Visit date: 5th May 2012

Weather: Cold and windy, bright but cloudy


The field trip was conducted by Land Rover and was a discontinuous selection of sites, rather than a progression around a landscape. For this reason, the sites visited will be listed rather than the perambulation described.

  • Snail Down Barrow Cemetery
  • Fittleton Long Barrow
  • Lidbury
  • Chisenbury Warren
  • East Chisenbury Midden


Chisenbury Warren

Grid Reference: SU 1785 5380

Site Overview

Chisenbury Warren presents as a series of earthworks 500m long (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54) covering approximately six hectares (Short 2006 :78), with a trackway leading into, and across the length of the earthworks (McOmish et al. 2002 : 100).  It is on the side of a gently-sloping, south-east-facing hill at the eastern end of Rainbow Bottom on Salisbury Plain (McOmish et al. 2002 : 98).  Despite the presence of a medieval rabbit warren in the woods behind the settlement, there is no evidence of extensive damage to the site, and no record of previous excavation, just the occasional surface find (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).


Figure 1: Chisenbury Warren from the south-east April 2011. Copyright K Bragg.

Figure 2: Trackway leading into Chisenbury Warren from the south west April 2011. Copyright K Bragg.

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1980 Accidental Discovery Fulford et al. reported that in the cutting of an infantry trench in the 1980s, an adult female was found, and an individual burial. It was not clear if this represented the location of a cemetery or just a single burial event (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).
1993 Excavation Reading University excavated and a geophysical survey was done to confirm the earthworks, this also revealed pits and ditches. The object of the excavation was to establish whether what was visible as surface remains represented an entire village (i.e. all the builds were contemporary with each other) or whether what the earthworks represented was in fact a drift in settlement over time. Another objective was to determine if all the platforms represented dwellings or if a mix of uses was represented. As this is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind, it was also important to establish the state of the below-ground remains to inform the conservation of other sites (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).


Chronology and Current Interpretation

Excavation showed that the earliest settlement on the site potentially dated from the Late Iron Age (Fulford et al. 2006 : 73) with evidence for continuation of the settlement into the late Roman period (McOmish et al. 2002 : 98).

The finds from the site are consistent with activities of subsistence, industrial and domestic natures and of a rapid expansion in the early Roman period from a smaller site (Fulford et al. 2006 : 73-74)

Figure 3: Chisenbury Warren settlement and fields, Wiltshire. Romano-British village. (Source Wilson 2011 Fig 1)

Chisenbury Warren is a ‘ladder-style’ nucleated settlement – so-called because its main axis is a single lane or street and the buildings are arranged around it (Wilson 2011 : 2).


East Chisenbury ‘Midden’

Grid Reference:  SU14605323

Site Overview

The site occupies a false-crested position on a spur overlooking the River Avon (McOmish et al. 2010 :37), just north-west of the village of East Chisenbury. From the site a good view in most directions is possible.


Figure 4: View of and from East Chisenbury Midden, looking east-ish May 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

The site itself consists of a mound of deposited material covering approximately five hectares and up to two metres deep (Wilts SMR SU 15 SW 154).


Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
Late 1700s Visit Colt Hoare visited the site and was made aware of the fertility of the land, and made finds of ‘rude British pottery’ but did not, it seems, recognize the mound as being other than the natural slope of the hill (McOmish et al. 2010 : 37-38).
1945 Excavation Walls and Bray and then Bray alone excavated at a location probably on the northern edge of the mound, and found much pottery and bone (McOmish et al. 2010 : 38-39).
1992-1993 Rediscovery of site, then excavation As the site was under threat from the development of a routeway, and prior to the information from the 1945 excavation being unearthed, an augur survey and test pit strategy was proposed to establish the nature of the site. Some of the augur probes did not reach the bottom of the deposit, implying the ground level was not level beneath the mound (McOmish et al. 2010 :43).In both test pits a complex sequence of deposits was found, with similar content in each test pit. The excavators felt they could tell separate deposition events apart only when the materials were of different composition, but some events seem to have been ‘capped off’ with a layer of compacted chalk to form a surface (McOmish et al. 2010 :50).Beneath the mound, the excavators noticed a layer thought to be a buried land surface and possibly plough soil, with what looked to be evidence for settlement beneath this.



