Lidgate Castle was a motte-and-bailey fortification built during the Anarchy probably to contain the power of Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex. It remained occupied for around one hundred years and thereafter was converted into a manorial site. Today only overgrown earthworks are visible.
Lidgate was an existing manor at the time of the Norman Conquest and was located on a key route between the important settlements at Exning and Clare. It was granted to Reginald Scanceler, a Norman Knight who was famed for losing his nose in battle, and he later passed it to Bury Abbey. Precisely who raised the castle is unclear but the nature and type of the fortification, namely a modified motte-and-bailey, is strongly suggestive of a mid-twelfth century origin. This would mean it was raised during the Anarchy, the Civil War between Stephen and Matilda over the English succession. Perhaps the castle was raised by the church to protect a valuable asset (the Domesday survey of 1086 assessed the value at £4). Alternatively it could have been raised by Royal forces as part of a series of measures to contain Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex.
The castle itself was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification built upon a natural rise overlooking the River Kennet. The motte was a square platform created by excavating a deep ditch around the summit of the hill. This was markedly different from other nearby post-Conquest mottes, including Clare Castle and Eye Castle, which were artificially created mounds. A bailey, now occupied by the fourteenth century St Mary's church, was located to the south and included a causeway leading to the motte. The gatehouse into the bailey was in the southern corner.
Lidgate Castle was still a functioning fortification in 1266 at which time it was held by Henry de Hastings, one of the barons hostile to Henry III. It was seized in the same year by Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester on behalf of the King and it may have been destroyed at this time. No mention was made of the castle in a survey dated 1391 and it is likely it had been converted into a manorial complex by this time. Earthworks to the east and south of the castle site probably reflect this later function.
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Lidgate Castle consists of the earthwork remains of a twelfth century motte-and-bailey fortification. Following a tree planting scheme in 1911, the site is now heavily wooded which makes it difficult to appreciate the surviving remains of the fortification.
Lidgate Castle Layout. The castle was located on the road between Exning and Clare. The purpose of the long rectangular enclosure to the north is unknown but might have been part of a water management system.
Lidgate Castle. The bailey is now occupied by St Mary's church and its associated graveyard. The high ground occupied by the motte can be seen beyond.
Ditches. The deep ditches around the site survive although they are now dry.
St Mary's Church. The church is found within the bailey of the castle. The church includes some thirteenth century fabric but there is some evidence suggesting that some of the masonry is older - perhaps dating from the tenth century.
Wall. A portion of wall is probably part of the defences that surrounded the causeway leading to the motte.
Lidgate Castle is found off the B1063 to the north of the village. Take the turning off the B1063 sign-posted to Lidgate Hall Farm and you will shortly reach a junction with the church visible on your left. On-road parking is possible. The castle site is accessed through the grounds of the church.