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CHER Number:01770
Type of record:Monument
Name:Belsar's Hill

Summary

Medieval ringwork constructed on top of a prehistoric enclosure and with associated remains of part of a medieval field system

Grid Reference:TL 422 702
Parish:Willingham, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire
Map:Show this site on map

Monument Type(s):

  • REDOUBT? (English Civil Wars - 1642 AD to 1651 AD)
  • CASTLE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • RIDGE AND FURROW (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • RINGWORK (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FORT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • DITCH (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Events:

  • Earthworks survey, Belsar's Hill, Willingham, 1993

Protected Status:

  • Scheduled Monument 1010368: Belsar's Hill ringwork

Full description

Depicted on all C18 - C19 maps in CRO.
1. Belsar's Hill in Willingham Fen - its low situation, only 18ft above sea level and its considerable size and strength have long made it a puzzle. It has been traditionally associated with William I's campaign to oust Hereward from the Isle of Ely and its position on the way leading to Aldreth Causeway is consistent with this view. Its old name was Belassise, from which Belsar has been derived, and this is not the type of name which might be expected if the site belonged to pre Conquest times. The form of the work does not differ in any obvious way from that of the keep of a keep and bailey castle, and it may well be that this was a base from which some part of the Norman attack on the Isle of Ely was organized.

2. This earthwork is 1 mile due east of the church. It stands on low ground at a height of 18ft OD, on the edge of Hempsal's Fen. In form it is nearly circular, with a longer diameter of 880ft running north-west and south-east, and a shorter diameter of 750ft. A single bank and ditch surrounds the whole area, in varying stages of decay. The original state of the work is best seen on the north side, where the overall width of the bank and ditch is 80ft, the bank contributing 53ft and the ditch 27ft to this. The depth of the ditch is from 2ft to 3ft,and it tends to be wet round the whole of the circuit. In its original condition it would have been a formidable obstacle. The bank is 7ft high at the best, but its condition varies greatly from place to place. On the north-west it has been thrown down into the ditch for the distance of 60ft in comparatively recent times, giving easy access from the surrounding field. It is worst preserved round the east side, where it appears to have been spread over the inclosed area, since the ditch shows no sign of any other filling than the natural silting and is almost permanently wet. No trace of a certain original entrance exists. On the north-east, close to the hedge of the Mod driftway which crosses the Inclosure, a marked causeway 24ft wide interrupts the ditch, but it has no certain appearance of being contemporary with the rest of the work. The driftway runs from south-west to north-east, almost along a diameter, and running from the ground west of Rampton direct to the Isle of Ely by Aldreth Causeway. The present line of the way goes right over the bank and ditch, which latter forms a slough in winter. The OS map of 1836 shows it passing round the east side. The whole of the Inclosure has been under the plough, and strongly marked series of ridges and furrows run across it from north-west to south-east. These vestiges are crossed by the present line of the driftway. Nothing has been found at Belsar's Hill to give a clue to the age of the work. The driftway which runs by it has certainly been in use since Norman times as a principal line of approach to the Isle of Ely, and it may be of a much higher antiquity.

4. Belsar's Hill is a circular ringwork, 880ft by 750ft with a single bank and ditch, lying on the edge of the fen. The bank is much wasted; the area is now pasture but has been under plough. A trackway leading to Aldreth causeway (TL 47 SW 42) now bisects the camp, going over, not through the bank. Reference to the 1836 OS map shows that the track then skirted the camp on the east side. An original entrance lies to the west; faint traces remain of an east entrance.

O2, No building sites could be positively identified but an elongated area of disturbance within the eastern arc could very well be grassed over foundations. A possible entrance lies to the NW. The NE causeway is almost certainly contemporary with the ridge and furrow. The earthwork is very similar to that previously investigated at TF/19--/07--, though a little smaller, and both have suggestions of entrances to the NW. Curiously, Mod ways bisect both the works in a similar way. Revised on 1:2500 field document.
O3, Belsar's Hill is suggested by Renn (R6) as a possible site for "Alrehede" castle, associated with the defence of the Isle of Ely in1069 - 1071 (C11) (see TL 47 SW 41). He postulates a post-Conquest origin for Belsar's Hill on the strength of the name "Belassise". Listed under Iron Age (R7). Scheduled under "Camps and Settlements".