Figure 5: RCHME earthwork survey plan. (Source McOmish et al. 2010 Fig. 3)

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The mound at East Chisenbury contains a complicated sequence of deposits of varying compositions, including ashy material, waste products and LBA/EIA pottery. It is surely difficult to generalize from such a small sample from such a large site, but McOmish et al. consider the excavations to show that the mound consists of material collected and potentially stored elsewhere (little weathering is observed) and then transported to the site and deposited, a suggestion reinforced by the mixture of both late and early pottery forms in one deposit. The animal waste and bedding does not appear to have been produced in situ as the edges of the deposits are not consistent with trampling having occurred (McOmish et al. 2010 : 86-87).

The ‘settlement’ beneath the midden also contains pottery of the All Cannings Type but appears to have been short-lived and the area returned to agricultural production before the formation of the midden (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88-89).

The compacted chalk layers do not seem to be ‘pavements’ as suggested for the similar features discovered by Maud Cunnington at All Cannings, and particularly the upper layer of compacted chalk is interesting as it seems less localized and may have covered the entire mound. McOmish et al. therefore suggest that it is consistent with a ‘capping’ event that would have left the deposit white and very visible (McOmish et al. 2010 : 87). This idea seems similar to how modern humans dispose of their rubbish, it is collected up in a single place and then covered over with concrete. In the case of East Chisenbury, however, the midden deposits continued above this layer (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88), so it was not a process termination indicator. Tubb (2011b : 40) suggests that the chalk layers may be viewed as a deposit in themselves. It is pointed out that a chemical reaction between the midden deposits and the chalk would produce a fungicidal chemical (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88). It would be very interesting to see if there were evidence for exploitation of this in the form of extraction holes, or perhaps gaps in the chalk layer where the reacting mass was removed entire.

Tubb (2011) broadly agreed with the deposition mechanisms as posited by McOmish et al., namely that material was potentially transported to the site having been curated elsewhere; material was generated onsite as a result of specialised activity; or that the site was in fact both settlement and midden: a form of tell (McOmish et al. 2010 : 84-86). Where Tubb takes exception is with the classification of the midden material itself as an unwanted product; he would rather it be seen as part of a complicated process of social reproduction in a time of change and transition. He suggests that the primary purpose of All Cannings Ware is to do with feasting and display, and that the deposition of examples of this material, plus the byproducts and waste products of that feasting process are of importance to society. Instead of the municipal landfill site, this is instead a record of a society’s reaction to a change in how relationships are formed and renegotiated, and a visual statement of that process in a prominent landscape position.


Fulford, M.G. et al., 2006. Iron Age and Romano-British Settlements and Landscapes of Salisbury Plain, Salisbury: Wessex Archaeology Report 20.

McOmish, D. et al., 2002. The Field Archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area First Edit., English Heritage.

McOmish, D., Field, D. & Brown, G., 2010. The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Midden Site at East Chisenbury, Wiltshire. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 103, pp.35-101.

Short, B., 2006. England’s Landscape: The South East, Collins/English Heritage.

Tubb, P.C., 2011a. Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age transition sites in the Vale of Pewsey : the East Chisenbury midden in its regional context. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Magazine, 104, pp.44-61.

Tubb, P.C., 2011b. The LBA/EIA Transition in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (British Series 543).

Wilson, P., 2011. Introduction to Heritage Assets: Roman Settlements, Swindon: English Heritage. Available at:



The Great Ridge forms a backbone of chalk above the river valleys of the Wylye, to the north, and the Nadder, to the south. The top of the ridge is capped with clay-with-flints (Grinsell 1957: 12), and then a fine silt, possibly a loess (Rackham 1976: 6). Rackham also suggests that there may be a perched water table leading to springs on the ridge itself (Rackham 1976: 7).

