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Heath Farm Dyke Middle (rear of Alan Way): part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum of Camulodunum

A Scheduled Monument in Prettygate, Essex

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Latitude: 51.8769 / 51°52'36"N

Longitude: 0.8591 / 0°51'32"E

OS Eastings: 596899.031651

OS Northings: 223673.106479

OS Grid: TL968236

Mapcode National: GBR RLZ.80K

Mapcode Global: VHKG4.V311

Entry Name: Heath Farm Dyke Middle (rear of Alan Way): part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum of Camulodunum

Scheduled Date: 27 October 1970

Last Amended: 24 April 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019962

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29458

County: Essex

Electoral Ward/Division: Prettygate

Built-Up Area: Colchester

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Shrub End All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes buried and upstanding remains of a section of a late
Iron Age linear boundary earthwork, or dyke, named after Heath Farm, which
formerly lay across its route. The whole dyke, known from archaeological
excavations and aerial photography, covers a distance of some 2km and is
divided into three parts (Heath Farm Dyke North, Middle and South) for ease of
reference in archaeological publications. The monument described here
forms part of the middle section of Heath Farm Dyke and is the only segment to
remain visible at ground level.

The visible section of the dyke is located some 2.8km south west of Colchester
town centre and extends over a distance of about 150m, following a north
east to south west alignment across the gardens to the rear of Nos 43-51
Alan Way and within the south eastern corner of the grounds of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Straight Road. In 1970, when the
earthwork still ran through woodland, records indicate that both the bank
and the ditch measured some 10m in width, and the bank (to the south) rose
about 1.5m above the base of the partly infilled ditch. The earthworks
have since been been masked by modern landscaping. The rounded ridge of
the bank remains visible, however, and the ditch infilled to a greater
extent, can still be detected as a slight depression.

The section of dyke to the rear of Alan Way has not been excavated,
although numerous investigations have taken place along adjacent lengths
prior to quarrying and housing developments. In the 1950s excavations
across the former Cooperative Sports Field to the north east revealed the
line of the dyke and exposed a narrow causeway, one of only six excavated
entranceways in the entire system of dykes to the west of Colchester.
Investigations in the Shrub End gravel quarry to the south west in 1974
revealed a complete profile of the buried ditch, measuring 7.8m wide and
2.4m deep.

The convergence of Heath Farm Dyke Middle, Shrub End Dyke and Prettygate Dyke
at Bluebottle Grove (to the north east of Alan Way) was examined during
tank trap construction in 1943 and more thoroughly excavated in 1956-8.
This work clearly demonstrated that Heath Farm Dyke was the earliest of
the three and it is now considered to be the earliest linear earthwork in
the system surrounding the territorial oppida of Camulodunum. The dyke is
thought to have originated around 25 BC, built to define and protect the
western side of a high status farmstead at Gosbecks (south of the Shrub
End quarry) as well as a considerable expanse of land to the north. In
the early years of the first century AD a further defence (the Lexden
Dyke) was added to provide a continuous boundary to the west of both
Gosbecks and the industrial area at Sheepen to the north. Heath Farm Dyke
survived as a visible boundary up to the time of the Roman invasion of AD
43 (when it was incorporated into a Roman fort at Gosbecks), although it
may have been strengthened or even superceded by further outlying dykes
(Gosbecks Dyke and Kidman's Dyke) around the southern settlement.

All fences and fence posts, garden structures, ornaments and paths are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is

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

The Latin term `oppidum' usually refers to a town, although in the context
of the Roman invasions of Britain, its use in the writings of Julius
Caesar and Suetonius encompassed a wider range of fortified settlements
and native strongholds. In archaeological terminology `territorial oppida'
is used to describe a settlement phenomenon of the later Iron Age - areas
of farmsteads, field systems and nucleated settlements of various kinds
covering wide areas bounded by substantial earthworks. Such sites are
considered to have been tribal capitals or focal places for communities
between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, serving as centres of
trade, manufacture and social prominence. Only a handful of sites in
England have been identified under this term (principally Colchester,
Bagendon, Silchester, St Albans, Chichester, Grims Ditch and Stanwick),
all of which lie in southern, central and western parts of the country.
They all share the common characteristic of boundaries defined by massive
linear banks and ditches, sometimes intermittent and positioned to include
natural barriers such as rivers and marshes. The enclosed areas vary from
between 30 sq km and 90 sq km, some marked out by curvilinear boundaries,
others by more rectilinear patterns. Activities within the enclosed areas
may vary considerably and, given that Iron Age society in southern England
was not homogeneous, there is no reason to suppose that all territorial
oppida exhibited the same status or served identical purposes. In addition
to farmsteads, areas of nucleated settlement and related field systems,
other known features of the enclosures include storage pits and wells,
areas set aside for burials (sometimes extremely elaborate), temple
complexes and areas of pottery manufacture, metal working and the minting
of coins. Some, particularly those positioned in coastal or estuarine
locations, provide evidence of widespread trade in the form of imported
goods, notably Gallo-Belgic pottery, from the continental mainland and the
western Roman Empire.
Territorial oppida reflect the development of complex social organisation and
increased permanence of settlement in the late Iron Age. They also provide
some of the most valuable evidence for the impact of Roman conquest and
government on native society. Given the rarity of this settlement form and its
importance for our understanding of the period, all territorial oppida are
viewed as being of national, if not international importance, and all
surviving elements are considered worthy of protection.

