BURLEY CASTLE (MOUNT ALSTOE)
Burley Castle, also known as Mount Alstoe or Alsthorpe Castle, is an earthwork in Rutland. It may have been a Saxon moot, a meeting place where law courts were held, but it seems more likely that it was actually a motte-and-bailey fortification built after the Norman Conquest.
Burley Castle, which is also known as Mount Alstoe or Alsthorpe Castle, is an earthwork in Rutland. The remains consist of an irregularly shaped mound surrounded by a ditch (now dry but once water filled). This is set wholly within a rectangular earthwork and there are traces of further irregularly shaped enclosures to the north. It is in close proximity to a deserted medieval village called Alsthorpe. There are two theories as to the purpose of the site - one suggests this was a Saxon moot, another that it was Norman motte-and-bailey fortification.
The traditional view is that Burley Castle was actually a Saxon moot built to serve the Alsthorpe Hundred. Such sites, which were common between the seventh century AD and the Norman Conquest, were used by local authorities for dispensing justice and other administrative functions. They were usually located upon trade routes or near roads to enable easy access for those in the surrounding area. Following his excavations in 1936, Dunning commented that Burley Castle was most probably a Saxon moot. He based his findings on the fact he could find no evidence of any structures on the site and also on the configuration of the earthworks with the motte being irregularly shaped and wholly within a rectangular enclosure.
More recent analysis has challenged whether the classification as a Saxon moot is correct. The ditches around the site, which were water filled, are strongly suggestive of a defensive purpose. Furthermore, whilst it was unusual for a castle's motte to be placed entirely within a surrounding enclosure, it was not unheard of with a surviving example being seen at the Motte of Urr. Other evidence also suggests a post-Conquest origin. Firstly the structural configuration of the motte, which is made up of horizontal layers of material, was a typical Norman construction technique. Secondly an analysis of the agricultural activity across the site suggests the earthwork was superimposed upon the landscape. Such economic disruption would point towards a military purpose to the site and the obvious answer for this would be construction in the wake of the Norman Conquest. If this hypothesis is correct, it is possible Burley Castle was raised by Oger the Breton who was the recorded owner at the time in 1086. Alternatively it could have been raised as a result of the Anarchy (1139-53) or during a period of Anglo-Welsh warfare.
Whichever theory is correct for the origin of Burley Castle, later during the medieval period the earthworks were converted into a manorial site centred on the location of Chapel Farm. The adjacent village remained in use until the seventeenth century and was then abandoned as a result of enclosure.
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Burley Castle consists of the earthworks of a Saxon moot or Norman motte. The site is on private land and shielded from view by a substantial hedge. The earthworks can be viewed (from a distance) from the access point to the private road leading to Chapel Farm.
Burley Castle. Saxon Moot or Norman Motte? Debate rages about the true purpose of the site but it seems probably this was a castle.