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Roman town of Irchester and preceding Iron Age settlement; including remains of the medieval hamlet of Chester on the Water

A Scheduled Monument in Irchester, Northamptonshire

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Latitude: 52.2916 / 52°17'29"N

Longitude: -0.6564 / 0°39'23"W

OS Eastings: 491733.694187

OS Northings: 266794.25062

OS Grid: SP917667

Mapcode National: GBR DYN.8VY

Mapcode Global: VHFPC.KNVL

Entry Name: Roman town of Irchester and preceding Iron Age settlement; including remains of the medieval hamlet of Chester on the Water

Scheduled Date: 8 April 1951

Last Amended: 6 August 2014

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1003892

English Heritage Legacy ID: NN 83

County: Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Irchester

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Church of England Parish: Irchester with Stanton Cross

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough


A small Roman town and its suburbs, occupied between the C1 and early C5 AD, its preceding Iron Age settlement, and the medieval hamlet of Chester on the Water, abandoned by the early C18.

Source: Historic England


The monument includes the earthwork and buried archaeological remains of a small walled Roman Town and its extensive extramural settlement and cemeteries. Also included is the evidence of preceding Iron Age settlement and the remains of the medieval hamlet of Chester on the Water. Cutting across and into the east side of the site is a C19 ironstone quarry and associated tramway.

The Roman town at Irchester is sited on a low promontory flanked by shallow valleys or slades to west and east, the latter the possible route of a road crossing the River Nene to the north. The remains of the earth and stone ramparts erected in the late C2 AD enclose an area of about 8ha, the walled town sloping gently towards the north ramparts, which stand about 6m high and fall away directly down to the flood plain of the River Nene. To the west the ramparts stand to about 3m high; geophysical survey clearly identifies the triple ditches of the town defences to both east and west. To the east, the defences slope down to the slade. The excavations undertaken in 2004-2005 revealed the remains of a corner turret to the south-west, as well as part of the town wall to the south and a section of ditch. The outer ditches were recorded in advance of road widening in 1967.

A road entering the walled town towards the centre of the south side travels north, branching to either side to form a dendritic street pattern. Towards the south is an open space at the point where four roads meet. Immediately to the north of this space, set between the main street and one branching to the east, is a square structure associated with smaller square and circular structures, identified as a temple complex and partly excavated by R S Baker in 1878-9. Finds from the vicinity of the temple included a carved capital and part of a limestone statue of a nude male. Targeted excavations undertaken in 2011 included a trench intended to partially expose the shrine, revealing the stone walls of the cella (the central shrine) and surrounding ambulatory, part of the metalled surface of a courtyard, and two phases of the precinct or temenos wall. Part of the square building about 1m to the west was also explored. A similar structure further to the north, and west of the main road, may represent a second temple.

To the west of the first temple, on the north side of a branch road and respected by the west ramparts, is the most prominent feature recorded by the geophysical survey, a square, possibly Iron Age, ditched enclosure measuring about 40m across, within which are possible hut circles and pits. The commonest structural form, seen throughout the town, is the strip-house, rectangular buildings of differing length; a row of these line the west side of the main street where their long elevation is at right-angles to the street. There are also a small number of circular buildings.

Geophysical survey and excavation to the west of the town examined the pattern of Roman suburban settlement within the scheduled area. Immediately to the west of the town wall are well defined plots lining the east side of a road that travels north-west and then west. Occupation appears to be absent to the south-west and south of the road and also where it crosses the slade. Where the road forks, to the west of the slade, regular boundary divisions reappear; these were confirmed by partial excavation in 2004-2005, and at least five stone buildings with associated pits and postholes were identified. The road surface was metalled. Rectangular structures identified from aerial photographs to the north of the town, on the floodplain, may represent further extramural settlement. To the east of the walled town medieval ridge and furrow overlies earlier features, including a series of small enclosures, seen either side of the drive to Chester House. The ironstone quarry tramway cuts across the site running east from the south-east corner of Chester House. To the south of the tramway is further ridge and furrow, and to the east of that, a trapezoidal enclosure that may represent an Iron Age farmstead. To the north of this is an area of disturbance beyond which are further rectilinear closes. The furthest north-east extent of the scheduled area contains the remains of an extramural cemetery, partly destroyed by C19 ironstone quarrying.