The amount of woodland on the Ridge has varied, although Rackham cites the presence of a wide range of woodland flora as evidence that there has been a persistent core of woodland (Rackham 1976 : 13).

Figure 1: Approximate area of native woodland on the Ridge over the last 2500 years. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 2

According to data from the Wiltshire SMR, the evidence for activity in the Neolithic includes a cluster of long barrows near the parish boundaries around Sherrington  and a series of findspots.

The use of the ridge for burial activity seems to have continued into the Early Bronze Age, with several clusters of round barrows in the area (Howarth 2009 : 129).

A study of the SMR mapping shows that most of the visible area of the ridge is covered with field systems. Most of these have no direct dating evidence. It is not always possible to distinguish between LBA, IA and RB field system based on morphology alone (Bradley & Yates 2007), but field systems start to appear in Wessex in the mid to late Bronze Age (Field 2008 :202) as land-use intensifies and previously open land becomes enclosed (Serjeantson 2007: 80). However, some of the field systems here appear to overlie Iron Age activity e.g. over the ditch of Grovely Castle (NMR SU 03 NW 21), and therefore post-date it, suggesting a definition in the Iron Age or Romano-British period.

Grovely Castle (NMR SU 03 NW 21) presents as a univallate hillfort, with an unfinished ‘lumpy’ rampart to the south-west, possibly betraying construction technique (Corney 2006 :136) and reminiscent of the unfinished hillfort at Ladle Hill (Piggott 1931). From pottery buried in the ramparts, an ‘Iron Age A’ date is given (1978: 26), which would appear to be early (Hawkes 1959).

Settlement on the ridge reaches its maximum during the late Iron Age into the Romano-British period, with a complex of nucleated settlements developing (Corney 1989 :116): Stockton Earthworks, Hanging Langford Camp, Ebsbury (Grovely Earthworks) and Hamshill Ditches. There may be earlier, unenclosed, settlement but as Thomas (1997 :212) points out, this is less archaeologically visible. Smith notes in particular an absence of evidence for MIA on the ridge (1978: 27). He does indicate that there may be MIA down in the valley, based on pits and linears on aerial photographs (ibid: 28) and suggests that this abandoning of the ridge-top may be due to the exhaustion of the soils by EIA exploitation (ibid: 29).

Figure 2: Romano-British earthworks on the Ridge. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 5

Ebsbury, Stockton Earthworks, Hanging Langford Camp and Hamshill Ditches are all of a type of site classified by Corney as a ‘multiple ditch system’ (Corney 1989: 116-118). In the case of Ebsbury the ditch system was perhaps slighted by later use, as a Romano-British settlement grew up further downslope (Crawford & Keiller 1928 : 120). Stockton and Hanging Langford are linked to Grim’s Ditch by linears (Corney 1989: 116) and from OS mapping, there is the beginning of a spur that may have lead down to Hamshill Ditches.

Figure 3: The Landscape around Ebsbury. Source: Smith 1978 Figure 16

Smith’s somewhat artistic interpretation of the earthworks at Ebsbury (Figure 3) gives an idea of the site as a complex and ties in Grovely Castle via a linear. Only detailed survey would prove the accuracy of this interpretation, but it may not be far wrong in spirit. There is certainly evidence for occupation within the wooded area, as areas of nettles indicate phosphates in the soil, generally caused by human activity (Rackham, 2000 :109).


Both Hamshill Ditches and Hanging Langford Camp are associated with banjo enclosures. The banjo at Church End Ring  is considerably larger than the two at Hamshill (D. J. Bonney & C. N. Moore 1967 :120 ) but is not immediately surrounded by additional earthworks as at Hamshill. In this respect, Hamshill resembles the Gussage Hill Complex in Dorset, with two pairs of banjo enclosures and an enclosing loop.

