Cippenham Royal Palace

There is a tradition that in Cippenham there was once an Anglo-Saxon palace which was home to the Kings of Mercia. In A Topographical Dictionary of England published in 1848 [1], the entry on Burnham says “It appears to have been the residence of the kings of Mercia during the heptarchy, and also of their successors of the Norman line after the Conquest, who had a palace near Cippenham”. The heptarchy (better known as the Dark Ages) lasted from the 5th Century until 829 and the term refers to the fact that in this time there were seven major kingdoms in England. The kingdom of Mercia was centred on the Midlands and the capital was Tamworth. During the heptarchy, Cippenham would have initially been within the kingdom of Wessex and later on the border as Mercia conquered the Chilterns. This would seem to make the existence of a palace of the kings of Mercia at Cippenham unlikely. In The Annals of Windsor, 1858 [2], Tighe & Davis (T&D) make a clearer statement of the tradition but make no mention that it was during the heptarchy. The existence of the palace at a later era when Mercia had absorbed the Kingdom of Wessex seems more feasible. T&D reference Magna Britannia, 1813 [3], which says “At the time of the Norman Survey, there were only eight Buckinghamshire manors in the crown; yet it appears there were at that time two royal palaces in the county. At Brill (which is mentioned as a crown manor by the name of Brunhulle) which is said to have belonged to the Mercian kings; tradition assigns the same origin to Cippenham in Burnham”. An earlier book also called Magna Britannica first published in 1720 is likely to be the source of this. According to The Slough History website [4] it has been claimed that the palace at Cippenham was built for the Mercian Kings by Æthelred the Unready, but in fact the Kingdom of Mercia had been extinct for well over a century by the time of Æthelred. No source so far been identified which substantiates the claim of a royal Anglo-Saxon palace in Cippenham. Mercian Way in Cippenham was presumably named to commemorate the tradition. Whether or not an Anglo-Saxon royal palace existed, it is certain that English royalty did have a residential presence in Cippenham in the 13th Century.

Richard, Earl of Cornwall, King of the Romans and brother of Henry III of England, acquired the manor of Cippenham and resided there at least from time to time. Henry and Richard were close and Henry is recorded to have at least visited Cippenham and probably also stayed there. As for the type of building, it has been described variously as being a fortified house, palace, manor house and capital messuage. Manor houses remaining from the Anglo-Saxon era consisted of a single hall built from wood with a raised dais at one end. The fortified manor house which was built of brick or stone had started to appear in this era but these were still little more than an open hall in architecture. In The King of Almayne by TWE Roche [3], Richard’s manor of Cippenham is described as .. “a timber structure protected by earthworks and moats. A palace of the Saxon Kings had once stood here; it was now a comparatively unpretentious place, very different from the great thundercloud of Windsor Castle away in the distance”. There is an indication that Richard’s Cippenham residence may have had separate room spaces. T&D relate an account of one Robert de Ferrers who, having been accused of treason was held prisoner at Cippenham “within a certain chamber” in the time of Henry III’s reign. He was freed by the intervention of Henry’s son Edward albeit at great cost. De Ferrers’ account is from legal proceedings he brought against Edward (who was by the time of the proceedings, king) concerning the forfeiture of his lands. Edward had offered to procure his liberty at a cost of 50 thousand pounds with a surety that his lands would be forfeit if he did not pay. De Ferrers claimed that he was in fear of his life when he accepted and that afterwards Edward immediately seized his lands. The account came to T&D via Dugdale.

Although Richard possessed many homes and estates, it is documented that he spent much time at Cippenham. One well-known document relating Richard to Cippenham is the foundation charter for Burnham Abbey which grants land previously belonging to “our manor of Cippenham”. It gives its place of creation as “aput Cippeham” – in Cippenham on 8 April 1266. Henry III was also in attendance on this day. According to The Victoria County History 1925 (VCH), Richard acquired the manor of Cippenham in 1252. It relates that although Cippenham Manor does not appear in the Domesday Survey, the description for East Burnham is identical to Cippenham Manor in later deeds. At the time of Edward the Confessor, East Burnham was in the possession of three thegns. After the Norman invasion it came into the ownership of Westminster Abbey which held it as a manor. In the mid-12th C the manorial rights were transferred to William de Buckland, whose descendant, Joan de Ferrers sold her rights in Cippenham to Richard in 1252 for two-hundred pounds.

Richard is, however, recorded as spending time in Cippenham considerably earlier than 1252. It is known, for instance, that he honeymooned there with his wife, Isabel Marshal following their marriage on 13th March 1231. Richard’s sister Eleanor is recorded to have helped Richard to prepare Cippenham Manor for the reception of the bride [5]. It is possible that that there were two manoral residences in Cippenham, one of which was already in Richard’s possession prior to 1252. VCH states that after selling her manoral rights, Joan de Ferrers was to rent Cippenham Manor for life and that this secondary lordship in the manor is referred to as late as 1429.

Cippenham Place. A timber framed Tudor house of 1550 which stands in partially moated compound.

Two possible sites for the royal residence in Cippenham have been suggested. The first is a moated earthwork on the East side of Wood Lane. A roughly square island of land of 1.5 acres is enclosed by a substantial dry ditch. The ditch measures 15m wide by 1.5m deep and there is banking on the inside to a height of 1.2m. Vague depressions and banks have been interpreted as representing the location of the foundations of a large manor house [6]. Thousands of moated manors were created in England during in the medieval period. These moats were more of a status symbol than serious defensive structures.

