Gosbecks Iron Age and Romano-British site
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Location Description:
- Cheshunt Field and Gosbecks, Colchester, Essex, at NGR TL9671421982.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- Cheshunt Field and Gosbecks, Colchester, Essex, at NGR TL9671421982.
- Colchester (District Authority)
- Colchester (District Authority)
- Colchester (District Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- Colchester (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Iron Age and Romano-British complex dating from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the 4th century AD.
Reasons for Designation
Gosbecks Iron Age and Romano-British complex is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: for the exceptional earthworks, cropmarks and soil marks which remain relatively untouched by later occupation activity;
* Period and rarity: as one of only 20 known examples of oppida in England, a settlement type exclusive to the later Iron Age; * Potential: the site has the potential to provide valuable evidence for the impact of the Roman conquest and government on native society. Such an extensive and complex area of archaeological features will harbour sediments and artefacts which can enhance our knowledge and understanding of this domestic, agricultural, ritual and military landscape and activity. Artefacts will also demonstrate evidence of widespread trade in the form of imported goods, from the continental mainland and the western Roman Empire as well as the stratigraphical and spatial associations with a wide range of pre-existing and later structures;
* Documentation: for the high level historical and archaeological documentation pertaining to the evolution of the Gosbecks complex;
* Group value: for its close proximity to other related contemporary designated monuments;
* Diversity: for the range and complexity of features which, taken as a whole, provide a clear plan of the Iron Age and Romano-British complex and retain significant stratified deposits which serve to provide details of the continuity and change in the evolution of the settlement;
* Historic importance: Gosbecks contributes to our understanding of the development of the Iron Age oppidum of Camulodunum and its relationship with Britain's first Roman town, and to the study of territorial oppida nationally.
The complex, commonly known as Gosbecks, is an extensive area of settlement, military and ceremonial activity dating from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the 4th century AD. Limited excavations have taken place on some of the principal components of the site, the earliest being the Revd. H. Jenkins's exploration of the Roman temple in 1842. Several smaller investigations took place in the 1930's and late 1940s and parts of the theatre and the Roman temple have been subject to detailed excavations in 1967 (Britannia Vol. 2 (1971),1977 and 1995-99 (Colchester Archaeologist Vols. 9, 10, 11 and 12). Across the site there have been numerous archaeological investigations, many in advance of development and all contributing to the current understanding of the extent of the surviving remains. Archaeological evidence in the form of artefacts has also been retrieved from field surfaces within the area of the complex.
The central feature of the Iron Age (IA) complex is a defended farmstead, situated to the south of the Maldon Road. The farmstead dates from early 1st century AD and is believed to have been the residence of Cunobelin, King of the Catuvellauni tribe immediately prior to the Roman Conquest. The boundaries of the settlement, however, were established well before Cunobelin’s reign. The western limit of the earliest Iron Age complex is defined by the Heath Farm Dyke, a continuous bank and ditch (now cropmark) curving around the small valley which provided the settlement’s water supply. This dyke continued to the north east for about 2km towards the second major centre of Iron Age activity at Sheepen (scheduled separately) on the north-west side of the historic town centre. This was the earliest dyke in the system defining the tribal centre, or oppidum. It has been excavated to the north of Gosbecks and is thought to date from around 50-25BC.
In the first half of the 1st century AD, perhaps in response to the threat of Roman invasion or for reasons of local politics, the western boundary of the Gosbecks complex was successively reinforced by additional parallel defences (Kidman's Dyke and Gosbecks Dyke), and a further dyke (Oliver’s Dyke) was added from the foot of the curve to secure the settlement’s southern perimeter as far as the Roman River.
The Gosbecks settlement doubtless served as the major centre of tribal life within the late Iron Age oppidum of Camulodunum, providing the seat of the King, enclosures for a wealth of cattle and perhaps, the habitations of a sizeable population. Religious activity is also evident, particularly in a large enclosure immediately to the north of the farmstead. This is similar to the aristocratic burial enclosures located a short distance to the west of the settlement (excavated and consequently not included in the scheduled area) and perhaps served as a royal burial place - possibly that of Cunobelin himself - or ceremonial enclosure. The settlement is also likely to have acted as a trading centre and as a place of assembly where important matters concerning the integration and conflict between local tribes could be discussed.
The significance of the Gosbecks complex is apparent in the manner of its development after the Roman Conquest. Shortly after the fall of Camulodunum in AD43 the Roman army constructed a fort some 350m north-west of the farmstead - an ideal position from which to control the area without being particularly disruptive. As part of the consolidation of Camulodunum in the years following the Roman Conquest, or perhaps in the aftermath of the Boudiccan Revolt of AD60-61, a further barrier, more linear than its predecessors, was added to the west of the oppidum. This boundary, known as the Gryme's Dyke, provided a single barrier, north to south across the entire spur between the Roman River and the River Colne, a distance of about 5km.
