Deddington Castle and Grounds

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The site of Deddington Castle lies to the east of the town and comprises some 8 acres. At the present time it is a grassed-in enclosure surrounded by banks and trees on three sides, and is used as a recreational area for walking dogs and so on. There have been two recent archaeological "digs", one in 1947-53 and one in 1977-79. These have uncovered evidence of some Saxon building on the site, but the main evidence, both archaeological and documentary, is of the castle in the eleventh to fourteenth centuries. There was an inner bailey containing a stone hall, a solar and chapel, with a tower on the east side and a gatehouse on the west side giving access to the large outer bailey. Pottery from the 11th to 13th centuries was found on the site. A full report on the 1977-79 digs by Queens University Belfast can be read by downloading a pdf (1.8Mb) HERE

Norman Arch
The distinctive profile of a Norman arch, now in a local house and said to have come from the castle.
Castle Dig 1977
The pristine base of the castle exposed during the dig by Queen's University, Belfast 1977. It was subsequently recovered.
The Castle was built by or for Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half brother of William the Conqueror, as the headquarters of his extensive estates in Oxfordshire, and appears to have been a place of considerable strength in the twelfth century. William de Chesney, Lord of Deddington, held the Castle in the mid twelfth century when England was ravaged by civil war, but during the struggle between King Richard and his brother Prince John in the late twelfth century it was seized by the Crown. Descendants of the Chesneys, the Dive family, regained possession in the thirteenth century and styled themselves 'Lord of Deddington Castle', but by the end of that century it was partially demolished and by 1310 there seems to have been little left apart from "a chamber and a dovecote". By 1377 stonework from the walls was being sold off. To the south east of the Castle site is a field known as 'The Fishers' which was presumably originally the fishpond for the castle.

A very full account of the history of the castle, written by  Richard Ivens, was subsequently published as an article in Oxoniensia 49 (1984), pp. 101–19. It is reproduced here (download in pdf format) with grateful thanks to the Editor and Committee of the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society.  

For additional information on the Castle from The Young Archaeologists' Club, please see www.kickback.btinternet.co.uk/YAC/Deddington.html. Also aerial photograph courtesy of Multimap.

The Castle Grounds 

These are now a civic amenity, posted with chestnut and sycamore trees where once the Norman lord's guard stood. Townsmen and farmers milled about in the protection of the castle's outer enclosure where now boys wearing Man-U shirts practise their football skills. On a summer's day young mothers share the shade of a leafy beech whilst their toddlers capture ladybirds and learn the principle of gravity. 

 Castle grounds

 

 

 

An annotated map of the area represented by this drawing of the castle grounds is available (this is an Adobe Acrobat PDF).

The castle, on land granted to Bishop Odo of Bayeux by William the Conqueror, was built not long after 1086. Strengthened in the 1100s, the castle was found less useful by the 1200s. By the end of the 14th century, the castle had largely gone. Thereafter the stones were sold, some were "borrowed", and all were carted away. The Normans were not the first to occupy this land; Saxons did so in the years before 1066. In time, new uses were found for old ground: timber and pasturage in the 18th century, a resort of the local gentry for sport and recreation in the 19th.

Surprisingly, there are 23 kinds of herbaceous plants in the Grounds, including bluebells and lords and ladies; 26 species of trees and shrubs, including elm, willow, ash and pine; and 3 species of ferns. The land is well suited for uses other than natural history. There is a daredevil's run, on the northern embankment, where sledges make their way on the first snowfall; elsewhere, a tall chestnut tree lends a strong arm to boys who leap into space on a dangling rope; and every day, dogs bring their keepers here to enjoy the air and the special spirit of the Castle Grounds.

The Hedgerows

Insects, birds, and wild mammals are more abundant where hedges have a mixture of trees and shrubs, are wide and densely packed with vegetation, run for long distances without gaps, and connect with other hedgerows of the same kind. There is more wild nature in the 870 or so hedgerows of Deddington parish than in its few wooded sites. If you get down on your knees and take a hedgehog's view, the bottom of the hedgerow is a hobgoblin's world of crisscrossing branches, spiny passages, thick leaf mould, new stems from old stumps, and worms and beetles. The hedgerow is a zoological garden and the farmer its keeper.

Hedgerow 

Further history

The site is described by National Heritage as 'A large undifferentiated enclosure with a substantial motte at its east end.  This is a very unusual form and unique in the Oxfordshire area….  Its great size and early date may suggest that it was of more than ordinary importance, in fact a baronial castle’  (R.J.Ivens).  Deddington Castle is a scheduled ancient monument, the inner bailey site in the guardianship of the Department of the Environment and the outer bailey of Deddington Parish Council.  English Heritage: ‘The earthworks …lie in a rural location to the south east of the village of Deddington.  No stonework is visible above ground today, but the site is nevertheless a striking one owing to the scale of the earthworks – the rampart is 15m (49 ft) high in places – and the size of the enclosed area.’

What is its history?
The site was occupied by Saxons until the Battle of Hastings, 1066.  Overnight, England changed from Saxon to Norman rule, under William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy.  Under the new ruling, King William owned all the land in England, every hide.  He kept a quarter of it for himself (mainly Royal forests for hunting, such as the New Forest) and the rest he ‘granted the use of’ to barons and bishops who would obey and fight for him – feudalism is rightly called ‘a system of interlocking obligations’. One important man who was granted use of land was King William’s half-brother Odo (they had the same mother, Arlette).  Odo, whom William had made Bishop of Bayeux in 1049, was closely involved in the Norman invasion of England, contributing 100 ships to the expedition as well as being present during the Battle of Hastings.  In reward, William gave Odo the title Earl of Kent as well as granting him the use of vast estates of land over 23 English counties – Odo became the largest landowner in England after the King, needing four castle hubs at Dover, Rochester, Deddington and Snettisham.  

Was there a castle there when Odo was granted the land?
There was a mound and timber castle but when Odo took over the Castle he strengthened its defences, building a stone castle on the site some time after 1086.  This was reinforced in the 1100s but became less useful in the 1200s, and by the end of the 14th century the castle had largely gone, the stones being sold, “borrowed”, or carted away.  The inner bailey was excavated in the 1940s and 1970s, revealing fine ashlar stone foundations which still lie under today’s grass mound.  A Saxon penny was found near it; 12th century glass from it is in the Ashmolean Museum; excavations revealed the oldest black rat skeleton in the country.   In addition, the wide variety of plants and trees were catalogued by Walter L Meagher in the Castle Grounds section of his book Ch.6 The Natural History of Deddington.

Use of the Castle Grounds over the years