Monument record CLA 008 - Clare Castle (Med)

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Motte and Bailey first documented in 1090, and probably disused by the end of the 15th century. There is documentary evidence that a secular college existed in the church within the castle at Clare in Edward the Confessor's reign until 1090, (then becoming a Benedictine alien cell until removed to Stoke by Clare in 1124). There is no other evidence for a fortified site pre-dating the present castle. Powerful motte and bailey with second bailey and wet ditches. Masonry shell keep Probably disused in th later 14th century


Grid reference Centred TL 771 452 (414m by 345m) (Centred on)
Map sheet TL74NE


Type and Period (9)

Full Description

A large motte and double bailey castle probably founded by Richard Fitz Gilbert, first of the 'de Clares' , in the 11th century, and occupied until the later 15th century (S1). Between 1317 and 1360 occupied by Elizabeth be Burgh who undertook extensive construction work and kept detailed records (GSB Prospection, Geophysical Survey Report 2003/14). First referred to in 1090 when the church of St John was explicitly stated to lie within Clare Castle.
Castle is on S side of town, 20 acres in area (R8)(S2).
Motte - circumference 850 feet, height 53 feet, with remains of circular shell-keep, perhaps C12/C13, but with late footings, buttresses and battlements (S1).
Inner Bailey - to SE, now almost entirely occupied by Railway Station, and part of earthworks destroyed but N rampart, with remains of curtain wall, secondary Motte with traces of C13 tiled buildings on top and S rampart survive (S1).
Outer bailey - to NE divided from inner bailey by broad, swampy moat, now cut by road and used as playground - ramparts on NE side well defined. Further swamps flank the whole E side of castle (S1).
Some excavations in 1849 - tiles, pottery etc, and supposed doorway of Church of St John Baptist "in Castello" (R5)(S1).
Reckoning counter found 1960 (CLREM), in Outer Bailey - Edward II.
1950s: limited excavations by Knocker in outer bailey (R4).
1981: Whole site is now Country Park. Remains of shell keep masonry in reasonable condition. All earthworks covered in trees - scrub, difficult to define - 2nd motte impenetrable. Railway now disused - buildings house Information Centre. Some slight erosion of main motte due to children sliding. Some dead trees on ramparts (S1).
1991: earthworks heavily overgrown. Outer bailer earthwork hardly visible (S3).
1993: surface survey of area immediately east of inner bailey - nothing archaeologically significant - details in (S5).
2003: for summary history and geophysical survey of parts of monument see GSB Prospection, Geophysical Survey Report 2003/14.
See also Sax.
2012: Monitoring of the shell keep and bailey wall during consolidation of the monument. The remains date from different phases of development of the castle: the bailey wall is a striking example of Norman wall building which is likely to date to the 11th century. The shell keep is later as the treatment of the flint contrasts with the bailey wall and shows none of the indicators of Norman architecture. The use of brick and tile fragments in the core confirms its post Norman dating and the style of the buttresses suggests a later 13th century date; a period when the construction of this type of castle was coming to an end. The presence of later brickwork suggests that the remains of the castle were maintained in the post-medieval period, long after it had stopped being a residence, probably as a romantic ruin to enhance the landscape (S6)

Due to castle in the parish 'normal' manor land marks are missing. It has been decided therefore that the manor was at the castle.
Pre 1066 Aelfric son of Withgar gave this manor to St John, 5 free men have always belonged to this manor with all customary due. King William I took the manor back.
1066 manor of 24 carucates held by Aelfric.
1086 Manor of 24 carucates belonged to Richard, son of Count Gilbert. Manor descended through the Earls of Clare, Hereford, and Gloucester to the Mortimers.
1462 Cicely, Duchess of York, the kings mother.
1553 Granted to Sir J. Cheke. However, Queen Mary took the manor in exchange for other lands. It became annexed to the Duchy of Lancaster, where it remained. For long periods the Barnardiston family possessed it, passing to Elwes of Stoke College.
1909 John Payne Elwes posseses. (S7)

Sub Manor - Stonehall al Stonehouse Al manse manor.
1533 Granted by the Crown to Thomas and Heorge Golding. (S7)

Earthworks visible on Lidar. See associated files.

From NHRE record:

There appears to have been a castle or principal residence at Clare in Saxon times (site not known), but the earliest record of it is in Domesday. The present castle was in existence in 1090 occupied by Gilbert de Clare, whose father Richard Fitz Gilbert was granted the lands by William the Conqueror.

It comprises a motte (M), 53ft high, surmounted by a fragment of a cylindrical tower of flint rubble, and two baileys (B1 and B2), the inner southernmost having been walled. An outer ditch surrounded the whole. The situation is at the angle formed by the junction of the River Stour and Chilton Stream, protected by their floodplains on the S and E sides. The tower on the motte was originally 52ft internal diameter with walls 6ft thick, but only the W arc survives to a height of 25ft. The inner bailey (B1) is bounded by a bank and outer ditch; the bank was originally surmounted by a flint rubble wall defended by bastions and demi-bastions, but it only survives in parts in the N and S and on the E side of the motte to a maximum height of 20ft. Until c1720 it stood on the E and S sides, but now only the foundations remain.

