Pancake Hill Archaeological Project (East Bridgford, Nottinghamshire): Desktop Assessment
There is no direct reference to the monument at Pancake Hill during the Medieval period. However, this is not unusual for the county and in England as a whole. As a result an analysis of the descent of the manor of East Bridgford may shed some light on when the castle was constructed.
At Domesday East Bridgford was in the hands of Roger de Bully, and remained so until the turn of the 12th century. De Bully was one of the greatest landowners in the East Midlands owning 163 estates in Nottinghamshire, although the focus of his concern was very much in Yorkshire. However, significantly of the 15 de Bully landholdings in the Wapentake of Bingham 11 maintain or even increase (4) their value from the period 1066 to 1086. East Bridgford is one such manor which increases in value from Â£3 to Â£5. As such it may be argued that de Bully had a going concern in the area, a concern which is not reflected in the other Wapentakes of the county.
Around the year 1100 the de Bully line either died out or possibly even forfeited their lands. The ownership of the manor of East Bridgford then becomes difficult to interpret until sometime during the first quarter of the twelfth century when a Yorkshireman, William Biset, (a tenant of Stephen, Count of Aumale, and Lord of Holderness) acquired the manor and it remained in the family until the reign of Henry III. William Biset had two children Manasser Biset (c.1120 â€“ c.1177) and William â€œthe Carpenterâ€ Biset (c.1130-c.1177). By 1155 Manasser Biset had risen sufficiently to become Steward to Henry II. The Biset estates at this stage were mainly centred in Wiltshire and Hampshire as well as the Lordship of Kidderminster and Rockburne. The manor of East Bridgford was passed on to Manasserâ€™s brother William â€œThe Carpenterâ€ Biset. Although no date is attributed to this, it seems likely that this occurred subsequent to Manasser Bisetâ€™s career elevation on the accession of Henry II in 1155 and the associated acquisistion of lands and influence in central southern England (Thoroton, 1972, 292-4).
There are a number of historic maps depicting the area around Pancake Hill:
â€¢ 1614 Magdelen College Estate Map
â€¢ 1774 John Chapmanâ€™s Map of Nottinghamshire
â€¢ 1796 Enclosure Map
â€¢ 1835 George Sandersonâ€™s, Twenty miles around Mansfield
â€¢ 1884 Series 1 Ordnance Survey
â€¢ 1901 Series 2 Ordnance Survey
â€¢ 1922 Series 2r Ordnance Survey
â€¢ 1948 Series 4 Ordnance Survey
Curiously Pancake Hill does not appear on the Ordnance Survey as an earthwork feature until the late 20th century. This is not particularly unusual. There is an allusion towards the south-western holloway on the Series 1 Ordnance Survey. This is depicted as a break in both tree cover and the escarpment of the Trent flood plain - a feature which is repeated on the 1901 and subsequent maps. Even such dramatic and undeniable features such as this holloway are omitted so it is not worrying (beyond a cartographical best practice issue!) that the rest of the monument is conveniently ignored. This may in fact be a negative reference to the overgrown state of the site in the past. A similar phenomenon occurs on the Series 1 map at Greasley Castle where significant banks and ditches of the south-west perimeter are hinted at by field boundaries and hedgelines, but not as actual earthworks. Local sources (Tony Ford pers com.) speak of Pancake Hill being impossible to understand for at least 80 years.
The lower field is marked down as â€œThe Holmâ€ (meaning â€˜islandâ€™, and probably a reference to the former course of the Trent) on the 1614 map. At this point it is a single entity that was further enclosed and subdivided by 1796.
The upper field, now one large area, was not always so. As late as 1982 traces of earlier enclosures and structures survive on the maps. The earliest evidence of the previous enclosures comes from a draft dated 1612 of the 1614 Magdelen College Estate Map which shows 10 subdivisions. By the time of the Sanderson map of 1835 this has been reduced to four subdivisions, with an allusion to a fifth with a line of trees. There is also an â€œLâ€ shaped building displayed in the corner of one of these enclosures. Traces of this structure have be seen on the ground during fieldwalking in precisely the spot marked on the historic maps, and this was confirmed by geophysics.
Pancake Hill sits at a distance of 0.5km to the village of East Bridgford. Analysis of the role of a castle in settlement morphology generally points to the usurpation of existing Anglo-Saxon manorial complexes at the period of the Norman Conquest in close association with the village or town community (Creighton, 2002, p.175). Examples of this within the county include Egmanton, Laxton, and Worksop. The historic core of East Bridgford is represented by the village cross roads at Kirk Hill with the Parish Church of St. Peter in the western quadrant. A church is known to have existed here from the Domesday Record. Additionally, renovations to the church floor in the 19th century revealed an earlier cruciform church beneath the present structure. There are also two fragments of a Saxon cross-shaft incorporated into the church fabric (Stroud, 2001, pp.12-3)
2.3km away from the monument lies the site of the Roman settlement of Margidunum which once straddled the Fosse Way (modern A46). Branching away from Margidunum and heading in a straight line across the landscape to the River Trent is a footpath known as Bridgford Street. This route is mapped as early as 1612 and survives today as a significant holloway. A ferry existed at Gunthorpe during the 12th century (Thoroton, 1972, p.293) and survived into the early modern period until it was replaced by the Victorian bridge in 1873. The point where Bridgford Street meets the river is the location of the late Victorian bridge, standing at a distance of 0.39km from the 1925 Gunthorpe Bridge. This is also the original location of Gunthorpe Ferry. There is a strong possibility that Bridgford Street was an access point between Margidunum and the crossing at Gunthorpe from at least the Roman period and continued in use during the Medieval.