The hillfort known as Bilbury Rings has a linear, possibly of a later date than the hillfort, extending to Hanging Langford Camp from the hillfort (NMR SU 03 NW 10). As Roman material has been found in Bilbury Rings (Bowen 1961: 33) this might be related to the use in the Roman period.


Figure 4: The complex of Iron Age earthworks on Gussage Hill, overlying the line of the Cursus. Source Barrett et. al. 1991 Fig. 6.3

As with the multiple-ditch systems on the Ridge, the Gussage Hill site dates from the Iron Age and into the Romano-British period (Barrett et al. 1991 : 236).  These systems are considered to share characteristics with Oppida: activities are divided into certain areas within the enclosed space (Oswald 2011: 5), rather than being a hierarchical division of people (Davis 2008 :39), but do not exhibit the degree of urbanisation that defines the Oppida in Gaul (Henderson 2007 :264). Corney (1989: 116-120) suggests that these sites represent Durotrigan influence in the region, and Eagles points out that the placename Teffont means the spring by the boundary and has a Latin root, suggesting a boundary dating from that time in the region (Eagles 2004 :236).

Figure 5: Stockton Earthworks, Romano-British Downland Village. Source: Smith 1978 Figure 15

It has been suggested that the area of the Nadder valley may have been a border between Iron Age tribes: the Dobunni and the Durotriges (McOmish et al. 2002 : 3) and possibly the Atrebates (Cunliffe 2005: 222; Corney 1989 :120) and Belgae (Draper 2009: 28). However, Moore (2011) asserts that the concept of a ‘tribe’ may be inappropriate, and therefore the idea of a border between territories is not applicable. This said, an interface between peoples may be one of the reasons for the density and complexity of settlement on the ridge (Corney 1989 :118).

The Roman road, Margary 45b (Musty et al. 1958: 30), cuts through Grovely wood running along the ridge, from the Mendips to Old Sarum and was probably used to transport lead from the mines in the Mendips (Powell 1906 :282). As these mines were in operation from 49AD (Bonney 1972: 179), this suggests an early date for this road.

This road provides relative dating for the other large linear feature on the ridge: Grim’s Ditch. Grim’s Ditch has been filled in to allow the Roman road to cross (Bonney 1972 :180) and for the places where the Roman road is cut by the ditch, Caceres (2003) suggests that the ditch may have been later recut. That is not to say that the entirety of Grim’s Ditch is of one date; Rackham certainly considers that the continuation of Grim’s Ditch by Stockton woods is a later addition as the bank changes side of the ditch (Rackham 1976 : 16).

Figure 6: Grim’s Ditch and associated features. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 4

This feature is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon boundary charters of the 10th Century (Hooke 1994 : 92) and the name Grim indicates a boundary (Semple 1998 :116) although this was not necessarily its earlier use (Sauer 2005 :59), despite forming manorial boundaries in the medieval period (Eagles 1994 : 25). It has been suggested that Grim’s Ditch may have been the earliest ‘ridgeway’ road across the ridge, and that the Roman road formalised this (Cochrane 1972: 10; Smith 1978: 33; Baggs et al. 1995;) .

From the 5th Century, activity on the ridge declines and Rackham states that the ridge was uninhabited (Rackham 2000 :289). When activity does appear in the historical record, it is of settlement in the valley bottoms, with many of the villages having Saxon origins e.g. Baverstock known as Babbanstoc in 968 (Wilts. SMR SU 03 SW 400). The Domesday listing for Grauelinges is just that the King’s foresters hold 1½ hides there (Thorn 1979: record 67/99). Smith (1978: 1) points out, however, that any early settlement in the valleys would be obscured. Smith (Smith 1978 :45) gives the agricultural strength of the ridge as a reason that Wilton came to such prominance in the early Medieval period, and Lewis postulates that the pattern of settlement on the chalk in the Medieval period may have been determined by Roman times (Lewis 1994 : 188) but perhaps this is more generally true for areas where it can be proved that manors succeed Roman villa sites.

