Roman fort, Roman town, Roman and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries at Great Chesterford


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013484

Date first listed: 03-Nov-1951

Date of most recent amendment: 01-Nov-1995


Ordnance survey map of Roman fort, Roman town, Roman and Anglo-Saxon cemeteries at Great Chesterford
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Uttlesford (District Authority)

Parish: Great Chesterford

National Grid Reference: TL 50223 43423, TL 50291 42985, TL 50467 43328


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Roman forts served as permanent bases for auxiliary units of the Roman Army. In outline they were straight sided rectangular enclosures with rounded corners, defined by a single rampart of turf, puddled clay or earth with one or more outer ditches. Some forts had separately defended, subsidiary enclosures or annexes, allowing additional storage space or for the accommodation of troops and convoys in transit. Although built and used throughout the Roman period, the majority of forts were constructed between the mid first and mid second centuries AD. Some were only used for short periods of time but others were occupied for extended periods on a more or less permanent basis. In the earlier forts, timber was used for gateways, towers and breastworks. From the beginning of the second century AD there was a gradual replacement of timber with stone. Roman forts are rare nationally and are extremely rare south of the Severn Trent line. As one of a small group of Roman military monuments, which are important in representing army strategy and therefore government policy, forts are of particular significance to our understanding of the period. All Roman forts with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be nationally important.

The Roman fort at Great Chesterford is one of the rare examples in the south east of England and is one of only four in Essex. Partial excavation has confirmed the survival in good condition of the defensive ditch and interior features below the later Roman town. The establishment of this town (which is the only town in Essex of this date to have been provided with a wall apart from Colchester) on the site of the early fort is itself a matter of great interest, and will illustrate the continuity between military and civilian rule in the Roman period. Large areas of the town survive undamaged by later development, which is now a rare feature as many Roman towns have undergone continuous settlement up to the present day. The town exhibits a great diversity of features illustrating, for example, a development from timber to masonry buildings and the construction of a defensive wall during the troubled period towards the end of the Roman period in Britain.

The survival of the cemeteries in close association with the town will allow the study of the individuals who occupied the fort and settled in the town, giving direct evidence of diet and disease as well as other demographic information. The Saxon cemeteries which followed on from the Roman ones, are of great importance in their own right and offer important insights into the continued settlement and status of the site in the immediate post Roman period.

The different elements of Roman occupation and settlement and the later Saxon remains at Great Chesterford all combine to offer a unique insight into the social, political, military and religious life during the first seven hundred years AD in this part of south east England.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes an early Roman fort which was superseded on the same site by a small Roman town, two cemeteries of Roman date and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. It is located just to the south of the Essex-Cambridgeshire border on a terrace above the east bank of the River Cam. The monument is protected within three separate areas, divided by a rectangular quarry across the central part of the site and by Newmarket Road at its eastern end.

All of the elements of the monument survive as buried features and deposits with no upstanding masonry remains. However, the line of the town wall can be traced as an earthwork along the town's western edge.

A fort was originally constructed on the site in the first century AD. This was superseded by a town (which was itself later walled), the north part of which overlay the main body of the fort. Cemeteries associated with the occupation of the town lie to the west and north. The history and layout of the site are known through field observations, from cropmarks and partial excavations.

The earliest Roman feature at the site is the fort. The majority of this lies beneath the northern part of the walled Roman town protected in the northern part of the southern area. The fort covered a rectangular area approximately 350m ENE-WSW by 310m with an additional annexe on the north part of the east side which measured c.150m by 75m. Both fort and north eastern annexe are enclosed by a single ditch c.4m wide and c.1.8m deep which survives as a buried feature. An earthen rampart was originally constructed on the inside of the ditch. The fort is believed to have been constructed following the Boudican revolt of AD60. In the second half of the first century AD, during the reign of Nero, the ramparts were pushed back into the ditch, deliberately back-filling it. The deposits and features within the fort enclosures include more ephemeral remains of the short-lived military camp which is believed to have been occupied for only 20 or 30 years from its initial construction.

The fort was followed on the site by the Roman town. A masonry wall, which was still visible in the mid 18th century, enclosed a polygonal area of approximately 14.5ha lying approximately north west-south east, its northern half overlapping the site of the earlier fort. Within the walls is a dense concentration of buried features and deposits which includes wall foundations and floors of both public and private buildings, roads, open spaces, rubbish disposal areas and industrial areas. Small scale partial excavation was first undertaken in 1847 by Neville who recovered large quantities of pottery and coins. In 1948-9 further partial excavation noted the remains of timber framed structures dating to the second century. These buildings were superseded by masonry structures in the fourth century, at which date the town wall was also constructed. Also within the enclosed area are three roads, visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs and as surface scatters of construction material, which meet in the centre of the town. The entrance gates through which these roads ran are to the east, west and north. Also evident as a cropmark on aerial photographs is a large circular feature approximately 30m in diameter on the western side of the interior of the enclosed area. It is believed that this indicates the location of an amphitheatre.

Since the desertion of the Roman town, probably some time during the fifth century, the walls have subsequently been robbed for building material and hard core. During the 18th and 19th centuries the walls were quarried particularly for road mending. No remains of the wall survive above ground although parts have been found in several excavations along the eastern edge of the town, as buried foundations and lower courses. Elsewhere the line of the wall is indicated by a robbed-out foundation trench. At the northern end of the town the line of the wall can be traced as a surface scatter of flint within the ploughsoil.

A cemetery dating to the fourth century was partly excavated in 1856 between the western town wall and the River Cam; its remains are protected in the southern area. Twenty adult inhumations were recovered, along with 83 Roman coins. A second cemetery was partially excavated by Neville in 1859. These burials were located approximately 200 yards to the north of the enclosed town. A total of over 100 burials were recovered at this time including both inhumations and cremations. On the western edge of this area, which had been identified by Neville as a Roman cemetery, a mix of Roman and Anglo-Saxon burials were excavated in the 1950's. A total of 160 inhumation and 33 cremation burials were located on the eastern edge of the quarry which lies to the north west of the walled town. This northern burial area is believed to extend to the east at least as far as Newmarket Road, as further burials were recovered from the areas of 19th century quarrying adjacent to the road.

Although the excavated burials on the northern side of the town are confined to the eastern and western edges of the northern area, it is believed that further burials are located right across the field in between. Burials have also been located inside the enclosed area of the town. Three human skeletons and two horse burials were found in 1971 in the garden of Crown Cottages in the south eastern corner of the Roman town. In 1967 two other burials had been located 73m further to the south west. These burials, within the town, are believed to be Anglo-Saxon in date.

Excluded from the scheduling are all modern buildings (including `Fairacre') and structures, gravel, paving and tarmac surfaces, fencing and fenceposts, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 24871

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Collins, A E, East Gate:Great Chesterford, Essex, (1985)
Collins, A E, The Beginnings of Great Chesterford, from Prehistory to History, (1980), 11-13
Draper, J, Excavations at Great Chesterford, Essex 1953-5, (1986), 1-41
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Hull, M R, The Victoria History of the County, (1963), 72-88
Brooks, H, Wallis, S, 'Essex Archaeology and History' in Recent Archaeological work in Great Chesterford, , Vol. 22, (1991), 38-45
Evison, V, 'Berichten van der Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderz' in Five Anglo-Saxon Inhumation Graves Containing Pots At Great Ches, , Vol. 19, (1969), 157-173
Rodwell, W, 'Brittannia' in The Roman Fort At Great Chesterford Essex, , Vol. 3, (1972), 290-293
Cambridge University Collection,
Day, P, ESMR 4942,

End of official listing