Romano-Celtic temple complex at Wood Lane End, 280m SW of Woodwells Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015490

Date first listed: 01-May-1968

Date of most recent amendment: 31-Jan-1997


Ordnance survey map of Romano-Celtic temple complex at Wood Lane End, 280m SW of Woodwells Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Hertfordshire

District: Dacorum (District Authority)

National Grid Reference: TL 08235 07882


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

Reasons for Designation

Romano-Celtic temples were built to meet the spiritual needs of the communities they served by venerating the god or spirit considered to dwell in a particular place. The temple building was regarded as the treasure house of its deity and priests rather than as a congregational building and any religious activities, including private worship, communal gatherings, sanctuary and healing, took place outside. Romano-Celtic temples included the temple building and a surrounding sacred precinct or temenos which could be square, circular, rectangular or polygonal in ground plan. The temple building invariably faced due east and was the focus of the site, although it did not necessarily occupy the central position in the temenos. It comprised a cella, or inner temple chamber, an ambulatory or walkway around the cella, and sometimes annexes or antechambers. The buildings were constructed of a variety of materials, including stone, cob and timber, and walls were often plastered and painted both internally and externally. Some temenoi enclosed other buildings, often substantial and built in materials and styles similar to those of the temple; these are generally interpreted as priests' houses, shops or guest houses. Romano-Celtic temples were built and used throughout the Roman period from the mid first century AD to the late fourth/early fifth century AD, with individual examples being used for relatively long periods of time. They were widespread throughout southern and eastern England, although there are no examples in the far south west and they are rare nationally with only about 150 sites recorded in England. In view of their rarity and their importance in contributing to the complete picture of Roman religious practice, including its continuity from Iron Age practice, all Romano-Celtic temples with surviving archaeological potential are considered to be of national importance.

The preserved remains of the temple complex at Wood Lane End provide a rare and valuable insight into ritual practices in Roman Britain. The size of the complex and the substantial nature of the temple indicate the investment of considerable individual or pooled resources and illustrate the particular significance attached to religion at this time. Archaeological remains, including foundations, surfaces, pits and artefactual deposits will provide further evidence for the dating, method of construction and period of use of the complex, together with information relating to the religious practices and beliefs of the period. Environmental evidence preserved in these features may illustrate the nature of the landscape in which the monument was set. The temple complex is one of a number of Roman sites in the area, including the villas at Gadebridge and Boxmoor (scheduled separately as SM27881 and SM27916) which are thought to have been connected by a series of interlinking roads and trackways, and thus has significance for the study of social and economic conditions during the period of the Roman occupation.


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


The monument includes the buried remains of a substantial Romano-Celtic temple complex situated c.0.6m south east of the junction of Hales Park and Wood Lane End in the new town of Hemel Hempstead. The complex was first discovered in 1966 during the laying of a sewer pipe to the south of nos.102-108 Wood Lane End. Together with a geophysical survey, limited excavations at that time, and in advance of building work in 1982-3, revealed an extensive rectilinear temenos (sacred precinct) measuring some 85m north west-south east and 75m north east-south west. It is thought that the temenos was enclosed by a buttressed flint and mortar boundary wall, the foundations of which were traced along the north western and south eastern sides. An entranceway was located in the south eastern wall. Sections of the north western wall are preserved beneath the gardens of nos.104 and 106 Wood Lane End, and are included in the present scheduling. The largest structure within the temenos was a sub-rectangular temple located some 0.35m south of no.106 Wood Lane End. The eastern half of this temple is preserved beneath the garden of no.106 Wood Lane End and is included in the present scheduling. The temple shared the same orientation as the temenos and was also entered on the south eastern side. The cella (inner sanctum) of this temple was constructed from mortared flint with buttressed corners. The substantial foundations suggest that it may have stood to a height of at least 15m. The cella was surrounded by an ambulatory (walkway), and contained a vault. This may have been a favissa (store for sacred offerings). The excavator considered that it was more likely to have been a burial vault, although no human remains were discovered during the investigations. A second building attached to the outer face of the north western wall has been interpreted as a schola (place of learning), and may have housed a priest. The northern half of this building is preserved beneath the gardens of nos.102 and 104 Wood Lane End, and is included in the present scheduling. The schola, which is thought to have been constructed soon after the wall and the temple, had four rooms, one of which had an apse to the south west. A second room was provided with a hypocaust (underfloor heating system), while a third had an oven. A long porch aligned with the wall is thought to have given access to the temple via a verandah. The remains of a rectangular ancillary building were discovered to the south west of the schola, outside the temenos. This structure, which was considerably disturbed by subsequent development and is therefore not included in the present scheduling, may have provided storage space or accommodation for worshippers. The temenos wall, temple, schola and ancillary building are thought to have been constructed during the early part of the second century AD. Fragments of pottery dated to the first century AD have been discovered on the site, indicating some form of occuption prior to the construction of the complex, although the nature and extent of this are not known. The complex provided a place of burial within the temple together with facilities for a congregation. Funerary rituals in the temple would have been preceded by ceremonies in the schola where the oven suggests that refreshments were also available. The complex was elaborated during the mid second century AD by the addition of a small bath suite just within the entrance to the temenos. The remains of this building have been destroyed by the housing development and it is not included in the scheduling. A small square shrine or mausoleum was erected some 10m south east of, and on the same axis as, the temple. The remains of this building are preserved beneath the gardens of nos.9 and 11 Crest Park, and are included in the present scheduling. The shrine was constructed with buttresses from reused materials, including flint, chalk and stucco, and strengthened with a tile bonding course. Inside, a central plinth may have supported a statue or a small sarcophagus. The excavator considered that, since occupation materials were relatively sparse, the complex was probably used mainly for ceremonies associated with the commemoration of particular anniversaries rather than on a day-to-day basis. He also suggested that it may have been associated with the contemporary Roman villa at Gorhambury. However, it is equally possible that the complex was owned by a burial club or guild whose members pooled resources to provide funerary and ritual facilities for themselves and their families. It is thought that the complex fell into disuse at the end of the second century AD, and may have been demolished to provide building materials for the fortification of Verulamium (St Albans) which was constructed at this time. After the demolition the area was given over to agriculture and post holes discovered during the investigations suggest that animal stockades were constructed over the site of the complex, remaining in use into the fourth century. All fences, fence posts, gates, modern walls and structures, man-made surfaces and garden features are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these items 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: 27921

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Neal, D S, 'Britannia' in A Sanctuary at Wood Lane End, Hemel Hempstead, , Vol. 15, (1984), 193-215
Neal, D S, 'Britannia' in Unusual Buildings at Wood Lane End, Hemel Hempstead, Herts, , Vol. 14, (1983), 73-86

End of official listing