Castle Mound History and Archaeology

A key member of FONC, Tom Walsh has been doing some further documentary research on the remaining castle mound, which lies north-east of the inner bailey of Northampton Castle. Read his latest update below.

The mound has had a bad press in recent years, being first challenged when a building thought to be an early St Mary’s Church was found within its north-west arc, in 1962, a stone building 17 by 11m (RCAHMS Vol V Northants p379-80). It was then explained as a Civil War bastion by Foard in 1995.

The mound originally extended up to the boundary of the plot acquired for the Castle Hill Chapel in 1695: the parish boundary on Noble & Butlin’s Map of 1746 appears to follow the curve of the base of the mound (the chapel being in St Peter’s Parish and the mound in the former St Mary’s pre-reformation, amalgamated into All Saints Parish. Roper & Cole’s Map of 1807, which had fanciful embellishments by local historians at that time, shows an actual round mound here labelled Castle Hill.

In Gentleman’s Magazine in 1800 a sketch of the mound showed it with a stone tower on top. In 1802 the chapel was acquired from the Borough, who owned the mound. There was enough land to enlarge the chapel and put a walled cemetery on the north side, moving the lane between themselves and the mound northwards, by cutting into the mound.

Between 1826 and 1827 the mound was dismantled by the Borough and the stone used to fill in the castle ditch to the west. The chapel bought part of the mound to build a school on the north side of the chapel (extant brick building) and to move the cross-over road (Castle Hill) further north. In 1827 the Borough sold off the rest of the site for house building. The site had been an isosceles triangle formed by lanes with one apex pointing south up against the original chapel, and a base north flanking Castle Street, which might indicate cutting away to level and straighten the Street, originally (up to mid 19th century) called Castle Hill Lane.

The original mound may have had a base diameter of 50 metres, and appears to have been symmetrical to the south-west to north-east diagonal through the inner bailey, and was immediately outside the ditch. As the castle was substantially remodelled in the 13th century, it may represent the original collapsed keep. Though outside the latterday inner bailey it was close enough to have been linked and integrated, rather than left as a liability, and there may have been a ditch round it.

Therefore I feel Castle Hill needs to be brought back into consideration as possibly the site of part of Northampton Castle, with potential for archaeology beneath if there is redevelopment.

Since this article was written there has been a continuing debate about Northampton Castle and its origins.  More recent investigations argue that Castle Hill was not the site of an early pre- Norman  fortification, but part of a later 17th Century Civil War artillery mount defending the town.  Archaeologists continue to suggest further areas for investigation of the Castle: on the railway station car park site, for example, and also to suggest alternative explanations for the topography at Castle Hill. FONC is keen to support further archaeological work that may give us a clearer picture of the Castle’s evolution.