MIDDLETON STONEY CASTLE
Middleton Stoney Castle was built in the mid-twelfth century by the de Camville family as an integrated part of a planned settlement. The castle was destroyed on the orders of King John in 1216 and never rebuilt although the village itself continued until the fourteenth century when it was devastated by the Black Death.
Middleton, which became known as Middleton Stoney in the sixteenth century, has been the site of a settlement since at least the second century AD. At this time a small villa or farmstead was established presumably as an outlying community linked with the Romano-British town at Alchester, just two miles to the south-east. Converging on that settlement were two major Roman Roads - a northern route running between Silchester and Towcester plus an east-west route (Akeman Street) connecting Cirencester and St Albans. Middleton would have benefited from these major thoroughfares and by the time of the Norman invasion of 1066, when it was held by Thori, it had grown into a large settlement consisting of 37 households.
Historical records are silent on who built Middleton Stoney Castle. The Domesday Book (1086) lists the post-Conquest owner as Richard Poynant, who also held the nearby estate at Godington, but there is no evidence to suggest he built a castle. However, by the late twelfth century Middleton was owned by Richard de Camville who had acquired numerous other estates across central southern England and Middleton may have been the caput of his barony. If so this would explain the presence of the castle and it was perhaps the Anarchy (1139-54), the civil war between Stephen and Matilda over the English succession, which prompted its construction. This is supported by the dating of the adjacent All Saints Church, the earliest fabric of which originates from the mid-twelfth century date and which was probably contemporary with the castle. The village itself may have been moved and laid out as a planned settlement at this time. A site named "old Churchyard Furlong", around 1,000 metres south of All Saints Church, suggests this may have been the original location of the village. Such rebuilding and relocation was common in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and would have been an attempt to stimulate the settlement into development beyond an agricultural community with the associated financial gain for the landowner. These efforts were supported by the grant of a weekly market in 1202.
Unlike most castles, which started as earth and timber structures, Middleton Stoney Castle seems to have been built in stone from the start. The centrepiece was a large rectangular stone tower which was surrounded by earthwork banks to give the impression of a motte. A square bailey, protected by a substantial curtain wall and a ditch, was built to the north-east. A further enclosure, perhaps a secondary bailey, was built to the south-east of the tower and this was constructed over a former Roman building. A larger horseshoe shaped earthwork, extending further to the south-east, was possibly a boundary marker and was used for agricultural purposes and also hosted a rabbit warren, a key source of meat. The village itself was located to the north-east of the castle adjacent to the main bailey.
King John ordered the destruction of Middleton Castle in May 1216. It is not known how extensive the damage was but no further references exist relating to the castle as a functioning entity. Despite this, attempts to grow the village continued with an annual fair being granted in 1294. However, the settlement declined markedly during the fourteenth century most probably due to the Black Death. It never recovered and reverted back into a small agricultural community. By the sixteenth century the castle ruins were overgrown although a manor house existed within the bailey earthworks.
The village of Middleton Stoney, with the exception of All Saints Church, was demolished in 1824 when George Child Villiers, Earl of Jersey demolished the entire site in order to extend Middleton Park. A new village was constructed on the perimeter of the Park and this forms the nucleus of the current settlement. A mansion house, which still exists but is not open to the public, was built within Middleton Park in 1938 by George Villiers, Earl of Jersey.
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Middleton Stoney Castle survives as a series of earthworks adjacent to All Saints Church. The mound that once surrounded the stone Keep is the dominant feature but traces of the outer bailey can also be seen although the earthworks themselves are on private land with no public access.
Middleton Stoney Castle. Originally the castle (and church) were at the centre of the village but the settlement was demolished by George Villiers, Earl of Jersey in order to extend Middleton Park.
Middleton Castle Layout. The castle was constructed around a stone built Keep with a bailey to the north-west. This now lies under the modern road but the earthworks of two further enclosures to the south-east remain visible.
Central Earthwork. The motte-like mound was actually an earthwork feature wrapped around a substantial rectangular tower. Whilst the stonework is not visible, the remains of the tower are buried within the mound.
Cross. Originally located within the churchyard this cross was one of two relocated to the former castle bailey during the nineteenth century landscaping. The whereabouts of the second cross are unknown.
All Saints Church. The earliest parts of the church date from the twelfth century.
Middleton Stoney Castle is found off the B430 within Villiers Park. This is private property but there is a public (pedestrian) right of way to All Saints Church. On-road public car parking is available outside the Community Centre on Heyford Road.
Car Parking Option
Middleton Stoney Castle
The entrance into Middleton Park. Please do not be discouraged by the 'Private' sign as there is a public right of way as far as All Saints Church (and the castle earthworks).