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Roman fort, Roman town, Roman and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries at Great Chesterford

A Scheduled Monument in Great Chesterford, Essex

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.0664 / 52°3'58"N

Longitude: 0.1913 / 0°11'28"E

OS Eastings: 550300.95895

OS Northings: 243152.117159

OS Grid: TL503431

Mapcode National: GBR MBG.F5N

Mapcode Global: VHHKX.8BG8

Entry Name: Roman fort, Roman town, Roman and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries at Great Chesterford

Scheduled Date: 3 November 1951

Last Amended: 1 November 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013484

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24871

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Great Chesterford

Built-Up Area: Great Chesterford

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Great Chesterford All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford

Details

The monument includes an early Roman fort which was superseded on the same
site by a small Roman town, two cemeteries of Roman date and an Anglo-Saxon
cemetery. It is located just to the south of the Essex-Cambridgeshire border
on a terrace above the east bank of the River Cam. The monument is protected
within three separate areas, divided by a rectangular quarry across the
central part of the site and by Newmarket Road at its eastern end.

All of the elements of the monument survive as buried features and deposits
with no upstanding masonry remains. However, the line of the town wall can be
traced as an earthwork along the town's western edge.

A fort was originally constructed on the site in the first century AD. This
was superseded by a town (which was itself later walled), the north part of
which overlay the main body of the fort. Cemeteries associated with the
occupation of the town lie to the west and north. The history and layout of
the site are known through field observations, from cropmarks and partial
excavations.

The earliest Roman feature at the site is the fort. The majority of this lies
beneath the northern part of the walled Roman town protected in the northern
part of the southern area. The fort covered a rectangular area approximately
350m ENE-WSW by 310m with an additional annexe on the north part of the east
side which measured c.150m by 75m. Both fort and north eastern annexe are
enclosed by a single ditch c.4m wide and c.1.8m deep which survives as a
buried feature. An earthen rampart was originally constructed on the inside of
the ditch. The fort is believed to have been constructed following the
Boudican revolt of AD60. In the second half of the first century AD, during
the reign of Nero, the ramparts were pushed back into the ditch, deliberately
back-filling it. The deposits and features within the fort enclosures include
more ephemeral remains of the short-lived military camp which is believed to
have been occupied for only 20 or 30 years from its initial construction.

The fort was followed on the site by the Roman town. A masonry wall, which was
still visible in the mid 18th century, enclosed a polygonal area of
approximately 14.5ha lying approximately north west-south east, its northern
half overlapping the site of the earlier fort. Within the walls is a dense
concentration of buried features and deposits which includes wall foundations
and floors of both public and private buildings, roads, open spaces, rubbish
disposal areas and industrial areas. Small scale partial excavation was first
undertaken in 1847 by Neville who recovered large quantities of pottery and
coins. In 1948-9 further partial excavation noted the remains of timber framed
structures dating to the second century. These buildings were superseded by
masonry structures in the fourth century, at which date the town wall was also
constructed. Also within the enclosed area are three roads, visible as
cropmarks on aerial photographs and as surface scatters of construction
material, which meet in the centre of the town. The entrance gates through
which these roads ran are to the east, west and north. Also evident as a
cropmark on aerial photographs is a large circular feature approximately 30m
in diameter on the western side of the interior of the enclosed area. It is
believed that this indicates the location of an amphitheatre.

Since the desertion of the Roman town, probably some time during the fifth
century, the walls have subsequently been robbed for building material and
hard core. During the 18th and 19th centuries the walls were quarried
particularly for road mending. No remains of the wall survive above ground
although parts have been found in several excavations along the eastern edge
of the town, as buried foundations and lower courses. Elsewhere the line of
the wall is indicated by a robbed-out foundation trench. At the northern end
of the town the line of the wall can be traced as a surface scatter of flint
within the ploughsoil.

A cemetery dating to the fourth century was partly excavated in 1856 between
the western town wall and the River Cam; its remains are protected in the
southern area. Twenty adult inhumations were recovered, along with 83 Roman
coins. A second cemetery was partially excavated by Neville in 1859. These
burials were located approximately 200 yards to the north of the enclosed
town. A total of over 100 burials were recovered at this time including both
inhumations and cremations. On the western edge of this area, which had
been identified by Neville as a Roman cemetery, a mix of Roman and Anglo-Saxon
burials were excavated in the 1950's. A total of 160 inhumation and 33
cremation burials were located on the eastern edge of the quarry which lies to
the north west of the walled town. This northern burial area is believed to
extend to the east at least as far as Newmarket Road, as further burials were
recovered from the areas of 19th century quarrying adjacent to the road.

Although the excavated burials on the northern side of the town are confined
to the eastern and western edges of the northern area, it is believed that
further burials are located right across the field in between. Burials have
also been located inside the enclosed area of the town. Three human skeletons
and two horse burials were found in 1971 in the garden of Crown Cottages in
the south eastern corner of the Roman town. In 1967 two other burials had been
located 73m further to the south west. These burials, within the town, are
believed to be Anglo-Saxon in date.

Excluded from the scheduling are all modern buildings (including `Fairacre')
and structures, gravel, paving and tarmac surfaces, fencing and fenceposts,
although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Roman forts served as permanent bases for auxiliary units of the Roman Army.
In outline they were straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded
corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one
or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary
enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the
accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used
throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between
the mid first and mid second centuries AD. Some were only used for short
periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or
less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways,
towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was
a gradual replacement of timber with stone.
Roman forts are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn
Trent line. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are
important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts
are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman
forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally
important.

The Roman fort at Great Chesterford is one of the rare examples in the
south east of England and is one of only four in Essex. Partial excavation has
confirmed the survival in good condition of the defensive ditch and interior
features below the later Roman town. The establishment of this town (which is
the only town in Essex of this date to have been provided with a wall apart
from Colchester) on the site of the early fort is itself a matter of great
interest, and will illustrate the continuity between military and civilian
rule in the Roman period. Large areas of the town survive undamaged by later
development, which is now a rare feature as many Roman towns have undergone
continuous settlement up to the present day. The town exhibits a great
diversity of features illustrating, for example, a development from timber to
masonry buildings and the construction of a defensive wall during the troubled
period towards the end of the Roman period in Britain.

The survival of the cemeteries in close association with the town will allow
the study of the individuals who occupied the fort and settled in the town,
giving direct evidence of diet and disease as well as other demographic
information. The Saxon cemeteries which followed on from the Roman ones, are
of great importance in their own right and offer important insights into the
continued settlement and status of the site in the immediate post Roman
period.

The different elements of Roman occupation and settlement and the later Saxon
remains at Great Chesterford all combine to offer a unique insight into the
social, political, military and religious life during the first seven hundred
years AD in this part of south east England.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Collins, A E, East Gate:Great Chesterford, Essex, (1985)
Collins, A E, The Beginnings of Great Chesterford, from Prehistory to History, (1980), 11-13
Draper, J, Excavations at Great Chesterford, Essex 1953-5, (1986), 1-41
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Brooks, H, Wallis, S, 'Essex Archaeology and History' in Recent Archaeological work in Great Chesterford, , Vol. 22, (1991), 38-45
Evison, V, 'Berichten van der Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderz' in Five Anglo-Saxon Inhumation Graves Containing Pots At Great Ches, , Vol. 19, (1969), 157-173
Rodwell, W, 'Brittannia' in The Roman Fort At Great Chesterford Essex, , Vol. 3, (1972), 290-293
Other
Cambridge University Collection,
Day, P, ESMR 4942,

Source: Historic England

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