The complex continued to thrive under Roman rule, probably retaining its role as a tribal centre and developing into a (Romanised) semi-urban centre for the local native population, previously unknown in Britain, although well documented in Roman Gaul. In the late 2nd century two major public buildings were constructed - a large Roman theatre and a massive temple complex. Activity continued at Gosbecks throughout the Roman period, the theatre being dismantled in the 3rd century, but the rest of the site continuing into the 4th.
Gosbecks was scheduled in 1939 as a relatively small area under the name Cheshunt Field Roman Site but was amended and enlarged in 1954. In 1988, it was possible to identify and interpret a much more extensive area of archaeological remains and the scheduling was amended, significantly enlarged and renamed Gosbecks Iron Age and Romano-British site.
The site includes the visible and buried remains of an extensive area of settlement, military and ceremonial activity dating from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the 4th century AD, located on the outskirts of modern Colchester some 3km to the south-west of the town centre.
DESCRIPTION The site covers an area of approximately 1.5 square kilometres to either side of the Maldon Road and Olivers Lane, its extent known mainly from well-defined cropmarks (variations in growth caused by buried features) which have been recorded from the air on numerous occasions since 1932. The majority of the area is used for arable agriculture with some permanent grassland and small area of paddocks and grazing, particularly on the eastern side of the site. Within the scheduled area lies a complex network of archaeological features representing many phases. The main elements, the Iron Age (IA) farmstead, Roman fort, temple and theatre, are linked by crop mark evidence of boundaries, paddocks, trackways and dykes. The physical relationship of the features within the complex provides stratigraphic evidence of phases of activity and a relative dating tool for all archaeological deposits surviving within these elements.
The IA farmstead lies fairly central between Oliver's Lane and Maldon Road at grid reference TL96652245. This manifests as a defended enclosure containing round houses and other structures; it is of a type widely recognised in Essex, although the Gosbecks example is of exceptional size, contained by a trapezoidal enclosure measuring some 350m by 200m. The enclosure is in turn surrounded by an extensive pattern of fields and paddocks defined by boundary ditches and linked to a complex network of droves and trackways. The main centre of the IA religious activity lies immediately north of the farmstead and is clearly visible from aerial photographs, particularly the large enclosure located at grid reference TL96832255.
As indicated in the History section above, the continued significance of the area following the Roman conquest is highlighted by the construction of the fort 350m north-west of the farmstead (grid reference TL96302275). Again, it is known only from cropmarks, although these clearly show three sides of the rectangular defences and the western side adapted from the Heath Farm Dyke, enclosing an area of 1.6ha - sufficient for one cohort or (500 auxiliary soldiers) - possibly the First Thracian Cavalry. Cropmarks also provide evidence of the layout of internal features such as the principal buildings and gate structures.
The construction of Gryme's Dyke further defined the western side of the oppidum; the linear boundary covering a total distance of c.5km. The southern section of the dyke provides the western boundary of the scheduled area at Gosbecks. On the north side of the Maldon Road the dyke ditch has developed into a broad hollow way, still used as a footpath and bridleway, with remnants of the earthwork bank visible along the eastern side. The bank is also evident to the south of the Maldon Road along the western edge of Butcher’s Wood and (as a single scarp) continuing southward along the road to Bayliss Mill on the Roman River.
Under continued Roman rule, the settlement was linked by a straight road to the main Roman town 3km to the north east. A section of this road remains visible as a cropmark within the scheduled area, crossing Oliver's Lane c.400m south of the junction with Cunobelin Way and extending into land north of Cunobelin Way and east of Gosbecks View. The theatre was a major public building, constructed in the late 2nd century and currently stands as a low mound within a cropmark enclosure immediately to the south-east of the farmstead (which may still have been active in this later period). Excavations have determined that it is the largest known Roman theatre in Britain, originally capable of seating 5,000 people within a banked semi-circular auditorium contained by a buttressed stone wall. The stage area appears to have been unorthodox in design and to have lacked the normal adjoining chambers - factors which have led to the suggestion that the theatre was not intended as a place of performance, but as a place of ceremony and assembly. The second public building, the temple, is situated to the north of the theatre and was positioned within the former ‘sacred area’ attached to the Iron Age farmstead, presumably to continue and enhance the functions of the earlier ceremonial site. The temple itself was built in the common Romano-Celtic form of two concentric squares - an inner sanctum or ‘cella’ surrounded by a corridor or ambulatory. The precinct, however, was constructed on a much grander scale - surrounded by a covered walkway or portico, 100m square, which followed the outline of the former enclosure.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING
The scheduling is intended to provide protection for the known extent of the buried and visible archaeological evidence relating to the core of the Iron Age oppidum in the Gosbecks area of Colchester. Protection is divided between five separate, though related scheduled areas, each reflecting a manageable unit of the monument separated from the others by modern roads.
