Medieval magnate's moated residence (the Bishop of Ely's Palace) with fishponds and a later moated site, south of Somersham


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Medieval magnate's moated residence (the Bishop of Ely's Palace) with fishponds and a later moated site, south of Somersham
© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Huntingdonshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 36011 77576

Reasons for Designation

A magnate's residence is a very high status residence of domestic rather than military character. Such dwellings were the houses or palaces of the highest ranks of society, acting as both luxury residences for the elite and their large retinues and as settings for meetings. These monuments were formed as a complex of buildings, usually of stone and in general comprised a great hall or halls, chambers, chapels, kitchens, service rooms, lodgings and a gatehouse, usually arranged around a single or double courtyard. Magnate's residences were in use throughout the whole of the medieval period from the Norman Conquest and, due to their connection with the highest ranks of society and their comparative rarity, surviving examples are considered to be of national importance.

The Bishop of Ely's palace is well documented historically and has important ecclesiastical associations which extend back before the Conquest. The monument retains high potential for the preservation of archaeological remains as well as environmental evidence in the fills of the moat ditches and fishponds.


The monument includes the site of the Bishop of Ely's Palace with associated fishponds and a smaller moated site, located to the south of Somersham village. The site includes a large moated island, 325m by 150m in size, containing the Palace earthworks. The moat ditch is between 10m and 20m in width, broadest at the east and up to 2.5m deep. The north, west and south arms are straight whilst the eastern arm is curved. The ditch holds water over most of its length. Along the inner north and east arms of the moat is a bank about 8m wide and 0.5m high. There are at least two original entrances, one via a causeway at the south of the western arm and the other via a bridge whose abutments survive beneath the modern bridge. The moat is partially infilled, on its south arm beneath agricultural buildings and at the north-east within the garden of a house which stands outside the moat. The interior of the moat contains a series of linear banks, scarps and hollows which form rectangular enclosures, averaging 40m by 30m in size, which are the remains of the palace precinct and gardens. Near the south-eastern edge of the island is a rectangular fishpond, 18m by 10m, which is connected by a short leat to a larger irregular pond, 20m by 40m in size. Slightly to the west of centre is a small, oval moated site which surrounds a derelict Grade II Listed 19th century farmhouse. The island is about 40m across and surrounded by a partially infilled dry ditch, about 7m wide and 1m deep. North of the moat and to the west of the approach road, is a dried-up artificial fishing lake which is rectangular, measures 150m by 110m and is about 3m deep. Outside the south-eastern perimeter of the main moat site is a line of four small fishponds, located in an enclosure. These ponds are almost rectangular in shape, about 10m wide by 1.5m deep, ranging between 18m and 25m in length and are linked by leats. The surrounding enclosure is roughly rectangular, measuring 160m by 80m and bounded to the south by a bank and outer ditch. The western boundary is defined by the northern end of a causeway known as `Lady's Walk' and the eastern boundary is formed by a drain joining the moat. An additional bank and ditch runs outside the eastern arm of the moat and the fishpond enclosure. The bank is about 8m wide and 0.5m high. The ditch is 5m wide and 0.5m deep. Somersham was acquired by the abbey of Ely in AD 991 and became part of the bishop's endowment in 1109. There are considerable records of the palace, which was described in detail in a survey of 1588. The buildings had fallen into decay by the 18th century and were finally demolished in around 1762. A section of the perimeter wall was still standing at the north and east sides in the early 20th century but is now demolished. The derelict house on the central moat was built in around 1850 and has deep cellars. The existing buildings and the cellars and ground beneath the Grade II Listed 19th century house are excluded from the scheduling, as is the surface of the access road, the sluice at the north-east of the main road, and the modern brick structure of the bridge. The ground beneath all the other buildings except the 19th century house, the garden of the bungalow adjacent to the bridge and the medieval stone bridge abutments are included in the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Simkins, M E, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume II, (1932)
Woodger, A, Ancient Hunts, (1986)
Taylor, C C, 'BAR from Cornwall to Caithness; some aspects of Brit Field Arch' in Somersham Palace, Cambs: A Medieval Landscape for Pleasure, (1989)
Taylor, C C, 'BAR from Cornwall to Caithness; some aspects of Brit Field Arch' in Somersham Palace, Cambs: A Medieval Landscape for Pleasure, (1989)
Cambs. SMR record 01078,
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Series Source Date: 1890 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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