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The March Sconce: a Civil War fieldwork, 250m south west of Eastwood Burial Ground

List Entry Summary

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: The March Sconce: a Civil War fieldwork, 250m south west of Eastwood Burial Ground

List entry Number: 1015200

Location

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Fenland

District Type: District Authority

Parish: March

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 14-Jan-1972

Date of most recent amendment: 03-Jan-1997

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 27188

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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

Reasons for Designation

English Civil War fieldworks are earthworks which were raised during military operations between 1642 and 1645 to provide temporary protection for infantry or to act as gun emplacements. The earthworks, which may have been reinforced with revetting and palisades, consisted of banks and ditches and varied in complexity from simple breastworks to complex systems of banks and inter- connected trenches. They can be recognised today as surviving earthworks or as crop- or soil-marks on aerial photographs. The circumstances and cost of their construction may be referred to in contemporary historical documents. Fieldworks are recorded widely throughout England with concentrations in the main areas of campaigning. Those with a defensive function were often sited to protect settlements or their approaches. Those with an offensive function were designed to dominate defensive positions and to contain the besieged areas. There are some 150 surviving examples of fieldworks recorded nationally. All examples which survive well and/or represent particular forms of construction are identified as nationally important.

The fieldwork at March survives well, retaining clear evidence of the design of the fortification and nature of its construction. Only a small part of the earthwork (at the north western corner) has been significantly disturbed, and here the surrounding ditch will still survive as a buried feature. The platform will contain buried evidence of temporary structures erected during temporary the period of use, and artefacts of this period will be preserved below ground both here and in the silts of the surrounding ditch. The sconce shows clearly the influence of continental military designs (mostly from Holland), developed in response to the increased mobility of contemporary warfare and the dominance of artillery, which rendered defences of vertical stonework obsolete. Its form demonstrates how these ideas were adapted in the English context, and its position shows how the new designs were applied to the difficult task of controlling the fens and defending the frontier of the Eastern Association. In context with the other fortifications in the region (both in rural locations and in the towns), the sconce provides key evidence for the implementation of this defensive strategy and illustrates the variety of methods adopted to this end.

The sites of the post-medieval buildings buried beneath the sconce and immediately to the north are of particular interest, both in their own right and in relation to the sconce, where the archaeological and documentary evidence for the imposition of the fieldwork provides insights into the impact of the Civil War on contemporary society. The medieval cultivation earthworks, which were already long abandoned by the time the sconce was built, add further to the significance of the site. They provide a graphic indication of the successive and prolonged use of the site, are illustrative of the farming techniques employed on the island prior to the period of enclosure and, due to the depredations of modern agriculture and housing development in the region, are now a very rare survival.

The monument lies in an area of dedicated open space. It is fully accessible to the public and clearly described on an information board provided by the local authority.

