Little remains of Woodwalton Castle today and it was in fact never fully completed. But what is the story behind it?....
Around the year 1144 AD a band of renegade soldiers arrived at a small hillock on the edge of the Great Fen near Woodwalton. They were led by a Norman called Ernald de Manderville, an illegitimate son of Geoffrey de Manderville who had been made Earl of Essex by King Stephen in 1140. Geoffrey had rebelled against the king and was killed in battle so the remnants of his force had retreated into the countryside from their former base at Ramsey Abbey.
The fleeing rebels needed to establish a new base, one that would be protected from attack by the marshy ground and meres of the fen, and they started work on an earthwork castle at Woodwalton.
The low natural hill on the edge of the fen was encircled with a v-shaped moat, which was supplied with water from a cutting that led to the fen. A stout palisade of squared tree-trunks fastened together with large iron nails would have stood inside the outer moat, if the usual methods of construction were employed.
The sides and top of the hillock were reprofiled to provide barriers against sudden attack and a second ditch, complete with an outer counterscarp bank, encircled the summit. In its centre was a raised earthen platform which formed a low motte, or flat-topped mound, surrounded by a further palisade. The defenses would probably have been dominated by a wooden tower within the upper enclosure
Unfortunately for the rebels, and perhaps fortunately for the people of Cambridgeshire, the castle appears never to have been completed. Its remains are therefore slight and it takes prior knowledge and some imagination to appreciate what's left.
The site of the castle can be seen about 1/4 mile north of Woodwalton church, Cambridgeshire.
The outer moat can still be traced for much of its circumference, especially on the south east side where it's still in use as a field drain and still holds water. The outer moat is about 400 feet in diameter and the channel that fed it is still well defined as it runs off towards the drained fen to the north east, although the channel is often suppose to be an older dyke of some sort. The ground within the outer moat rises gently towards the motte at its centre.
The motte stood around 9 feet above the bottom of the inner moat and it was about 90 feet in diameter. However, the north eastern quadrant of the inner moat ends abruptly and may never have been completed. Beyond the motte to the north, the fall of the hill is more gentle than on the southern side and perhaps the reprofiling had not been completed here. The western side of the motte and its ditch have been damaged by digging, possible due to the removal of earth to level up the western side of the enclosure for later agricultural use.
The low grassy hill of Woodwalton Castle and the slight earthworks that remain bear scant witness to a turbulent past. But on a crisp autumn day when the wind is blowing it can seem a little closer to the time of Ernald de Manderville than you'd expect.