Figure 7: General topography of the woods on the Grovely Ridge. Many small groves and plantations are omitted. Dotted lines show parishes. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 1

Grovely Wood District was extra-parochial (Rackham 1976 : 3), as shown in Figure 15 above, and the resources of the woodland shared in common. A charter of 994AD gives indirect evidence for the open-field system being in operation by that date as it refers to five hides with no fixed boundary (Hooke 1994 : 92). When Grovely was later declared subject to Forest law, some time after the arrival of the Norman invaders (Richardson 2003: 17), these common rights were still claimed, especially by the men of Great Wishford parish, who had the right to pasture in the Forest (Baggs et al. 1995).

The woodland itself was divided into copses with the practice of subinfeudation allowing tenants to effectively sublet land from the lord (Rackham 2000 :100) . Evidence for coppicing in Grovely exists from 1330-32 (Bond 1994 :129) and the different regimes in each copse are still detectable. Figure 8 shows the copses as they were in 1589, around the time Grovely was disafforested (Bond 1994 :132).

Figure 8: Copses and earthworks in Grovely and Ridgeley. This is an attempted reconstruction of the copse boundaries chiefly from the 1589 Pembroke Map. Source: Rackham 1976 Fig. 6


Although much has been made of the harshness of Forest Law, in reality the Forest Courts were a source of income (Richardson 2003: 22) and the ability of the King to bestow valuable, hereditary (Crittall 1959), posts to manage the Forest was an important social factor (Rackham 2003 :185).

Figure 9: Medieval Forests and Chases. Source: Bond 1994 Fig 6.1

Figure 9 shows the approximate extent of Royal Forests and chases in the Medieval period, and it can be seen that Grovely is a tiny fraction of that Forest land. The designation of Grovely Forest has probably protected the area from agricultural encroachment (Bond 1994 :132) even in desperate times when medieval lynchets appear on steep slopes (Hare 1994: 162).


Baggs, A.P., Freeman, J. & Street, W., 1995. Parishes: Great Wishford. In D. A. Crowley, ed. A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 15: Amesbury hundred, Branch and Dole hundred. pp. 284-294. Available at: [Accessed December 9, 2011].

Barrett, J.C., Bradley, R. & Green, M., 1991. Landscape, monuments, and society: the prehistory of Cranborne Chase, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bond, J., 1994. Forests, Chases, Warrens and Parks in Medieval Wessex. In M. Aston & C. Lewis, eds. The Medieval Landscape of Wessex. Oxford: Oxbow Monograph 46, pp. 115-158.

Bonney, D., 1972. Early Boundaries in Wessex. In P. J. Fowler, ed. Archaeology and the Landscape: Essays for L.V.Grinsell. London: John Baker, pp. 168-186.

Bonney, D.J. & Moore, C.N., 1967. Hamshill Ditches, Barford St Martin. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 62, pp.118-120.

Bowen, H.C., 1961. Excavation and Fieldwork in Wiltshire, 1960: Bilbury Rings and Area. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 58, pp.32-35.

Bradley, R. & Yates, D., 2007. After “Celtic” fields: the social organisation of Iron Age agriculture. In C. Haselgrove & R. Pope, eds. The earlier Iron Age in Britain and the near continent. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 94-102.

Caceres, A.C., 2003. Field Survey Report 8: Grovely Wood, Comp. Nos. 19 & 27. In Grovely Wood, Wilton Estate and S. W. Wiltshire. Archaeology Reports 1995-2003: Report 2003.129.

Cochrane, C., 1972. The Lost Roads of Wessex 2nd ed., London: Pan Books Ltd.

Corney, M., 1989. Multiple ditch systems and Late Iron Age settlement in central Wessex. In M. Bowden, D. Mackay, & P. Topping, eds. From Cornwall to Caithness: Some Aspects of British Field Archaeology. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (British Series 209), pp. 111–28.

