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CHER Number:01095
Type of record:Monument
Name:Biggin Abbey

Summary - not yet available

Grid Reference:TL 487 616
Parish:Fen Ditton, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire
Horningsea, South Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire

Monument Type(s):

  • MOAT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • BISHOPS PALACE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • CHAPEL (Medieval to 19th century - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • FARMHOUSE (Post Medieval - 1540 AD to 1900 AD)

Associated Events:

  • Aerial Investigation Mapping Project, East Cambridgeshire (Ref: P7767)

Protected Status:

Full description

S4, Biggin Abbey, Grade 2. The remains of a former residence of the Bishops of Ely, converted into a farmhouse. A mansion was built on the site (which was moated) by Hugh de Northwold, Bishop of Ely, by the mid C13. Henry III, Edward I and Edward II all paid visits here. In the later C16 the manor was given up to the Crown and was turned into a farmhouse. The present building has two storeys and attics. The walls are two feet thick and covered with cement plaster; the roofs have been relaid with asbestos sheeting. The front has a stepped buttress at the NE end and a 3 window range of Mod casements. The NE gabled end has a blocked ground floor window of 2 cinquefoiled lights in a square head; above it, but only visible internally in bedroom and attic above is part of the splay of a large window. There are blocked windows on the NW Side, and 12 trefoiled light window in square head. At the apex of the NE gable is a base of a C16 - C17 chimney stack, the shaft in Mod brick. The interior has been much altered and there are Mod partitions. The ground floor is divided into four bays with heavy dividing beams. In the NE angle is a small stone stair case leading to the upper floor. There is a steep chamfered ceiling beam in one of the bedrooms. In the attic is a 'Monks Prison', it may have been used as a chapel where Mass was celebrated' in his description of the house. On the SW end of the house are 2 small cottage additions of one storey and attics, chequer brickwork fronts, the roofs tiled
01, Biggin, a small farmhouse in fair condition. As described above but not outstanding externally.
S3, The building stands in the NE corner of a former moated site occupying an almost square area of about 5 acres with a ditch up to30 feet wide. The ditch has recently been almost entirely destroyed and now only the W side exists as a 3 feet W facing scarp, together with traces of the NE corner. It is shown as complete on the Inclosure Map of 1807. The reference to the enclosing of the manor in 1276 may relate to the construction of this moat.
03, 'Especially worthy of preservation' Course of moat visible on St Joseph air photographs.
S5, A field's width distant from the River Cam at Baitsbite Lockstands one of the oldest domestic dwellings in this part of the world. Known as the Biggins not now palatial. Ditton estate made over to Ely monks under Cnut; made over to Henry, 1st Bishop of Ely, 1109 and granted to bailiff for tribute of silver and '3 horseloads of meal' to be used by the monastery in June and October established to watch Cambridge and consolidate rights in the District. Not known whether Hugh de Northwold the great builder Bishop of Ely restored or enlarged one of mansiones (?) already standing or whether the palace at Ditton entirely new foundation but some work survives in the Biggin. At the year 1251 he achieved a mansion but he may have done so very much earlier. Henry III stayed at Ditton for 3 days in 1238 and other occasions; Edward I as prince and thrice as King; Edward II 3 weeks in 1315. The crenellation carried out by Bishop Hugh de Balsham c 1276 seems to have been the final dignity bestowed upon the palace, and by 1478 the manor had declined (occupied by Dr Lempster at this time). The manor was yielded up to Elizabeth I and thenceforth the Biggin sank to a farmhouse. Since the end of the C18 the main portion of the house has been encased in cement and apart from the remaining window frames and buttresses, shows little exterior traces of its antiquity, but the twisting stone stair and a great brick chimney isolated in the centre of one of the bedrooms are still to be seen. An arch at the N end below the gable, can still be made out between the rafters and the present roof and a curious enclosed structure, traditionally known as the 'Monk's prison', may conceivably have been the chapel mentioned in Rev W Cole's MS of 1775.
R1, At TL/488-/619-, where Roman pot marked on 6 in map in 1951 small area was unploughed, in centre of field. 1970 photo shows whole field under crops, ploughed-out small hump in centre of field. Moat and associated system (R Palmer 08/05/1984)
05, We could find no traces of the moat.
R4, Biggin Abbey; Mentioned in 1260, now just the hall, on a moated site, remains with earthworks around TL/487-/617-
O6, Substantial earthworks lying to the N of present farm buildings possibly result from coprolite extraction.

