Ancient Monuments

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Oval barrow 60m west of Ranworth Walk, 650m south west of Westfield School

A Scheduled Monument in Great Denham, Bedford

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Latitude: 52.1311 / 52°7'52"N

Longitude: -0.4999 / 0°29'59"W

OS Eastings: 502777.81158

OS Northings: 249153.360886

OS Grid: TL027491

Mapcode National: GBR G24.6G2

Mapcode Global: VHFQ7.9P2M

Entry Name: Oval barrow 60m west of Ranworth Walk, 650m south west of Westfield School

Scheduled Date: 11 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013523

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27116

County: Bedford

Civil Parish: Great Denham

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Biddenham

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes the buried remains of a Neolithic oval barrow located
within an arable field near the north bank of the River Great Ouse, some 60m
to the east of Ranworth Walk: a footpath adjacent to a residential estate at
the western end of Old Ford End Road.
Although no earthworks can now be observed on the ground, the buried ditches
surrounding the barrow are clearly visible as cropmarks on a sequence of
aerial photographs, and were recorded by a geophysical survey in 1994. The
monument is orientated NNW to SSE and is approximately 25m in length and 17m
in width, measured from the outer edge of the principal quarry ditch which
marks the former extent of the mound. A semicircular outer ditch surrounds
the southern end of the barrow (extending c.4m from the inner ditch) and is
connected to the inner circuit slightly to the south of centre of the longer
sides. Traces of a third, semicircular ditch are visible within the curvature
of the northern end. This latter feature is thought to represent part of the
foundation trench of an earlier mortuary structure located within the area of
the mound. The 1994 geophysical survey indicated that the ditches are
interrupted by gaps or causeways. Two long ditch sections flank the eastern
and western sides of the monument, with shorter segments completing the
circuit at either end and forming the outer ditch to the south.
The barrow lies on the north eastern edge of the Biddenham Loop, an area of
c.210ha contained within a broad meander in the course of the river to
the south of the village of Biddenham. This discrete landscape has been shown
both by aerial photography and ground-based fieldwork to contain extensive
evidence for human activity from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods
through to Roman and medieval times. Toward the centre of the loop the
cropmarks of a group of five ring ditches (thought to be the remains of
degraded Bronze Age round barrows) have been recorded; with further ring
ditches, either singly or in pairs, located to the north east and north west.
In 1975 a fieldwalking survey of the central and eastern part of the loop
revealed scatters of Late Neolithic and Middle Bronze Age flint artefacts
centred in two main areas to the north and north east of this barrow group. A
more intensive fieldwalking survey undertaken in 1991 included the area of the
oval barrow which contained a low density scatter of flints indicating
residential occupation. The adjacent areas to the north and west provided
evidence for seasonal occupation in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.
Cropmarks of later periods include a pit alignment, considered to be of Iron
Age date, which traverses the area to the south west of the oval barrow. An
Iron Age or Roman trackway and further rectilinear boundary ditches or
enclosures have been recorded in the vicinity of the oval barrow. A large
rectangular enclosure, c.50m in width, lies immediately to the north west of
the barrow, the southern corner of which coincides with the northern edge of
the barrow ditch. A second linear ditch is aligned across this enclosure,
extending to the north east and curving around the eastern side of the oval
barrow. The positions of both features indicate that the barrow was a visible
earthwork at the time of their construction. In order to provide protection
for a sample of these later features and to preserve their archaeological
relationship with the earlier monument, the scheduling includes a margin, 10m
in width, on the northern, eastern and southern sides of the barrow. The
remaining features within the Biddenham Loop are not included in the

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Oval barrows are funerary and ceremonial monuments of the Early to Middle
Neolithic periods, with the majority of dated monuments belonging to the later
part of the range. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds of
roughly elliptical plan, usually delimited by quarry ditches. These ditches
can vary from paired "banana-shaped" ditches flanking the mound to "U-shaped"
or unbroken oval ditches nearly or wholly encircling it. Along with the long
barrows, oval barrows represent the burial places of Britain's early farming
communities and, as such, are amongst the oldest field monuments surviving
visibly in the present landscape. Where investigated, oval barrows have
produced two distinct types of burial rite: communal burials of groups of
individuals, including adults and children, laid directly on the ground
surface before the barrow was built; and burials of one or two adults interred
in a grave pit centrally placed beneath the barrow mound. Certain sites
provide evidence for several phases of funerary monument preceding the barrow
and, consequently, it is probable that they may have acted as important ritual
sites for local communities over a considerable period of time. Similarly, as
the filling of the ditches around oval barrows often contains deliberately
placed deposits of pottery, flintwork and bone, periodic ceremonial activity
may have taken place at the barrow subsequent to its construction. Oval
barrows are very rare nationally, with less than 50 recorded examples in
England. As one of the few types of Neolithic structure to survive as
earthworks, and due to their rarity, their considerable age and their
longevity as a monument type, all oval barrows are considered to be nationally

Despite being reduced by cultivation, the oval barrow 60m to the west of
Ranworth Walk will retain significant archaeological information, all the more
important given the rarity of this class of monument. Funerary remains will
survive in buried features within the area of the mound and may also be found
in the surrounding ditches. The remains of a mortuary structure, preceding the
construction of the barrow, are also thought to survive as buried features
within the area defined by the perimeter ditches. These features will contain
artefactual evidence related to the period of use and sequence of
construction, and will illustrate both the function of the monument and the
beliefs of the community which built it.

The association between the monument and a series of other burials sites and
boundary features within the Biddenham Loop is of particular interest.
Together, these features provide valuable evidence for the development of
settlement patterns and land use within this specific area, and contribute to
the wider understanding of these developments along the course of the River
Great Ouse.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Clarke, R, Boismier, W A, Biddenham Loop Archaeological Evaluation: Stage 1, (1991)
Evans, J, Ancient Stone Impliments, (1897), 531
White, R, Biddenham Parish Survey, (1977)
Woodward, P J, 'Arch J' in Bronze Age Settlement Patterns in the Great Ouse Valley, , Vol. 135, (1978), 32-56
Beds C C, An Archaeological Evaluation of the Biddenham Loop, 1990, Desktop survey
CUCAP, BXV-3, (1976)
dot-density diagram, Bradford Geophysical Services, Biddenham Loop, southern section: Area V, (1994)
draft enclosure map, CRO MA 52, (1794)
NMR, TL 0249/1/265, (1975)
Northants C C, 2504/11-12, 14-15, (1984)
Records of Beds Museum Society 1949, 247,
St Joseph, J K, AGA 27-8, (1962)
St Joseph, J K, AYF 50-54, (1969)
St Joseph, J K, WL 84, (1958)
St Joseph, J K, YT 35-6, (1959)

Source: Historic England

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