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St Mary the Virgin, Burwell - 2.jpg
St Mary's Church, Burwell
Grid reference: TL589665
Location: 52°16’30"N, 0°19’37"E
Population: 6,309  (2011)
Post town: Cambridge
Postcode: CB25
Dialling code: 01638
Local Government
Council: East Cambridgeshire
South East Cambridgeshire
Website: Burwell Parish Council

Burwell is a large, fen-edge village in Cambridgeshire, found about 10 miles northeast of Cambridge. It is situated on the south-eastern edge of The Fens, a large area of relatively flat former marshland which lies close to sea level and covers the majority of Cambridgeshire and neighbouring Lincolnshire. The fens to the west of the village are drained with the help of the man-made waterways, the Cambridgeshire lodes, including Burwell Lode which has been important in the growth of the village.


The name "Burwell" is of Anglo-Saxon origin, from burhwiell, meaning fort ('burh-') spring ('-well').[1]

There is a spring found near the remains of the earthworks of Burwell Castle, which stood on an earlier fortress site.

The first record of the name in the area dates from 1060[2] and the village is recorded in the Domesday Book under the spellings Burewelle, Burwella and Burwelle.[3]


Church of England

Burwell has a large parish church located on the High Street in the south of the village, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin.

The church is of a Perpendicular Gothic style in construction, and dates back to the 15th century, although some parts of the building are older.[4]

All churches

  • Church of England: St Mary The Virgin
  • Baptist Church
  • Methodist / United Reformed Church: Trinity Church: founded by the merger of the Methodist and United Reformed churches in 1988


There are remains here from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, and Roman remains too.

The village is at the head of Burwell Lode, a man-made waterway which connects it with the River Cam. The present course, created in the mid 17th century, replaced an older route which was probably Roman in origin.[5] The lode splits into two at the village, and each branch served a series of basins, warehouses and wharves, which were located at the bottom of long strips of land, with the merchants' houses at the other end of them.[6]

The village and the lode became more important with the opening in the 1850s of the Burwell Chemical Works, owned by T T Ball. By the 1890s, it had become the Patent Manure Works, was owned by Colchester and Ball, and around 10,000 tons of goods each year were shipped along the lode, using three steam tugs and a large fleet of lighters. Prentice Brothers Ltd built barges in the village until 1920, and continued repairing them there after they bought the fertiliser factory in 1921. The factory was later owned by Fisons, and boats continued to be used to move the fertiliser to Fenland farms until 1948. Commercial use of the lode ceased in 1963, when the traffic in sugarbeet stopped.[5]

Burwell Castle

Burwell Castle was never finished, but its extensive earthworks are found beside the village, off Spring Close. The final wall was knocked down by the Fire Brigade testing a fire hose in the 1930s, but the dry moat is still clearly visible.

The castle was built during "The Anarchy", the internal conflict of the mid 12th century that filled the reign of King Stephen. Although a settlement had been reached such that the throne would pass to Henry II on Stephen's death, the Barons of the time took the opportunity to fight their own battles.

Among these Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex was particularly troublesome and, after turning against Stephen, had set up an impregnable base around Ely. From his base he would attack local towns, such as Cambridge, and so the king ordered castles be built to surround Geoffrey. The few sites at which it is known such castles were to be constructed include Rampton (Giant's Hill), Ramsey (Booth's Hill) and Burwell.

At Burwell, a moat had been constructed and the stone keep partially built when Geoffrey attacked and was mortally wounded. His revolt thus collapsed and the castle was left unfinished. The narrow lane running along the side of the church next to Spring Close, where the Castle is located, is named "Mandeville".

The Barn Fire

On 8 September 1727, a puppet show visited Burwell and put on a show, held in a barn on what is now Cuc kolds Row, near the centre of the village. After the barn had filled with an audience from Burwell and surrounding villages, the doors were nailed shut to prevent further people getting in, a simple act which was key to the tragedy which resulted.

One person who could not get into the barn sat with a candle lantern and peered in to watch the show. However, the person accidentally knocked the lantern into the barn, setting fire to the hay within. With no way to escape, 78 people (51 of them, children) perished in the ensuing blaze.

The deceased are buried in the churchyard of St. Marys parish church, at the opposite end of the High Street, with a gravestone engraved with a blazing heart with angels' wings. On 8 September 2005, a plaque was unveiled at the site of the barn in memorial of the fire.[7]

Clunch quarry

Up until the early 20th century the building material known as clunch (a soft rock which is one type of chalk limestone) was dug in Burwell. Remains of the open quarry can be seen either side of Bloomsfield. Clunch was used to build many of the houses in Burwell and remains the name of the local community magazine.

Priory Wood

Burwell has a small area of woodland. Planted in 1998 as a community project to commemorate the coming millennium, it is owned and maintained by the Woodland Trust. The official name comes from an ancient priory which stood nearby also giving its name to some of the local roads, such as Priory Close and Abbey Close.[8]

Big Society


The village hosts an annual carnival in June which raises money for charity. A parade travels from St Margaret's Field in the south of the village to Burwell Village College (Primary)'s school field, where stalls and fairground rides are present.[9]

Unusual transport links

To the north of the village, temporary tramways provided access from the nearby Ipswich to Ely Line to the local brickworks, situated near the lode.[10]

Burwell Lode is navigable up to the edge of the village at Anchor Lane. The Lode joins Reach Lode in the north-west corner of the parish before they confluence with the River Cam at Upware, 5 miles from Burwell.[11][12]


  • Cricket: Burwell Cricket Club
  • Football:


  • Clunch: community magazine

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Burwell)


  1. 'Burwell', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10 - Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (north-eastern Cambridgeshire)
  2. "Cambridgeshire County Council – The Historic Towns of Cambridgeshire: An Extensive Urban Survey: BURWELL, Pg 5 Summary" (PDF). http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/8D12D531-55A4-4559-AC01-F0757E51EA45/0/EUSECambsBurwell.pdf. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  3. "Domesday Book". National Archives. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/details-result.asp?Edoc_Id=7578428&queryType=1&resultcount=8. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  4. "St Mary's Burwell: St Mary's History". Stmarysburwell.org.uk. http://www.stmarysburwell.org.uk/st-marys-history/. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Canals of Eastern England, (1977), John Boyes and Ronald Russell, David and Charles, ISBN 978-0-7153-7415-3
  6. The River Great Ouse and tributaries, (2006), Andrew Hunter Blair, Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson, ISBN 978-0-85288-943-5
  7. ""Ceremony to mark tragic blaze" Cambridge Evening News, 13 September 2005". Cambridge-news.co.uk. 28 January 2010. http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/cn_news_newmarket/displayarticle.asp?id=197366. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  8. "Woodland Trust Priory Wood Webpage". Woodlandtrust.org.uk. http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/our-woods/Pages/wood-details.aspx?wood=4966&site=Priory-Wood;. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  9. UK2.NET. "Burwell Carnival". Burwell-carnival.info. http://www.burwell-carnival.info/. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  10. "cambridgeshirehistory.com; The Coprolite Industry". Cambridgeshirehistory.com. http://www.cambridgeshirehistory.com/People/coproliteindustry.html. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  11. "Inland Waterways Association: River Cam". Waterways.org.uk. http://www.waterways.org.uk/waterways/canals_rivers/eastern/river_cam/river_cam. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  12. UK Statute Law Database: SCHEDULE 1 TO THE ANGLIAN WATER AUTHORITY ACT 1977 PART 3: 5. (l) applies to Burwell Lode and refers to a navigation authority which is responsible for keeping the Lode navigable.