History

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

Details

The monument includes the remains of an earthen fort, or sconce, dating from the English Civil War, and a pattern of earlier earthworks overlain by the sconce, which cover a rectangular field of approximately 2ha to the south of Eastwood Avenue in the Town End area of March. The sconce lies in the south eastern quarter of the field, visible as a low rectangular platform orientated east to west and measuring approximately 60m in length and 35m in width. Triangular or arrowhead-shaped bastions, each about 15m wide and level with the platform, project diagonally for about 10m from the two eastern corners. A similar bastion, somewhat less well defined, extends from the south western corner and traces of the fourth bastion, at the north western corner, have been identified by a survey of the site. The platform (and bastions) are slightly raised above the surrounding ground level and surrounded by a broad flat bottomed ditch, averaging 8m in width and 0.8m in depth, which closely mirrors the outline of the raised features. The centre of the platform contains a shallow rectangular hollow, about 25m by 16m, which lends the perimeter of the platform the appearance of a low, flat-topped rampart or `terreplein' on which cannons could be sited. A shallow, largely infilled ditch leads from the area of the north western bastion to the north west, broadly following the line of the main ditch. This feature, which measures 4m-5m in width, extends to the west for around 50m before returning to the south west corner of the sconce, forming a V-shaped enclosure between the two western bastions. The ditch has been interpreted as a later addition, unrelated to the fortification, but a study of the site has compared it with outworks at the The Bulwark, a larger sconce at Earith (some 20km to the south), and suggested that it may have been an original feature, either a breastwork providing cover for infantry, or a communication trench. The sconce is undoubtedly the work of Parliamentarian forces, and was probably constructed between 1643 and 1645 during the first stage of the Civil War. The Cambridgeshire fens became the frontier of the Eastern Association of Parliamentarian counties in 1643, facing parts of the Lincolnshire fens, not far to the north, which were in Royalist hands. Much fighting took place around Peterborough, Crowland and Kings Lynn in 1643-4 as Cromwell sought to consolidate the Eastern Association's military frontier, and a string of forts was constructed to defend the southern fens from Royalist incursions, particularly after the Royalist rebellion on the Isle of Ely in May 1644. The key to the Association's defence lay in the control of islands which, prior to the extensive drainage of the fens, still formed the main lines of communication, and in restricting traffic on the navigable rivers and drains which could allow rapid movement of troops and cannon. The March Sconce is thought to have served as part of this frontier and to have provided protection for the island on which was stored the magazine for the whole of the Isle of Ely. It clearly had a strategic purpose controlling the north-south road between Ely and Wisbech (Ireton's Way) which crossed the island of March close to the western side of the sconce, and the western outwork may have served to defend the battery in case of attack from this direction. Equally important, the siting of the sconce on a local prominence near the southern margin of the fen island, allowed it to control traffic along the Doddington Leam, an artificial navigation which linked the rivers Ouse and Nene enabling communication from the Wash to Huntingdon without touching land. The leam (now known as Horse Moor Drain) runs approximately 1km to the east of the sconce, well within range of the smaller gauge of cannon (culverins and demi-culverins) which are likely to have been stationed there. It has been suggested that the low level of the earthworks implies that the sconce was never completed, or simply served as a training work for unskilled part-time soldiers. However, the absence of pronounced ramparts does not necessarily lead to this conclusion, as military treatises of the time show that gabions - bundles of sticks, sandbags or even wool - could equally have provided a defensive wall surrounding the guns. The Parliamentarian victory at Naseby in 1645 was followed by a brief incursion into Huntingdonshire by Royalist forces under Charles I. This short-lived action marked the end of the first phase of the war as far as the fens were concerned, The March Sconce, like many other East Anglian fortifications, never having seen action. The second phase of the war saw far less activity in the eastern counties, the only major action being a provincial uprising in Colchester in 1648. The survey of the earthworks surrounding the sconce has shown that it supplanted a small domestic settlement which had, in turn, overlain an area of medieval cultivation. A low, L-shaped house platform occupies the north eastern corner of the field immediately to the north of the sconce, and is thought to correlate with the position of a house shown on an early 17th century map of the island. The map also shows a group of structures to the south which are thought to have been overlain by the sconce, and a boundary running to the south west of the house which matches the position of a broad, but largely infilled, drainage ditch crossing the field to the north west of the sconce. This ditch forms the southern boundary of a pattern of ridge and furrow, the product of medieval cultivation, which covers the north western third of the field. Nine ridges, or `lands', remain visible running north to south, each approximately 6m broad and separated by furrows of similar width. The characteristic mounds, or heads, created by turning the plough at the end of each land, are absent, and it is clear that the pattern originally continued further south across the entire area of the field. A small fragment of ridge and furrow has been identified in the narrow strip of land to the south of the sconce. The low level of the earthworks (the ridges are only about 0.3m high) is partly the result of a period of post-medieval ploughing, which has slightly reduced all the earthworks in the field, and partly a consequence of long abandonment. The medieval open fields around the southern side of the island, of which this is the last surviving fragment, were officially enclosed by public Act in 1762, although the process of enclosure had been gathering pace throughout the previous century.

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

Selected Sources

Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire, (1953), 118
Osborne, M, Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire, (1990), 8,10,30
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' in Cambridge Earthwork Surveys: IV, (1980), 114-5
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' in Cambridge Earthwork Surveys: IV, (1980), 114-5
Hall, D, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Cambridgeshire Survey, Peterborough to March, , Vol. 35, (1987), 47
Malim, T, 'Cambridgeshire Archaeology Report' in The Sconce, March: Civil War Fortifications, (1991)
Malim, T, 'Cambridgeshire Archaeology Report' in The Sconce, March: Civil War Fortifications, (1991)
Other
Undated lecture notes in Cambs SMR, Baggs, T, The Civil War in East Anglia,

National Grid Reference: TL 42050 95730

Map

Map
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End of official listing