Defensive enclosures in the County of Huntingdonshire in England
At a point 17.5 miles north of Huntingdon the modern main road leaves the course of the ancient Ermine Street and turns westward towards Stamford, some nine miles away. Just north of this spot, occupying an angle between the River Nene and the Billing Brook, and closely adjoining the modern road to Stamford, lies the site of the Roman settlement of Durobrivae.
In general shape it closely resembles an irregular quadrangle, the northern and western sides being considerably longer than their corresponding sides on the east and south; but there is a distinct bend in the northern side and a less marked one on the south, so it would be more accurately described as a polygon. The area enclosed is about 44 acres, and is now divided into two arable fields; through the centre of it runs the line of the Roman Ermine Street, entering about the middle of the eastern side and passing out at the north-west corner.
The whole area was surrounded by a vallum or defensive rampart, now much lowered by the plough, but still clearly to be seen, and beyond it the fosse may still be traced in many places. At the eastern end there appears to be no fosse, and the road enters the enclosure almost at the level of the present top of the vallum. At the south-east corner, and for some little distance along the southern side, the vallum has been much worn down, but as we progress towards the west the elevation becomes greater until at the south-west corner it attains an altitude of 6ft. above the bottom of the fosse. On the southern side the outer line of the fosse has been obliterated by the modern road, but in places the width may still be made out. On the western side the surface of the adjoining grass field has been extensively dug for gravel, and the line of the fosse has thereby been lost, but towards the north-west corner it is very clearly defined, and the vallum at this point rises 8ft above its bottom.
Here the Roman Ermine Street passes out, and while the portion of it which is within the enclosure is about the same level as the vallum, that on the outside is only a little above the level of the adjoining grass field, and there is nothing now to show us how this difference of level was got over, although it is quite obvious that the fosse must have been crossed by a bridge. After the north-west corner is turned the vallum of the western end of the north side is very much worn away and the fosse is very shallow, although both may still be traced. Both the vallum and the fosse become more distinct towards the middle of the north side, but the height of the vallum is here only 3 ft. 6 in. above the fosse, and so it continues on until at the north-east corner the fosse disappears into the level of the adjoining field, but the vallum can still be followed to the point where the Ermine Street enters the enclosure.
Continual ploughing for many years has rendered it difficult to say what was the original height and width of the vallum, but it appears now as a wide bank, varying from 25 ft. to 30 ft. across the top and from 2 ft. to 2 ft. 6 in. high on the inside, and sloping with a wide, gradual slope towards the centre of the field. Through the enclosure the Roman road runs as a raised bank 40 ft. across the top and with gradual slopes some 30 ft. wide on each side, and an average elevation of about 2 ft.; this of course, has suffered, like the rest, from ploughing.
Artis, who published his book in 1828, shows a tumulus towards the middle of the south side; but this cannot now be identified.
The small ditches and banks shown in the field on the south side of the modern road are merely flood-banks of recent date.
This earthwork, which lies on the river bank at the south end of the village of Eynesbury, has many indications of the Roman period if not of Roman origin. Gorham 1, who wrote in 1820, says of it:‘It probably occupied a spot, at present known by the name of Eynesbury cony-geer, which has been waste from time immemorial, and has long been worked as a gravel pit.'
The bank rises abruptly from the Ouse, to a height inconsiderable in itself, but commanding with respect to the level of the surrounding meadows: its declivity has clearly been assisted by artificial means. The regular plan of this encampment has been long since effaced. In the memory, however, of persons still living, lines of entrenchment were visible, within the area of which was an artificial mound, …these have disappeared, or at least have ceased to retain any definite character, on account of the long continued working of the soil for gravel……It is a popular legend that a giant, stationed upon this hill [the mound] was accustomed to throw a weapon to another giant posted upon the Norman Keep on the river bank at Easton [distant three-quarters of a mile away] which was returned in a similar way, by the latter.
