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Two Roman barrows 200m ENE of Thornborough Bridge

A Scheduled Monument in Thornborough, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.9929 / 51°59'34"N

Longitude: -0.936 / 0°56'9"W

OS Eastings: 473154.012197

OS Northings: 233253.530181

OS Grid: SP731332

Mapcode National: GBR BZ9.45L

Mapcode Global: VHDT9.Q5KK

Entry Name: Two Roman barrows 200m ENE of Thornborough Bridge

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1926

Last Amended: 31 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013959

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27138

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Thornborough

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Thornborough

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes two Roman barrows located in pasture approximately 70m
north of the A421 Buckingham to Thornborough road and 160m east of the Padbury
Brook, a tributary of the River Great Ouse.

The western barrow is roughly circular in plan, measuring c.40m in diameter
and 3.5m high, with steep sides leading to a flattened area on the summit some
15m across. Slight traces of the ditch surrounding the mound remain visible
around the south western side. The second barrow lies about 30m to the
east. It is similar in size to the western barrow, although slightly more oval
in appearance, and appears marginally higher due to its position on the
hillside. Traces of the encircling ditch are also visible around the east and
west sides of the mound. The barrows were partly excavated by the Duke of
Buckingham in 1839. One (although it is not recorded which) proved to have
been previously robbed and little was recovered. The other revealed a floor of
rough limestone blocks which had stood beneath a timber structure, some of the
oak timbers of which survived intact. Within this area were found three
bronze jugs; a bronze lamp and a patera (a shallow, circular dish); a cup,
bowl and platter of samian-ware (red pottery imported from Gaul); two ceramic
storage jars (or amphorae); a small lozenge-shaped piece of gold, and two
glass vessels, the larger of which contained the cremated remains of the
deceased. The calcined condition of the limestone pavement indicated that it
had been used as the base of the funeral pyre.

Traces of iron objects were noted at the time, but these apparently did not
survive the excavation. The remaining finds, with the exception of the gold
object, were later purchased by the local antiquarian R C Neville (fourth
Lord Braybrooke) and are now held by the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and
Anthropology. They date from the first and second centuries AD (some being old
when buried, perhaps being retained for generations as family heirlooms) and
demonstrate that one of the barrows was constructed in the late second century
AD. The other is thought to be of the same date.

The field containing the two barrows retains a clear pattern of cultivation
earthworks (ridge and furrow ploughing), probably associated with the medieval
village, marked by extensive earthwork remains some 400m to the north east.
The cultivation pattern is of particular interest for the manner in which it
developed around the earlier monuments. A narrow gap around the mounds was
left uncultivated to serve as turning areas for the plough teams (green ends),
or as an uncultivated margin (balk). The space separating the mounds was
similarly left, perhaps for pasture, rick stands and other seasonal activities
associated with the surrounding fields. Burial mounds are known to have
provided a focus for later interments, particularly from the early Anglo-Saxon
period. The area between the two Thornborough Mounds is considered to be of
particular importance in this respect, not least as the area was left
undisturbed by medieval cultivation. This area is therefore included in the
scheduling, together with a margin around the mounds, 10m in width, to
include a sample of the cultivation pattern and its archaeological
relationship with the mounds.

The two barrows lie near the meeting of five Roman roads, and in close
proximity to the site of a Romano-British cemetery and temple revealed during
the construction of a new road bridge to the south of its 14th century
predecessor, Thornborough Bridge (the subject of a separate scheduling).

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 10 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Earthen barrows are the most visually spectacular survivals of a wide variety
of funerary monuments in Britain dating to the Roman period. Constructed as
steep-sided conical mounds, usually of considerable size and occasionally with
an encircling bank or ditch, they covered one or more burials, generally
believed to be those of high-ranking individuals. The burials were mainly
cremations, although inhumations have been recorded, and were often deposited
with accompanying grave goods in chambers or cists constructed of wood, tile
or stone sealed beneath the barrow mound. Occasionally the mound appears to
have been built directly over a funeral pyre. The barrows usually occur
singly, although they can be grouped into "cemeteries" of up to ten examples.
They are sited in a variety of locations but often occur near Roman roads. A
small number of barrows were of particularly elaborate construction, with
masonry revetment walls or radial internal walls. Roman barrows are rare
nationally, with less than 150 recorded examples, and are generally restricted
to lowland England with the majority in East Anglia. The earliest examples
date to the first decades of the Roman occupation and occur mainly within this
East Anglian concentration. It has been suggested that they are the graves of
native British aristocrats who chose to perpetuate aspects of Iron Age burial
practice. The majority of the barrows were constructed in the early second
century AD but by the end of that century the fashion for barrow building
appears to have ended. Occasionally the barrows were re-used when secondary
Anglo-Saxon burials were dug into the mound. Many barrows were subjected to
cursory investigation by antiquarians in the 19th century and, as little
investigation to modern standards has taken place, they remain generally
poorly understood. As a rare monument type which exhibits a wide diversity of
burial tradition all Roman barrows, unless significantly damaged, are
identified as nationally important.

Despite being disturbed by past investigation, the Thornborough Mounds survive
exceptionally well as monuments in the landscape. The 1839 excavation clearly
demonstrated the archaeological wealth of the monuments and although some of
the cultural material has been removed, further important archaeological
evidence still survives, particularly sealed environmental material which will
provide information on the landscape in which the barrows were constructed.
The preserved collection of finds (many from 19th century excavations have
been dispersed or lost) indicates the wealth and prestige of the individual
for whom one of the barrows was constructed, and is accessible to the public
providing an example of the personal possessions of the higher echelons of
Romano-British society. Excavations of comparable monuments have demonstrated
that such pre-existing mounds were attractive locations for later burials,
particularly in the early Anglo-Saxon period. Cemetery development of this
nature between and adjacent to the Thornborough Mounds would prove highly
significant for the study of early Anglo-Saxon occupation in this area;
providing insights into the continuity (or otherwise) of settlement following
the Roman period, the origins of nearby medieval settlements, and the beliefs
of these later communities.

The relationship between the barrows and the later, medieval land use is also
of considerable interest, reflecting the regard with which the mounds were
held in later periods and the manner in which they were incorporated into the
design of the surrounding open-field system.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Branigan, K (ed), The Archaeology of the Chilterns, (1994), 122
Grinsell, L V, Barrows in England and Wales, (1979), 30
Lipscomb, G, The History of Bucks, (1847), 115
'Records of Bucks' in The History of Stowe, , Vol. 5, (1885), 355-6
Liversidge, J, 'Records of Bucks' in The Thornborough Barrow, (1954), 29-32
Liversidge, J, 'Records of Bucks' in The Thornborough Barrow, (1954), 29-32
info plotted by Bucks Museum Service, Archaeological Map SP 73 SW,
info plotted by Bucks Museums Service, Archaeological Features Map (O.S. 1:10,000 SP 73 SW),
Ordnance Survey revision card, JRL, Thornborough Mounds SP 73 SW, (1974)
Ordnance Survey revision card, JRL, Thornborough Mounds SP 73 SW, (1974)
Title: 1:10000 SP 73 SW
Source Date: 1983

Source: Historic England

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