Tag Archives: Iron age

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;

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

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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.

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 (***).

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

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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.

Pre-Roman London

London would appear to have been founded by the ancient Britons or Celts in the Bronze or Iron Age.  According to the now sadly thoroughly discredited  Geoffrey of Monmouth,  quoted by John Stow, in his magisterial “Survay of London, written in the Year 1598”, it was founded under  the reign of  King Lud, sometime in the first century BCE, and at that time called “Caire Lud”, or Lud’s town (?or fort).  When Lud died,  his two sons Androgeus and Tenvantius, or Theomantius, as Stow put it, “ … being not of an age to govern … , their uncle  Cassibelan [Cassivellaunus] took upon him the crown; about the eighth year of whose reign, Julius Caesar arrived in this land with a great power of Romans to conquer it … ”.  The Roman invasion under Caesar, described in his “Gallic Wars”, was in  55-54BCE.

Sixteenth-century statue of King Lud and his sons, St Dunstan in the West

Sixteenth-century statue of King Lud and his sons, St Dunstan in the West

Unfortunately, the only surviving structures from the Bronze or Iron Ages  are  some  enigmatic pits and post-holes interpreted as representing the sites of former homesteads or farmsteads,  in Leicester Square in the West End, near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and south of the Thames in Southwark (and  the remains of a bridge at Vauxhall).  There are no surviving structures or  streets at all  in the City of London, perhaps at least in part because, again as Stow put it, “ … the Britons call that a town … when they have fortified a cumbersome wood with a ditch and rampart … ”.  This period of the city’s history remains shrouded in mist and mystery.

Important archaeological finds from the Bronze or Iron Ages include (alongside more or less everyday items such as worked flints, pot-sherds, and coin, in potin, or tin-rich bronze, in bronze, in silver and in gold), much equipment associated with horses and chariots, a ceremonial horned helmet recovered from the Thames at Waterloo, and an ornate bronze shield recovered from the Thames at Battersea. It has been speculated that the last-named might have been offered as a plea to the gods of the river at the time of the Roman invasion.