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Bran Ditch: an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch between Fowlmere and Heydon, including an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, a section of medieval lynchet and an Iron Age enclosure

A Scheduled Monument in Heydon, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.066 / 52°3'57"N

Longitude: 0.0644 / 0°3'51"E

OS Eastings: 541606.908186

OS Northings: 242859.03501

OS Grid: TL416428

Mapcode National: GBR L8Y.K2H

Mapcode Global: VHHKV.2BDJ

Entry Name: Bran Ditch: an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch between Fowlmere and Heydon, including an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, a section of medieval lynchet and an Iron Age enclosure

Scheduled Date: 15 November 2012

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1410907

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Heydon

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire


The monument includes Bran Ditch, an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch, c.5kms long, running from Black Peak in the north to Heydon in the south, as well as an associated Iron-Age enclosure at Black Peak, and a medieval lynchet north of Heydon village.

Source: Historic England


The scheduled area includes the full length of Bran Ditch, as well as an Iron-Age enclosure at Black Peak and a medieval lynchet north of Heydon village. Bran Ditch is a linear feature with its origins in the early Anglo-Saxon period consisting of a bank and ditch, the south end of which starts at Heydon at about 120 metres Ordnance Datum (OD), where the chalk plain meets the Boulder Clay plateau, from where it travels north-north-east, ending to the west of Fowlmere in an area of marsh fed by springs rising from the chalk. Immediately to the west of this end of the ditch is Black Peak, a slight rise containing an Iron-Age enclosure and other features.

The route of Bran Ditch is marked by the parish boundary between Fowlmere and Melbourn, to the north of the Royston to Newmarket Road, and to the south as far as Heydon Grange. To the south of Heydon Grange it is marked by field boundaries, crossing the track and footpath identified as the Icknield Way, and continuing south to Heydon village. This stretch is also followed by a footpath. For much of its length the boundary follows the top of a low bank, although excavation has demonstrated that, where observed, this is actually the west edge of the bank. At the north end three of the five trenches excavated by Cyril Fox and W. M. Palmer in 1924 show that the boundary hedge deviates here to follow the line of the ditch. At the south end the footpath enters Heydon through a hollow way. This appears to represent the ditch, a bank up to 4 metres high rising to the field to the east, with an apparent counterscarp to the west.

The bank is most visible in the small copse to the south of Heydon Grange called Gravelpit Plantation, where it survives to about 2 metres high and about 12 metres wide. Elsewhere its height and width vary slightly between about 11 metres to 4 metres wide and 0.5 metres to 1 metre high. Clear sections can be seen in pasture in the angle between the Royston to Newmarket Road and the London Road, and between the London Road and the airfield. However, between the Newmarket Road and Heydon Grange, upcast from quarrying immediately to the west of the boundary has removed all sign of a bank there, although a band of chalky soil to the east of the boundary, visible on aerial photographs, suggests that remains of the bank survive here. Extraction will have destroyed the ditch west of the boundary within Bridgefoot Quarry, and therefore this section between Heydon Grange and the A505, is not included within the scheduled area, although the bank to the east is included. In the area occupied by the Heydon Grange Golf Course, a slight bank is breached by a track to the north-west of the Barn/Clubhouse (listed at Grade II) and again to the south, to allow access across the golf course.

The presence of the bank to the north of the London road is confirmed by aerial photographs showing a light, chalky strip to the east of the boundary, identified in the course of T.C. Lethbridge's 1927 excavation as compacted chalk upcast from the ditch. The excavations undertaken by Cyril Fox and W.M. Palmer, and by Lethbridge, between 1924 and 1931, and later by Cambridgeshire Archaeological Field Unit in 1993, produced slight evidence of the bank, although the latter found a buried soil slightly mounded, possibly forming a marker bank, above which was a layer of chalk rubble, partially destroyed by ploughing; this contained, in the lower 20-30 mm, struck flint flakes of Mesolithic and Neolithic date. The bank seems to have been retained by a timber revetment, with a c. 2 metre berm between this and the ditch. The ditch is generally flat bottomed, with a more rounded profile observed in Fox's trenches closest to Black Peak, but otherwise shows slight variations in form and depth, the latter at around 2 metres from the present ground surface; the width of the ditch was seen to vary between 5 metres and 10 metres, the wider sections observed close to Heydon Grange. Two temporary and undated hearths were found above the lower fills of sections cut through the ditch between the Newmarket to Royston Road and Heydon Grange in 1923 and 1925 respectively.

