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Horsey Hill Fort: a Civil War fieldwork

A Scheduled Monument in Stanground South, Peterborough

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Latitude: 52.5478 / 52°32'52"N

Longitude: -0.1977 / 0°11'51"W

OS Eastings: 522305.865908

OS Northings: 295967.180439

OS Grid: TL223959

Mapcode National: GBR J04.BTJ

Mapcode Global: VHGKX.J7B5

Entry Name: Horsey Hill Fort: a Civil War fieldwork

Scheduled Date: 1 January 1927

Last Amended: 19 November 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015201

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27189

County: Peterborough

Electoral Ward/Division: Stanground South

Traditional County: Huntingdonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Stanground

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The Civil War fieldwork known as Horsey Hill Fort is situated between
Stanground and Whittlesey on the east bank of the old course of the River
Nene, some 300m to the east of the Horsey Bridge where the A605 Whittlesey
Road is joined by the Milk and Water Drove (B1095).

The fort, essentially a large gun emplacement or sconce, is pentagonal in
plan, covering approximately 2.7ha and measuring some 110m along each side.
The interior, which is broadly level and raised by about 1.5m above its
surroundings, was originally fully enclosed by a earthen bank with bastions at
each corner. The bank remains substantially complete except on the north
western arm where it has been partly truncated by the line of the Whittlesey
Road. Elsewhere, the bank averages 12m in width and 2m high, with a level
summit some 3m in width. The inner face of this bank may originally have been
near vertical with a firing step or banquette below a timber palisade pierced
by gun loops. It may also have been strengthened by a fringe of sharpened
stakes (storm poles) inserted in the outer face. Of the five arrowhead shaped
bastions which projected diagonally from the corners, three now survive
largely undisturbed. The remaining two (on the north western arm) were partly
cut away to allow modern road widening and a toll-keeper's house was built on
the north western bastion in the 19th century. The remaining bastions
(pointing east, south east and south west) each extend approximately 10m
beyond the banks and measure about 20m across their axes. These served as
artillery platforms, allowing a wide range of fire in all directions as well
as close quarter defence for the ramparts to either side. Slight hollows in
the centre of each bastion mark the positions of the cannons, and there are
traces of parapets around the outer edges which would have provided protection
for the gunners. A narrow earthen ramp rises alongside the south western bank
towards the rear of the south western bastion, apparently constructed using
upcast from a deep, 10m wide pit dug along its western side. This is thought
to have been used to raise the cannons to their firing positions around the
The outer slopes of the banks and bastions descend to a level terrace which
survives around the inner defences, on all but the north western side of the
fort. It averages 10m in width and retains slight traces of an outer parapet
indicating that it served as a `covered way' for infantry. The outer edge of
the terrace slopes sharply to form the inner face of a surrounding, partly
infilled ditch. This feature measures approximately 10m across and its outer
edge can still be traced around the southern, western and eastern arms where
it is marked by a later drainage cut. The ditch is no longer visible around
the eastern bastion or along the north eastern arm of the rampart, although it
will remain in a buried condition and is included in the scheduling.
Construction of the toll road (no later than 1766) and more extensive modern
improvements have removed all trace of the north western section of the ditch.

There are three breaks in the bank, two of which (in the north west and south
east arms) are modern and carry driveways related to the 19th century
farmhouse (Horsey Grange) located toward the eastern side of the interior. A
12m wide gap in the centre of the southern bank is thought to have provided
the original entrance. This would have been approached along the terrace, or
covered way, probably from the south eastern corner where traces of a causeway
across the ditch remain. The entranceway was protected by a triangular
projection, or salient, which extends across the ditch immediately to the
south. A slightly raised causeway, about 0.4m high and 4m wide, runs across
the interior of the fort between the entrance and the north western bastion.

The fort was constructed by Parliamentarian forces in 1643-4, during the first
stages of the English Civil War. At the onset of the war Huntingdonshire
formed part of the Midlands Association of Parliamentarian counties, becoming
a frontier county of the Eastern Association shortly after it was formed in
1643. The Eastern Association, led by Oliver Cromwell (amongst others),
initially took a defensive stance, concentrating on the fortification of
Cambridge and the control of major communication routes across the fens, which
largely consisted of the principal causeways and navigations. Early in 1643
Cromwell embarked on a strategy to consolidate the Association's military
frontier; first securing the Royalist ports of Lowestoft and Kings Lynn, then
moving on to take Peterborough and finally Crowland, the last Royalist outpost
in the fens. In May, there was a Royalist rebellion on the Isle of Ely, which
was eventually suppressed by troops from Cambridge. This rebellion clearly
demonstrated that the Isle would be readily defendable by a larger force
should it fall to the opposition, and the major approaches from the north and
west were therefore strengthened with garrisons at Wisbech and Earith. Horsey
Hill Fort was probably constructed as part of this line of defence, designed
to control the river, the river crossing and the Fen Causeway - an ancient
road which ran in the narrow strip of land between the canalised River Nene
and Whittlesey Mere. If the fort was not erected in response to this crisis,
it may well have been built in the following year to contain Prince Rupert's
forces after they pressed into Lincolnshire and regained Crowland. In October
1644, shortly after Crowland and Peterborough fell, the Eastern Association
sent 300 men from Cambridge to hold `Horsey Bridge Pass', a reference which is
taken to mean either the construction of the fort, or the strengthening of the
existing garrison. Parliamentarian fortunes improved after the battle of
Naseby in August 1645, although this victory was followed by a brief incursion
into Huntingdonshire by Royalists commanded by Charles I. This short-lived
action marked the end of the first phase of the war as far as the fens were
concerned, during which time it is probable that Horsey Hill Fort, like many
other East Anglian fortifications, never saw action. The second phase of the
war provoked little activity locally, the only major action being a provincial
uprising in Colchester in 1648.

All standing structures within the fieldwork (including the toll-keeper's
house and Horsey Grange), the surfaces of all drives and paths, all fences and
gates and all modern fixtures such as the lamp posts flanking the main
driveway, are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath all
these features is included.

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.

Although a small part of the earthwork has been damaged by road works the
greater part of Horsey Hill Fort survives substantially undisturbed. The
banks, covered way, entrance and bastions will all contain details of their
construction and use, and the interior will contain buried evidence of
temporarary structures erected during this brief period. Artefacts related to
the occupation and function of the monument will be preserved below ground
both here, and in the silts of the surrounding ditch.

Horsey Hill Fort is amongst the most elaborate fortification in England to
have survived from the Civil War. It shows clear influences of contemporary
continental military design (developed in response to the increased mobility
of contemporary warfare and the dominance of artillery), and how these ideas
were adapted in the English context. The fort's position demonstrates the
importance of the Fen Causeway and Nene crossing within the military frontier
surrounding the Isle of Ely and, together with a number of other
fortifications in the region (both in similar rural locations and in the main
towns), illustrates the variety of defensive measures employed by the Eastern

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 312-13
Osborne, M, Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire, (1990), 32-3
Osborne, M, Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire, (1990), 15
Morrill, J, 'The Oxford History of Britain' in The Stuarts (1603-1688), (1989), 365
RCHME, Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Huntingdon, (1926)
SMR parish file (Earith), Baggs, T, Lecture Notes (Civil War in Cambridgeshire), (1990)

Source: Historic England

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