The scheduled area north of Maldon Road includes a visible section of Gryme's Dyke south of Stanway Green and the buried remains of other dykes, the Roman fort and various field systems and trackways in the fields to the north of Maldon Road. The western boundary follows the field boundary to the west of a bridleway or path which runs within the line of the Gryme's Dyke ditch. At the northern end of the bridleway (west of Wisemans Farm) the line crosses the dyke and then south along the eastern side of the bank until continuing eastwards along the property boundaries to the rear of Wisemans Farm and the adjacent houses to the north eastern corner of the field. At the north eastern corner of the field the constraint line turns south-east and follows the western side of the metalled farm track along the field boundary towards Brickwall Farm and the Maldon Road. Archaeological features to the east of this boundary have been largely destroyed by quarrying and landfill, apart from a short, isolated section of Kidman’s Dyke, which is separately scheduled (NHLE 1019991). From the entrance to Brickwall Farm the constraint line runs westwards following the foot of the roadside verge to the boundary of Well House. The garden immediately surrounding Well House has been landscaped and is devoid of known archaeological information. The east and west garden boundaries, however, perpetuate the lines of the Heath Farm Dyke and Kidman’s Dyke (Middle). The line is therefore drawn northwards along the west side of the eastern boundary, crossing the garden some 40m north of the house before turning south to include a 20m length of dyke on the western boundary. The line continues westwards along the rear boundary of ‘Shaw Park’ and is then projected 175m ESE to join the western boundary of the paddocks to the rear of ‘Fairdawn’. From here the line is drawn along the rear property boundaries of ‘Floradora’, ‘Oaklea’ and ‘Randoms’ before returning to the foot of the verge on Maldon Road and continuing to the southern point of Gryme’s Dyke. The ground within the properties on Maldon Road may contain archaeological information, although the presence of such remains has not been demonstrated in the past. These gardens and paddocks would be more effectively managed through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The second area of scheduling includes the earthwork and cropmark section of Gryme’s Dyke to the south of Maldon Road. Starting at Maldon Road, the area is defined by the boundary fence on the western side of the path which runs within Grymes Dyke’s ditch until the corner of Butcher’s Wood where the earthworks cease, the edge of the scheduled area follows the recorded route of the dyke (Hawkes and Crummy 1995, Camulodunum II, fig. 6.1) which forms a band straddling the path and averaging 20m in width. The cropmark evidence terminates some 100m north of the river, alongside the former garden boundaries of Baymill Cottage (now demolished). On the eastern side of the dyke, within Butcher’s Wood, the constraint line follows the eastern foot of the bank, allowing a 2m margin considered necessary for the support and protection of the monument. This line continues northward, projected across the new entrance cut through the bank just south of the gardens of ‘Springfields’. Within ‘Springfields’ gardens the line is drawn parallel to the path allowing a 10m wide sample of the denuded bank.
The third area of scheduling includes a large area south of the Maldon Road and west of Oliver’s Lane, containing the buried remains of the Iron Age ‘Royal’ farmstead, several enclosures and perimeter dykes, the Romano-British temple and theatre and numerous related features known from excavations and aerial photography. Starting at the western corner, at the junction of the field boundary east of ‘Springfields’ and the Maldon Road, the line is drawn to the north-east following the northern edge of the verge on the south side on Maldon Road. It continues around the southern side of the roundabout at the Maldon Road/Cunobelin Way junction and then south-east along the southern edge of Cunobelin Way. At the next roundabout the line turns south and follows the western edge of Oliver’s Lane for approximately 1.2km to a point at the southern end of the paddocks on the west side of the lane. From here the constraint line turns west and follows the southern paddock boundary for approximately 140m, continuing westwards for a further 140m to meet the recorded junction of Gosbecks Dyke (South) and Oliver’s Dyke (Hawkes & Crummy 1995, Camulodunum II Fig 6.1). Allowing a 10m margin for the protection of the buried remains, the line turns south and traces the eastern side of the Oliver’s Dyke cropmark along the edge of Oliver’s Spinney to the northern bank of the Roman River and extends further to the south of the river through Chest Wood.