Corney, M., 2006. The Regional Pattern morphology and environs. In A. Payne, M. Corney, & B. Cunliffe, eds. The Wessex Hillforts Project: extensive survey of hillfort interiors in central southern England. London: English Heritage, pp. 131-150.

Crawford, O.G.S. & Keiller, A., 1928. Wessex from the Air, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crittall, E. ed., 1959. Royal forests. In A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 4. pp. 391-433. Available at: [Accessed December 9, 2011].

Cunliffe, B., 2005. Iron Age Communities in Britain: an account of England, Scotland and Wales 4th ed., Abingdon: Routledge.

Davis, O., 2008. Twin Freaks? Paired Enclosures in the Early Iron Age of Wessex. In O. Davis, N. Sharples, & K. Waddington, eds. Changing perspectives on the first millennium BC. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 31-42.

Draper, S., 2009. Continuity or Congruity? Debating the origins of Early Medieval territories in Wiltshire. In A. F. Smith, L. Fry, & K. Gardner, eds. The Last of the Britons – Kings, Thugs or Saints? Somerset & adjoining counties 400 –700 AD. Papers from the Symposium held at Taunton Saturday 26 November 2005. CBA – South-West & SANHS, pp. 28-36.

Eagles, B., 2004. Britons and Saxons on the Eastern Boundary of the Civitas Durotrigum. Society, 35(2004), pp.234-240. Available at:

Eagles, B., 1994. The Archaeological Evidence for Settlement in the Fifth to Seventh Centuries AD. In M. Aston & C. Lewis, eds. The Medieval Landscape of Wessex. Oxford: Oxbow Monograph 46, pp. 13-46.

Field, D., 2008. The Development of an Agricultural Countryside. In J. Pollard, ed. Prehistoric Britain. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 202-224.

Grinsell, L.V., 1957. Archaeological Gazetteer. In The Victoria County History of Wiltshire Volume 1 Part 1. London: Oxford University Press, pp. 21-279.

Hare, J., 1994. Agriculture and Rural Settlement in the chalklands of Wiltshire and Hampshire from c.1200-c.1500. In M. Aston & C. Lewis, eds. The Medieval Landscape of Wessex. Oxford: Oxbow Monograph 46, pp. 159-170.

Hawkes, C., 1959. The ABC of the British Iron Age. Antiquity, 33(131), pp.170–182. Available at: [Accessed February 2, 2012].

Henderson, J.C., 2007. The Atlantic Iron Age: Settlement and Identity in the First Millennium BC, Routledge.

Hooke, D., 1994. The Administrative and Settlement Framework of Early Medieval Wessex. In M. Aston & C. Lewis, eds. The Medieval Landscape of Wessex. Oxford: Oxbow Monograph 46, pp. 83-95.


Lewis, C., 1994. Patterns and Processes in the Medieval Settlement of Wiltshire. In M. Aston & C. Lewis, eds. The Medieval Landscape of Wessex. Oxford: Oxbow Monograph 46, pp. 171-193.

McOmish, D. et al., 2002. The Field Archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area First Edit., English Heritage.

Moore, T., 2011. Detribalizing the later prehistoric past: Concepts of tribes in Iron Age and Roman studies. Journal of Social Archaeology, 11(3), pp.334-360. Available at: [Accessed November 13, 2011].

Musty, J.W.G. et al., 1958. The Roman road from Old Sarum to the Mendips : the Grovely Wood-Old Sarum section. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 59, pp.30-33.

Oswald, A., 2011. Introductions to Heritage Assets: Prehistoric Linear Boundary Earthworks, English Heritage. Available at:

Piggott, S., 1931. Ladle Hill-an unfinished hillfort. Antiquity, 5(20), pp.474–485. Available at: [Accessed February 27, 2011].

Powell, J.U., 1906. South Wilts in Romano-British Times. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 34, pp.270-294.

