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Moated site at Shirley Hall

The manor of Shirley (or Sireli, as it was formerly known) belonged to Henry de Ferrers who settled there during the reign of Henry II (1154-89). The moated site was probably created by a descendant, in the later C13 or early C14. The original homestead was abandoned in the C15 when the family inherited Staunton Harold in Leicestershire, and the site was then tenanted by a branch of the Pegges family until 1782. It is likely that the current, C16, Grade II listed farmhouse, located in the south-east corner of the moated enclosure, was built by the Pegges family who chose not to inhabit the medieval manor house or hall. In 1789 Pilkington recorded that ‘at Shirley stood a few years ago the ancient seat of the family of Shirley; but now it is taken down and scarcely a vestige is to be seen’. It is likely that the demolition of the house therefore occurred after the Pegges family moved away.

The distinctive shape of the moat is clearly shown on the Shirley Tithe Map of 1838 with an L-shaped building range located in the eastern corner of the platform, and a series of buildings are located on the south-eastern end of the moated platform. The first edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1880 shows extensive tree coverage on the moated platform and on the banks of the ditch within which water is clearly depicted. Again, a series of buildings are shown towards the eastern end of the platform and the footprint of these has not changed since. The map regression indicates the level of tree cover has gradually decreased over the last century. For almost forty years the platform has been used as an equestrian exercise area.

The monument includes a medieval moated manorial complex which survives as a series of earthworks, parchmarks and buried deposits. It consists of a subrectangular platform enclosed by water-filled ditches on three sides; these survive to a depth of at least 2m although it was not possible to establish the depth of the water contained within them. The north-west and south-west arms of the moat are both of a similar length measuring c40m and c43m respectively, whilst the north-east arm is longer measuring c68m and is truncated by a masonry wall, presumably a later addition. The width of the ditch varies from c5.3m to c11.8m.

A linear earthwork in the form of a wide, shallow gully is visible in the garden to the south of the farmhouse and suggests that the south western arm of the moat originally continued further to the south but has since been infilled. Standing water was lying within the earthwork at the time of the site visit confirming its ability to retain water. It is possible that the need for the metalled farm track, which now separates this earthwork from the water-filled moat, was the reason for the infilling.

Evidence also suggests that there was a south-east arm to complete the rectangular moat: aerial photographs show a linear parch mark running south-west to north-east linking the earthwork to the truncated but extant north-east arm of the moat. A slight dip in the ground further emphasises this feature in places. The Grade II listed farmhouse and stables are enclosed by the moat. The northern half of the platform is used for equestrian training and has had a membrane laid on the surface followed by c 0.5m of sand and woodchip to prevent it becoming boggy. This also adds a layer of protection to any buried archaeological deposits which are likely to survive in the northern half of the platform; the most likely site of the original manorial homestead. Trees continue to grow along the banks of the moat.

©Historic England.

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