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Isleham, Cambridgeshire

Isleham is sited on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens about twenty miles north-east of Cambridge and ten miles south-east of Ely. It is today a small nucleated village, of mostly recent housing, laid out along a series of streets arranged at right-angles to each other to give a gridded appearance to this small settlement. A more dispersed earlier layout is hinted at by a small cluster of settlement on the east of the present village, called East End. Another now-lost dispersed element of the settlement pattern can be identified from historical records which record the settlement of Little Isleham, including a small chapel.

In Isleham itself, Newnham Street runs parallel with West Street on the west side of the present village and its name, first documented in 1360, suggests it may represent a new extension to the settlement at this time.  The area it occupies was named Little London by 1700, possibly as in ironic comment on its small size and isolation. Isleham remained an isolated community throughout the pre-modern era, but had good water-borne communications. Sue Oosthuizen has identified it as an inland fenland  port whose planned layout was determined by the position of a fen-edge quay area with three hythes used for loading and unloading vessels bringing goods to and from the settlement, on the north (fenland) side of the present village. The layout of the village streets are thus determined by the need to provide access to the quays, requiring a main east-west orientated street running parallel to the main waterway and a series of streets running at right angles north from this street to provide access to the quays.

It has been suggested that an Anglo-Saxon settlement at Isleham lay beyond the western limits of the present village, sited west of Hall Farm near the site of a Roman villa. No archaeological evidence has yet been provided to test this hypothesis. The area between Hall Farm and the parish church was mostly occupied by a priory founded in the late 11th century, of which the disused church still stands adjacent to associated earthwork remains including fishponds. It has been suggested that settlement at Isleham shifted east in the medieval period, to occupy the area around the present parish church. The presence of a second late Anglo-Saxon settlement is thought to have lain around the triangular area north of ISL/11/08, thought to be the site of one of the medieval quays. The area in the centre of the present village, in front of the priory church, may have been a green, traces of which survive on an estate map of c.1800.

Local Information Websites

The Isleham Society

Islaham Village Website

British History Online

Heritage Gateway


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Test Pit Pottery Distribution Map 2011-12


Click here for the summary report for the Isleham test pitting