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Medieval Cotton End

Exeter Wood seen from Hammer Hill May 2011
Exeter Wood seen from Hammer Hill May 2011

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website.

The Historic Environment Record [HER 17031] states: “Medieval settlement of Cotton End appears to have been deserted after the medieval period and re-occupied in the later post medieval periods. The current village is mainly located within the medieval boundaries, but the use of the land has seen a slight shift to the south”.

Exeter Wood lies in the southern part of the parish [HER 13192]. It is a fragment of ancient woodland the Historic Environment Record stating: “It is known that in 1240 both Exeter Wood and Manor Wood were included as part of a more extensive landscape”.

The wood hides a secret – a Norman castle [HER 9263]. The Historic Environment Record notes: “The castle stands on a broad terrace below the summit of the ridge, and was formed by the excavation of a wide ditch around a central mound, or motte, raised from the up-cast soil. The motte, which is circular in plan, measures about 20 metres in diameter. It stands approximately 1.8 metres above the level of its surroundings and the surface, which would originally have supported a timber tower, has a slightly domed profile. The surrounding ditch measures approximately 4.5 metres in width and 1.4 metres in depth and a low counterscarp bank surrounds the outer edge. In the absence of a causeway spanning the ditch, access to the motte is believed to have been provided by a timber bridge.

The castle is thought to have been constructed in the late 11th or the 12th century, either as part of the consolidation of the countryside after the Norman invasion, or as a matter of local defence during the period of sporadic civil war between Stephen and Matilda (1134-1148)”.

Just outside the south-east corner of Exeter Wood lie crop marks and earthworks indicating two rectangular enclosures. The Historic Environment Record simply states: “Thought to be the site of a 12th century hermitage” [HER 3324].