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Cambridge Town Defences

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Kings Ditch

In the civil parish of Cambridge.
In the historic county of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.
Modern Authority of Cambridgeshire.
1974 county of Cambridgeshire.
Medieval County of Cambridgeshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: TL44645804
Latitude 52.20805° Longitude 0.12047°

Cambridge Town Defences has been described as a probable Urban Defence.

There are no visible remains.


King's Ditch, boundary and defensive ditch possibly of late pre-Conquest date, re-modelled in C13. The only surface indication is a slightly sunk area in the Fellows Garden (TL45005875) at Sidney Sussex College, west of a scarp running SE from the squash court. The course of the ditch was from the River Cam near Mill Lane, along Pembroke Street, across the site of the old Botanic Gardens, along St. Tibbs Row and Hobson Street, across the Fallows' garden, along Park street, rejoining the river opposite Pepys building of Magdalene College. Late Saxon Pottery was found in 1893 in a substantial ditch on the N side of Mill Lane. It seems highly probable that the Town Ditch was originally designed as a customs barrier rather than a defensive work. There are no surveyable remains of the ditch in the Fellows Garden at Sidney Sussex College, though the lawns are humpy along the line. Excavations on the site of the Red Lion car park (TL450583) located and sectioned the King's Ditch and an area on either side of it. The ditch was U-profiled, 13.0m wide and 4.0m deep exposing the original bedrock. Two, possibly three phases were observed, all apparently of C16-C18 date. There was no surviving evidence at this point of the Medieval or earlier defences and there was no evidence of any bank, palisade or wall. Inside the King's Ditch, a large ditch about 5.0m wide and 3.0m deep was found apparently enclosing a rather smaller, but similar settlement to the king's Ditch. It was associated with Saxo-Norman pottery only and this may be the earliest defence of the settlement. (PastScape)

In February 1267 King Henry himself came from Bury St. Edmunds, and spent the whole of Lent at Cambridge, (John of Oxenedes (Rolls Ser.), 212.) conducting a somewhat half-hearted campaign against the islanders and reorganizing the defences of the town. 'He caused gates to be made and ditches to be dug round the town with great diligence, not allowing the workmen to rest on holy days.' (Lib. Mem. de Bernewelle, 122.) The existing town ditch was deepened and its line may have been altered, for houses were pulled down to make room for it and for an eight-foot wide walk running alongside (Cam, Liberties and Communities, 16–18.). (VCH, 1959)

The ditch was open to the River Cam at either end and also functioned as a, notoriously ineffective, town sewer. Two wooden gates, the Barnwell and Trumpington gates, and the bridge over the Cam, which was also probably gated, controlled access.

Cambridge castle was not on the circuit of the defences.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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