Although it is obvious that much of the site has been dug for gravel, a considerable portion of the western side is now occupied as allotment gardens, and here, although much eroded by the plough, the lines of the vallum can still be distinctly seen. At the western corner the outer angle of the bank is very clear and stands up some 5 ft. above the surrounding ground, but the inner line has been lost, doubtless by the cutting away of the vallum itself. From this point the northern vallum has been lost owing to gravel digging, but a line of excavation where the ground drops suddenly some 18 in., the lower part of which is now being filled with rubbish, may still indicate its approximate position. On the western side, the vallum may be seen crossing the allotments, and its southern corner is also quite clear. The vallum on this side also stands some 5 ft. above the surrounding ground, and on the inside the land falls away with a gentle slope to the middle of the enclosure, which in some places is as much as 3 ft. 6 in. deep.
Within the enclosure and at about the middle of the length of the western vallum, which it almost touches, is a slight elevation of the ground which probably represents the tumulus mentioned by Gorham, but it would seem either that it was not circular or that there were two tumuli side by side.
On the southern side the vallum runs to the eastern hedge of the allotments, and there it is lost owing to gravel digging in the grass field; but even there a distinct fall in the ground may be noticed, especially in the western and eastern hedgerows, and this, probably, represents the outer line of the bank. The earthworks undoubtedly extended across the grass fields eastward of the field just referred to, but there is little if anything which can be identified; the ground, however, falls sharply away from a line which probably represents the top of the bank, and some very slight indications may be seen where the line reaches the buildings on the eastern side.
It would seem likely that the present road follows the shape of the eastern and northern sides of the enclosure, and the houses probably occupy the site of the vallum.
At the north-east corner of the allotments, and extending across the occupation road leading to the grass field, a considerable ridge may still be seen. It rises about 2 ft. 6 in. above the ground, and is apparently a roadway running through the enclosure. These two ridges apparently met on a plot of ground the surface of which has been lowered some 18 in., and it is therefore not possible to say whether there was any continuation of the ridge towards the south, but nothing can be seen of it in the adjoining grass field.
It is somewhat curious that there is no sign of a fosse, for although Gorham speaks of the banks as rising abruptly form the river this statement could only apply to one small part, whereas on the other sides, so far as they can now be seen, the banks appear to rise from the normal level of the surrounding ground. The banks and vallum are all much flattened by the plough, but in view of Gorham’s words it is perhaps surprising that so much can still be seen to-day, more that a hundred years since his time.
Of the site of the Roman Station at Godmanchester little is known; it may be placed with a tolerable degree of certainty upon the irregularly shaped plot of ground bounded on the north by East Street, on the east by Ermine Street, on the south by London Street, and on the west by Silver Street and part of Post Street; but the whole area has been built over from ancient times, and there is no sign of vallum or fosse to be seen.
The Ermine Street from London to Lincoln passed through the middle of this area; the road from Cambridge went direct to the crossing of the Ouse, and its track may still be seen northward of the church, but there is reason to believe that a branch from it ran towards the middle of the area, as indeed it does still; the Romano-British way from Sandy came up to the south-west corner, and may perhaps have entered the area there, but this is by no means certain, as it now skirts the west side. The Rev. F. G. Walker, who lived for some years in the town, gave the boundaries as here indicated. Coins and pottery are found all over this area.
Gorham mentions a supposed Roman Camp, about half a mile west of the Romano-British way from Sandy to Godmanchester, and 400 yards north of the Fox Brook- i.e., about 2,000 ft. south-east of Monks’ Hardwick Farm. He states in his History of St. Neots that in his day (1820) the earthworks had been almost obliterated by the plough, and since then the ground has been steam cultivated for many years, so nothing can be seen.
A large field at Bury is marked on the Ordnance map as the site of a Roman Camp there, nor is it near a known Roman road. The site is on high ground divided by deep valleys into three distinct hills, and on the summit of the southernmost is a large mound, marked upon the map as a tumulus. Within the memory of old people not long dead, this mound was the site of a windmill, and it bears evident signs of such a use. It is 75 ft. in diameter at the base and rises from 5 ft. to 6 ft. above the surrounding ground, which falls rapidly away in all directions, and it has no ditch round it.
On the western side of the hills, near the bottom of them, there is a line along which the ground has been rather steeply scarped, but it has the appearance of having been done to give a level surface for a roadway, and indeed it seems to be used for that purpose, especially towards the northern end.