Ancient Monuments

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Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch: 210m long section immediately north west of Woodcock Hill

A Scheduled Monument in Northchurch, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 51.7635 / 51°45'48"N

Longitude: -0.5924 / 0°35'32"W

OS Eastings: 497235.272971

OS Northings: 208140.320915

OS Grid: SP972081

Mapcode National: GBR F54.F13

Mapcode Global: VHFRX.PX5Z

Entry Name: Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch: 210m long section immediately north west of Woodcock Hill

Scheduled Date: 26 November 1928

Last Amended: 24 February 2004

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021207

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35349

County: Hertfordshire

Civil Parish: Northchurch

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Northchurch

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes a 210m long section of a prehistoric boundary known
as the Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch running broadly north west to south east
between Bell Lane and the grounds of Woodcock Hill, a large Victorian
house on Durrant's Lane. This section of Grim's Ditch is located on high
ground in former parkland associated with Woodcock Hill overlooking
Northchurch and the Bulbourne Valley to the north.
The boundary survives as a clearly visible bank and ditch along most of
its length. The earthen bank measures up to 12m wide and stands up to 0.5m
high in some places. To the south of the bank lies a parallel ditch,
approximately 12m wide and up to 0.4m in depth. An excavation carried out
in 1973 across Grim's Ditch in the parish of Tring, approximately 5km to
the west, produced evidence of a level area, or berm, separating the bank
and ditch. Evidence for a palisade trench, which would have supported a
wooden fence, was also found along the outer edge of the ditch. Similar
components also survive as buried features along this section of Grim's
Ditch. A further excavation, also carried out in 1973, immediately to the
west of this section produced pottery believed to be Iron Age in date.
A further section of Grim's Ditch exists 1.4km to the west in Hamberlins
Wood. This section, and others along the entire known route of the
ancient boundary are the subject of seperate schedulings.
All fences are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
them is included.

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

Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or
multiple ditches and banks which may extend over distances varying between
less than 1km to over 10km. They survive as earthworks or as linear features
visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs or as a combination of both. The
evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that
their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although
they may have been reused later.
The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were
constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries
in the landscape; their impressive scale displaying the corporate prestige of
their builders. They would have been powerful symbols, often with religious
associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of those
groups who constructed them. Linear earthworks are of considerable importance
for the analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age; all well-
preserved examples will normally merit statutory protection.

The boundary known as the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch
includes numerous surviving sections from within three main linear
earthworks aligned along the Chiltern Hills between Bradenham and
Berkhamsted, spanning a total distance of 18km. It does not appear that
these principal sections were ever joined to form a continuous boundary.
Current evidence suggests that the sometimes quite sizeable gaps represent
areas which were formerly forested or in which natural features served to
perpetuate a division of the land. The same pattern has been discerned
along the North Oxfordshire Grim's Ditch, to the west of the Thames. A
further comparable linear boundary, the Moel Ditch, extends tot he east
across parts of neighbouring Bedfordshire.
For the most part the visible sections of Grim's Ditch in the Chilterns
include a wide single ditch flanked by a bank of upcast earth, which is
always upslope of the ditch. Other features, discovered by limited
excavations include a turf core within the bank, a berm separating bank
and ditch (concealed over time by the spread of bank material) and a
trench for a fence or palisade, along the outer rim of the ditch.
The Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch is thought to have
served as a territorial boundary, separating, and perhaps enclosing,
organised groups of land and settlement. It may also have been an
agricultural boundary, denoting grazing areas and impeding the movement
(or theft) of stock. Excavations to date have provided only limited
dating evidence. Pottery recovered from the fill of the ditch indicates
that it was in existence in the Iron Age. As such the boundary provides
important evidence for the management of the landscape in the centuries
preceding the Roman Conquest in AD 43, although it may have a considerably
earlier origin. It remained a notable feature in later centuries,
acquiring its present name (a variation on the name of the god, Odin) at
some point in the early medieval period, perhaps during the period of
pagan Saxon settlement in the 5th and 6th centuries. The earliest recorded
use of the term 'Grim's Ditch' occurs in a charter granted by Edward, Earl
of Cornwall in 1291.
All sections of the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch which
survive in visible form, or as well-preserved buried remains (identified
by aerial photography or ground survey), are considered integral to a
general understanding of the monument and will normally merit statutory
protection. This section of Grim's Ditch immediately north west of
Woodcock Hill survives well as a visible earthwork along most of its
length and provides a fascinating insight into the nature of early
territorial land division in the Chiltern Hills. It will contain
archaeological evidence for the manner of its construction as well as
environmental evidence for the appearance of the landscape in which it was
built. The archaeological evidence may also include artefacts or
scientific dating material from which to determine the period of its
construction and the duration of its maintenance as an active boundary.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Network Archaeology, , Grim's Ditch: Archaeological and Management Survey Phase III, (1999)
Davis, J, 'Records of Buckinghamshire' in Grim's Ditch In Buckinghamshire And Hertfordshire, , Vol. 23, (1981), 23

Source: Historic England

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