Rackham, O., 2003. Ancient Woodland: its history, vegetation and uses in England New Editio., Dalbeattie, Kirkudbrightshire: Castlepoint Press.

Rackham, O., 2000. The History of the Countryside New Ed., Phoenix.

Rackham, O., 1976. The woods of the Grovely Ridge: notes on their history and ecology, Unpublished manuscript.

Richardson, A., 2003. The forest, park and palace of Clarendon, c.1200-c.1650 : reconstructing an actual, conceptual and documented Wiltshire landscape. Unpublished PhD Thesis, Unversity of Southampton.

Sauer, E.W., 2005. Aves Ditch from the Iron Age to the Early Middle Ages, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (British Series 402).

Semple, S., 1998. A Fear of the Past: The Place of the Prehistoric Burial Mound in the Ideology of Middle and Later Anglo-Saxon England. World Archaeology, 30(1), pp.109-126.

Serjeantson, D., 2007. Intensification of animal husbandry in the Late Bronze Age. In C. Haselgrove & R. Pope, eds. The earlier Iron Age in Britain and the near continent. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 80-93.

Smith, R.W., 1978. Grovely Great Ridge: a study of the agricultural exploitation of a chalk ridge from c800 BC to AD 500 using comparative models, Unpublished draft.

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Written on February 14th, 2012 , Sites Tags: , , , , ,

Roman Cirencester

Roman Cirencester was known as Corinium Dubunnorum and was the civitas capital of the Dobunni tribe who lived in that area when the Romans invaded. Cirencester is likely to have started out as the vicus that grew around the fort placed near the Iron Age hillfort of Bagendon in the mid-40s AD. Bagendon continued to prosper and was still in occupation at around AD60, but the growth of the vicus presumably attracted the population away from the hillfort (Wacher 1975, 304).

The fort was evacuated in AD70 and the vicus expanded to fill the gap, with the ditches filled in and built over. This caused the basilica to suffer subsidence problems as it was built over a ditch (Wacher 1975, 306).

When Britain was divided into four Provinces in 312-4AD, the Province of Britannia Prima was probably governed from Corinium (de la Bedoyere 2010, 89).

Corinium Amphitheatre

Grid Reference: SP0201 0141

Site Overview

The site today is visible as grassed-over earthworks of a considerable height: it still looks very much like an amphitheatre and the two entrances are clearly discernable. Much of the land around the amphitheatre is also noticeably altered and this area has been used to quarry stone from the Roman period onwards (Wacher 1975, 305).


Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre. Copyright K Bragg 2011

The amphitheatre is oval, with the central arena area measuring 41m by 49m (Pastscape Website 2010) with the entrances at the centre of the points of the oval. The widths of the banks that were used for seating platforms were probably about 30m wide (Wacher 1975, 308).

Amphitheatres would have been paid for from the public purse, or a rich sponsor, but not by the Roman authorities (Wacher 1971, 6). It would have been a sign of great status to be able to sponsor entertainments and games, and would have been a way to show to your neighbours how successful you were and also, how Roman you were by subscribing to their ideas of civic benefaction (Cleary 1999, 161).

Investigation History

The amphitheatre was excavated in the 19th Century, and again in 1960 by J S Wacher (Pastscape Website 2010). He excavated the Northeastern entrance to the arena, and part of the seating bank.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The earliest phase of the amphitheatre was constructing with seating set on limestone rubble overlaid with turf. The entrances were partially revetted with stone and lined in timber. The amphitheatre was later reinforced, by the addition of masonry walls, during the early 2nd Century (Wacher 1975, 307).

Amphitheatres were used for displays of combat be it using gladiators or wild animals (Mattingly 2007, 282). Owing to the dangerous nature of these displays, the amphitheatre was usually located outside the town walls, to protect the citizens (Branigan 1980, 108).