The second site suggested is Cippenham Place in Lower Cippenham Lane. This is a timber-framed brick house built in 1550 which stands on the site of what was once a quadrilateral moated island. The moat today only survives on one side and part of the site was sold off for building development. Tradition has it that the moat is of Anglo-Saxon origin. The moat probably does predate the house and it is therefore likely that there was a previous building on the site. This could in all likelihood have been a medieval manor house.

Both the moats of Wood Lane and Cippenham Place were most likely to have been created in the medieval era and for the same reason – as accoutrements to two high-status messages. To have had two such houses within 600 metres of each other might be unusual but it does seem to fit well with what is known of Richard having a residence in Cippenham whilst simultaneously letting Cippenham Manor to Joan de Ferrers.

The three medieval moated sites as they appeared on the 1881 OS Maps. They are shown in scale with each other. The supposed Royal Palace off Wood Lane is left. Cippenham Place is centre (interesting to note the additional large building). Hardicanute’s/Harlequin’s moat is right.

It is curious that in addition to the unsubstantiated Anglo-Saxon royal heritage ascribed to the two moated sites of Cippenham, there is also ‘Hardicanute’s Moat’ situated in Burnham Beeches. Also known as Hartely Court and the Harlequin Moat, it bears a strong similarity to the earthwork in Wood Lane, being a sub-rectangular shape with close to the same internal area. By comparison the internal area of Cippenham place is around four fifths of the others. Hardicanute (or Harthacnut) was the son of Canute and became the king of England in 1040 after the death of his half-brother Harold Harefoot. He reigned briefly, dying in 1042 at a wedding in Lambeth. There is no evidence that he ever spent time in Burnham and Hardicanute’s Moat is another (almost certainly) Norman period earthwork. Another connecting factor is that it was in the possession of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the granted lands to Burnham Abbey includes “a portion of our wood of Hertleigh, as divided by ditch from the wood of la Strete even to the wood of John de la Penne”. Common factors between all the three sites are

  • a sub-rectangular moat of Norman origin
  • a legend of pre-Norman occupation
  • once in the ownership of Richard, Earl of Cornwall

Burnham Abbey (which was created by Richard) also appears to have remains of a moat. In addition, Richard created the diversion of the Two-Mile Brook to Burnham Abbey. Perhaps Richard had a penchant for earthwork projects and was also fond of creating myths of ancient origins for his creations.

It is interesting to speculate what would have attracted Richard to Cippenham. At the time Cippenham had heavily wooded parts (Wood Lane was once aptly named) and Richard is known to have maintained his land there as a deer park for hunting. Cippenham is also close to Windsor where Henry III resided. Henry had a high degree of reliance on his wiser brother’s counsel. If there had been a ruin of a royal Anglo-Saxon palace or even a legend of one in Richard’s time then this may have been another factor that attracted Richard to Cippenham. He clearly had some attraction to places associated with ancient kingship. He acquired Tintagel Island in 1225 because of its association with King Arthur and reputation as a home of Cornish Kings. He had a castle constructed there in an ancient style so as to project false provenance with Anglo-Saxon kingship. It has been speculated that the name Cippenham Place might have evolved from Cippenham Palace. Perhaps there may well be truth in the legend of an Anglo-Saxon royal palace in Cippenham.


[1] ed. Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of England, London: Online, 1848.
[2] R. R. Tighe, Annals of Windsor, Being a History of the Castle and Town.., Longman et al: London, 1858, p. 18.
[3] S. Lysons and D. Lysons, Magna Britannia: Bedfordshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire, vol. 1, Cadell and Davies, 1813, pp. 466, 532.
[4] Slough History Website,
[5] T. Roche, King of Almayne, John Murray, 1966.
[6] H. E. Website, “Moated site at Cippenham Court,” [Online]. Available:

7 Responses to Cippenham Royal Palace

  1. Michael East says:


    Very interesting read. According to another article I’ve found, archeologists from University of Reading in Dec’ 16 dated the Montem Mount to between the 5th and 7th centuries. It is therefore likely to be a burial mound, of same era as the one in Taplow (early Saxon) It is likely to be the resting place of a high-status individual (a king perhaps?) and to contain artifacts. The Wood Lane site is under a mile from from Salt Hill.

    The article states that “This area was conquered by Mercia in the early 7th century and probably under the dominion of a Kentish sub-King” = something you might want to look into.

  2. Steve T says:

    I grew up in Cippenham Close and remember exploring the moat in Wood Lane in the 1970s when I was a teenager. It was really overgrown with bushes and trees back then. People called it the Saxon camp. There was a mound that we thought was a long barrow that looked like it had been excavated. Does anyone know what that was?

  3. Rob Price says:

    This Moat was subject to a ‘dig’ the findings are in the Buckinghamshire Library.

  4. Dreadnaught says:

    There doesn’t appear to be a reference for it in the library catalogue:

    although I had heard that there had been an archaeological investigation.

  5. David Rees says:

    I left Cippenham for Australia 56 years ago but remember walking down Wood Lane to The Thames many times. The round ditch looked as if it had been excavated back then. The Cippenham Palace in Lower Cippenham Lane has always puzzled me. It had/has a largish black timber structure near the side of the house that used to be located on Gregory’s farm.
    I’ve read of Cardinal Wolsey having a game park in what I believed to be Wood Lane
    Has anyone heard of this?

    • Dreadnaught says:

      What part of Australia do you live in David? I am pleased that people today carry memories of Cippenham in all corners of the globe, digger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.