The medieval settlement is represented by slight ridge and furrow, visible on the ground and on aerial photographs. The road to the village is visible as a parch mark and was identified to the east of the farm buildings in the course of excavations undertaken in 2013. The Royal Commission survey published in 1975 found the survival of earthworks to be slight and 'much mutilated' by later disturbance. Two parallel scarps are identified as possible croft boundaries, and are associated with slight depressions that may represent buildings.

The scheduled area includes the earthwork and buried remains of the Roman town and its ditched and walled defences, extramural settlement and cemeteries, as well as Iron Age settlement, including a possible farmstead to the east of the town, and the remains of part of the medieval hamlet of Chester on the Water. Part of a C19 and early C20 ironstone quarry and an associated 1920s tramway also fall within the scheduled area.

The scheduled area extends from north of the warehouses to the west at NGR SP9101556812, its north boundary defined by drains there and where it turns directly north to the River Nene. The south bank of the river then defines the north boundary of the scheduling up to NGR SP9207767241, where the scheduled area takes in the remains of the cemetery. The boundary turns west and then south to the road embankment, which forms its south boundary, before it curves round to follow the east side of the access road to the warehouses. The scheduling map shows that Chester House, its associated buildings and other structures, and also its gardens and access road, are not part of the scheduled area, and neither are the properties to the south-west of Chester House, Chester House and Chester Lymes, or their access road.

All fence and gate posts and other modern intrusions are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them is included.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Roman small town at Irchester, including Iron Age settlement and the medieval hamlet of Chester on the Water, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: aerial photography and extensive geophysical survey record the good survival of archaeological features across the scheduled area, including those relating to Iron Age settlement, the Roman town and its suburbs, the quality of which has been confirmed by selective excavation. The survival of earthworks relating to the village of Chester on the Water has also been recorded by survey;
* Potential: the stratified archaeological deposits retain considerable potential to increase our understanding of the physical characteristics of the buildings and settlement within the walled town and its suburbs. The presence of Iron Age settlement also allows for the study of cultural evolution and change, while the discovery of a single early to middle Anglo-Saxon sunken floored building to the west of the scheduled area demonstrates occupation in this locality during that period, before the consolidation of settlement in the C9 and C10, and also suggests the potential for the survival of further evidence of early Anglo-Saxon settlement. Buried artefacts and ecological remains retain the potential to increase our knowledge and understanding of the social and economic functioning of settlements of all periods within the wider settled landscape;
* Documentation: the village of Chester on the Water is recorded in historical documents and maps, and the whole site is well documented archaeologically, particularly by survey undertaken in the late C20 and early C21;
* Diversity: the scheduled monument is known to contain different settlement forms and structures from the Iron Age to the late C17, with each period represented by a diversity of features that will provide evidence of the social, spiritual and economic lives of the people who lived here over a period of possibly 1000 years.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Northamptonshire: Volume I, (1975)
Allison, K J, Beresford, M W, Hurst, J G, The Deserted Villages of Northamptonshire, (1966)
Astill, G, Grant, A, The Countryside of Medieval England, (1988)
Aston, M, Austin, D, Dyer, C(eds), The Rural Settlements of Medieval England: Studies dedicated to Maurice Beresford and John Hurst, (1989)
Burnham, B, Wacher, J, The 'Small Towns' of Roman Britain, (1990)
Christie, N, Stamper, P (eds), Medieval Rural Settlement: Britain and Ireland AD 800-1600, (2012)
Dyer, C, Jones, R, Deserted Villages Revisited, (2010)
Hall, D, Turning the Plough. Midland Open Fields;landscape character and proposals for management, (2001)
Hall, , Partida, , Rockingham Forest: An Atlas of the Medieval and Early-Modern Landscape , (2009)
Hall, D, The Open Fields of Northamptonshire, (1995)
Lewis, C, Mitchell-Fox, P, Dyer, C , Village, Hamlet and Field: Changing Medieval Settlements in Central England, (1997)
Partida, T, Hall, D, Foard, G, An Atlas of Northamptonshire The Medieval and Early-Modern Landscape, (2013)
Roberts, B K, Wrathmell, S, An Atlas of Rural Settlement in England, (2003)
Morris, S and Meadows, I, Iron Age and Roman landscape at Victoria Park, Irchester, Northamptonshire Excavations September 2004 to May 2005, 2012,
Northamptonshire Archaeology, Targeted Excavations at Chester Farm, Irchester, Northamptonshire , September 2011,
Taylor, J, . Northamptonshire Extensive Urban Survey. Irchester , 2000,

Source: Historic England

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