The crossing at Gunthorpe also marks a significant river crossing of one of the main arterial roads in the county, the modern A6097/A614, sections of which are known from 13th documentary sources to be a boundary of Sherwood Forest (Thoroton, 1972, p.159). Although the boundaries of Sherwood have altered over time, it is clear that throughout much of the 12th century all of Nottinghamshire north of the Trent was under Forest Law (reference), thus the importance of Pancake Hill strategically increases. Not only did the position dominate the local area, it also guarded a major river crossing by an important road, equidistant from the crossings of Newark and Nottingham and their associated fortifications. As such it is argued that Pancake Hill lies at a distance from East Bridgford specifically to watch over the river crossing, its traffic and potentially a riverside wharf.
By the second half of the 12th century the timber built motte and bailey castle had become militarily, architecturally, politically and socially obsolete. There is no good reason to suppose that such a castle would have been constructed any later than the beginning of the reign of Henry II in 1155.
Given that the castle is built at a distance from the village of East Bridgford and clearly has a strong strategic function in guarding a major crossing of the Trent, it also seems likely that the initial (or in fact only) phase of occupation was military. The castle has been located to dominate a river crossing, not a local populace (though this may have been a secondary function). Such a military objective of castle construction points towards a period of conflict and establishment of power.
The majority of undocumented motte and bailey castles are postulated to be from either the immediate post-Conquest, or from the period of the â€œAnarchy of Stephenâ€ (1135-55). In many occasions this can be criticised as â€œlazy archaeology, however, the strong military significance of the castle at East Bridgford points towards a realistic warfare interpretation.
Based on the analysis of the descent of the manor of East Bridgford this pushes us into settling on either the Conquest landowner Roger de Bully, or a secondary phase of warfare in the mid-twelfth century. William Biset (born c.1104) spent his formative years in Holderness and came to East Bridgford in uncertain circumstances; it is also not clear when he died, though he was still alive in c.1130 when Manasser Biset was born. Manasser Biset seems to have passed on the lordship of East Bridgford to a younger brother sometime after his rise to fortune in 1155. Therefore, if Pancake Hill was constructed as a reaction to the â€œAnarchyâ€ the builder could be either father (William) or son (Manasser).
However, it would seem that Roger de Bully was the builder. The castle hovers above the river crossing equidistant from the castles of Newark and Nottingham, both of which have immediate post-Conquest origins. Nottingham and Newark perform strategic functions, Nottingham acting as a royal muster point for the Midlands, and Newark controlling the Fosse Way, Great North Road, and River Trent. The establishment of a motte and bailey castle controlling a significant road entering into a sensitive area under Royal Forest Law mid way between these strategic castles points towards a regional military strategy. Pancake Hill may therefore be a castle built by a well respected â€œKingâ€™s Manâ€ doing his Lordâ€™s bidding and constructing a castle according to an overall national and local strategy.
There is of course the distinct possibility that Pancake Hill is not a Medieval motte and bailey castle. It has been scheduled as such by English Heritage and listed on the SMR as a castle, however the archaeological project seeks to test this received interpretation. The form of the earthworks are slight and not typical of the â€œclassicâ€ motte and bailey such as Laxton. This is of course relatively typical for Nottinghamshire! Castle sites such as Annesley, Kingshaugh, and Jordan Castle are known from contemporary documents however none of these look like the archetypal motte and bailey castle. Alternative hypotheses need to be tested:
â€¢ The origins of Pancake Hill may be older than the Medieval period. There have been several findspots of Prehistoric and Roman material both in the upper field and also in the wider area of the parish. There are several probably Prehistoric cropmarks known in this area along the banks of the Trent. Bridgford Street is potentially a former access between the Roman settlement of Margidunum and the River Trent and as such Pancake Hill is in very close association with this Roman landscape.
â€¢ The geophysical survey and mapping evidence has shown that there are a number of post-Medieval field boundaries within the area of the upper field. There is also a summer house recorded on the Sanderson map. It is possible that Pancake Hill may relate to this phase of occupation and land-use. It has been speculated that the feature could be a prospect mound (Beryl Lott pers. comm.).
In an attempt to answer some of these questions a geophysical survey has already been carried out, the results of which are attached as a separate document. The results of this are inconclusive, but point towards a significant number of archaeological features congregating around the scheduled area of Pancake Hill. Essentially further work is necessary to determine what the nature of this archaeology is. This will take the form of an archaeological evaluation excavation during the Autumn of 2006. This phase of the project will seek to answer what the date and function is of several geophysical anomalies. At this stage it is not anticipated that the actual scheduled monument will be excavated due to legal and conservation constraints.
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