Knepp Castle

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

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains

NameKnepp Castle
Alternative NamesCnap; Le Kenape; Cnappe; Kneppe; Knob; Knap; Knep; Knapp'
Historic CountrySussex
Modern AuthorityWest Sussex
1974 AuthorityWest Sussex
Civil ParishShipley

Knepp Castle was possibly built by William de Braose in the 11th century, and fortified in 1214. It was largely demolished in 1726 and material used to make part of the Steyning - Horsham road. It now consists of little more than a mount surrounded by a bank and ditch. Scheduled. (PastScape)

The motte, situated upon the flood plain of the River Adur is modelled out of a natural mound. It measures 80.0 to 100.0m in diameter and is 4.5m in height. The slopes are steep except to the SW, facing the river, where there is a break probably marking the site of the original entrance. Beyond a narrow berm, 2.0 to 7.0m in width, is an encircling ditch, 8.0 to 15.0m in width, up to 1.7m deep on the inner side, enclosed by an outer bank, 5.0 to 9.0m wide, up to 1.5m in height above the floodplain. The ditch is now dry but was formerly waterfilled, being fed through a break on the NW side from a pond contained by a bay, which extends westwards from the outer bank for 72.0m until it reaches high ground. The pondbay is 12.0m in width and up to 1.7m in height. It is cut through for a farmtrack and otherwise mutilated at the E end. Upon the flat-topped motte, stands, to a height of about 11.0m, the N end of the W wall of a tower or keep. The walling, of which a 9.5m length remains, is 2.5m thick and is built of random rubble faced with coursed Horsham stone. A buttress at the N corner is faced with squared sandstone. The masonry has been repaired and restored and is in good condition. The motte and moat are under pasture and are fairly well preserved (Field Investigators Comments–F1 ASP 07-JUL-71). Knepp Castle, like Bramber, belonged to the de Braose family until forfeiture to the Crown in 1208. The castle was fortified by its castellan, Roland Bloet, in 1214, but in May 1215 John ordered its destruction

This was rescinded in October 1215 when he granted the castle to Giles de Braose, Bishop of Hereford, but following the latter's death in November, its destuction by fire was ordered. Early in the following reign it was restored to Reginald de Braose, and remained with the de Braose family thereafter (HKW). Motte built in the 11th century, and fortified with a keep or tower in 1214. The destruction of this tower was ordered in 1215/6 but later rescinded. It was largely demolished in 1726. The motte can still be seen, surmounted by the remains of the keep and enclosed by a moat (Listing Report). (PastScape)

The earthwork remains of Knepp Castle survive well despite the ruined condition of the above-ground walls, and it therefore holds considerable archaeological potential for evidence of the development of the castle. Its diversity of features, such as the approach causeway and the outer bank, illustrates well the adaptability of motte castles to suit the particular setting.

The monument includes the mound and ruins of a motte castle dating from soon after the Norman Conquest, together with its surrounding moat, outer bank and approach causeway. The castle was built by William de Braose as a northern stronghold in his Barony of Bramber. A prominent natural mound in the marshy floodplain of the River Adur was modified into a roughly oval motte 125m north-east/south-west by 80m north- west/south-east and 4.5m high. On the summit of this motte was built a keep originally some 15m square, of which a 9m length of the western wall survives to a height of 12m. Two main periods of building are evident in the surviving walling, of 11th/12th century and then of 13th century date, as well as numerous more recent repairs. The doorway and large window at first floor level indicate the position of the main chamber. The keep was largely dismantled in 1726 and used for road-building stone. Around the motte is a moat 7-11m wide and now silted up, with on its outer edge a low bank 6m wide and 1m high. This outer bank is pierced on the north-east side by an original gap 8m wide and on the western side by a modern drain. The causeway by which the castle is joined to the dry land to the west is 70m long, 8m wide and stands 1.6m high. (Scheduling Report)

Always very much of a hunting lodge and seldom called a castle. (King)

Gatehouse Comments

King's comment does show some of the ambiguity of his (and others) military deterministic view of castles. Were it not for royal records which show how this castle was actually used there would be no question of him describing it in a military way as defending a major crossing of the River Adur (The A24 still passes just below the castle).

- 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 ReferenceTQ163208
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Copyright Simon Carey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 250
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  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
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  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 78-9 online copy
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  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 458
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1908, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 12 online copy


  • Brown, R. Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 212 online copy
  • Turner, Rev Edward, 1870, ' Steyning and West Grinstead Churches, and the Ancient Castle of Knepp' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 22 p. 1-21 (history) online copy
  • Sharpe, Rev J, 1852, 'Documents relating to Knepp Castle, additional to those in VolIII, p. 1-12' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 5 p. 143-146
  • Burrell, Sir Charles Merrik, 1850, 'Documents relating to Knepp Castle (Collected by Rev John Sharpe)' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 3 p. 1-12 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Stenton, D.M. (ed.), 1947, The Great Roll of the Pipe for the tenth year of the reign of King John, Michaelmas 1208 (Pipe Roll 54) (Pipe Roll Society Publications 61) p. 62
  • Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1835, Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londinensi Asservati (1201-16) (Record Commission) p. 137b, 187 view online copy
  • Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1833, Rotuli litterarum clausarum in turri Londinensi asservati (Record Commission) Vol. 2 p. 56 online copy
  • see VCH Vol. 6.2 for full primary sources references.