Isfield Castle was a motte-and-bailey fortification built adjacent to a crossing point over the River Ouse. It was an unusual design as its earthworks defences were relatively modest and instead it relied on extensive water features that were channelled around the site.
Isfield Castle is located adjacent to the point where a Roman Road from London, which was still in use in the medieval period, crossed the River Ouse. It was a manorial site prior to the Norman Conquest when it was held by Harold Godwinson. He allegedly stayed there the night prior to his defeat at the Battle of Hastings (1066), the location of which is some 17 miles to the east. Following Harold's death Isfield came under Crown ownership and was granted to William de Warenne as part of the Rape of Lewes. It was presumably either he or one of his tenants who built the castle although whether its purpose was military, namely for control of the road and river crossing, or administrative is uncertain.
Isfield Castle took the form of an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification but was unusual due to its lowland location. Rather than rely upon the height of the motte to provide the ultimate defence, the castle's security hinged upon the extensive water features that surrounded the site. Specifically a channel was dug to the north of the site partially diverting the River Ouse and effectively surrounding the castle site on all sides by the river. This artificial island was then divided into east and west baileys with a motte located in the centre. Both baileys were raised above the surrounding land presumably to lift them above the flood plain. The motte itself was surrounded by a circular water filled moat which expanded out into a pool of water within the Outer Bailey - a feature which probably served as a fish pond.
Archaeological evidence suggests the castle went out of use no later than the early thirteenth century probably due to the challenges associated with such a water-logged site which would have attracted vermin, mosquitos and disease as well as suffering seasonal flooding. A new Manorial site was established at Isfield Place located to the north-east of the earlier castle on higher ground.
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Isfield Castle survives as a series of earthworks and ditches. The castle itself is on private land but a right of way runs nearby allowing the site to be viewed from a distance.
Isfield Castle Layout. The castle's defences were dominated by an extensive series of ditches that channelled water from the River Ouse around the motte and baileys.
Isfield Castle. The castle site viewed from the east. The Outer Bailey can be seen in the foreground complete with the fishpond. The motte is hidden by the trees.
Ditches. A number of ditches can be seen beyond the castle site and were presumably an attempt at water management.
St Margaret's Church. The church pre-dates the Norman Conquest although the earliest fabric seen today is from the twelfth century. It has been suggested that its location adjacent to the castle implies the fortification was primarily an administrative centre rather than a military stronghold.