Worlick moated site and fishponds


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013285

Date first listed: 29-Jul-1957

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Oct-1995


Ordnance survey map of Worlick moated site and fishponds
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Huntingdonshire (District Authority)

Parish: Ramsey

National Grid Reference: TL 31426 86612


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches, often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

The remains of Worlick moated site survive well in buried conditions undisturbed by excavation. The island retains the foundations of structures from both the medieval and post-medieval periods which, together with artefactual evidence from the ditch fills, will demonstrate continuity of occupation and changes in use over a period of at least five centuries. The fen edge location of the site indicates economic dependence on the surrounding fenland landscape; an interesting factor in itself, rendered more significant by the close association between the moated site and Ramsey Abbey.

Environmental evidence illustrating this function will be retained in the waterlogged silts at the base of the deeper features, particularly within the adjacent series of fishponds which are themselves an indication of the site's principal role during the medieval period.

Fishponds are generally artificially created pools of slow-moving fresh water made for the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish in order to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. The tradition of constructing and using fishponds began during the medieval period and reached a peak in the 12th century. Fishponds were often grouped together, either clustered or in line, and joined by leats; each pond being stocked with a different age or species of fish. They were predominantly the province of the wealthier sectors of society, and are considered particularly important as a source of information concerning the economy of various classes of medieval settlements, especially religious institutions.

The ponds at Worlick lack evidence for flowing water or connecting channels, and probably served as storage tanks for eels trapped in the adjacent fen. This however, renders the ponds more interesting as a rare example of a variation from normal practice, closely related to the economy of Ramsey Abbey.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The medieval moated site known as Worlick lies some 260m to the north east of Ramsey parish church (formerly the infirmary of Ramsey Abbey) on the eastern tip of a narrow peninsula extending into the fens of Ramsey Hollow. The monument includes a large moated enclosure, measuring approximately 160m north to south by 140m, and an adjacent series of fishponds.

The earthworks were recorded in some detail in 1926, but have since been obscured by infilling and a covering of imported soil, so that only the fishponds and a further pond within the island remain clearly visible. The ditches and other original features will survive beneath these later deposits. Some are still discernible as low earthworks.

The arms of the moat follow the contours around the head of the peninsular enclosing an area of high ground near the tip. The northern and south western arms join to form an acute angle jutting into the surrounding fen which, in the medieval period, consisted of a lattice of streams and tributaries interspersed with areas of marshland. The pattern of these former watercourses can still be seen from the air. The moated site is almost triangular in plan, although the western arm (which cuts across the promontory) is formed from two sections which meet at a central elbow protruding slightly to the west. The northern arm of the moat survives as a deep channel, c.8m in width, which has been successively recut as part of a later field boundary. The rest of the circuit, although largely infilled, is visible as a slight depression nowhere greater than 0.2m deep. A wooded belt now covers the south western perimeter of the site obscuring the remains of a external bank flanking the ditch. This bank was recorded in 1926, but has been partially buried since. It remains visible as a slight earthwork, 5m in width and 0.3m high, where various trackways cross the wood, particularly near the eastern corner of the enclosure. The northern arm of the moat was flanked by an internal bank, part of which remained visible in 1926. This edge of the island has been cultivated in recent years and only slight traces of the bank now survive in the boundary hedge.

The position of the main entrance to the island is indicated by a slightly raised causeway, 120m in length and 12m wide, which extends to the west following the spine of the promontory from the junction of the two ditch sections in the centre of the western arm. Access is thought to have been provided by a bridge at this point, and a sample of the causeway, 20m in length, is included in the scheduling in order to protect the relationship between these two features. A second trackway was recorded in 1926 continuing to the south of this junction following the outer edge of the moat towards the southern corner. Although masked by a recent overburden of soil, this feature and the ditch which marks the western edge are still evident as a series of slight undulations.

