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Fowlmere; The Round Moat

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Whites Close

In the civil parish of Fowlmere.
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: TL423458
Latitude 52.09233° Longitude 0.07715°

Fowlmere; The Round Moat has been described as a probable Timber Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The ringwork comprises a roughly oval stronghold, fortified by an earthen bank and an external ditch. The bank, or rampart, which forms a wider arc around the eastern side of the monument than to the west, encloses an area measuring about 95m north east to the south west and 65m north west to south east. The interior slopes gently towards the north where the bank reaches a maximum height of about 2m, approximately 1m above the height recorded elsewhere around the perimeter. During the period of occupation, the bank would probably have been surmounted by a wooden palisade. Material for the construction of the ramparts was quarried from an 8m wide external ditch, or moat, which completely encircled the ringwork and would have provided an additional means of defence. Despite the gradual accumulation of silts within the base, the ditch still reaches an average depth of c.1.5m. The southern arc of the moat is largely dry, as was the remainder of the circumference until a channel was dug along the base in 1902. This channel has subsequently been recut and extended, and now carries water around approximately 75% of the perimeter. The original water source, a channel entering the moat from the south, has been built over by part of the residential development which surrounds all but the north eastern side of the ringwork. A more limited supply is now provided by a series of drains leading from the estate which enter the moat on the south eastern, and eastern sides. The outflow runs through a narrow leat which links the north eastern side of the moat to a field boundary ditch some 50m to the north.
Access to the interior of the ringwork is provided by a 4m wide gap in the centre of the southern arm of the rampart, and by a 3m wide break in the north western part of the defences. The southern entrance way is approached by a causeway, 5m in width, spanning the ditch. The north western entrance is thought to have originally been served by a bridge.
In 1887, workmen planting trees within the interior discovered a well and part of a cobbled surface. In 1906, the Rev A C Yorke undertook a series of exploratory excavations within the ringwork. Trenches cut between both entranceways revealed further cobbled areas, and part of a similar surface (thought to represent a yard) was found in the northern part of the interior. The ditch adjacent to the southern entrance was found to have been originally some 3m in depth, silts having accumulated to a depth of about 1.8m. This was confirmed by later, more detailed examination of the ditch in 1992 which revealed steep sloping sides and a flat base. A small, dry, pond measuring approximately 18m by 6m, lies approximately 15m to the east of the southern entranceway, within the interior of the ringwork. This was also investigated in 1906 and found to contain silts to a depth of about 0.6m overlying a bed of broken flints. In the centre of the interior, Yorke's trenches revealed deposits of organic material to a depth of about 1m containing fragments of animal bone and medieval pottery.
A broad channel formerly extended some 50m to the north from the north western angle of the moat. The area between the ringwork and the parish church (termed Church Close on a tithe map dated 1850) was the subject of a rescue excavation in 1875, prior to a residential development. This investigation revealed a parallel ditch some 45m to the east of the moat extension. Traces of structures and a series of occupation surfaces dating to the 13th and 14th centuries were discovered in the area between these two features, possibly representing activities contemporary with the occupation of the ringwork. This area is however, overlain by housing and is not included in the scheduling. The north eastern arm of the ringwork is flanked by a large, roughly rectangular pond, measuring approximately 110m north west to south east and between 25m and 35m north east to south west. The pond, which is currently dry, is defined by inward facing scarps which descend to about 1m below the level of the surrounding ground on all but the north western side. This side was surveyed in the mid 1970s, but has been buried by subsequent landscaping. The north eastern scarp lies parallel to a brook, formalised as a field drain, which runs northwards towards the River Cam. The south western edge curves inwards following the line of the ring defences and is separated from the moat by a distance of approximately 3m. Sample excavations undertaken in 1993 demonstrated that the base of the pond is formed by a natural boggy depression, possibly for use as a fishpond, or for the purpose of attracting wildfowl. There is no evidence for an inlet channel leading from the adjacent brook, and the pond is thought to have been supplied with water from the moat, perhaps via a narrow break visible in the north eastern bank. The pond is therefore considered to be a later adjunct to the ringwork which could only have functioned whilst the moat was maintained. The drainage channel associated with the later reinstatement of the northern part of the moat passes through the break in the north eastern perimeter and is cut through the accumulated deposits within the pond.
The excavations in 1993 included a trial trench within the roughly triangular area which separates the moat from the eastern corner of the pond. A thick lay of upcast material containing medieval pottery was discovered, which is thought to relate to the cleaning of the moat in the medieval period. Beneath this lay the remains of a medieval structure composed of a sequence of occupation layers 0.3m in depth and a related post hole. This structure is associated with an infilled stream channel, also revealed by excavation, and is considered to be of particular importance for the understanding of the water management system surrounding the ringwork.
The rent roll of 1447 records the ringwork in the possession of Robert White, whose name was subsequently connected with the site which was known as Whites Close. The 1850 tithe map shows the ringwork as an old enclosure containing pasture, termed 'The Round Moats', a name which is still applied to the monument. At this time the ringwork was held by trustees on behalf of Mary Douglas and Anne Mitchell and occupied by a tenant, Thomas Nash. Trees were planted in the interior in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Few of these survived when the site was described in 1906, although the site has subsequently become wooded. (EH scheduling report 1998)

Minor excavations at Round Moat have failed to date its origins, and no firm assumptions can be made. Nonetheless, it is virtually identical is size, shape, and scale to the earthworks of the late Anglo-Saxon defended enclosure at Goltho. … the possibility must remain open that Round Moat at Fowlmere is our best surviving surviving example of a late Anglo-Saxon defended residence. (Blair 2014)
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:19:31

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