Castle Hill, Thetford

Castle Hill, Thetford

Castle Hill is the site of a fortified earthwork in the town of Thetford in Norfolk in the United Kingdom.

Located to the south-east of the town centre; Castle Hill has been a fortification since the Iron Age. The last people to develop it were the Normans, and it has remained the highest Norman motte in England though no trace remains of the timber castle which was built at the top of the motte in the Middle Ages.

The site consists of a large, man-made hill approximately 25 metres high, which is the main motte. This is surrounded by a defensive ditch around 4 metres deep. The north side of the motte has a large rampart around 8 metres high above the lowest point of the ditch, and a repeated ditch and rampart creating a secondary defensive ditch and rampart a few metres further to the north. The bailey (courtyard) lies to the east of the motte and is around 50 metres across at its widest point. To the north of this bailey is a 4 metre high rampart which is now home to several large oak, chestnut and sycamore trees.

The entire site; the motte, bailey and ramparts; are made from earth and chalk and flint rubble presumably dug very locally.

The site is believed to have been a fortification since the Iron Age, and is one of Britain's largest man made Iron Age defensive structures. There is no record of how large or extensive the site was during its early years though. Excavations have suggested that the ramparts may have continued along the east, south and west perimeters, though there is almost nothing left of any of these earthworks now. The south perimeter is marked by some of the oldest buildings in Thetford sited on Ford Street, which runs East-West along the southern edge of the site.

The Normans extended the site and further developed it by building a timber keep on the top. This may have been constructed by Ralph de Guader the Earl of East Anglia or by Roger Bigod, his successor.

King Henry II had most of its defences dismantled in 1173 after a rebellion with which the local baron was involved.

It is suggested that the site was initially used to defend and control the crossing points of the rivers Thet and Little Ouse to the south, which were lucrative trading areas due to intersecting the Icknield Way close to the site now known as Three Nuns Bridges, another local historical site. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles makes reference to a 'great army of Danes' which may have been camped at the site in approximately 869.

The site has not been extensively surveyed or excavated in recent years and still provides the basis for many local myths and stories. The most relevant being the story that a set of silver bells, possibly from the town Priory, are buried in the site somewhere, though this is highly unlikely due to the site having been excavated in the past and nothing found.

The site is open to the public and is now known as Castle Park. The north east corner includes several benches and a fenced off play area for children. The large open area in the north east corner is a popular picnic site and informal sports playing area and is also used as the venue for many local events, including the Storm event, some smaller concerts and re-enactment events. The motte provides excellent views of the town from its summit and extensive earthworks. The whole site is a scheduled monument and as such is protected by the law from unpermitted excavation or exploration.

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