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The March Sconce: a Civil War fieldwork, 250m south west of Eastwood Burial Ground

A Scheduled Monument in March, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.5409 / 52°32'27"N

Longitude: 0.0932 / 0°5'35"E

OS Eastings: 542050.712366

OS Northings: 295730.395302

OS Grid: TL420957

Mapcode National: GBR L36.LDM

Mapcode Global: VHHHJ.KDMH

Entry Name: The March Sconce: a Civil War fieldwork, 250m south west of Eastwood Burial Ground

Scheduled Date: 14 January 1972

Last Amended: 3 January 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015200

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27188

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: March

Built-Up Area: March

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: March St Wendreda

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The monument includes the remains of an earthen fort, or sconce, dating from
the English Civil War, and a pattern of earlier earthworks overlain by the
sconce, which cover a rectangular field of approximately 2ha to the south of
Eastwood Avenue in the Town End area of March.
The sconce lies in the south eastern quarter of the field, visible as a low
rectangular platform orientated east to west and measuring approximately 60m
in length and 35m in width. Triangular or arrowhead-shaped bastions, each
about 15m wide and level with the platform, project diagonally for about 10m
from the two eastern corners. A similar bastion, somewhat less well defined,
extends from the south western corner and traces of the fourth bastion, at the
north western corner, have been identified by a survey of the site. The
platform (and bastions) are slightly raised above the surrounding ground level
and surrounded by a broad flat bottomed ditch, averaging 8m in width and 0.8m
in depth, which closely mirrors the outline of the raised features. The centre
of the platform contains a shallow rectangular hollow, about 25m by 16m, which
lends the perimeter of the platform the appearance of a low, flat-topped
rampart or `terreplein' on which cannons could be sited.
A shallow, largely infilled ditch leads from the area of the north western
bastion to the north west, broadly following the line of the main ditch. This
feature, which measures 4m-5m in width, extends to the west for around 50m
before returning to the south west corner of the sconce, forming a V-shaped
enclosure between the two western bastions. The ditch has been interpreted as
a later addition, unrelated to the fortification, but a study of the site has
compared it with outworks at the The Bulwark, a larger sconce at Earith (some
20km to the south), and suggested that it may have been an original feature,
either a breastwork providing cover for infantry, or a communication trench.
The sconce is undoubtedly the work of Parliamentarian forces, and was probably
constructed between 1643 and 1645 during the first stage of the Civil War. The
Cambridgeshire fens became the frontier of the Eastern Association of
Parliamentarian counties in 1643, facing parts of the Lincolnshire fens, not
far to the north, which were in Royalist hands. Much fighting took place
around Peterborough, Crowland and Kings Lynn in 1643-4 as Cromwell sought to
consolidate the Eastern Association's military frontier, and a string of forts
was constructed to defend the southern fens from Royalist incursions,
particularly after the Royalist rebellion on the Isle of Ely in May 1644. The
key to the Association's defence lay in the control of islands which, prior to
the extensive drainage of the fens, still formed the main lines of
communication, and in restricting traffic on the navigable rivers and drains
which could allow rapid movement of troops and cannon. The March Sconce is
thought to have served as part of this frontier and to have provided
protection for the island on which was stored the magazine for the whole of
the Isle of Ely. It clearly had a strategic purpose controlling the
north-south road between Ely and Wisbech (Ireton's Way) which crossed the
island of March close to the western side of the sconce, and the western
outwork may have served to defend the battery in case of attack from this
direction. Equally important, the siting of the sconce on a local prominence
near the southern margin of the fen island, allowed it to control traffic
along the Doddington Leam, an artificial navigation which linked the rivers
Ouse and Nene enabling communication from the Wash to Huntingdon without
touching land. The leam (now known as Horse Moor Drain) runs approximately 1km
to the east of the sconce, well within range of the smaller gauge of cannon
(culverins and demi-culverins) which are likely to have been stationed there.
It has been suggested that the low level of the earthworks implies that the
sconce was never completed, or simply served as a training work for unskilled
part-time soldiers. However, the absence of pronounced ramparts does not
necessarily lead to this conclusion, as military treatises of the time show
that gabions - bundles of sticks, sandbags or even wool - could equally have
provided a defensive wall surrounding the guns.
The Parliamentarian victory at Naseby in 1645 was followed by a brief
incursion into Huntingdonshire by Royalist forces under Charles I. This
short-lived action marked the end of the first phase of the war as far as the
fens were concerned, The March Sconce, like many other East Anglian
fortifications, never having seen action. The second phase of the war saw far
less activity in the eastern counties, the only major action being a
provincial uprising in Colchester in 1648.
The survey of the earthworks surrounding the sconce has shown that it
supplanted a small domestic settlement which had, in turn, overlain an area of
medieval cultivation. A low, L-shaped house platform occupies the north
eastern corner of the field immediately to the north of the sconce, and is
thought to correlate with the position of a house shown on an early 17th
century map of the island. The map also shows a group of structures to the
south which are thought to have been overlain by the sconce, and a boundary
running to the south west of the house which matches the position of a broad,
but largely infilled, drainage ditch crossing the field to the north west of
the sconce. This ditch forms the southern boundary of a pattern of ridge and
furrow, the product of medieval cultivation, which covers the north western
third of the field. Nine ridges, or `lands', remain visible running north to
south, each approximately 6m broad and separated by furrows of similar width.
The characteristic mounds, or heads, created by turning the plough at the end
of each land, are absent, and it is clear that the pattern originally
continued further south across the entire area of the field. A small fragment
of ridge and furrow has been identified in the narrow strip of land to the
south of the sconce. The low level of the earthworks (the ridges are only
about 0.3m high) is partly the result of a period of post-medieval ploughing,
which has slightly reduced all the earthworks in the field, and partly a
consequence of long abandonment. The medieval open fields around the southern
side of the island, of which this is the last surviving fragment, were
officially enclosed by public Act in 1762, although the process of enclosure
had been gathering pace throughout the previous century.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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.

