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CHER Number:MCB17760
Type of record:Monument
Name:Aldreth Causeway, Haddenham

Summary

Part of the ancient road from Cambridge to the Isle of Ely, running straight across the fens. The most commonly cited explanation for the causeway’s construction is the story of William the Conqueror and his attempts to oust Hereward and his men from the Isle of Ely.

Grid Reference:TL 441 726
Parish:Haddenham, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire

Monument Type(s):

  • CAUSEWAY (Prehistoric - 500000 BC? to 42 AD?)
  • CAUSEWAY (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Protected Status:

  • SHINE: Aldreth Causeway, part of the ancient road from Cambridge to the Isle of Ely at Church Fen, Haddenham

Full description

1. Before the draining of the fens there were three main ways of getting on to the Isle of Ely: via the Stuntney Causeway to the east, the Earith Causeway to the west and the Aldreth Causeway to the south. Of these, the Aldreth Causeway is probably the earliest and has always been the more important.
The Aldreth Causeway is a part of the ancient road from Cambridge to the Isle of Ely, running straight across the fens to a spur of land on the Isle itself. It has been argued that the Aldreth Causeway might preserve some elements of a prehistoric track, but the most commonly cited explanation for the causeway’s construction is found in the story of William the Conqueror and his attempts to oust Hereward and his men from the Isle of Ely.

2. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1070 records that Hereward and his men mounted a raid on the Abbey of Peterborough in order to prevent its treasures falling into the hands of a Norman abbot. Hereward’s band then retreated to the Isle of Ely, where their knowledge of the fenland allowed them to fight a guerrilla war against the Normans. In response, in 1071 William the Conqueror led an attack on the Isle of Ely in an attempt to crush this resistance.
In order to breach Hereward’s island stronghold, the Normans built a causeway across the waterlogged fens. Tradition has it that this causeway was the road that became known as the Aldreth Causeway. However, during William’s first attack the weight of the troops on the bridge was so great that the causeway sank and many soldiers drowned.
A twelfth-century document, The Deeds of Hereward the Saxon, presents a much embellished account of Hereward’s early life, although the passages that deal with the Ely campaign were reportedly based on interviews with Hereward’s former associates. The document tells of William the Conqueror’s second attempt to storm the island. This time William’s men built defences and also recruited a witch to cast spells on the rebels during the battle. In retaliation, Hereward’s men set fire to the reeds and the ensuing heat and flames and smoke drove off the King’s men.

Sources and further reading

<1>Article in serial: Smail, R.. 1972. The Aldreth Causeway. Cambridgeshire Local History Council Bulletin 27: 10-19.
<2>Bibliographic reference: Rex, P.. 2005. Hereward: The Last Englishman.