Category Archives: Prehistoric London

Grim’s Dyke

Another in the occasional series on historical sites on the “London Loop” (London Outer Orbital Path)  walk …

Plaque

Grim's Dyke Hotel.JPG

Grim’s Dyke is an intermittently-preserved bank-and-ditch earthwork that runs for a distance  of some miles through North-West London, from Pinner Green, or possibly Ruislip, in the south-west, to Harrow Weald Common, or possibly Stanmore, in  the north-east.  Recent archaeological evidence indicates that it probably dates to the Iron Age, rather than to the Dark Ages, as had long been thought.    Apparently associated Iron Age pottery was  unearthed at an excavation in Montesole Park in Pinner Green in 1957, and a first-century – or earlier – hearth in the grounds of the Grim’s Dyke Hotel on  Harrow Weald Common in 1979.   Note in this context that there are further   Iron Age sites in Stanmore, believed to have then been home to a tribe of Ancient Britons known as the Catuvellauni.

West Wickham Common Earthworks

Another in the occasional series on historical sites  on the “London Loop” (London Outer Orbital Path)  walk …

West Wickham Common Earthworks

What is now known as West Wickham was first recorded in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 973 as Wic hammes gemaeru, meaning “boundary of the homestead associated with the vicus [Romano-British settlement]”.  It was clearly settled at least as long ago as Roman times, and lay on the Roman road from Lewes in Sussex to London.

IMG_1356 - Copy.JPG

IMG_1355.JPG

The impressive earthworks on West Wickham Common have been interpreted by some as the remains of an Iron Age “hill fort” (and by others as post-Medieval).

IMG_1318.JPG

IMG_1317.JPG

The much more degraded earthworks on  nearby Keston Common have also been interpreted by some as Iron Age.

“Boudicca’s Grave”

P1010711 - Copy.JPG

Another in the occasional series on Prehistoric London …

“Boudicca’s Grave” is an interpreted Bronze Age round barrow near  the high point of Parliament Hill on windswept Hampstead Heath, consisting of circular mound some 36m (120’) in diameter and 3m (10’) in height, enclosed by a quarry ditch (*).  Elsewhere in the country, as in Wessex, such features typically contain buried bodies or cremated remains, accompanied by grave goods.  However, none have been found in archaeological excavations at this particular site, possibly on account of the acidity of the heathland soil.

E.O. Gordon, in his somewhat fanciful “Prehistoric London – Its Mounds and Circles”,  of  1932, alludes to the existence at that time of further barrows – “of the leaders of pre-Roman times” – on Primrose Hill and on the neighbouring  suggestively-named Barrow Hill (“the site to-day of a reservoir”).  He also refers to the levelling and loss of still others.

(*) Despite its name, it almost certainly has nothing to do with Boudicca, who was the Queen of the  Ancient British tribe  known as the Iceni in the – much later – Iron Age to Roman period.

Ambresbury Banks and Loughton Camp, Epping Forest (Iron Age enclosures)

In the timeless wilds of Epping Forest lie the remains of two partially-preserved prehistoric earthworks:

Ambresbury Banks, a little over a mile north-west of Theydon  Bois;

P1000167

P1000152

P1000151 - Copy

and Loughton Camp, a mile north-north-west of Loughton – at the end of a muddy slalom!

P1000190.JPG

P1000186.JPG

P1000179.JPG

Both are banked and ditched enclosures with areas of around 4 hectares.  When they were built, the banks would have been 3m high and the ditches 3m deep.  They are believed to have been built by Ancient Britons during  the Iron Age, circa 500BC.  They are further believed to have built to mark the boundary between the tribal areas of the Catuvellauni to the west and Trinovantes to the east, or as lookout posts, or defensive positions, or livestock pens, or some combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

They remained in use at least until the Roman period.  According to local legend, Ambresbury Banks was where the Iceni  Queen Boudicca made her final stand against the Romans in 61AD.

The notorious highwayman Dick Turpin is rumoured to have had a hideout in Loughton Camp in the eighteenth century.

Buried Treasures of Greenwich Park

Greenwich was first recorded in 964 as Grenewic, from the Old English grene, meaning green, in context grassy or vegetated, and wic, meaning trading settlement or harbour.