The fieldwork at March survives well, retaining clear evidence of the design
of the fortification and nature of its construction. Only a small part of the
earthwork (at the north western corner) has been significantly disturbed, and
here the surrounding ditch will still survive as a buried feature. The
platform will contain buried evidence of temporary structures erected during
temporary the period of use, and artefacts of this period will be preserved
below ground both here and in the silts of the surrounding ditch.
The sconce shows clearly the influence of continental military designs (mostly
from Holland), developed in response to the increased mobility of contemporary
warfare and the dominance of artillery, which rendered defences of vertical
stonework obsolete. Its form demonstrates how these ideas were adapted in the
English context, and its position shows how the new designs were applied to
the difficult task of controlling the fens and defending the frontier of the
Eastern Association. In context with the other fortifications in the region
(both in rural locations and in the towns), the sconce provides key evidence
for the implementation of this defensive strategy and illustrates the variety
of methods adopted to this end.

The sites of the post-medieval buildings buried beneath the sconce and
immediately to the north are of particular interest, both in their own right
and in relation to the sconce, where the archaeological and documentary
evidence for the imposition of the fieldwork provides insights into the impact
of the Civil War on contemporary society. The medieval cultivation earthworks,
which were already long abandoned by the time the sconce was built, add
further to the significance of the site. They provide a graphic indication of
the successive and prolonged use of the site, are illustrative of the farming
techniques employed on the island prior to the period of enclosure and, due to
the depredations of modern agriculture and housing development in the region,
are now a very rare survival.

The monument lies in an area of dedicated open space. It is fully accessible
to the public and clearly described on an information board provided by the
local authority.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire, (1953), 118
Osborne, M, Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire, (1990), 8,10,30
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' in Cambridge Earthwork Surveys: IV, (1980), 114-5
Brown, A E, Taylor, C C, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' in Cambridge Earthwork Surveys: IV, (1980), 114-5
Hall, D, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in Cambridgeshire Survey, Peterborough to March, , Vol. 35, (1987), 47
Malim, T, 'Cambridgeshire Archaeology Report' in The Sconce, March: Civil War Fortifications, (1991)
Malim, T, 'Cambridgeshire Archaeology Report' in The Sconce, March: Civil War Fortifications, (1991)
Undated lecture notes in Cambs SMR, Baggs, T, The Civil War in East Anglia,

Source: Historic England

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