Turning west along the bank, the line follows a parallel path northwards along the western side of the Oliver’s Dyke cropmark to the point were it intersects with the line of Gosbecks Dyke. Gosbecks Dyke (South) forms the southern limit of this area of the Gosbecks complex, swinging north in a wide arc terminating in Oliver’s Thicks. The line then follows this feature, again allowing a 10m wide margin on its southern side. At the north end of Oliver’s Thicks the line turns north-east along the boundary of the spinney towards the stream issuing from the springhead to the north. After following the western side of the stream southwards for approximately 110m, the line turns northwards along the field boundary near ‘Springfields’ and returns to the south side of the Maldon Road.
The fourth area of protection includes a large area between Oliver’s Lane and Layer Road, surrounding the springhead north of ‘Sodoms’. This area also contains a section of the Roman road leading north-east towards the legionary fortress (and later walled town) and a pattern of co-axial trackways and field boundaries known principally from aerial photography. Starting at the north-west corner of the scheduled area – at the junction of Olivers’ lane and Cunobelin Way – the scheduling boundary is drawn southwards following the eastern side of Oliver’s Lane for approximately 900m. From this point the line turns east and continues along the field boundary to the north of the small fields immediately north of ‘Potter’s Meadow’. The line continues to the eastern end of this boundary, turning north for c.412m along the west side of the woodland surrounding Sodoms brook. The line then turns to the east, across the line of the brook, north of a small rectilinear pond before turning to the south-east following a field boundary fence along the eastern side of the woodland surrounding ‘Sodoms’ brook. From here the constraint line continues eastwards along the northern boundary of the paddock belonging to ‘Oaklyn’, before turning north along the boundaries to the rear of the adjacent properties and along the eastern boundary of the fields adjoining Layer Road. Skirting around the garden of ‘Glenfield’ the scheduling boundary continues along the roadside for a further 50m before turning north-west to join the drainage channel running south from Gosbecks Road. It follows this channel northward for c.140m before turning again to the north-east to contain the areas of archaeological remains (linear features and ring ditches) known from aerial photography (Hawkes & Crummy 1995, Camulodunum II, Fig 6.1). After a distance of approximately 110m the line turns to the south-west then north-west in a shallow arc (following a field boundary fence not yet shown on the map) for approximately 490m, defining the northern limits of the trackway and field system north of Oliver’s Orchard. The line then turns to the north-east and runs parallel to (and c.40m to the east of) the Roman road leading northwards from Gosbecks to the walled town. At the southern edge of Cunobelin Way the line turns to the west and follows the southern side of this road westward to the Oliver’s Lane roundabout to meet with the western corner.
The fifth area of protection lies north of Cunobelin Way, east of Gosbecks view and south of Gosbecks Road. The line begins c.33m west from the boundary fence close to the junction of Cunobelin Way and Gosbecks Road. From here it runs north-east, across the field, to the boundary marking the south-west side of Gosbecks Road. Here the line follows the boundary northwards then to the south-west for approximately 56m. The line then cuts across the field in a south-westerly direction, parallel to the Roman road, to meet the southern edge of the field. Here the line follows the boundary to the east to form the southern edge of the scheduled area. This area aims to offer protection to the buried remains of the Roman road which is evident on aerial photographs, shown to run north-east to south-west through the area of protection.
EXCLUSIONS All fences, fenceposts and gates are excluded from the scheduling, together with all signposts, information boards, feed bins, rubbish and dog waste bins and modern road surfaces. The ground beneath all these items is included.
The stables and associated outbuildings in the paddocks alongside Oliver’s Lane are excluded from the scheduling together with the loose gravel surface of the Maldon Road visitors’ carpark, but again, the ground beneath all these features is included.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- EX 57
- Legacy System:
- RSM - OCN
Books and journals
Crummy, P, City of Victory: The story of Colchester, (1997)
Hawkes, C F C & Crummy, Camulodumum 2, Colchester Archaeology Report 11, (1995)
Dunnett, R., 'Britannia' in , , Vol. 2, (1971), 27
Benfield, S, Excavations of Late Iron Age and Roman features and a Roman Road north of Gosbecks Archaeological Park, Colchester 1995-6, 2008,
Black, A, Geophysical Survey Report: Gosbecks Iron Age and Romano British site, Colchester, Essex Monument No. 57 2Cunobelins Farmstead" (second report), 2003,
Brooks, H, A desk-based assessment of the archaeological remains around Gosbecks Farm, Colchester, Essex, 2014,
Radford, D & Gascoigne, A, The colchester Iron Age Dyke System: An integrated management plan., 1997,
Title: NMP 1: 10,000 map sheet TL 92 SE Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing