Miscellaneous ancient earthworks and civil war forts in Huntingdonshire
It is difficult to arrive at any definite conclusion as to the earthworks at this place, which seem to be deserving of a much more extended study than it has been found possible to give them. About 1,800 ft. west of the house is a large pond (called ‘Otter Pond’) in which is an island of about 65 ft. in diameter and standing about 5 ft. above the level of the surrounding land, which upon the east side of the pond has been banked up to about the same level, obviously to form an abutment for a bridge. From this abutment the raised track of a roadway may be traced, crossing the filed in a north-east direction. About 500 ft. east from the pond, and on the south side of the road track, is a circular mound called Ward Mound (50 ft. in diameter, about 3 ft. high), with clear indications of a rampart round its top. In the adjoining field to the east there are three curiously shaped ponds, the southern most of which has some appearance of being three sides of a moat, but the ground falls rapidly away towards the north, and some parts of the excavations may be simply watercourses. Southward from these ponds is another mound, 30 ft. in diameter and about 2 ft. high, with slight indications of a ditch round it. Further south still, and almost in front of the house, is a large bank running nearly north and south, and several other lines of earthworks, which have somewhat the appearance of the remains of ornamental gardens. On the south-east side of the house is a curiously shaped dry moat, apparently two sides of a triangle with a boldly rounded corner. Within the south corner of this triangle is a large mound, about 70 ft. diameter and 6 ft. high, and there are two smaller mounds in the grounds to the south-east of the moat; but it is impossible to say how far these are ancient and how far they may be due to garden making.
Upon three sides of a derelict house here at Alconbury, once in the middle of the Royal Forest of Weybridge, the ground falls rapidly away, and has been boldly scarped so as to form a plateau and terrace of square form with rounded corners. The top of the plateau stands some 11 ft. above the flat terrace at its foot, which is 60 ft. wide. On the two sides, however, first the terrace and then the plateau itself merge into the rapidly rising ground of the hill on which they stand. On the fourth side, where the ground is higher than the site of the house, the line of the plateau may still be seen with a slight elevation at the north-west corner, but it is necessarily lost for the greater part of the north side and the north-east corner. On this side, however, the house was protected by a moat, which still remains at the west end of the north side, and, in the form of a large pond, on part of the west side. On the original one inch Ordnance Map (1824) a great deal more of the moat is shown on this side. At the north-east corner a large and wide ditch sees to represent the moat on that side, but it is continued too far to the north and probably has been altered from its original form. The north line of the moat at this corner seems to be lost.
It will be seen, therefore, that the house was apparently defended by a moat on the north, north-west and north-east, and by a steep escarpment on the south, south-west and south-east, and that on the sides, especially on the west, these two systems of defence overlapped, the moat at these points being within the escarped area.
In the large grass field to the south of Black Lodge Farm at Buckworth are many curious mounds the origin of which it is difficult to understand. There is one mound in the field to the south and two in that to the west. The mounds vary in size, in some cases exceeding 200 ft. in length, and several of them have returns at right angles at both ends, sometimes of considerable length. They are from 35 ft. to 45 ft. wide at their base and have a fairly flat top of about 15 ft. in width.
Before the formation of the Old Bedford River (1631) and the New Bedford River (c.1649) the river Ouse parted at Earith into two courses: the west ran for about half a mile along the course of the New Bedford River and thence towards Wisbech; the east followed a circuitous route towards Ely and Lynn. The roadway from Earith to Haddenham and Ely crossed the west branch by a bridge (called Earith Bridge) near a spot known by the name of ‘ The Hermitage.’ Between these two artificial rivers the earthwork stands almost exactly midway, some 600 ft. north of the road, and about the same distance from Earith Bridge.
It consists of a square enclosure with diagonal bastions at the corners; the area within the rampart is about 200 ft. square with the bastions, about 50 ft. by 40 ft., in addition. The projection of the bastions, measured outside the rampart, is about 100 ft., and their width about 80 ft., but they are somewhat irregular in size. The whole is surrounded by a rampart about 3 ft. wide at the top. On the outside the bank drops down into a moat, now dry but liable to be flooded in wet seasons, the bottom of which is some 8ft. to 9 ft. below. The moat is about 17 ft. wide at the bottom, and is surrounded by an outer bank which follows the line of the inner rampart. This outer bank, which stands some 8 ft. to 9 ft. above the bottom of the moat, is for the greater part of its length about 20 ft. wide, but in the middle of each side it widens out into a kind of platform some 40 ft. square. There are indications in places that it was formed as a kind of terrace or platform with a parapet on its outer edge. The shape of these platforms on the sides next to the moat may still be seen, but their outer sides are less well defined, that on the south side of the earthwork having been entirely destroyed, those on the north and west being damaged by modern hedges, and that on the east being rather weak. There is some indication that outside this outer bank there was another small shallow moat, little more than a ditch, parts of which still remain at the north-west and south-west corners., On the west side two wide but shallow ditches, 120 ft. apart, run west some 250 ft. and 300 ft. respectively. They are not of sufficient size t have any defensive value.
The origin of this earthwork is a question upon which opinion has varied greatly. Messrs. G L Keynes and H. G. Evelyn-White, in 1908, made some excavations on the site, 1 but they found no datable remains and nothing in any way conclusive as to its origin. They came to the opinion, however, that it is probably Cormwellian, which is the date most suitable, perhaps, to its plan.
Amongst the voluminous literature relating to the Civil Wars, there does not appear to be any direct reference to this fort, a passing statement that in July 1643, Tyrrell Jocelyn hoped to be able to hold Hermitage Pass, at Earith, for a week,2 being all that we are told, and it in no way follows that he was entrenched in this earthwork.
Camden mentions as ancient ‘fort’ at Eryth, but he does not describe it, nor does he give any indication as to its precise locality, so it is not possible to say that he is referring to the Bulwark, more especially when it is remembered that both the Old and the New Bedford Rivers have been made since his time, and the ‘fort’ to which he refers might well have been destroyed in the process of making them.
There is a plan of the earthwork in the Stowe M. S. 1025, which probably dates from 1760, and this appears to be the earliest definite reference to the Bulwark.
This fort bears a strong resemblance to the Bulwark at Earith, but differs from it in being an irregular pentagon instead of a square. It stands in the extreme north-east corner of the county, and occupies the angle between the old course of the River Nene and an ancient water course known as King’s Dyke, and is some 600 ft. east of the bridge over the former stream, called Horsey Bridge.
The approximate diameter of the enclosure, within the banks, is 300 ft., and the banks are about 10 ft. wide at the top and from 4 ft. to 6 ft. high above the ground. They slope down some 4 ft. to 5 ft. to a platform or terrace averaging 15 ft. wide, which shows slight signs of a parapet in places. Below this terrace a bank slopes down another 4 ft. or so to above the level of the surrounding ground, where the whole earthwork is enclosed by a rather small dyke which can hardly be called a moat. At each corner of the pentagon are projecting bastions of similar shape and size to those at Earith; the ground within these bastions is slightly below the top of the main outer bank, and there are signs of a low parapet round their edges, but not on the side facing the interior of the enclosure. A farm house has been built within the enclosure, and two roadways have been formed which cut through the banks on the north, south, and south-east sides. Opposite the opening on the south side is a projecting tongue of bank at the level of the terrace, reaching to the outer dyke. Outside the outer dyke on this south side at an approximate distance of 130 ft., is a low bank (1 ft. high) with a ditch in front of it; this bank sweeps round from near the south-east corner to the south-west corner, and is intersected by a long wide drain obviously modern. On the north side, the earthwork has been partially cut away, and the main road from Peterborough to Whittlesey has been carried over it, and a toll keeper’s house built on the edge of the north-west bastion. The outer ditch, however, may still be seen on the other side of the road. This part of the road is comparatively modern, although not later than 1766; the line of the earlier road crosses the grass field, some 70yds. farther north.
Like Earith, this earthwork has been attributed to various dates, but its shape is so distinctively 17th century that it must probably be assigned to the Cromwellian period. The only reference to it apparently is in October 1644, when the Royalists has seized Crowland, and the Cromwellians sent 300 men from Cambridge to hold ‘Horsey Bridge Pass’.3
In the parish of Huntingdon, in the middle of a grass field on the north side of the road leading to Hartford and not far from the parish boundary, is a curious earthwork consisting of a shallow moat enclosing an area of 50 ft. by 28 ft. with curious projections a the four corners and another at the east end. It is too small to have contained a house, and may be of comparatively recent date, although not within living memory.4
Between this earthwork and the road, on the slightly falling ground, are two rows of banks which at one end project forward with a double turn at right angles and cross the next field, and at the other end continue through the adjoining field until they come to an end against a modern street. These banks have somewhat the appearance of a defensive works, but they are of low elevation and very indefinite character.
The earthwork marked upon the Ordnance Map as a Roman Signal Station appears to be a round barrow. It is finely situated upon high ground and commands an excellent view of the surrounding country, so that it is possible that it may have been used as a look-out or signal station, and it has a raised path on one side leading to the top.