About 60 burials were also found in trenches excavated between the London Road and the airfield. Here the bank appeared to have been pushed out in an arc to accommodate the bodies, all of which had met with a particularly violent death and were in an advanced state of decomposition at the time of burial. Initially seen as victims of a massacre, this interpretation has been reviewed, with the suggestion that the evidence is more consistent with the site of an Anglo-Saxon criminal burial ground. The fact that the line of the parish boundary deviates slightly at this point suggests that the presence of burials here may have been known about at the time the parish boundary was created.

The 1993 excavations also examined the relationship between the ditch and the rectilinear enclosure at Black Peak, known from aerial photographs. This encloses an area of about 0.4 hectares, and is about 2.5 metres wide and 0.92 metres deep. The ditch cut through a second feature, in the bottom of which was a large fragment of Iron Age pottery, while a few sherds of Late Iron-Age pottery were found associated with a third feature. These features may represent an Iron-Age settlement, but given their proximity to springs, and the observed significance of this relationship in the Iron Age, they may represent structures with a ritual or spiritual function.

Towards the south end of the ditch, and about 114 metres north of Heydon is a section of a medieval lynchet, one of a number around Heydon; the best of these sweep away to the north, where some survive as pronounced scarps, but most have been lost to cultivation. This lynchet is on the east side of the bank and ditch, joining the bank at a height of about 4 metres to form two sides of the field to the north. It runs north-east for a distance of about 204 metres and survives to a height of about 4 metres.

The scheduled area includes the route of the bank and ditch of Bran Ditch, captured in a corridor 40 metres wide: 20 metres to the east of the parish/field boundary, which covers the full extent of the bank including a buffer zone of between about 5-8 metres. This allows for the deviation of the boundary over the ditch at the north end, where for a short distance the buffer zone is reduced to c.3 metres. The corridor to the west of the boundary is also 20 metres, covering the full extent of the ditch at its widest and allowing a minimum buffer zone of 8 metres to protect the western bank and any surviving evidence of a counterscarp. The scheduled corridor tapers into the entrance between the property boundaries either side of the footpath at the Heydon end, and includes a strip 205 metres long and 15 metres wide to capture the lynchet to the east of the bank and ditch. A section of destroyed ditch within the quarry to the west of the boundary between Heydon Grange and the Newmarket to Royston Road, is excluded from the scheduling, although the bank to the east of the boundary is included. At the Black Peak end the scheduling includes an area to the west of the ditch measuring 170 metres from north to south, bounded to the north and west by the inner arc of the nature reserve, the south boundary being a straight line running west from the parish boundary.

All modern structures, fences, and road or track surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 20/11/2012

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Bran Ditch: an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch with an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, a medieval lynchet and an Iron Age enclosure, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: Bran Ditch represents a category of monument that is characteristic of the early to mid-Anglo-Saxon period.

* Survival and potential: despite the slighting of the bank and backfilling of the ditch in the C19, excavation has demonstrated the survival of well preserved material both in the ditch and below the bank, the range of which illustrates the considerable archaeological potential of the monument. The survival of the Anglo-Saxon burial ground and its relationship to the bank and ditch is of particular interest. There is potential survival of well preserved deposits associated with the Iron-age enclosures close to the springs of Black Peak.

* Rarity: Iron Age enclosures at the north end of the ditch are included within the scheduling for their rarity as a possible religious site.

* Group Value: The significance of the monument is considerably enhanced by its relationship to the other contemporary Cambridgeshire Dykes, Fleam and Devil's Dykes, and Brent Ditch. The relationship between the Iron-Age enclosures and the northern terminal of Bran Ditch and their location in or close to the springs of Black Peak may also be of significance to both.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hope-Taylor, B, Hill, D, The Cambridgeshire Dykes, (1976)
Fox, C, Palmer, M D, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Excavations in the Cambridgeshire Dykes, (1926)
Lethbridge, T C, Palmer, W M, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Excavations In The Cambridgeshire Dykes., (1929)
Malim, T, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in New Evidence on the Cambridgeshire Dykes and Worsted Street Roman Road, (1997)
Palmer, W M, Lethbridge, T C, Leaf, B A, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Further Excavationas at Bran Ditch, (1932)
Taylor, C C, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Archaeological Results From the North Sea Gas Pipeline in Cambridgeshire 1968, (1969)
Aerial photograph:
Date: 17th March 1934
Ref: TL4043/2
Frame: ACA 7180/1016,

Source: Historic England

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