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Period 4

Period 1 | Period 2 | Period 3 | Periods 4-5

The evidence from all the excavations both in 1975 and earlier have demonstrated a comparatively late phase of refortification of the whole circuit of the Saxon defences. It is a reasonable inference that the different elements which can be placed in this phase on archaeological grounds (palisade, and inner and outer ditches) can be associated together as a single functioning system. On the basis of the pottery evidence already published, in particular from several places in the ditches, the construction of this system can be assigned to the early-mid 12th century. Both the replacement of the palisading at several different times, as well as the recutting of the outer ditch, show that these defences had a relatively long period of use. There is some support for the dating of the razing of the Saxon defences in period 3 (to c. 1016) in that both the bank and the mounds of rubble on the berm which were created as a result of this episode of destruction had clearly suffered considerable erosion and degradation, and the partly filled ditches had become completely filled up by the time this new defensive system was constructed.

The historical context for this latest phase of redefence is not difficult to find. The Gesta Stephani (Potter and Davis 1976) mentions the construction of a 'castellum' at Cricklade by William of Dover in 1144 as part of his campaign against the king during the period of the Anarchy (ibid. 171). This was further noted as being used in 1145 and 1147 (ibid. 181, 205). It is suggested that the 'castellum' mentioned here was in fact the redefended circuit of the whole town, and that the new defences of period 4 should be dated to 1144.

This hypothesis receives some support from an analysis of the types of fortification mentioned in the Gesta (see below). This would place in some sort of credible context the substantial ditch located in trench 1, which was dug up against the inside edge of the earlier defences (Part 1) arguably at the same period. Its absence from other places around the defences implies that it was a localised ditch for a motte or an enclosure within the defences on the highest point of the town, which could well have included the area of Parsonage Farm. In view of the common use of church towers as fortified 'castelli' recorded frequently in the Gesta Stephani (Potter and Davis 1976, 49-50), it is not improbable that the church at Cricklade could also have formed part of these internal defensive arrangements.

Earlier commentators have been puzzled by the application of the word 'castellum' to Cricklade, since its meaning is not otherwise explained in the Gesta. Renn suggests (1973, 101) that it may have been located at Castle Eaton, but erroneously locates this at Long Croft near Abingdon Court, which is in fact on the north-eastern side of Cricklade. Thomson (1961) assumes it to have been a single building, located probably at the highest point of the town near Parsonage Farm. A group of buildings here - perhaps the medieval precursor to Parsonage Farm - may well have acted as William's headquarters, and as such it may even have been provided with separate defences of its own (as suggested above), but its existence does not preclude a contemporary refortification of the whole town. The suggestion that the town of Cricklade was itself the 'castellum' mentioned in the Gesta Stephani also makes sense of the reference there to the 'castellum' being 'inaccessible because of the barrier of water and marsh on every side' (Potter and Davis 1976, 171). Although this is to a certain extent a stock phrase used of several other places (e.g. Radcot (Potter and Davis 1976, 138), Oxford (Potter and Davis 1976, 140) and Ely (Potter and Davis 1976, 98)) it nevertheless strengthens the interpretation that the word 'castellum' is applied here to the whole town. (The form of phrase used to describe Cricklade as 'situated in a delightful spot abounding in resources of every kind' is also a stock phrase used of other places, for instance Farringdon (Potter and Davis 1976, 181).)

Some support for this interpretation of the meaning of 'castellum' as applied to Cricklade is provided by an analysis of the use of the word in the Gesta. The word 'castellum' is mentioned 262 times (the index is unhelpful). These comprise the following types:

  1. 61 instances of unnamed castles or castles in general;
  2. 162 instances of castles which were already established as motte and bailey structures (usually within towns) by the early 12th century, comprising 45 different castles, including 7 identified by Davis in the footnotes to the main text (Potter and Davis 1976);
  3. 39 instances of castles newly constructed during the Civil War. Of this category, 16 references are to unnamed castles or castles in general, and the rest are named. All of these instances refer to buildings, mounds, church towers or other relatively small features which were used or created as temporary siege works, with the exception of two: Cricklade and Wilton (Potter and Davis 1976, 144-6).

In the case of Wilton, there is some reason to regard the use of the word 'castellum' to refer to the newly fortified town rather than a castle building. Other town fortifications (e.g. Malmesbury and Oxford: Potter and Davis 1976, 140) are of course mentioned, but no others to which the word 'castellum' is applied. Another instance is possibly Wareham (Potter and Davis 1976, 144), where 'castellum' probably refers to both a motte-and-bailey castle and the town defences, and where the term 'locum' arguably refers to the whole defended town. At Wilton the king strengthened the castle (castellum offirmaturus accessit) to hinder the depredations of the Earl of Gloucester. On the arrival of the earl the king advanced from the town (Rex...e civitate prodisset), but his forces were routed and were pursued 'into the town and its churches'. The town was thereupon burnt and the nunnery plundered. This suggests that it was the town itself, and not a separate fortified building, which was defended by the king, and that the Saxon defences were merely refurbished for this purpose. This was certainly also the case at Bath, whose existing defences the king merely strengthened. The system of fortification at Wilton implied in the Gesta arguably, therefore, provides a direct analogy to that at Cricklade. This being so, the latter provides an archaeologically well-documented example of a form of defensive system used at this period.

Period 1 | Period 2 | Period 3 | Periods 4-5

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