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CHER Number:01078
Type of record:Monument
Name:Bishop of Ely's Palace, Somersham


The site of the Bishop of Ely's palace with associated fishponds and a smaller moated site, located to the south of Somersham village.

Grid Reference:TL 359 775
Parish:Somersham, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire

Monument Type(s):

  • BISHOPS PALACE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FISHPOND (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • MOAT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BRIDGE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Events:

  • Archaeological monitoring at Park House, Somersham, 2004 (Ref: SOM PH 03)
  • Evaluation at Palace Yard Farm, Somersham in 2019

Protected Status:

  • Scheduled Monument () 1010475: Medieval magnate's moated residence (the Bishop of Ely's Palace) with fishponds and a later moated site, south of Somersham

Full description

Medieval magnate's moated residence (the Bishop of Ely's Palace) with fishponds and a later moated site, south of Somersham.

3. The site of Somersham Palace is now occupied by a modern house surrounded by an oval shaped moat. All that remains are the abutments of a bridge over the N arm of the moat and the 16th century wall on the N and E sides of the garden. It was probably used as a residence by the Bishops of Ely before 1109, falling into a state of decay and finally pulled down c1762. Associated with the site are the remains of two fish ponds.

4. The Bishops owned some of the surrounding Somersham Forest and in 1341 claimed the right to hunt deer freely "throughout the whole forest of Somersham, to wit as the highway passes from Huntingdon to Ramsey through Ripton". This was the W boundary of the Forest, but the Bishop's claims were successfully resisted by the Huntingdon Foresters.

5. Contains detailed description of present condition of monument and of extensions to the scheduled area. Now included are the fishponds to the S and the artificial dried out fishing lake to the north. The Bishop of Ely's palace is well documented historically and has important ecclesiastical associations which extend back before the Conquest. The monument retains high potential for the preservation of archaeological remains as well as environmental evidence in the fills of the moat ditches and fish ponds.

6. Monitoring of works on the Scheduled Ancient Monument revealed a possible medieval building platform and subsequent demolition layer. A later ha-ha ditch and drain reused mediaeval bricks, probably from the Bishop's Palace or an associated building
See RN 01078a - C16 wall

02, The abutments of the bridge survive but the wall of the garden has been destroyed. In addition to the two fish ponds to the N there is a string of four smaller fish ponds to the SE. Within the moat at TL/3603/7750 is a pond and to its immediate E a depression which is probably the remains of another. All features revised at 1:2500. The moat at TL/3575/7716 was probably associated with the Palace but has now been completely destroyed.

03, Somersham was acquired by the Abbey of Ely in 991 and became part of the Bishop's endowment in 1109. There are considerable records of the palace which was described in detail in a survey of 1588. It consisted of two or three courtyards, two bridges etc. The present remains are disappointing. A house of c 1850 with farmyard occupies the moated area, which is oval. Some of the moats appear to be original. The abutments for the bridge are of masonry and may be Medieval, while two sides of a square area enclosed by a brick wall are late Medieval or Tudor. The whole area is very dilapidated and derelict. Two large ponds on the N (not Scheduled) may be Medieval or Tudor. The site lies S of the church. The interior is grassed. The moat is broad to W and SW and narrower to N and E width varying from 1m - 2m. The banks to E stand approximately 2m above water. Several elms have been felled on the site. The bridge is in a very bad state of repair with large ashlar stones fallen from structure. The two large pond areas to N are built over to E and grassed to W. Outside the SE corner of the scheduled area are 4 linked rectangular ponds of varying sizes. They hold water and appear to be a fine set of fish ponds. I find it surprising that these are not included in the scheduling as they are in very good condition , and obviously an integral part of the Palace complex.

8. An archaeological evaluation at Palace Yard Farm in 2019 revealed a number of wall foundations that may relate to the medieval palace. See MCB30553 for full details.

<1> 1958, OS 6 inch map (Map). SCB9007.

<2> Ordnance Survey, 1925, OS 25 inch map (Map). SCB8872.

<3> Page, W., Proby, G and Inskip Ladds, S., 1932, The Victoria County History of Huntingdonshire. Volume 2, 225 - 226 (Bibliographic reference). SCB12071.

<4> Woodger, A., 1986, An Introduction to Ancient Huntingdonshire, 27 (Bibliographic reference). SCB15748.

<5> Taylor, C.C., 1989, Somersham Palace. Cambridgeshire. A Medieval Landscape for Pleasure? (Article in monograph). SCB1388.

<6> Gaimster, M. and O'Connor, K., 2005, Medieval Britain & Ireland in 2004. Med Arch XLIX, No.41 (Article in serial). SCB19533.

<7> Baird, J., Field Investigator Comments, 28/4/71 (Verbal communication). SCB62256.

<8> Green, M., 2019, Palace Yard Farm, Church Street, Somersham Archaeological evaluation (Unpublished report). SCB68077.

Sources and further reading

<1>Map: 1958. OS 6 inch map.
<2>Map: Ordnance Survey. 1925. OS 25 inch map.
<3>Bibliographic reference: Page, W., Proby, G and Inskip Ladds, S.. 1932. The Victoria County History of Huntingdonshire. Volume 2. 225 - 226.
<4>Bibliographic reference: Woodger, A.. 1986. An Introduction to Ancient Huntingdonshire. 27.
<5>Article in monograph: Taylor, C.C.. 1989. Somersham Palace. Cambridgeshire. A Medieval Landscape for Pleasure?.
<6>Article in serial: Gaimster, M. and O'Connor, K.. 2005. Medieval Britain & Ireland in 2004. Med Arch XLIX. No.41.
<7>Verbal communication: Baird, J.. Field Investigator Comments. 28/4/71.
<8>Unpublished report: Green, M.. 2019. Palace Yard Farm, Church Street, Somersham Archaeological evaluation.

Related records

01874Related to: Fish ponds, Bishop of Ely's Palace (Monument)
01078aRelated to: Garden wall at the site of Bishop of Ely's Palace, Somersham (Monument)
MCB30553Related to: Possible medieval wall foundations, Palace Yard Farm, Somersham (Monument)