragments of this wall survive on the south side where the rampart runs alongside the New Cut (a 14th-century diversion of the Stour created to supply water to a mill). A break in the south-east corner of the rampart may be an entrance. The northern rampart of the inner bailey is topped by a path, now called ‘Lady’s Walk’, and the north-east corner, known as ‘Gun Hill’, may have carried a 13th-century building. This may have been built to create more spacious living accommodation than was available on top of the motte: the Clares in the 14th century had a retinue of more than 250 people and entertained royalty. The east side of the rampart was badly damaged in 1865 when a railway line and station was built: the plat form still survives with the buildings housing an interpretation centre, but the track has been removed leaving a flat grassed area where it ran.

The northern, outer bailey is separated from the inner bailey by a large water-filled ditch. 19th century excavations showed an entrance linking the two baileys to have been via a causeway flanked by stone towers and earthwork bastions, one of which is still visible on the east side. The outer bailey comprised an earthen rampart, with no evidence for any stone wall. The western rampart was quarried away in 19th century to provide material to repair roads and a fire-station and public lavatory built in the 20th century north of the modern road which runs across the medieval causeway. (Access Cambridge Archaeology)

Gatehouse Comments

Gatehouse accepts that this may well have been the site of a Saxon fortification, although the motte is almost certainly Norman and not Saxon as suggested in the listing report. Recent excavations by Access Cambridge Archaeology are certainly finding late Saxon remains and artefacts although these modest investigations are unlikely to investigate or date the fortifications.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2* 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 ReferenceTL771452
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Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
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Copyright Oxyman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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Primary Sources

  • Dugdale, William (Caley, J., Ellis, H. and Bandinel, B. (eds)), 1817-30 (originally pub. 1655-73), Monasticon Anglicanum (London) Vol. 6.3 p. 1659-61 online copy
  • Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 427 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 437-8


  • 2013, Clare Castle Excavations in September 2013 online copy
  • 2013, Clare Castle Excavations in 2013 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 East of England (London: English Heritage) p. 76 online copy