Denton a village in South Norfolk, England

Castle Hill & Darrow Wood

Denton's little-known National Trust property.

The information on the NT Website is very limited but the Wikipedia Entry is much more helpful.

The site, Grid Ref. TM 2645-8945, is located near to Darrow Green Road on the West side of the parish. The nearest postcode is IP20 0AY. The easiest approach is via the public footpath leading due East from Darrow Green Road near to Darrow Green Farm. Please note that roadside parking is very limited.

(Much of the following text is based upon the information displayed on the National Trust information board at the entrance to Darrow Wood)

The park-like field known, by a quirk of history, as Darrow Wood is an unexpected discovery in the midst of the surrounding agricultural landscape. Hidden in the clumps of trees are a number of earthworks. They have been known for centuries yet who built them and when or why they were made remains a mystery - this uncertainty, however, adds to the romantic appeal of the place. Please feel free to walk around the field and investigate what is hidden amongst the trees. However the field is often grazed by cattle so, if they are in residence, proced with caution and keep dogs under control.

The Castle

Immediately in front of you, if you approach from the West, in the largest clump is a moated hollow mound with a banked enclosure attached on the far side. When built the motte or mound would have been topped by a wooden palisade protecting some small buildings or perhaps a more substantial timber tower - this would have formed the main strong point. The bailey or enclosure would have been surrounded by a palisade and would have provided protection for stock, horses and ancillary buildings.

When was it built?

Motte and bailey castles were built by the Normans to secure the conquest of England and as bases from which they could impose their feudal administration. A second spate of construction occured in the mid 12th century during the long civil war between the supporters of King Stephen and those of his cousin Matilda. Unfortunately it is currently not possible to suggest which period the castle belongs to on the evidence of the earthworks alone. It is hoped that eventually an archeological dig might establish its age.

Who built it?

The small scale of Castle Hill contrasts with the huge mottes and baileys found at Castle Acre, Thetford and Norwich. These were the power bases of the great lords, or the King himself, and were enlarged and improved over many years. The small size, simple plan and earth construction of this castle suggests it was only occupied for a short time and by a minor lord.

The part of Denton in which the castle lies was in the hands of the d'Albini family by the end of the 11th century, by the beginning of the 12th century they had made their main stronghold a castle at Old Buckenham, 20 miles west of here. Was Castle Hill a short lived forerunner of Old Buckenham Castle? Alternatively the castle might belong to the anarchy of Stephen's reign by which time Bungay Castle, a few miles east of here, had become a stronghold of Hugh Bigod, one of the major players in the wars of that time. Was the castle built as protection for a tennant of William d'Albini against the supporters of Hugh Bigod?

Ownership of the castle was the subject of a sketch in the 2016 DVC revue "Denton Leaps".

The name

The name Darrow Wood is written as one of several variants of 'Dearhaugh Wood' in old documents. This name might mean either an enclosure where deer are found or a medieval deer-park. Many centuries ago the enclosure or park along witht the castle were absorbed into a wood which became known as Darrow Wood. In about 1860 this wood was felled and converted into fields - you are standing in one of them now. If you look in the hedge on the far (east) side of the field you will find part of the massive bank that surrounded the original Darrow Wood. Subsequently some trees were planted apparently to create a small ornamental park as a suitable backdrop for the mysterious earthworks.

Historical research for the above notes was conducted by Alan Davison of Norfolk Museum Services.

Darrow Wood was acquired by the National Trust in 1990 with the generous help of English Heritage, Norfok County Council and with funds from the Angwin, H S E Smith and Kirkwood bequests. This monument is one of the few well preserved small motte and bailey castles in Norfolk; its acquisition by the National Trust ensures its continued survival. The whole site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is protected by statute.

Other Features

To the north-east of the castle mound the remains of a rectangular ditched enclosure measuring roughly 80 metres by 40 metres can be detected. It is suggested that this performed some function when the medieval deer-park was in use.

To the east of the castle is a much smaller mound also covered in trees. Traditionally this is called Hangman's Hill, and it is claimed that executions were carried out there using a gallows placed on top. Nearby, the junction of Manor Farm Road and Darrow Green Road is called Misery Corner in association with the former use of the site. Other versions on the origin of the name appear on the Odds & Ends page.

Another Darrow Wood

It has been brought to our attention that there is another Darrow Wood in Norfolk. This is 10 miles West of us in the village of Shelfanger. There is a Darrow Wood Lane and a Darrow Wood Farm, which supports a fishery.
Presumably, it too is based on a medieval Deer Park.

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