Freckenham Castle was a motte-and-bailey fortification built by the Bishop of Rochester to secure a key nodal point and to warn off rival claimants. The site later became a palace for the bishop and oversaw the valuable economic activity of the manor. The castle had fallen out of use by the fourteenth century but the site remained church property until the reformation.
Freckenham had emerged as a settlement no later than the ninth century AD as King Alfred the Great granted the manor to Ceolmund, Bishop of Rochester circa-AD 895. It was located at a key nodal point on the banks of the River Kennet near its confluence with the River Lark, both important communication and transportation arteries in the medieval era. The site was also in proximity to an overland route between Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds and Norwich. The manor was seized by Danish forces in the late tenth century ultimately ending up in the hands of Harold Godwineson (Harold II) by 1066. After his death at the Battle of Hastings, it passed to William I who granted it to Lafranc, Archbishop of Canterbury. He then arbitrated between the rival claimants of Baldwin, Abbot of Bury St Edmunds and Gandulf, Bishop of Rochester. He settled the case in favour of the latter. Gandulf probably built Freckenham Castle at this time to cement his claim and secure the area.
The castle was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. The motte itself was circular and surrounded by a ditch. The mound may have been topped with a stone building as limited excavations have revealed a chalk and flint wall. The Inner Bailey was located directly to the west of the motte and enclosed a rectangular area. This would have hosted the Great Hall and important ancillary buildings. An Outer Bailey was located to the north and was probably used for livestock. A deep ditch, portions of which survive, separated the two baileys.
Although originally built to secure the region, the role of Freckenham soon evolved into serving as a minor residence of the bishops of Rochester. Crucially it would also have served an economic role with the Domesday survey of 1086 recording it as a large settlement providing an annual income of £14. The castle had probably been abandoned by the fourteenth century as its remote location relative to the Bishopric of Rochester meant its use as a palace was too infrequent to justify its upkeep. The manor remained the property of the church until the reformation after which the site was sold to Sir Ralph Warren.
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Freckenham Castle survives as a series of earthworks. The motte is clearly visible albeit heavily wooded. The great ditch separating the Inner and Outer Baileys has also survived. The rest of the castle, at least above ground, has been obliterated.
Freckenham Castle Layout and Context. The castle occupied a key nodal point on the road between Cambridge and Norwich, both major urban centres, and was also in proximity to the River Kennet near its confluence with the River Lark. It was also on the boundary of the Fens which, prior to modern drainage, was a large area of waterlogged and inaccessible terrain. This funnelled all east/west moving traffic through the settlement.
Motte. The motte survives although it is heavily wooded. Only limited excavations have been conducted but a chalk and flint wall was discovered which is believed to have formed part of the Keep.
Inner Bailey. The Inner Bailey was broadly rectangular in shape and would have hosted the Great Hall and ancillary buildings.
Sunk Lane. The modern road occupies the site of a ditch that protected both the castle site.
St Andrew's Church. The church is of medieval origin but was extensively rebuilt in the nineteenth century.
Fosse. The Inner and Outer Baileys were separated by a substantial ditch, part of which survives.
Freckenham Castle is found near St Andrews church just to the south of the village. The site is not sign-posted but the motte can be clearly seen from the road. On-orad car parking is possible outside the church.
Car Parking Option