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Roman saltern 260m south east of Great Russell Head Farm, Canvey Island

A Scheduled Monument in Canvey Island, Essex

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Latitude: 51.5289 / 51°31'44"N

Longitude: 0.564 / 0°33'50"E

OS Eastings: 577948.293325

OS Northings: 184229.031799

OS Grid: TQ779842

Mapcode National: GBR PN5.5DK

Mapcode Global: VHJL2.QTJS

Entry Name: Roman saltern 260m south east of Great Russell Head Farm, Canvey Island

Scheduled Date: 15 March 1972

Last Amended: 7 June 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019038

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32424

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Canvey Island

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Canvey Island St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument is situated on low-lying ground (below 10m OD) near Dutch
Village, (a modern housing development) in the western half of Canvey Island.
It includes the remains of a Roman salt manufacturing area (or saltern) partly
visible as a series of earthworks with associated buried remains, the soil
from which exhibits a distinctive red appearance, hence the commonly used term
`red hill'.
The principal feature of the saltern is a substantial mound (or `red hill')
measuring some 60m square and standing up to 1.1m high. The southern half of
the summit forms a level platform, contrasting with a more pronounced raised
area to the north. A smaller mound lying adjacent to the east measures some
15m north to south by 10m and marks the north eastern extent of the site. Thus
the total length of the surviving earthwork is some 75m north east to south
west with a maximum width of some 60m. Small scale excavations around the
perimeter of the site in 1972 showed the original extent of the `red hill'to
be an oval mound some 100m north east to south west, some 3.5m above Roman
ground level. The Roman strata were shown to be intact although no finds were
recovered. Medieval reuse of the salt works was also evident.
Other less pronounced earthworks, both ridges and depressions, which represent
activities associated with the saltern and later, medieval cultivation around
the mound, are visible surrounding the saltern and these are included within
the scheduling.
All modern fencelines, telegraph poles and cables are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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

Salt has been produced from sea water or, in inland areas, from brine springs
since before Roman times, and the technology used in the medieval period
displays a marked continuity with earlier production methods. Brine, from
which the water was evaporated to produce the salt, was collected in one of
two ways, either by its filtration from coastal sand, soil or pebbles
impregnated with salt water during high tides and periodic inundation, or by
its collection in pools or pits filled at high tide or by inland springs,
sometimes by way of a system of channels, dams and sluices.
Medieval salterns include a range of features connected with the collection
and evaporation processes, of which the most visually distinctive are the oval
or kidney-shaped middens of waste material which may cover areas of 2ha or
more. Other features usually survive in buried form beneath and around the
middens, illustrating the fact that salterns were often in use for periods of
at least a century, during which time they were occupied seasonally, their
component structures being rebuilt at the beginning of each summer or as
required. Evaporation was often aided by an evaporation kiln fuelled by peat
or wood products, of which several different types are known, and the remains
of temporary wooden buildings, wooden or wicker troughs and clay-lined pits
have also been found during excavation.
Salt was an expensive commodity during the medieval period, particularly in
demand for food preservation and curing. Salterns are known from documentary
sources and place name evidence to have been widely distributed around the
English coast and the inland brine springs of Cheshire from at least the end
of the 11th century. The industry had declined by the beginning of the 16th
century and competition with the superior and cheaper rock salt, mined from
the beginning of the 17th century, led to its demise during the early post-
medieval period.

Once a common site in coastal and estuarine localities, extant salterns are
now extremely rare monuments nationally. In Essex out of over 300 recorded
`red hills' only a very small number survive.
Preserved within the stratigraphy of the `red hill' 260m south east of Great
Russell Head Farm will be structures and artefacts associated with the salt
production process: settling tanks; hearths; flues; fire-floors and briquetage
(fired clay artefacts associated with salt production). The study of these
structures will greatly enhance our understanding of salt production in the
Roman period.
Of particular interest are the hearths with their associated briquetage
furniture which formed the centres of the `red hills'. At present little is
known about their construction and mode of operation. It is thought that two
types of hearth were commonly used: the open hearth and the closed hearth.
There is as yet no in situ evidence for open hearths; it is thought that
remains would survive as a burnt levelled area with associated briquetage
furniture such as evaporation vessels and pedestals. There is a small amount
of in situ evidence for closed hearths which are more easily recognisable as
they had walls and a flue; however the information contained within an intact
`red hill' such as that near Great Russell Head Farm is capable of greatly
enhancing our knowledge of their operation.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fawn, A J et al, The Red Hills of Essex: Salt-making in Antiquity, (1990), p65
Rodwell, W, Huggins, P J (ed), 'Essex Archaeological Society Newsletter' in Archaeology in Essex, 1972-73, (1974), p3
Rodwell, W, Huggins, P J (ed), 'Essex Archaeological Society Newsletter' in Archaeology in Essex, 1972-73, (1974), p3
An Archaeological Survey by RCHM(E), Struth, P, A Red Hill site at Canvey Island, Essex, (1994)
An Archaeological Survey by RCHM(E), Struth, P, A Red Hill site at Canvey Island, Essex, (1994)
Ordnance Survey, TQ 78 SE, (1977)
Rodwell, W, Report upon the investigation of 'Red Hill' XIII, Canvey Island, (1972)
Rodwell, W, Report upon the investigation of 'Red Hill' XIII, Canvey Island, 1972, Unpublished document in ESMR
Tyler, S, MPP Film 7, (1999)

Source: Historic England

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