Ancient Monuments

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The Manor of Hemingford Grey: a medieval moated site

A Scheduled Monument in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.3191 / 52°19'8"N

Longitude: -0.1094 / 0°6'33"W

OS Eastings: 528961.622368

OS Northings: 270683.945792

OS Grid: TL289706

Mapcode National: GBR K49.H5G

Mapcode Global: VHGLY.2Z11

Entry Name: The Manor of Hemingford Grey: a medieval moated site

Scheduled Date: 3 April 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017361

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29754

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Hemingford Grey

Built-Up Area: Hemingford Grey

Traditional County: Huntingdonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Hemingford Grey St James

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The medieval moated site known as `The Manor' is situated adjacent to the
River Great Ouse on the west side of the village of Hemingford Grey. The manor
derives from land first granted to Ramsey Abbey in 1041-42 by King Harthacnut
and his mother Aelfgifu, the grant being confirmed by Edward the Confessor
about 10 years later. Following the Norman Conquest the manor was enfoeffed
by William I to Aubrey de Vere, ancestor of the Earls of Oxford, whose
family remained tenants-in-chief until the end of the 14th century.

By 1086 the estate had been subinfeudated to Ralf, son of Osmond, and it was
Ralf's son, Payn de Hemingford who, in about 1130, built the Norman hall house
which still stands on the moated island. The house is a Listed Grade I
Building and excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is

Both the house and the moated site clearly reflect the unsettled history of
the first half of the 12th century. The island, rectangular in plan and
measuring approximately 85m east to west and 66m north to south, is surrounded
by a substantial moat up to 10m wide. There is no apparent causeway, and it is
likely that access was via a bridge. Given the site's location and
orientation, this was probably on the eastern side. The house was designed to
be inaccessible at ground floor level, and its position, close to the eastern
arm of the moat, would have permitted clear views of any approach from the
direction of the main highway to the east (the ancient drove road linking Ely,
St Ives and London). The moat is now partly infilled but the western and
southern arms, together with the southern half of the eastern arm, are still
wet. The line of the northern arm is still visible on the ground as a slight

It is thought that the moat was fed by ground water seepage and surface
run-off, the water being controlled by two drainage leats (channels) extending
northward to the river from the two northern corners. The western leat is now
infilled but the eastern leat, although somewhat adapted, still survives as a
functioning drainage channel regulated by a sluice. The area between the two
leats would have served as an ancillary enclosure, perhaps for the paddocking
of livestock. Only the southern portion of this enclosure now survives,
probably as a result of the activities of Reginald de Grey during the 13th
century. Reginald, a descendant of Payn de Hemingford through the female
line, and ancestor of the Earls of Kent, diverted the course of the River
Great Ouse, bringing it further south to supply his mills at Hemingford Grey.
Reginald may also have been responsible for the construction of an additional
wing to the eastern side of the house, creating an `L'-shaped structure. His
son, John, is known to have had a chapel on the site in 1321, and this may
have been an element of the 13th century wing.

From the end of the 15th century the manor passed in rapid succession to a
number of owners and tenants including Edmund Dudley who was executed for
treason in 1510, and Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent. Dudley's son, John,
later Duke of Northumberland and father in law of Lady Jane Grey, sold the
manor to Sir Richard Cromwell in 1537, and Sir Richard returned it to the
Crown in exchange for other lands. During the 16th century extensive
alterations to the Norman house were carried out. These included the
insertion of the massive chimney, and it is thought that the 13th century wing
was replaced or extensively remodelled at the same time.

The manor was retained as Crown property until 1721 when it was sold to James
Mitchell of Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire, remaining with the family until the
20th century. Mitchell probably instigated the 18th century building phase
which was clearly intended not only to enlarge the house but to give it a
fashionable appearance. To this end, the Norman building was extended to the
west, and its north elevation was pushed forward to become part of the new,
elegant facade. The extended and refurbished house was leased to James
Gunning and was the birthplace of his daughters, Maria (1733) and Elizabeth
(1735) who, famed as `the beautiful Misses Gunning' became the toasts of
London society. Maria became Countess of Coventry and Elizabeth Duchess of
Hamilton and later Duchess of Argyll.

The fashionable extension was destroyed by fire in 1799 and was never
replaced, although a small outshut (saltbox form) extension was subsequently
added to the southern end of the west side, probably during the Victorian
period, when further adaptations to the eastern wing took place. The outshut
was demolished during the 20th century. Buried evidence for this structure,
and for the 18th century extension will be preserved and are included in the

In 1937 the house and grounds were sold to the writer Lucy Boston who
undertook extensive restoration works to the house and laid out the present
gardens, both central to the themes of her childrens' books.

The house, outbuildings, all walls, fences, fence posts, gates, modern
surfaces, garden furniture and the modern sluice are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included,
together with the remains of all previous extensions to the house.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more
islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some
cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was
between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in
central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built
throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and
exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a
significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding
of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples
provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

The manor at Hemingford Grey includes well preserved earthworks and buried
features which are associated with a rare example of a medieval manor house,
still in use. Although the house is not included in the scheduling the ground
beneath and around it will retain buried deposits, both structural and
artefactual, relating to its construction and development including the former
13th century wing, the medieval chapel and later alterations.

The surrounding moat survives as a visible feature. Partial infilling of the
moat and associated leats will preserve artefacts relating to the
water-control system and to the use of the moated island and the adjacent
enclosure, together with environmental deposits illustrating the nature of the
landscape in which the monument was set.

An unusually high level of historical documentation records the succession of
owners and tenants from the manor's earliest known occupants in the 12th
century to the present day. These records, together with the archaeological
evidence, enable a reconstruction of the site's evolution from its defensive
origins and continued high status through the medieval and post-medieval
periods to its present association with the author, Lucy Boston.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Manor Hemingford Grey
The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, (1995)
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 309-10
Ladds, S I, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdon, (1926), 309-312
video tour and history of manor site, Copestake, P and D, The Magical Manor of Hemingford Grey, (1997)
video tour of house and grounds, Copestake, P and D, The Magical Manor of Hemingford Grey, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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