Shenley Toot

Shenley Toot - Media

Shenley Toot at Shenley Church End, Milton Keynes, includes the remains of a motte and bailey castle and the earthworks of a landscaped garden of a Tudor manor house. Evidence from the site suggests that it was in continuous use from the 12th to the 18th centuries.

What is a motte and bailey castle?

These were simple fortifications introduced during the early medieval period by the Normans. The motte was a large mound of earth that would have been topped by a timber tower (the keep). You can still see the mound and part of the surrounding ditch.

The bailey is the land area around the motte that used to be surrounded by a barrier and a moat (wide water ditch). If you walk around the edge of the heritage site, you follow the edge of the bailey. You can also see parts of the moat surrounding the bailey south of the site. If an enemy broke through the outer defences, the peasants sheltering inside the bailey could race up the steps of the motte, draw back the drawbridge and carry on the fight from the safety of the barrier at the top.

When and why was the castle built?

When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, he took all the land in his name and lent it to his most trusted knights. As well as keeping them loyal, this also helped the King control the population. It provided a defence but was also a sign of power. The Toot could have been built during this period, possibly by Hugh Earl of Chester. However, it may have been constructed later in the medieval period during a civil war called the Anarchy (1135 and 1153). This was between Empress Mathilda and her cousin Stephen, who both claimed the English throne.

What would the site have looked like?

The medieval earthworks at this site have been disturbed many times over the centuries by building works and landscaping, but we can make suggestions from other sites.

The lord of Shenley Church End or their representatives would have lived with their family and servants in a timber, wattle, and daub hall in the bailey.

The bailey would have included other timber buildings; a bakery was needed for pies and bread, a brewhouse for ale, and large storehouses were essential to be filled with supplies in times of danger. There was probably a smithy for the repair of weapons, armour, farm implements, horseshoes and tools; a carpenter shed for woodwork using the timber and coppice poles from nearby Shenley Wood; a wheelwright’s yard, and perhaps a cooper’s yard for barrels and other workshops.

At harvest, wheat, barley and similar produce from the surrounding field would be cut and stored in the barns. When danger threatened, animals were driven behind the sheltering barrier to keep them out of the reach of a marauding enemy soldier and to ensure a good supply of meat.

What are the earthworks in the bailey?

The earthworks that you can see in the bailey are believed to be features of the landscaped garden of a post-medieval manor house. This fell into disrepair and was pulled down by Matthew Knapp in 1774. A few years later, this brother and heir, the Reverend Primatt Knapp, built a rural cottage on the motte and constructed a drawbridge over the moat. This, too was demolished and the motte now stands empty.

You will notice a second mound to the north of the motte with a pipe coming from it (see photo below). This is part of a water storage reservoir built in the 1930s and unrelated to historic earthworks.

View Historic England Listing

Shenley Church End Grange & Moated site at Shenley Brook End

In addition to the ‘Toot’ the green spaces in Shenley Church End and Shenley Brook End have moated areas listed as scheduled ancient monuments.  These moated sites are scheduled as they retain environmental evidence for the agricultural purposes. 

There are thousands of moated sites in England, they consist of wide ditches, often seasonally water-filled.  They form a significant class of medieval monument and are important for understanding the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. 

The moated site at Shenley Church End survives largely undisturbed and intact as an example of medieval earthwork and unusual in that there are two adjoining moats.  A main significant feature is the enclosure platform which may well have been base of a large barn or grange from where this site gets it's name.  The site is now used as large paddock located just off Duncan Grove.  Look out for the information board next to the play area with information about the site.

The small moated site at Shenley Brook End earthworks are just off the junction of Childs Way and Fulmer Street.  The moated site here remains visible as a D-shaped island with a ditch on the north side which is often water-logged.  A slightly raised oval mound near the western side is thought to represent the remains of a house platform.

Where can I find out more?

Milton Keynes is one of the most studied archaeological landscapes in the UK and there are lots of other heritage sites in The Parks Trust parks and elsewhere in the city. To find out more about this site, or the many others, look below.

Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society: In addition to talks and online information, they have also published detailed books and reports on the excavations

MK Museum - They have a model of the Toot in their agricultural barn:

View Historic England Listing

Please note that there is no car park for this site. The nearest car park is for Shenley Wood and you can walk across the bridge from there.

With thanks to Bob Zeepvat and Nick Crank.

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