Project Leader
June Barnes
Start Date
February 1, 2013
Team Members
Des Hoar, Mandy Wilson, Bob Whapples, David Marsh, Margaret Marsh, Marilyn Basketter, Andrew Johnson, pupils from SUS, Castle Close volunteers etc

Project Plan

The project is a sequel to the HEFA test pit digs done in collaboration with Access Cambridge Archaeology from 2007-2011. A group of University of Cambridge archaeologists and historians, led by Dr Carenza Lewis, is helping community groups in the East of England to develop ideas for researching aspects of local heritage under the banner “All Our Stories”. These projects have been funded by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The full working title for the funded project is “Sharnbrook’s moated earthwork – castle, manor house or what?”
Sharnbrook has a circular moated earthwork in an area known as Castle Close. The Sharnbrook Local History Group wants to lead an investigation into its origin and purpose (Norman castle, Saxon ringwork, mediaeval manor house or something else?), and its relationship to the rest of the village. With the support of Cambridge University archaeologists we will use excavations, surveys and fieldwalking, and also research documentary evidence.
The Photography and Art Groups of Sharnbrook Learning for Pleasure will also contribute their skills to the presentation of the project and its findings.

Heritage Focus
Sharnbrook has a circular moated earthwork, which has intrigued residents and visitors alike. Although Bedfordshire has many moated sites very few are circular. This has led to various ideas about its origins. Documentary evidence suggests the earthwork may have been constructed in 12C as a manor house. However other suggestions are that it was built as one of a chain of Norman castles along the River Ouse (its field name is Castle Close), or as a Saxon ringwork.
Pottery from test pits dug around the village has shown evidence of occupation from the Iron Age onwards, but few sherds have been found in test pits dug near the earthwork to indicate occupation in the vicinity.
We are taking the opportunity to work with Cambridge University archaeologists to provide capacity-building and training for our members to enable us to investigate our earthwork. We want to try to establish a date for its original construction and its purpose, and explore its relationship to the village including the Parish Church, and the nearby River Ouse. We plan to carry out excavations and surveys of the earthwork and its environs, as well as reviewing documents relating to the early history of the village.
The site includes an English Heritage Scheduled Ancient Monument and is shown on the Heritage Gateway as:

Name: EARTHWORK, Castle Close
HER No.: 994
Type of Record: Monument

An oval banked & ditched enclosure, medieval in date

Grid Reference: SP 989 595


Full Description
The monument at Castle Close is a slightly oval moat, about 60m across. The moat ditch is approx 7m wide by up to 3m deep. The central island is surrounded by a bank 1.5m high. A small area of flat ground in the middle of the island measures approx 25m by 20m. There are no causeways across the moat. The eastern side of the moat holds standing water and is fed by a leat or stream, 4m wide and 0.5m deep, which runs for approx 100m to the east where it joins other field drains. A survey dated 1617 refers to the land in which the monument lies as “Castle Close” and, although the monument has been described as a type of Norman castle, the defensive appearance of the earthworks is considered to represent a later fortification of the moat. The moat at Sharnbrook is one of a number of medieval sites located on the northern slopes of the Ouse valley, such as the moats at Bletsoe and Thurleigh and castles at Thurleigh and Odell. Documentary evidence suggests that the site may be an early circular manorial moat.

Protected Status: Scheduled Monument 20404: Moated site in Castle Close

How we will research it

  • Using Collections

We shall use the documents held by the Bedfordshire & Luton Archive & Record Service (BLARS), Bedford Borough Council‘s Historic Environment Record Office and Bedford Library to put together a referenced account of what is known about the early history of Sharnbrook. We shall have the assistance of a retired BLARS archivist, who has already done work on Sharnbrook, particularly the parish church. He will provide training to Local History Group members to help them locate and understand relevant documents.
This part of the Project will be of particular interest to our members who are not able/keen to take part in the more physical activities.

  • Recording things

We shall use a range of archaeological activities to investigate the earthwork and its environs. English Heritage has given consent for excavation on the earthwork, the Parish Council, which owns Castle Close, and Bedford Borough Council Archaeological Officers are supporting the Project.
Survey the area immediately around the earthwork including an extensive system of old ditches. Since we are in a heavily wooded area GPS techniques will be limited and standard surveying techniques will be employed.
Dig slot trenches on the island and moat of the earthwork and test pits on some of the ditches to try to establish a date for the earthwork, and its purpose, and whether the ditches were contemporaneous.
Do a geophysical survey of the playing field which lies between the earthwork and the parish church to look for evidence of occupation, agriculture, tracks etc –Archaeology Rheesearch voluntary group will assist.
The geophys study of the earthwork itself was conducted by Northamptonshire Archaeology in 2008 and is available at
Fieldwalk between the earthwork and the River Ouse (landowner has given permission) to look for evidence of occupation – sherds from Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods have been found in nearby gardens.

