Motte and bailey mystery

Archaeologists working on Castle Mound at Canons Ashby
Archaeologists working to discover the mystery of the mound National Trust

Canons Ashby is famous for its tranquil Tudor manor house and gardens but recent archaeological surveys have shown something unexpected and exciting.

Digging for history

National Trust archaeologist Rachael Hall had been waiting patiently for the past three years to lay the first trench in Canons Ashby’s mysterious mound. Finally in October 2014 Rachel and her team were able to get their spades out.

Prior to 2011 it was assumed the mound hid the remains of a medieval village, however geophysical surveys suggested there was a great deal more going on.

The most likely interpretation of the new data is that the mound is home to the foundations of a Norman motte and bailey castle.

Close community

We know that in medieval times there were up to 41 houses on the site not too far from the castle, but by 1348 the community had declined due to the impact of the Black Death and enclosure.

“When you walk over the village you see traces of what was the main street, and lumps and bumps in the soil which were made from ridge and furrow farming”, adds Ms. Hall.

For nearly a thousand years people have overlooked the unassuming mound in Canons Ashby’s parkland as a great picnic spot, quality grazing space or inconvenient lump in the land.

Little did we know that the mound had a great story to tell that it had been keeping secret under the earth for centuries.

See what you discover for yourself

Visitors can have a go at surveying the remains themselves using the ancient art of dowsing. Dowsing, using two ‘L’ shaped metal rods, may respond to subtle changes in soil formation and reveal where the foundations of buildings lie hidden underground.

It doesn’t work for everyone, perhaps 50% of people can make it work, but it is fun for everyone to have a go. This activity is contained in our outdoor ‘Tracker Pack’ available from Visitor Reception.