The Manor of Hemingford Grey: a medieval moated site


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017361

Date first listed: 03-Apr-2000


Ordnance survey map of The Manor of Hemingford Grey: a medieval moated site
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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: Hemingford Grey

National Grid Reference: TL 28964 70682


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 manor at Hemingford Grey includes well preserved earthworks and buried features which are associated with a rare example of a medieval manor house, still in use. Although the house is not included in the scheduling the ground beneath and around it will retain buried deposits, both structural and artefactual, relating to its construction and development including the former 13th century wing, the medieval chapel and later alterations.

The surrounding moat survives as a visible feature. Partial infilling of the moat and associated leats will preserve artefacts relating to the water-control system and to the use of the moated island and the adjacent enclosure, together with environmental deposits illustrating the nature of the landscape in which the monument was set.

An unusually high level of historical documentation records the succession of owners and tenants from the manor's earliest known occupants in the 12th century to the present day. These records, together with the archaeological evidence, enable a reconstruction of the site's evolution from its defensive origins and continued high status through the medieval and post-medieval periods to its present association with the author, Lucy Boston.


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


The medieval moated site known as `The Manor' is situated adjacent to the River Great Ouse on the west side of the village of Hemingford Grey. The manor derives from land first granted to Ramsey Abbey in 1041-42 by King Harthacnut and his mother Aelfgifu, the grant being confirmed by Edward the Confessor about 10 years later. Following the Norman Conquest the manor was enfoeffed by William I to Aubrey de Vere, ancestor of the Earls of Oxford, whose family remained tenants-in-chief until the end of the 14th century.

By 1086 the estate had been subinfeudated to Ralf, son of Osmond, and it was Ralf's son, Payn de Hemingford who, in about 1130, built the Norman hall house which still stands on the moated island. The house is a Listed Grade I Building and excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.

Both the house and the moated site clearly reflect the unsettled history of the first half of the 12th century. The island, rectangular in plan and measuring approximately 85m east to west and 66m north to south, is surrounded by a substantial moat up to 10m wide. There is no apparent causeway, and it is likely that access was via a bridge. Given the site's location and orientation, this was probably on the eastern side. The house was designed to be inaccessible at ground floor level, and its position, close to the eastern arm of the moat, would have permitted clear views of any approach from the direction of the main highway to the east (the ancient drove road linking Ely, St Ives and London). The moat is now partly infilled but the western and southern arms, together with the southern half of the eastern arm, are still wet. The line of the northern arm is still visible on the ground as a slight depression.

It is thought that the moat was fed by ground water seepage and surface run-off, the water being controlled by two drainage leats (channels) extending northward to the river from the two northern corners. The western leat is now infilled but the eastern leat, although somewhat adapted, still survives as a functioning drainage channel regulated by a sluice. The area between the two leats would have served as an ancillary enclosure, perhaps for the paddocking of livestock. Only the southern portion of this enclosure now survives, probably as a result of the activities of Reginald de Grey during the 13th century. Reginald, a descendant of Payn de Hemingford through the female line, and ancestor of the Earls of Kent, diverted the course of the River Great Ouse, bringing it further south to supply his mills at Hemingford Grey. Reginald may also have been responsible for the construction of an additional wing to the eastern side of the house, creating an `L'-shaped structure. His son, John, is known to have had a chapel on the site in 1321, and this may have been an element of the 13th century wing.

From the end of the 15th century the manor passed in rapid succession to a number of owners and tenants including Edmund Dudley who was executed for treason in 1510, and Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent. Dudley's son, John, later Duke of Northumberland and father in law of Lady Jane Grey, sold the manor to Sir Richard Cromwell in 1537, and Sir Richard returned it to the Crown in exchange for other lands. During the 16th century extensive alterations to the Norman house were carried out. These included the insertion of the massive chimney, and it is thought that the 13th century wing was replaced or extensively remodelled at the same time.

The manor was retained as Crown property until 1721 when it was sold to James Mitchell of Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire, remaining with the family until the 20th century. Mitchell probably instigated the 18th century building phase which was clearly intended not only to enlarge the house but to give it a fashionable appearance. To this end, the Norman building was extended to the west, and its north elevation was pushed forward to become part of the new, elegant facade. The extended and refurbished house was leased to James Gunning and was the birthplace of his daughters, Maria (1733) and Elizabeth (1735) who, famed as `the beautiful Misses Gunning' became the toasts of London society. Maria became Countess of Coventry and Elizabeth Duchess of Hamilton and later Duchess of Argyll.

The fashionable extension was destroyed by fire in 1799 and was never replaced, although a small outshut (saltbox form) extension was subsequently added to the southern end of the west side, probably during the Victorian period, when further adaptations to the eastern wing took place. The outshut was demolished during the 20th century. Buried evidence for this structure, and for the 18th century extension will be preserved and are included in the scheduling.

In 1937 the house and grounds were sold to the writer Lucy Boston who undertook extensive restoration works to the house and laid out the present gardens, both central to the themes of her childrens' books.

The house, outbuildings, all walls, fences, fence posts, gates, modern surfaces, garden furniture and the modern sluice are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included, together with the remains of all previous extensions to the house.

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: 29754

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
The Manor Hemingford Grey
The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, (1995)
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 309-10
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 309-312
video tour and history of manor site, Copestake, P and D, The Magical Manor of Hemingford Grey, (1997)
video tour of house and grounds, Copestake, P and D, The Magical Manor of Hemingford Grey, (1997)

End of official listing