Ely Cherry Hill

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameEly Cherry Hill
Alternative NamesThe Mount
Historic CountryCambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely
Modern AuthorityCambridgeshire
1974 AuthorityCambridgeshire
Civil ParishEly

Ely Castle, or Cherry Hill Castle, a motte and bailey built by William I in 1070 to subdue Ely. Once Ely was quiessent, the motte was abandoned. However it was refortified in 1140 and immediately captured by King Stephen, and was captured by Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1143. It lies on the south side of the Cathedral Park just inside 'Ely' Porta and close to the old tithe barn of the monastery. The motte is 40ft high with a basal diameter of 250ft and a summit diameter of 50ft. No ditch remains. The bailey consists of a four-sided enclosure on the south east of the motte, 300ft x 250ft. The surrounding bank is slight and there is no trace of an outer ditch. There is a gap in the north side where it should join the motte. (PastScape)

In the years following the Conquest the Isle of Ely became the rallying point of elements hostile to the new regime. In 1070 the Danish fleet moved S from the Humber to the Wash, where it was joined by local groups, and a joint Anglo-Danish force attacked Peterborough. William made a separate treaty with the Danish contingent, which then sailed for home, but a nucleus of native resistance remained in the Isle under the leadership of Hereward. This group was joined by Earl Morcar and other English notables in 1071, and the same year the King moved to blockade the Isle. After several setbacks the Isle was taken and the rebels dispersed. It is tempting to attribute the motte and bailey earthwork known as Cherry Hill to this episode. The contemporary chroniclers are, however, strangely silent about the planting of castles in the Isle. In the middle of the following century the writer of the Liber Eliensis believed that William stationed two garrisons in the Isle at this time. The wording of the entry is ambiguous, but the chronicler took care to distinguish between the praesidium left within the bounds of the Abbey and the castellum erected at Alrehede

It is by no means certain that Cherry Hill is a work of 1071. Ely became a centre of revolt again in 1142. Bishop Nigel raised against the King a castle ex lapide et cemento, and finding work on this constantly hindered by the intervention of Saint Aetheldreda, repaired the castle at Alrehede instead and set up a field battery to command the foreshore. It is not clear whether Bishop Nigel attempted to build a stone castle de novo, or was engaged in replacing in stone the timber defences of an earlier work built to house the praesidium of 1071. However, when Geoffrey de Mandeville occupied the Isle in 1143, the castrum de Ely at que de Alrehede were handed over to him. Of the castle at Alrehede and Bishop Nigel's defended battery at the water's edge no trace remains. Cherry Hill, in the grounds of the Cathedral, consists of a high citadel type motte with a rectangular bailey at the S side. The form of the earthworks suggests that some considerable alteration has taken place in the past, and the exact interrelationship of the motte with its bailey has been obscured. (Cambs HER–Ref. Davidson)

Gatehouse Comments

The stone 'castle' recorded by Davidson may well relate to earliest foundations of Ely Bishop's palace. The motte does not seem to show any evidence of stone buildings. Lowerre is of the opinion the castle was short lived and abandoned shortly after 1071.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTL541799
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Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved View full Sized Image
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved View full Sized Image
Copyright Dave Barlow of Abaroths World All rights reserved View full Sized Image
Copyright Chris Gunns and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.View full Sized Image

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  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 168
  • Lowerre, A.G., 2005, Placing Castles in the Conquest. Landscape, Lordship and Local Politics in the South-Eastern Midlands, 1066-1100 (Oxford: John and Erica Hedges Ltd: BAR British Series 385) p. 232-3
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles of East Anglia (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 19
  • Thompson, M.W., 1998, Medieval bishops' houses in England and Wales (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing) p. 175
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 12
  • Taylor, Alison, 1986, Castles of Cambridgeshire (Cambridge)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 40
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 227
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 183-4
  • Pugh, R.B. (ed), 1953, VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 4 p. 28-30 online transcription
  • Phillips, 1948, in Salzman, L.F. (ed), VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 2 p. 29-30
  • Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 149-50 online copy
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 2 (London) p. 249-51 online copy



  • Harfield, C.G., 1991, 'A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book' English Historical Review Vol. 106 p. 371-392 view online copy (subscription required)
  • King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
  • Davidson, B.K., 1967, 'Burwell and Ely Castles' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 124 p. 240
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 201 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1882, The Builder Vol. 43 p. 176, 185-6

Guide Books

  • Holmes, R. and Blakeman, P., 1983, Cherry Hill, Ely (Ely Society)

Primary Sources

  • Blake, E.O. (ed), 1962, Liber Eliensis (London: Royal Historical Society Camden Third Series 92) p. 194, 314, 328
  • Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 64 online copy (The newer edition and translation by Potter, K.R. (ed), 1976 (2edn), Gesta Stephani (Oxford University Press) should be consulted for serious study. See also Speight, S., 2000, 'Castle Warfare in the Gesta Stephani' , Château Gaillard Vol. 19 [see online transcription > http://web.archive.org/web/20101229213751/http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/articles/speight.htm])


  • Lowerre, A.G., 2004, Placing Castles in the Conquest. Landscape, Lordship and Local Politics in the South-Eastern Midlands, 1066-1100 (PhD thesis: Boston College) p. 491
  • Cambridgeshire Extensive Urban Survey: Ely. Draft Report 17/01/2001. online copy