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Roman cist burials in Gorsley Wood

A Scheduled Monument in Bishopsbourne, Kent

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Latitude: 51.226 / 51°13'33"N

Longitude: 1.1079 / 1°6'28"E

OS Eastings: 617098.477774

OS Northings: 152013.876074

OS Grid: TR170520

Mapcode National: GBR TYW.4WT

Mapcode Global: VHLGV.5F2Z

Entry Name: Roman cist burials in Gorsley Wood

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 6 February 1991

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017617

English Heritage Legacy ID: 12811

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Bishopsbourne

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent


The monument includes a series of three stone cists of the Roman period,
each of which was originally covered by a low, circular earthen
mound, together with the low enclosing bank and the surrounding area
from which earth for the mounds and bank was quarried or scraped up.
Partial excavation of these barrows in 1882/3 revealed some of the
details of the monument. The three cists are similar in their method of
construction: each took the form of a stone box 0.9-1.2m long by 0.7-
0.8m wide made of Kentish ragstone, and each was sunk about 1m below the
level of the surrounding ground. Around the cists had been raised
earthen mounds which varied in size, the southernmost being 10.5m
across and 1.2m high before excavation, the middle example measuring 9m
across and 1m high and the northernmost 7.5m across and 0.6m high. On
the western side of the southernmost example, a large number of tiles,
edged with a row of flint nodules, paved the sloping ground surface
leading to the cist. All three mounds were enclosed within a low
earthen bank some 5m across and up to 0.5m high, which survives best on
the northern side.
Amongst the items found during the excavations were poorly cremated
human bone, fragments of bronze and a few pieces of glass. Pottery urns
were also found which confirmed the Roman date of the barrows.
The cists were left exposed after excavation, and are still visible to
the present day.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 3 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.

The group of three barrows in Gorsley Wood have been shown by partial
excavations to represent an unique blend of two Roman burial traditions
- those of cemetery burials and burials beneath mounds. As such they add
to the known diversity of Roman burial rites. Despite the excavation and
removal of the principal burials, the barrows retain significant
archaeological potential since the excavation was limited in scale. Much
evidence still exists in the makeup of and beneath the mounds, in the
form of evidence of the environment in which the mounds were constructed
and possibly in the form of further cremation burials.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Vine, F, On Three Tumuli in Gorsley Wood, near Bridge and Canterbury, (1883)

Source: Historic England

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