9. Belsar's Hill (NAT) Settlement (NR).
In 1914, when examined by C Fox, the work was wholly ancient pasture. A well preserved bank and ditch on W side, more denuded on E side. Original ? entrance on N side. The causeway goes over the filled in ditch and partly levelled bank. Traditionally used by William the Conqueror in his attack on Ely. Has never been excavated nor have any finds been recorded. This interesting earthwork is situated N of the Willingham - Rampton road and is bisected NE - SW by a green road. The NW portion presents a bank approximately 5m in height from ditch bottom to top of bank, which is 9m across the top at the widest point adjoining the N entrance. Ridge and furrow in the interior running N - S appears to have flattened the bank. The ditch holds water. S of the site the ridge and furrow runs E - W. Here the bank is more flattened and spread. The ditch is wet and very broad to E being approximately 6m wide and one and a half metres high to top of bank. Along the E side the ditch broadens into a pond. This portion is fenced off with post and wire. There is some erosion by cattle in this area. Mature tree stumps remain along perimeter of ditch. The whole is under pasture. It would seem there are similar features between this earthwork and that at Peakirk Moor (Cambs SAM 222).

Permanent pasture. Broad ridge and furrow clearly seen inside and outside the bank and ditch, which have been spread by Medieval ploughing. The whole site is still an impressive earthwork, with some of the most impressive ridge and furrow in Cambs. The monument has an uncanny resemblance to Burrough Fen.

DN Hall ref WIL S1, record no 1022 (db II 659).

The scheduled area has been considerably extended.

10. Sub-circular banked and ditched enclosure - probably of hillfort origin - with ridge and furrow inside and outside the earthwork. Considerable detail can be attained from AP interpretation.(R Palmer 13/10/1993).Not on CCC overlay.

Detailed survey and history of the site, including both the fort and the open field system, together with plans.

12. It is suggested that Belsar's Hill is the English Civil War defence known as Wivelingham Flat, one of the defences of the southern side of the Isle of Ely along with Aldreth High Bridge and Stretham. There is no corroborating evidence for this.
Function: attack on Ely by William the Conqueror?
Finished? yes?
Occupation: ?
Relationship to surrounding settlements? On Aldreth Causeway.

Sources and further reading

---Unpublished report: 1993. Belsar's Hill, Willingham, Cambridgeshire. RCHME Report
---Article in serial: Kenney, J. and Oswald, A.. 1996. Belsar's Hill, Willingham, Cambridgeshire: A Survey by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. PCAS 84: 5-14.
---Bibliographic reference: Taylor, A.. Castles of Cambridgeshire.
---Aerial Photograph: Wilson, S.. 2010. Aerial photograph of Belsar's Hill. TL42317028.
<1>Bibliographic reference: Salzman, L.F (ed). 1948. The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Volume 2. 3.
<2>Bibliographic reference: Salzman, L.F (ed). 1948. The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Volume 2. 45 - 46 (plan).
<3>Map: 1958. OS 6 inch map.
<4>Bibliographic reference: Fox, C.. 1923. The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region. 137.
<5>Map: 1936. OS 1 inch map 1st edition.
<6>Bibliographic reference: Renn, D.F.. 1973. Norman Castles in Britain. p. 89.
<7>Unpublished document: 1978. DOE (IAM) AMs in England 3. 14.
<8>Bibliographic reference: Dyer, J.. 1973. South England: An Archaeological Guide. p. 27.
<9>Map: 1979. OS 1:10000 map.
<10>Aerial Photograph:
<10>Aerial Photograph:
<10>Aerial Photograph:
<11>Unpublished document: Charlotte Andrews. 2005. Belsar's Hill, Willingham: An Archaeological Desktop Survey.
<12>Bibliographic reference: Osborne, M.. 1990. Cromwellian Fortifications in Cambridgeshire. p.16.

Related records

09876Related to: Possible Civil War Fort, Elford (Monument)
MCB17293Related to: Possible Site of Civil War Redoubt, Aldreth High Bridge, Haddenham (Monument)