8-13. A moat of medieval date is visible on historic aerial photographs as earthworks and cropmarks and was mapped as part of the East Cambridgeshire Aerial Investigation and Mapping project (ECB6189). Located at Biggin Abbey and centred at TL 48781 61711. The moat at Biggin Abbey is visible as a rectangular cropmark 165x150m surrounding the remaining buildings; it appears to be present on the 1808 Ordnance Surveyors’ drawing but is not shown on the Epoch 1 map by the late 19th century. The northern side of the moat is visible as an earthwork in 1947 but is cropmarks by 1968; the parish boundary between Fen Ditton and Horningsea also follows this part of the moat. Coprolite mining may have been responsible for the loss of the southern part. A water channel/ditch is visible at the north western corner of the moat, probably forming part of the water supply system for the moat. A Roman settlement/farmstead is visible as cropmarks to the north of the moat (05442/11557).

Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB1399.

Untitled Source (Bibliographic reference). SCB186.

Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB221.

Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB227.

Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB228.

Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB55.

Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB3243.

Untitled Source (Bibliographic reference). SCB8677.

Provisional OS 6 inch (Map). SCB8923.

Oosthuizen, S., 1985, Lost, deserted and shifted settlements in South Cambridgeshire c 1000 - 1850 AD: A Gazetteer (Bibliographic reference). SCB8680.

Reaney, R.H., 1943, The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, 142 (Bibliographic reference). SCB13796.

RCHM, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire. Volume II. North-East Cambridgeshire, 54 (Bibliographic reference). SCB13360.

Untitled Source (Aerial Photograph). SCB4474.

<8> East Cambridgeshire AIM, 2019, RAF-CPE-UK-1952 RP 3088 25-Mar-1947 (Geospatial data). SCB67999.

<9> East Cambridgeshire AIM, 2019, RAF-543-T-899 F21 116 05-May-1960 (Geospatial data). SCB68000.

<10> East Cambridgeshire AIM, 2019, MAL-68011 V 190 24-Mar-1968 (Geospatial data). SCB68001.

<11> East Cambridgeshire AIM, 2019, TL4861-0010 181 22-Jun-1970 (Geospatial data). SCB68002.

<12> Google Earth, 2003, Google Earth Pro Imagery from 2003 (Aerial Photograph). SCB53819.

<13> British Library, 1808, Digital image of 1808 Ordnance Surveyors' drawing - Cambridge 23, 31-Oct-19 (Cartographic materials). SCB67951.

Sources and further reading

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<R1>Aerial Photograph:
<R2>Bibliographic reference:
<R3>Map: Provisional OS 6 inch.
<R4>Bibliographic reference: Oosthuizen, S.. 1985. Lost, deserted and shifted settlements in South Cambridgeshire c 1000 - 1850 AD: A Gazetteer.
<R5>Bibliographic reference: Reaney, R.H.. 1943. The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. 142.
<R6>Bibliographic reference: RCHM. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire. Volume II. North-East Cambridgeshire. 54.
<R7>Aerial Photograph:
<8>Geospatial data: East Cambridgeshire AIM. 2019. RAF-CPE-UK-1952 RP 3088 25-Mar-1947.
<9>Geospatial data: East Cambridgeshire AIM. 2019. RAF-543-T-899 F21 116 05-May-1960.
<10>Geospatial data: East Cambridgeshire AIM. 2019. MAL-68011 V 190 24-Mar-1968.
<11>Geospatial data: East Cambridgeshire AIM. 2019. TL4861-0010 181 22-Jun-1970.
<12>Aerial Photograph: Google Earth. 2003. Google Earth Pro Imagery from 2003.
<13>Cartographic materials: British Library. 1808. Digital image of 1808 Ordnance Surveyors' drawing - Cambridge 23. 31-Oct-19.