Swavesey Town Defences

Has been described as a Possible Urban Defence

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameSwavesey Town Defences
Alternative Names
Historic CountryCambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely
Modern AuthorityCambridgeshire
1974 AuthorityCambridgeshire
Civil ParishSwavesey

The town defences enclosed the whole of the gravel island south and west of the navigation drain. The north-western sector was still marked in 1988 by a ditch and a hedged earth rampart west of Castle close and west and north of Topleys close, where it took in the ridge and furrow of former open field at the north end of the close. On the north-east an irregular bank can be traced across the former Church green; on the south-east the ditch presumably ran close to the line of the modern drainage ditch and included Hobbledods close south of Market Street. West of Turnbridge, a name suggesting a medieval drawbridge over the ditch, the town ditch ran north of a modern drain and the present Thistle Green estate. That part of the fortifications and presumably the rest were constructed c. 1200. What may have been an extension ran further west to include the approximately rectangular Chantry close, probably returning eastwards to join the surviving rampart at the south end of Castle close.

Since the town ditch, which was perhaps intended mainly as a flood defence, was built during the period when the lords of Swavesey manor were foreigners or short-term grantees, it was presumably promoted by the lesser landowners, particularly the lord of the later Bennetts manor and the prior. The area enclosed included the presumed sites of Hobbledods and Topleys manor houses, while the copyhold houses of the rectory and Hobbledods manors lay wholly within the enclosure, the former group mainly along the present Station Road and the latter along the south end of High Street and in Wallman's Lane. Some tenements on the rectory manor, including Castle croft, were called garizonabilisin 1476, and the crofts on the north side of Station Road west of Swavesey bridge, at least some of which were held of the rectory manor, curved round to back on the town ditch, perhaps so that each householder could maintain part of it

The southern part of the town ditch was kept cleared in the later Middle Ages but was filled in with the adjoining rampart c. 1500. (VCH 1989)

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 ReferenceTL359688
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  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 138
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus) p. 264
  • Wright, A.P.M. and Lewis, C.P. (eds), 1989, VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 9 p. 381-6 online transcription
  • Taylor, Alison, 1986, Castles of Cambridgeshire (Cambridge)
  • Phillips, 1948, in Salzman, L.F. (ed), VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 2 p. 315-9


  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Ch√Ęteau Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86
  • Heawood, R., 1997, 'Field-Work in Cambridgeshire: Swavesey, School Lane' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 86 p. 184-185 online copy
  • Haigh, D., 1984, 'Excavation of the Town Ditch at Swavesey, 1984' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 73 p. 45-53 online copy
  • Ravensdale, J.R., 1984 'Swavesey, Cambridgeshire: a fortified medieval planned market town' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 72 p. 55-8 online copy


  • Cambridgeshire Extensive Urban Survey: Swavesey Draft Report 15/01/2001 online copy