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Romano-Celtic temple 400m south of Dell's Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Great Chesterford, Essex

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Latitude: 52.0701 / 52°4'12"N

Longitude: 0.2077 / 0°12'27"E

OS Eastings: 551414.564724

OS Northings: 243604.029774

OS Grid: TL514436

Mapcode National: GBR MBG.5BW

Mapcode Global: VHHKX.K75D

Entry Name: Romano-Celtic temple 400m south of Dell's Farm

Scheduled Date: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017453

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29399

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


The monument includes the buried remains of a substantial Romano-British
temple complex located within an arable field on the broad sloping hillside on
the east side of the River Cam, 0.5km to the north east of the village of
Great Chesterford. The site of the Iron Age settlement, Roman fort and market
town for which Great Chesterford is widely known, lies about 1km to the west
of the temple and is the subject of a separate scheduling.
The central building was discovered in 1847 and excavated under the direction
of the Hon R C Neville, later Lord Braybrooke of Audley End, who incorrectly
interpreted the remains as part of a Roman villa. He exposed the foundations
of a square cella (the inner sanctum of the temple) about 7m in width,
surrounded by a narrow passageway, or ambulatory. The remains of two elaborate
mosaic floors were found within this structure: a pattern of concentric
circles surrounded by a square border in the cella, and an interlaced design
within the ambulatory; illustrations of both were published in 1848.
The re-excavation of the temple in 1978 provided far greater details of the
date and evolution of the structure. Evidence was found of a small Late Iron
Age ditched enclosure and structure, similar in outline to the temple and
probably a precursor to the Romanised building which was erected on the same
spot in the period AD 60-70. The Romano-Celtic temple, with walls of mortared
flint, internal plasterwork and tiled roof, remained in use throughout the
later first and early second centuries, during which time a porch was added to
the entrance. The building is thought to have been abandoned in the mid-second
century and allowed to decay until major refurbishment took place after AD
270. In this final phase the porch was dismantled and replaced, the remaining
walls strengthened (thereby reducing the floor space within the ambulatory),
and the mosaics discovered in 1847 were laid. The restored structure remained
in use until the late fourth century.
The temple is situated near the centre of a large enclosure, or temenos, which
is slightly more rhombic than square in plan and measures approximately 100m
in width. The results of limited excavations between 1983 and 1988 indicate
that the enclosure boundary began with a palisade, perhaps in the Iron Age,
which was subsequently replaced by a large ditch and ultimately superseded by
a wall of mortared flint coursed with tile. Access was provided by an
entranceway in the centre of the eastern arm where trackways of various
periods led across a gap in the ditch and through two buttressed gateways or
arches in the boundary wall. The foundations of a second building were found
some 7.5m inside the precinct, situated directly between the entranceway and
the temple. This building, also constructed in mortared flint, formed a narrow
chamber with protruding doorways facing the temple at either end. The internal
surface of the eastern wall had been rendered with painted plaster and
evidence was found to suggest a plastered ceiling as well as a tiled roof. A
small kiln or oven had been set into the flint and chalk floor towards the end
of the building's life in the late third or fourth century, at which time
similar features were built between the gateway and the temenos ditch. Pits
and hollows of various sizes were found throughout the excavated areas, but a
small excavation in the south western corner of the precinct revealed a
distinct concentration of pits, some as much as 3m in depth, containing
accumulations of ash, animal bone, oyster shells and pottery. These are
thought to have been used for the disposal of waste from religious feasts
which appear, from the evidence of animal remains, to have coincided with the
culling of lambs in the spring and autumn. Other ritual activities are
indicated by the large number of votive offerings including coins, brooches
and other items of personal adornment, the majority of which were found in the
area between the temple and the gateway. The single most spectacular object
related to the religious nature of the site is a silver mask with Celtic-type
lentoid eyes and moustache, discovered during the 1978 excavations.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Romano-Celtic temples were built to meet the spiritual needs of the
communities they served by venerating the god or spirit considered to dwell in
a particular place. The temple building was regarded as the treasure house of
its deity and priests rather than as a congregational building and any
religious activities, including private worship, communal gatherings,
sanctuary and healing, took place outside.
Romano-Celtic temples included the temple building and a surrounding sacred
precinct or temenos which could be square, circular, rectangular or polygonal
in ground plan. The temple building invariably faced due east and was the
focus of the site, although it did not necessarily occupy the central position
in the temenos. It comprised a cella, or inner temple chamber, an ambulatory
or walkway around the cella, and sometimes annexes or antechambers. The
buildings were constructed of a variety of materials, including stone, cob and
timber, and walls were often plastered and painted both internally and
externally. Some temenoi enclosed other buildings, often substantial and built
in materials and styles similar to those of the temple; these are generally
interpreted as priests' houses, shops or guest houses.
Romano-Celtic temples were built and used throughout the Roman period from the
mid first century AD to the late fourth/early fifth century AD, with
individual examples being used for relatively long periods of time. They were
widespread throughout southern and eastern England, although there are no
examples in the far south west and they are rare nationally with only about
150 sites recorded in England. In view of their rarity and their importance in
contributing to the complete picture of Roman religious practice, including
its continuity from Iron Age practice, all Romano-Celtic temples with
surviving archaeological potential are considered to be of national

Despite damage caused by prolonged ploughing, the Romano-Celtic temple complex
400m south of Dell Farm survives well. Limited archaeological investigations
have clearly demonstrated both the size of the complex and the substantial and
elaborate nature of its buildings and boundary walls. The resulting
information provides a valuable insight into the ritual practices of the
inhabitants of the adjacent Roman town at Great Chesterford, and indicates the
considerable investment of individual or pooled resources required for its
construction, itself a reflection of the particular significance of religion
in Roman Britain.
Although part of the site, including the central building, has been excavated,
the greater part of the area within the temenos has not been explored.
Archaeological deposits within this area, including foundations, surfaces,
pits and artefactual deposits will provide further information regarding the
date and duration of the temple's use, the methods of construction employed
and the nature of the ritual activity for which it was designed.
The evidence for ritual activity on the same site prior to the construction of
the Romanised building is particularly significant. This may have provided a
template for the later structure and suggests a strong continuity of expressed
belief and of social organisation from the Late Iron Age into the Roman

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Burnham, B, Wacher, J, The 'Small Towns' of Roman Britain, (1990), 138-42
Neville, R C, Sepulchra Exposita, (1848)
Miller, T E, 'Proc. Cambs. Antiq. Soc.' in The Romano-British Temple Precinct at Great Chesterford, Essex, , Vol. LXXXIV, (1996), 15-58
Collins, A E, Excavation and Research in the Great Chesterford Region 1965-85, 1996, EAA monograph (draft) Essex SMR
Draft EAA monograph (copy in SMR), Collins, A E, Excavation and Research in the Great Chesterford Region 1965-85, (1996)

Source: Historic England

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