Horsey Hill Fort: a Civil War fieldwork
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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This copy shows the entry on 19-Jun-2019 at 16:39:07.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- City of Peterborough (Unitary Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TL 22305 95974
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construction may be referred to in contemporary historical documents.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.
Although a small part of the earthwork has been damaged by road works the greater part of Horsey Hill Fort survives substantially undisturbed. The banks, covered way, entrance and bastions will all contain details of their construction and use, and the interior will contain buried evidence of temporarary structures erected during this brief period. Artefacts related to the occupation and function of the monument will be preserved below ground both here, and in the silts of the surrounding ditch.
Horsey Hill Fort is amongst the most elaborate fortification in England to have survived from the Civil War. It shows clear influences of contemporary continental military design (developed in response to the increased mobility of contemporary warfare and the dominance of artillery), and how these ideas were adapted in the English context. The fort's position demonstrates the importance of the Fen Causeway and Nene crossing within the military frontier surrounding the Isle of Ely and, together with a number of other fortifications in the region (both in similar rural locations and in the main towns), illustrates the variety of defensive measures employed by the Eastern Association.
The Civil War fieldwork known as Horsey Hill Fort is situated between
Stanground and Whittlesey on the east bank of the old course of the River
Nene, some 300m to the east of the Horsey Bridge where the A605 Whittlesey
Road is joined by the Milk and Water Drove (B1095).
The fort, essentially a large gun emplacement or sconce, is pentagonal in plan, covering approximately 2.7ha and measuring some 110m along each side. The interior, which is broadly level and raised by about 1.5m above its surroundings, was originally fully enclosed by a earthen bank with bastions at each corner. The bank remains substantially complete except on the north western arm where it has been partly truncated by the line of the Whittlesey Road. Elsewhere, the bank averages 12m in width and 2m high, with a level summit some 3m in width. The inner face of this bank may originally have been near vertical with a firing step or banquette below a timber palisade pierced by gun loops. It may also have been strengthened by a fringe of sharpened stakes (storm poles) inserted in the outer face. Of the five arrowhead shaped bastions which projected diagonally from the corners, three now survive largely undisturbed. The remaining two (on the north western arm) were partly cut away to allow modern road widening and a toll-keeper's house was built on the north western bastion in the 19th century. The remaining bastions (pointing east, south east and south west) each extend approximately 10m beyond the banks and measure about 20m across their axes. These served as artillery platforms, allowing a wide range of fire in all directions as well as close quarter defence for the ramparts to either side. Slight hollows in the centre of each bastion mark the positions of the cannons, and there are traces of parapets around the outer edges which would have provided protection for the gunners. A narrow earthen ramp rises alongside the south western bank towards the rear of the south western bastion, apparently constructed using upcast from a deep, 10m wide pit dug along its western side. This is thought to have been used to raise the cannons to their firing positions around the defences. The outer slopes of the banks and bastions descend to a level terrace which survives around the inner defences, on all but the north western side of the fort. It averages 10m in width and retains slight traces of an outer parapet indicating that it served as a `covered way' for infantry. The outer edge of the terrace slopes sharply to form the inner face of a surrounding, partly infilled ditch. This feature measures approximately 10m across and its outer edge can still be traced around the southern, western and eastern arms where it is marked by a later drainage cut. The ditch is no longer visible around the eastern bastion or along the north eastern arm of the rampart, although it will remain in a buried condition and is included in the scheduling. Construction of the toll road (no later than 1766) and more extensive modern improvements have removed all trace of the north western section of the ditch.
There are three breaks in the bank, two of which (in the north west and south east arms) are modern and carry driveways related to the 19th century farmhouse (Horsey Grange) located toward the eastern side of the interior. A 12m wide gap in the centre of the southern bank is thought to have provided the original entrance. This would have been approached along the terrace, or covered way, probably from the south eastern corner where traces of a causeway across the ditch remain. The entranceway was protected by a triangular projection, or salient, which extends across the ditch immediately to the south. A slightly raised causeway, about 0.4m high and 4m wide, runs across the interior of the fort between the entrance and the north western bastion.
The fort was constructed by Parliamentarian forces in 1643-4, during the first stages of the English Civil War. At the onset of the war Huntingdonshire formed part of the Midlands Association of Parliamentarian counties, becoming a frontier county of the Eastern Association shortly after it was formed in 1643. The Eastern Association, led by Oliver Cromwell (amongst others), initially took a defensive stance, concentrating on the fortification of Cambridge and the control of major communication routes across the fens, which largely consisted of the principal causeways and navigations. Early in 1643 Cromwell embarked on a strategy to consolidate the Association's military frontier; first securing the Royalist ports of Lowestoft and Kings Lynn, then moving on to take Peterborough and finally Crowland, the last Royalist outpost in the fens. In May, there was a Royalist rebellion on the Isle of Ely, which was eventually suppressed by troops from Cambridge. This rebellion clearly demonstrated that the Isle would be readily defendable by a larger force should it fall to the opposition, and the major approaches from the north and west were therefore strengthened with garrisons at Wisbech and Earith. Horsey Hill Fort was probably constructed as part of this line of defence, designed to control the river, the river crossing and the Fen Causeway - an ancient road which ran in the narrow strip of land between the canalised River Nene and Whittlesey Mere. If the fort was not erected in response to this crisis, it may well have been built in the following year to contain Prince Rupert's forces after they pressed into Lincolnshire and regained Crowland. In October 1644, shortly after Crowland and Peterborough fell, the Eastern Association sent 300 men from Cambridge to hold `Horsey Bridge Pass', a reference which is taken to mean either the construction of the fort, or the strengthening of the existing garrison. Parliamentarian fortunes improved after the battle of Naseby in August 1645, although this victory was followed by a brief incursion into Huntingdonshire by Royalists commanded by Charles I. This short-lived action marked the end of the first phase of the war as far as the fens were concerned, during which time it is probable that Horsey Hill Fort, like many other East Anglian fortifications, never saw action. The second phase of the war provoked little activity locally, the only major action being a provincial uprising in Colchester in 1648.
All standing structures within the fieldwork (including the toll-keeper's house and Horsey Grange), the surfaces of all drives and paths, all fences and gates and all modern fixtures such as the lamp posts flanking the main driveway, are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all these features is included.
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
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 312-13
Osborne, M, Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire, (1990), 32-3
Osborne, M, Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire, (1990), 15
Morrill, J, 'The Oxford History of Britain' in The Stuarts (1603-1688), (1989), 365
RCHME, Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Huntingdon, (1926)
SMR parish file (Earith), Baggs, T, Lecture Notes (Civil War in Cambridgeshire), (1990)
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