Bronze Age and or Saxon burial mounds

Among the many features of historical or archaeological note in Greenwich Park – a World Heritage Site – are approximately fifty  rather eroded burial mounds or barrows on Croom’s Hill, a little to the west of the line of the Prime Meridian.  Archaeological excavations on the burial mounds have unearthed swords, shields and other pagan grave goods dating to  the seventh century, i.e., the Saxon period.  It is possible, though,  that the barrows themselves were originally of Bronze Age construction, a number of instances of such re-use having been recorded elsewhere in England (as in Howard William’s “Death and Memory in early Medieval Britain”).   Note in this context that there is a demonstrably Bronze Age barrow known as the “Shrewsbury Tumulus”  on nearby Shooters Hill.

Romano-Celtic temple

Also in Greenwich Park, near the junction between  Bower Avenue and Great Cross Avenue, are the remains of a second- to third- (or fourth-) century Romano-Celtic pagan temple.  A dig on the site by Channel 4’s “Time Team”, in collaboration with Birkbeck College, in 1999, turned up a number of interesting finds, including part of a statue, and a stone bearing an inscription to the god Jupiter and to the spirits of the Emperors.

Victor Ambrus temple reconstruction.JPG

Temple reconstruction

The dig also revealed enough of the foundation of the temple, in the form of a central principal building or cella and surrounding covered walkway or ambulatory, and  outer  walled precinct or temenos,   to enable it to be reconstructed.  The cella clearly had a tessellated floor and painted plaster walls.

Watling Street

The temple would have stood at a strategically important high point adjacent to the principal Roman road from Kent into London, Watling Street, possible stretches  of which have also been recorded nearby.

 

 

Prehistoric London – “Caesar’s Camp”, Wimbledon Common (Iron Age Hill Fort)

Wimbledon was first recorded in c. 950  as Wunemannedune, from the  Old English personal mane Wynnmann and  “dun”, “hill”.

However, the area was first settled in prehistory, as evidenced by the hill fort at the heart of the Common, variously known as “Bensbury”, “Warren Bulwarks”, “The Rounds” and, most widely, “Caesar’s Camp”.    The fort appears to have been built in the Iron Age, at least as long ago as the third century BC, and pottery evidence indicates that it remained occupied until the first century AD.  An  urn containing a first-century Roman coin hoard has also been found here.

The fort itself is in the form of a circle approximately 300m in diameter (*), with an entrance to the west 20m across (**),  and the surrounding ditch is 9m wide and 3.5m deep (***).

LIDAR image

The earthwork is clearly visible on topographic maps, on aerial photographs, and on satellite and – especially – LIDAR images.

P1300447.JPG

P1300449 - Copy.JPG

P1300464.JPG

Sadly, much of it lies within the grounds of a private golf club, and the only public access is by way of a narrow footpath running ENE-WSW through its middle.

(*)  Slightly flattened to the NNW so as to conform to the natural contours of a spur of land overlooking the Beverley Brook.

(**) Possibly approached by way of a road with a metalled surface.

(***) Post-holes indicate that the inner and outer faces would once have been revetted with timbers.

Grim’s Dyke (Iron Age Earthwork)

Grim’s Dyke is an intermittently-preserved bank-and-ditch earthwork that runs for a distance  of some miles through North-West London, from Pinner Green, or possibly Ruislip, in the south-west, to Harrow Weald Common, or possibly Stanmore, in  the north-east.  Recent archaeological evidence indicates that it probably dates to the Iron Age, rather than to the Dark Ages, as had long been thought (apparently associated Iron Age pottery having been unearthed at an excavation in Montesole Park in Pinner Green in 1957, and a first-century – or earlier – hearth in the grounds of the Grim’s Dyke Hotel on  Harrow Weald Common in 1979).   Note in this context that there are further   Iron Age sites in Stanmore, believed to have then been home to a tribe of Ancient Britons known as the Catuvellauni.

I chose a perfect timeless winter’s day today to track it …

P1300370.JPG

… from Montesole Park in Pinner Green …

Grimsdyke Road.JPG

P1300386.JPG

P1300392.JPG

… and past Grimsdyke Road, Saddlers Mead and  Grimsdyke Golf Club in Hatch End …

P1300409.JPG

… to a high-point on Harrow Weald Common, with commanding views in all directions.