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Hinxworth Roman fortlet

A Scheduled Monument in Hinxworth, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 52.0478 / 52°2'51"N

Longitude: -0.1822 / 0°10'56"W

OS Eastings: 524752.070718

OS Northings: 240376.787731

OS Grid: TL247403

Mapcode National: GBR J65.NR1

Mapcode Global: VHGN7.SSJK

Entry Name: Hinxworth Roman fortlet

Scheduled Date: 14 February 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015852

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27902

County: Hertfordshire

Civil Parish: Hinxworth

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Hinxworth

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman fortlet situated on arable
land above and to the west of a tributary of the River Rhee, some 80m east of
Bury End Farm. Although the monument cannot be seen on the ground, it is
clearly visible from the air and has been recorded on aerial photographs as a
series of cropmarks representing buried ditches. A large quantity of Roman
coins recovered from the plough soil has also demonstrated the location of the

Air photographs indicate a subrectangular enclosure identified as a fortlet,
with straight sides and rounded corners measuring 80m north east to south west
by 65m north west to south east. The fortlet is delineated by a ditch, and two
further ditches are visible around the south western and north western sides.
It is thought that, to the north east, they have been obscured by a field
boundary track, under which they still survive. The upcast from the ditches
around the fortlet would have been used to construct a rampart within the
innermost ditch. This rampart would have been revetted with timber uprights
inside and out and would have supported a palisade and walkway allowing a
clear view of the countryside around. It is thought that the middle, narrower,
ditch may mark the line of a further palisade. The two outer defences do not
continue around the south eastern side which is occupied by two large ditched,
rectilinear enclosures extending to the south west of the fortlet, also
included in the scheduling. The full extent of the north eastern enclosure is
presently unknown since it is obscured by the field boundary, but it is
thought to measure approximately 110m by 60m. The adjoining enclosure to the
south west is some 160m by 60m. A break in the fortlet's inner ditch on the
south eastern side may represent a point of access into these enclosures
directly from the fortlet.

The layout of the fortlet and its associated enclosures may have been dictated
by topography, with the strongest defences arranged around the most vulnerable
sides where a clear line of sight is restricted by the slight hill slope. To
the south east, however, the view is completely uninterrupted and the
fortlet's occupants would have had ample warning of any hostile approach from
this direction. Therefore, the siting of less well defended ancillary
enclosures against the south eastern side of the fortlet would seem to make
military sense.

A single gateway, perhaps located in the middle of the north eastern side,
would have given access to the interior of the fortlet which would have
contained one or two ranges of simple timber-built barrack blocks. No
typically Roman building debris has been found on or around the site and it is
therefore considered that the earth and timber fortlet was never reconstructed
in stone. Cropmarks in the north eastern corner of the enclosure may represent
the position of a more substantial structure: perhaps officers' quarters or a
two-storeyed look-out platform. Fortlets could house a garrison of up to 80
men. This would have been considered sufficient in an area which was generally
regarded as stable throughout most of the period of the Roman occupation.
However, should the need arise, further troops could be accommodated in tents
in the adjoining enclosures. The fortlet may also have acted as a transit camp
for troops passing along the Great North Road some 2.5km to the west.

The fortlet may also have had administrative purposes perhaps connected with
food production at nearby villa complexes such as Radwell (the subject of a
separate scheduling), and as a secure stopover for the movement of taxes.

The coins found at the site have a date range from the early second century to
the late fourth century, with most falling into a period from the mid third
century to the late fourth century. A few coins of Iron Age date and one of
Claudius imply that the site may have seen some occupation prior to and early
in the Roman period, but the numerous early second century coins suggest that
construction of the fortlet took place during the military consolidation under
Trajan (AD 98-117), or early in the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138) when a spate
of uprisings in Britain caused heavy legionary casualties.

The siting of the fortlet is interesting. It lies some 2km north west, and
within sight of, the hilltop settlement at Arbury Banks (the subject of a
separate scheduling), and the associated temple complex at Claybush Hill. The
Roman administration may have considered that supervision of these native foci
was advisable, albeit at a tactful distance. However, its location may also
have been chosen for its proximity to the Icknield Way and other routes into
the Cambridgeshire Fens which, from about AD 120, saw a rapid expansion of
population. This is thought to have been the result of a deliberate
exploitation by the Roman government of the productive land in the fens which
emerged when water levels fell during the first and second centuries AD.
Military provisioning required a regular source of supplies which the rich fen
farmland could produce, and the fortlet at Hinxworth may have been established
during this period as part of a supply line to the north and west.

Abandonment of the fortlet late in the fourth century may have been connected
with the military reorganisation which tended towards the use of larger and
more elaborate fortifications: a response to the unsettled nature of the times
or, perhaps, with the earliest stages of urban and rural decay prior to the
collapse of Roman occupation in the early fifth century.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Roman fortlets are small rectangular enclosures with rounded corners defined
by a fortified rampart of turf and earth with one or more outer ditches. The
ramparts were originally revetted at the front and rear by timber uprights in
shallow trenches and were almost certainly crowned with timber wall walks and
Fortlets were constructed from the first century AD to at least the later
fourth century AD to provide accommodation for a small detachment of troops
generally deployed on a temporary basis of between one to two years and
supplied by a fort in the same area. The function of fortlets varies from
place to place; some were positioned to guard river crossings or roads,
particularly at vulnerable points such as crossroads, whilst others acted as
supply bases for signal towers. Roman fortlets are rare nationally with
approximately 50 examples known in Britain, half of which are located in
Scotland. As such, and as one of a small group of Roman military monuments
which are important in representing army strategy and therefore government
policy, fortlets are of particular significance to our understanding of the
period and all surviving examples are considered nationally important.

Although the fortlet at Hinxworth has been degraded by ploughing, its system
of defensive ditches and associated enclosures survive as buried features
visible from the air and recorded as cropmarks on aerial photographs. The
fills of these ditches will contain valuable archaeological deposits relating
to the period of the monument's occupancy and further demonstrating its
function and use. Environmental evidence in these fills may help to illustrate
the nature of the landscape in which the monument was set, and to indicate
elements of the diet of the occupants. The ditch forms will provide important
information concerning the construction of the fortlet and its method of

The interior of the fortlet and the associated enclosures will retain
information relating to their function and use, including evidence for
permanent and temporary structures such as barrack blocks, stores, stables and

The fortlet is of particular significance due both to its unusual size and to
its location in an area otherwise devoid of known Roman military sites. A
study of the monument and its relationship to other sites in the area and to
the network of roads and trackways will make a valuable contribution to the
understanding of civil and military control during the Roman occupation of

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Collingwood, RG, Richmond, I, The Archaeology of Roman Britain, (1969)
Salway, P, 'The Oxford History of England' in Roman Britain, , Vol. 1a, (1981)
Discussion with owner, Sheldrick, J, (1996)
list of finds identified by Letchworth Museum Services, (1996)
oblique monochrome photograph, St Joseph, J K, VO 89,
overhead monochrome photograph, 25 2257,

Source: Historic England

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