The entrance from outer to inner bailey was defended by flanking towers and probably a drawbridge, with what appears to be an outer "barbican of two demi-bastions of earth and outer ditch carried around".

The outer bailey (B2) bounded by bank and ditch shows no trace of a wall. The W side is destroyed, but a sketch drawn in 1785 shows an entrance on this side. (R1)

A motte with two baileys; the former is intact though its ditch has been partially filled in for cottage gardens and for the station yard.

A large proportion of the inner bailey (B2) is flattened by the railway and station buildings, and the entrance between inner and outer baileys is mutilated by the station approach road.

Only the E arc of the outer baily remains (B2); the remainder is destroyed by town building.

It is suggested that some of the earthworks, notably the entrance between baileys, may pre-date the motte phase. (R3)

The main castle buildings were within the inner bailey (B2) and they included the 'main hall' called "Clarette hall" several other rooms, a chapel, the usual kitchens, larder and saucery .. outhouses, stables .." The castle was a place of residence in the 14th C, but it probably fell into ruins at the end of the 15th C when it became a crown possession.

In 1955 when a sewer trench dug across the outer bailey, excavations revealed a possible Md entrance, several hearths and 12th/13th C potsherds. A second trench near the Chilton stream revealed worn pieces of shoe leather identified as 14th/15th C, probably indicating a rubbish dump. (S8)

A secular college, dedicated to St John the Baptist, was founded "in the castle" at Clare by Earl Alfric probably circa 1045. In 1090 it became an alien priory cell for Benedictine Monks until this was moved in 1124 to Stoke by Clare (see TL 74 SW 3). (S9)

There were substantial Medieval gardens which included a "glass chamber". Probably an aviary used as a green house. (S10)

Authy 1 is incorrect in stating that a castle is documented in Doomsday; there is no reference to a castle at Clare at all. Authy 6, quoting VCH Suffolk 2, state that a secular college was established "in the castle" at Clare in the time of Aelfric, circa 1145. VCH takes its information from Dugdale, (which refers only to the later move to Clare in 1124), and Tanner. The latter was not available for consultation.

That Clare was an important centre is attested by Doomsday, but the only evidence for a Saxon fortification is apparently that of Tanner. Tanner's source was presumably the foundation charter for the secular college at Clare, which is referred to in Domesday. It must remain open to question as to the status of the site prior to the Norman constrction. As the centre of the largest of Aelfric's estates in Suffolk, it is not unreasonable to think that the site may have been occupied by a high status Saxon dwelling, or indeed a fortification. (S11)

Sources/Archives (24)

  • --- Suffolk County Historic Environment Record: Suffolk County Council Sites and Monuments Record: Clare.
  • --- Bibliographic reference: Warner, P.. 1996. The origins of Suffolk.
  • <R1> (No record type): Tymms Samuel, Clare Castle, PSIA, 1, 61-66 (ill).
  • <M1> (No record type): SAM file:.
  • <S1> Unpublished document: Department of the Environment. Scheduling information.
  • <R2> (No record type): BM, Addl Mss 6735.
  • <S2> Unpublished document: Basil Brown. Basil Brown Archive. Brown B, XCVIII, 103, photograph, XC, B10 8.
  • <M2> Unpublished document: Basil Brown. Basil Brown Archive. Basil Brown Archive: volume.
  • <S3> (No record type): Suff Pres Soc (Paul Edwards) survey, table of results, 1991.
  • <M3> (No record type): APs: ALN 18-20; NAU GDU 1-3, 5.
  • <R3> Bibliographic reference: 1911. Victoria County History, Suffolk (VCH). 1911.
  • <R4> (No record type): Knocker, G.M.. Knocker G M, Clare Castle Excavations, 1955, PSIA, 1959, 28, 2, 136-152.
  • <S4> Photograph: Essex County Council. Air Photograph. Essex CC, BW/99/12/12, 99/13/3 & 99/13/5&6, 1999.
  • <R5> (No record type): Arch J, 6, 190.
  • <S5> Unpublished document: Suffolk County Council Archaeologcial Service. Site Report. Newman J (or Loader T) (SCCAS), site report, Feb 1993, map.
  • <R6> (No record type): Suff Arch Proc, 1, 25.
  • <S6> Unpublished document: Gill, D.. 2012. Archaeological Monitoring Report: Clare Castle monitoring of masonry repairs.
  • <R7> (No record type): Little Guide Suffolk, 118, 119.
  • <S7> Photograph: Air Photographs. NAU, TL 771 452/JEG 15, 24/7/1992.
  • <S8> Bibliographic reference: Thornton G A. 1928. History of Clare.
  • <R8> (No record type): White's Suffolk.
  • <S9> Bibliographic reference: Knowles, D. & Hadcock, R.N.. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (2nd ed).
  • <S10> Photograph: Air Photographs. NAU, TL 769 452/JEH 1 & JEJ 3 & 8, 24/7/1992.
  • <S11> Bibliographic reference: Harvey, John. 1981. Mediaeval gardens.

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Record last edited

Oct 8 2021 3:20PM

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