Original artwork by Duxford artist Caroline Merrifield
This hidden site next to St Peter’s Church beside the river was scheduled as an ancient monument to protect it when the bungalows of the Biggen were being built around it in 1978/9. Before that it was a children’s play area and is shown on some maps as fairly wooded. The map of 1885 shows it as a part of lands running alongside the river with the earthworks of the moat clearly visible, as do those of the 1940s-60s.
It was the site of one of the four manors that owned lands and farmed around Duxford from their village bases until the inclosure of the 1830s caused most of the farming bases to move out of the village onto the blocks of land they had been allocated. The moated site was probably in use as a farm base from the 12th century onwards with it and another manorial base flanking the north and south sides of St Peter’s Church.
In ‘A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 6, Parishes: Duxford’, the authors write that:
“The original site of Bustelers manor-house was probably inside the moat in a close just south of St. Peter’s church, owned by Edmund Fisher in 1823, but by that time the demesne was being farmed from a 17th-century house near the west end of the high street, on the north side, then as later called Bustelers Farm. (fn. 282) ”
The name comes from old to middle English meaning to till, to build, to dwell or to inhabit and by inference a place associated with these sorts of activities and an important place when most weren’t.
There is quite a lot of discussion about the purpose of these moats around the early manorial bases in Duxford and elsewhere. Generally not thought to be of a defensive nature they could serve a multitude of purposes from helping to keep stock in to defining boundaries to helping to keep fish to being in later times decorative and for drainage. Some of the moat is more clearly defined than other parts as infilling has generally taken place possibly associated with the residential building and fencing of the 1970’s.
The site today is approached by a footpath beside this development and between it and the church and opens out into an informal remnant of trees and woodland plants with the River Cam running along one side. It’s great for a picnic and remains a popular space for organised groups of local children and more informally by youngsters.
Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches, often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.