The territorial oppidum surrounding Colchester (`Camulodunum' in antiquity)
encompassed an area of about 25 sq km mainly located between the
converging courses of the River Colne and the Roman River to the west of
the Colne estuary. In addition to the rivers the settlement was defined and
protected by the largest group of linear earthworks of the period in Britain.
These developed over a period of about one hundred years from the foundation
of the settlement in the early 1st century BC and mostly take the form of
large V-shaped ditches with banks constructed from upcast on the sides facing
the settled area. The dykes may have been made still more formidable by the
addition of timber palisades and gateways, and they have been interpreted
as an expression of the settlement's status, as a means to control and
protect grazing stock and as an effective defence against chariots - one
of the principal features of later Iron Age warfare. If placed end to end
the dykes would extend over a total distance of about 25km. Some 6km now
survive as extant earthworks, and many other sections are known to survive
as buried features.

The interior of the oppidum is thought to have been largely agricultural - a
mixture of enclosed fields, pasture and woodland - with small occupation sites
scattered throughout and two particularly large and complex areas of activity
located to the west and to the north. At Gosbecks, to the west, an extensive
farmstead has been identified. This has been associated with Cunobelin (one of
the most famous British kings prior to the Roman Conquest) and interpreted as
a centre of political authority and religious practice. Further north, at
Sheepen, excavations in the 1930s and 1970 revealed widespread evidence of
industrial processes, the minting of coins and continental trade. Associated
with the settlement sites are burial grounds, the three most prominent of
which are the Lexden Tumulus, a group of excavated burial enclosures at
Stanway (beyond the western dykes) and a similar (unexcavated) enclosure at
Gosbecks. These sites reflect the beliefs and complex burial rituals afforded
to the the society's elite; a large number of less elaborate burials have been
discovered across the oppidum.

The rulers and occupants may have fluctuated according to the relative
fortunes of two rival tribal polities - the Trinovantes centred on modern
Essex and the Catuvellauni based in modern Hertfordshire. An alternative
suggestion is that the oppidum served as a Catuvellaunian colony within
Trinovantian territory, maintained through political agreements or the warlike
ascendancy of the former in order to provide this otherwise landlocked tribe
with access to coastal trade. In either case, the oppidum was clearly of
central importance to the region in AD 43 when it formed the primary military
objective for the invading Roman army. After the collapse of local resistance,
the Emperor Claudius personally led his victorious forces into the oppidum,
which was subsequently reorganised to provide a centre of provincial
government and bridgehead for the further conquest of Britain. A small Roman
fort was constructed within the Gosbecks complex, and a larger legionary
fortress was established on the hill to the east (now the centre of modern
Colchester). As the focus of military activity shifted towards the north and
west of Britain, the fortress was redesignated as a `colonia', a chartered
town for a colony of retired soldiers. `Colonia Victricensis' (City of
Victory) was the first Roman town established in Britain and thus the
earliest truly urban settlement in the country. The burgeoning town was
destroyed in AD 60-61 - the first major casualty of the tribal revolt led
by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. In the aftermath of the revolt the town
was rebuilt with a protective wall (based on the perimeter of the earlier
fortress), and with the return of order the colonia developed in a manner
apparently calculated to integrate the old and new social orders. Native
settlement and burial practices continued within the territorial oppidum
(now probably a `civitas' or self governing town) which was protected
with additional dykes. A temple and a theatre were constructed at the
Gosbecks site, and the Sheepen industrial zone was maintained, enlarged
and extended to include a further religious complex. The collapse of
Roman government in the early fifth century signalled the end of Colonia
Victricensis. Medieval Colchester emerged within the walls of the former
Roman town, leaving the greater part of the extended settlement and
oppidum to disappear beneath its rural hinterland. As a consequence the
archaeological remains in this area are remarkable for the lack of later
disturbance and present a unique opportunity for the study of the Iron Age and
Roman past.

The Heath Farm Dyke is believed to be the earliest boundary around the late
Iron Age oppidum, and the section to the rear of Alan Way is the only segment
to survive as a visible earthwork. Although denuded, the bank will contain
valuable evidence, no longer available elsewhere, for the date and manner of
its construction. Furthermore, the old ground surface, sealed beneath the bank
at the time of its construction, may retain evidence of pre-existing
settlement activity which would greatly enlarge the picture of the development
of the oppidum. The line of the attendant ditch survives well as a partly
buried feature. The lower fills of the ditch are unlikely to have been
disturbed and will contain valuable archaeological evidence related to the
period over which the dyke was maintained. The silts may also contain
environmental evidence illustrating the appearance of the landscape in which
the dyke was set.

Together with its continuations to the north and south (which are the
subject of separate schedulings), this section of Heath Farm Dyke forms
part of a system of some 12 dykes constructed to define and defend the
territorial oppidum of Camulodunum and the later Roman colony. It
therefore forms part of the archaeological evidence for the development
of one of the earliest `proto-urban' settlements in Britain and for its
reorganisation in the years following the Roman Conquest.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Crummy, P, City of Victory: The story of Colchester, (1997)
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 30-31
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995)
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 48-50
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 8
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 170-75
Radford, D and Gascoigne, A, The Colchester Iron Age Dykes: Archaeological summary, 1997, Colchester Museums Internal Report
Radford, D and Gascoigne, A., The Colchester Iron Age Dyke System: Integrated Management Plan, 1997, Colchester Museum internal report
SAM entry EX 147, Ritchie, P, Dyke between Lexden Straight Road and Gilwell Park Close, (1970)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 TL 9623
Source Date: 1961
Antiquity model: revised 1956 Ordnance Survey

Source: Historic England

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