Amendment – Approved Sept 16th –  We have completed most of our project but, in the light of results of the archaeological dig we have just carried out, we want to change the last activity.  The new activity is still within the original aim of the project – to investigate the origin and purpose of Sharnbrook’s circular moated earthworks.  In fact it will contribute more than the planned last activity.  We can carry it out within the project budget. The central part of our Project was to carry out a 4 day excavation on the scheduled moated earthwork in Castle Close.  We received Scheduled Monument Consent to excavate a 2m x 2m trench on the island in a location where an earlier geophysical survey indicated a sub-rectangular feature.  We carried out the dig two weeks ago and it produced some very interesting finds – medieval domestic pottery, a possible hearth, clay from a bread oven, metal objects believed to be medieval horseshoe nails and a posthole.  We are awaiting dating of the pottery and other finds but this has confirmed that the moated area was an inhabited site, probably high status, which fits with some documentary evidence for it possibly being a 12C manorhouse. We now want to investigate the area outside the scheduled area to see what evidence there is of other dwellings around the moated site (the English Heritage Inspector was keen for us to do this).  We therefore plan to extend our survey area and do a series of shovel test pits around the moat which should establish, by the presence or absence of pottery or other finds, where it will be worth doing bigger test pits later.  We had fantastic community support for the dig, with 35+ people involved at some stage, and many of them are keen to continue with the shovel pits. We had planned to do some field walking, in a few weeks time, in a field adjacent to where some earlier test pits had found a variety of pottery – iron age, roman etc – but we now think it would be better to postpone this in favour of the shovel pitting in the vicinity of the earthwork.

People involved in these activities will be our members, other residents and Sharnbrook Upper School students. Training will be given in surveying and recording, excavation, fieldwalking and pottery identification.

How we will share what we have learnt
Websites, Display boards and Leaflets

Who we plan to share our learning with
John Gibbard Lower School children visit the earthwork as part of their curriculum, and have been involved in test pit digs in their own school grounds.
Sharnbrook Upper School is located very near the earthwork and many students walk through the site – it will help them appreciate the history of their school’s location.
Parish Council owns the site so has a particular interest in its place in the village history.
Castle Close Volunteers who are responsible for the conservation of the site including the earthwork.
Castle Close Children’s Conservation Group 5-9 year olds who “learn by doing” how to look after the site.
Sharnbrook Learning for Pleasure members who have a great interest in the history of the village.
Other residents who regularly walk through the site and want to know more about it.
Sharnbrook Christmas Fayre visitors – on the first Friday in December hundreds of people come from the surrounding area to see our Christmas lights and enjoy this village event. We will have a display of our findings and distribute our leaflets.
Members of the Art and Photography Groups will contribute to the materials we produce. Training will be given to the Art Group in interpretative illustrations.

How we will celebrate what we have achieved
We plan to arrange an event in early December 2013 for all the people who have been involved as well as Sharnbrook Learning for Pleasure members and other interested residents. We shall use the event to tell the story of our exploration using words – the experience of some of the people who have been involved – and pictures – photos taken during the activities by the Photography Group.
We shall also have a display of our findings (excavated artifacts, document facsimiles, survey results etc) and we shall launch a leaflet explaining what we have discovered. Mediaeval (or Saxon) food may well feature too!

Digital media we will use to tell the story of our project
Blogging, Powerpoint slideshows and Photographs

Time Table and Milestones
Feb 16th ACA Historical Archives Training event on Mediaeval Documents at Huntingdon Library
Apr 27th ACA Excavation, Fieldwalking and Pottery Identification at MacDonald Institute, Cambridge
Jun 26th Agree contract for specified Web Design
Jul 1st Survey training with Albion Archaeology
July 2nd Purchase Computing and Surveying materials
Jul 8th Surveying begins
Jul 10th Pottery Identification Training
Jul 11th Geophys (Resistivity) of Playing Field with Rheesearch Group
Aug 19th Test & Evaluate Web Site
Aug 26th Geophys (Magnetometry) with Rheesearch Group
Aug 29th to Sept 1st Excavation on Earthwork
Oct 8th Shovel Pits aroung the earthwork
Oct 12th ACA training in Reporting, Publishing and Archiving
Dec 5th Celebration of Project – with residents, team members and the Public

An end of Project talk describing the project findings was held on March 19th 2014. The final report has been published to coincide with this event. The report can be read as a pdf file here…. Sharnbrook Castle Close Report

The images taken during the project have been collated into a photobook and a sample are shown in the Castle Close Heritage gallery under the ALBUMS menu