The surface of the island rises towards the centre, which is c.2m above the level of the perimeter. The 1926 survey recorded the entrance causeway continuing for about 60m towards the centre of the island where it formed part of an internal enclosure defined by a ditch leading northwards for about 30m in the direction of a small, oval pond. The pond remains visible as a slight depression within a ploughed strip adjacent to the northern arm of the moat. The causeway and ditch, together with other features related to the occupation of the site, will survive buried beneath more recent deposits of imported soil. A larger rectangular pond lies just south of the centre of the island, orientated with the south eastern arm of the moat. This pond measures approximately 20m by 40m and 2m deep, and is partially sub-divided by a narrow spit projecting for about 8m from the centre of the southern bank. A slight embankment along this side of the pond was recorded in 1926, continuing to the north east to form a square, banked enclosure, 25m in width. This enclosure is thought to mark the position of a later house shown on Jeffrey's map of Huntingdonshire (1768). The pond is considered to be an ornamental water feature created to enhance the setting of the house. The building was demolished in the early 19th century, although the date of its construction can be inferred from the large quantity of 17th century tile found within the cultivated area immediately to the north. Pottery dating from the 14th to the 16th century has also been found in this area together with large fragments of masonry, indicating the presence of further buried foundations and a continuity of occupation between the medieval and post-medieval periods.

The most prominent features associated with the moated site are the series of five medieval fishponds, which extend to the west of the island on the southern side of the raised approach. The ponds measure approximately 25m in length (with the exception of the most easterly example which is 10m longer) and are each about 10m across and 1m-1.5m in depth. They are arranged side by side, separated by intervals of between 8m and 10m. Both these divisions and the outer edges of the end ponds are marked by low banks of upcast soil. The two eastern ponds have recently been cleaned, removing deposits consisting largely of 20th century refuse. The three ponds nearest to the moated site presently retain standing water, whereas the remaining two contain deep deposits of waterlogged silts. The absence of connecting channels and the uniformity of size is thought to indicate that the ponds were used for storing eels, rather than for the more usual purpose of breeding fish.

The moated site is thought to have lain within the estates of Ramsey Abbey which was founded in AD 969. The abbey maintained its own area of jurisdiction, called a banlieu, which nominally extended for a league (c.2.4km) beyond the precinct boundary, and would have included most of the high ground surrounding the modern town. The abbey was granted near royal privileges over this territory, which consequently was excluded from the Domesday Survey in 1086.

The absence of later manorial records suggests that the site was not a secular holding, and aerial reconnaisance and field work have produced no evidence for medieval cultivation on the peninsula. The moated site's economy is thought, therefore, to have been based on pasture and the exploitation of the surrounding fen. Ramsey Abbey held an obligation to supply the monks of Ely with 4000 eels each Lent. Worlick would have provided an ideal base from which to trap this levy, and the ponds are eminently suited for storing eels prior to transportation. The abbey held a number of granges in the vicinity of Ramsey, including Higney, Biggin and Bodsey. Worlick however, which was termed `Wilwerihc' in 1242, is not recorded as a grange in the abbey chronicles and charters, and may have been a purely functional site.

The abbey and some of its estates passed to Richard Cromwell after the Dissolution in 1539. It has been suggested that the Worlick site was subsequently developed as a residence held by the Cromwell family, who continued in possession of the abbey grounds until 1676. Jeffrey's map of 1768 is sparing in its depiction of individual structures, yet Worlick is shown with a large house, with prominent gables, standing within the island. The inclusion of Worlick demonstrates that the building, or more probably its owners, were particulaly notable either at the time or in the recent past.

All fences and fenceposts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

Legacy System number: 27109

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Jeffreys, T, The County of Huntingdon, (1768)
Page, E, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdonshire, (1926), 194
Page, E, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdonshire, (1926), 300-301
Wise, J, Mackreth-Noble, W, Ramsey Abbey - Its Rise and Fall, (1882), 209
Hall, D, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in The Fenland Project No.6: The South-western Cambridgeshire Fens, (1992), 42-48
Hall, D, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in The Fenland Project No.6: The South-western Cambridgeshire Fens, (1992), 42-48
CUCAP, RC8 - H 160, (1969)
Local resident recalling clearance, Paine, The Worlick Fishponds, (1994)
The infilling of the earthworks, Lord de Ramsey, Worlick Moated Site, (1994)
Title: Source Date: 1926 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 25"

End of official listing