When Christianity became the state religion, it may have been prohibited to have displays of gladiatorial combat, or wild animal hunting in the arena (Wacher 1971, 26). Whatever the reason, excavation shows that the amphitheatre at Corinium was altered in the 4th century, and was possibly no longer in use for its original purpose and may have become a venue for trade outside the town walls (Wacher 1971, 26).

Corinium Wall

Grid Reference: SP 02735 02200

Site Overview

Visible today is an earthwork bank faced with a wall made using both rubble and faced stone. The outline of a bastion can also be clearly seen. It is worth noting from the outset that the Department of the Environment were responsible for stabilising the masonry remains (Cullen 1970) and therefore this should be taken into account when viewing the remains today.

Cirencester Roman Wall

Extant wall remains, Cirencester. Copyright P Bragg 2011

Corinium grew up from the vicus surrounding a dismantled fort (de la Bedoyere 2010, 114), and it seems that it was laid out deliberately to form a grid. What this plan did not include is walled defences (Wacher 1971, 11), perhaps because the South of the province was relatively peaceful and the troubled frontiers were Wales and the North (Wacher 1971, 13). So the town wall was not an original part of the town and was put in place after the main public buildings were in place (de la Bedoyere 2010, 154).

Investigation History

The wall was excavated by Wacher in 1960, then by Mr P D C Brown in 1966, and then reconstructed by the Department for the Environment (Cullen 1970).

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Wacher excavated the section of wall we visited and discovered that the first phase of the wall was a simple earthwork, easy to put up in a hurry and not requiring the services of skilled masons. He also notes that there is evidence for the Verulamium gate, grand and built in stone, having predated this earthwork bank and suggests that there was a plan to build in stone, but necessity to build quickly caused earthworks to be put up instead (Wacher 1971, 13).

A second phase of defence construction appears in the 3rd Century and the earthwork bank was made more permanent by the construction of a stone wall. Two different thicknesses of wall have been found, in alternating sections of the wall, and it is not clear if the whole town wall would have been walled in this manner, or if the different thicknesses reflect a change in plan on the part of the builders (Wacher 1971, 13).

Cullen notes that five phases were recognisable and confirms that the wall had two distinct widths (Cullen 1970). The phases Cullen lists were:
1) Earthwork bank
2) A tower was added to the top of the bank with the footings cutting through it, which was then protected by an earthwork rampart around the tower
3) Removal of the front of this rampart and turret and facing with a four foot stone wall and increasing the height of the rampart behind the wall
4) This wall was removed and replaced with a wider wall and heightening the rampart
5) A bastion was added to the front of the wall

Wacher considers the bastions to be a 4th Century addition to the wall, stating the war with the Picts as a cause of increased tension and towns looking to their defences (Wacher 1971, 25). This tie-in with historical events to explain the phases of town evolution is contradicted by de la Bedoyere (de la Bedoyere 2010, 154).

Further work to the wall was performed and a flood gate added to stop the diverted River Churn from undermining the wall. It had been diverted away from the centre of the town, to flow around the outskirts (Wacher 1971, 25).


  • Branigan, K., 1980. Roman Britain: Life in an imperial province, Reader’s Digest.
  • Cleary, S.E., 1999. Roman Britain: Civil and Rural Society. In J. Hunter & I. Ralston, eds. The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Industrial Revolution. Milton Park, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 157-175.
  • Cullen, P.R., 1970. Cirencester: The Restoration of the Roman Town Wall, 1967-68. Britannia, 1(1970), p.227. Available at:
  • de la Bedoyere, G., 2010. Roman Britain: A New History, Thames {&} Hudson.
  • Mattingly, D., 2007. An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 BC – AD 409, Penguin.
  • Pastscape Website, 2010. Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre [online]. Available at: [Accessed May 5, 2011].
  • Wacher, J., 1971. Corinium, London: Ginn and Company Ltd.
  • Wacher, J., 1975. The Towns of Roman Britain 2nd ed., London: Batsford Ltd.
Written on January 9th, 2011 , Certificate Year One, Field Trip Tags: ,

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