Hinxworth Roman fortlet
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1015852
Date first listed: 14-Feb-1997
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This copy shows the entry on 13-Dec-2018 at 13:49:44.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: North Hertfordshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TL 24762 40396
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Roman fortlets are small rectangular enclosures with rounded corners defined
by a fortified rampart of turf and earth with one or more outer ditches. The
ramparts were originally revetted at the front and rear by timber uprights in
shallow trenches and were almost certainly crowned with timber wall walks and
Fortlets were constructed from the first century AD to at least the later
fourth century AD to provide accommodation for a small detachment of troops
generally deployed on a temporary basis of between one to two years and
supplied by a fort in the same area. The function of fortlets varies from
place to place; some were positioned to guard river crossings or roads,
particularly at vulnerable points such as crossroads, whilst others acted as
supply bases for signal towers. Roman fortlets are rare nationally with
approximately 50 examples known in Britain, half of which are located in
Scotland. As such, and as one of a small group of Roman military monuments
which are important in representing army strategy and therefore government
policy, fortlets are of particular significance to our understanding of the
period and all surviving examples are considered nationally important.
Although the fortlet at Hinxworth has been degraded by ploughing, its system of defensive ditches and associated enclosures survive as buried features visible from the air and recorded as cropmarks on aerial photographs. The fills of these ditches will contain valuable archaeological deposits relating to the period of the monument's occupancy and further demonstrating its function and use. Environmental evidence in these fills may help to illustrate the nature of the landscape in which the monument was set, and to indicate elements of the diet of the occupants. The ditch forms will provide important information concerning the construction of the fortlet and its method of defence.
The interior of the fortlet and the associated enclosures will retain information relating to their function and use, including evidence for permanent and temporary structures such as barrack blocks, stores, stables and tents.
The fortlet is of particular significance due both to its unusual size and to its location in an area otherwise devoid of known Roman military sites. A study of the monument and its relationship to other sites in the area and to the network of roads and trackways will make a valuable contribution to the understanding of civil and military control during the Roman occupation of Hertfordshire.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes the buried remains of a Roman fortlet situated on arable
land above and to the west of a tributary of the River Rhee, some 80m east of
Bury End Farm. Although the monument cannot be seen on the ground, it is
clearly visible from the air and has been recorded on aerial photographs as a
series of cropmarks representing buried ditches. A large quantity of Roman
coins recovered from the plough soil has also demonstrated the location of the
Air photographs indicate a subrectangular enclosure identified as a fortlet, with straight sides and rounded corners measuring 80m north east to south west by 65m north west to south east. The fortlet is delineated by a ditch, and two further ditches are visible around the south western and north western sides. It is thought that, to the north east, they have been obscured by a field boundary track, under which they still survive. The upcast from the ditches around the fortlet would have been used to construct a rampart within the innermost ditch. This rampart would have been revetted with timber uprights inside and out and would have supported a palisade and walkway allowing a clear view of the countryside around. It is thought that the middle, narrower, ditch may mark the line of a further palisade. The two outer defences do not continue around the south eastern side which is occupied by two large ditched, rectilinear enclosures extending to the south west of the fortlet, also included in the scheduling. The full extent of the north eastern enclosure is presently unknown since it is obscured by the field boundary, but it is thought to measure approximately 110m by 60m. The adjoining enclosure to the south west is some 160m by 60m. A break in the fortlet's inner ditch on the south eastern side may represent a point of access into these enclosures directly from the fortlet.
The layout of the fortlet and its associated enclosures may have been dictated by topography, with the strongest defences arranged around the most vulnerable sides where a clear line of sight is restricted by the slight hill slope. To the south east, however, the view is completely uninterrupted and the fortlet's occupants would have had ample warning of any hostile approach from this direction. Therefore, the siting of less well defended ancillary enclosures against the south eastern side of the fortlet would seem to make military sense.
A single gateway, perhaps located in the middle of the north eastern side, would have given access to the interior of the fortlet which would have contained one or two ranges of simple timber-built barrack blocks. No typically Roman building debris has been found on or around the site and it is therefore considered that the earth and timber fortlet was never reconstructed in stone. Cropmarks in the north eastern corner of the enclosure may represent the position of a more substantial structure: perhaps officers' quarters or a two-storeyed look-out platform. Fortlets could house a garrison of up to 80 men. This would have been considered sufficient in an area which was generally regarded as stable throughout most of the period of the Roman occupation. However, should the need arise, further troops could be accommodated in tents in the adjoining enclosures. The fortlet may also have acted as a transit camp for troops passing along the Great North Road some 2.5km to the west.
The fortlet may also have had administrative purposes perhaps connected with food production at nearby villa complexes such as Radwell (the subject of a separate scheduling), and as a secure stopover for the movement of taxes.
The coins found at the site have a date range from the early second century to the late fourth century, with most falling into a period from the mid third century to the late fourth century. A few coins of Iron Age date and one of Claudius imply that the site may have seen some occupation prior to and early in the Roman period, but the numerous early second century coins suggest that construction of the fortlet took place during the military consolidation under Trajan (AD 98-117), or early in the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138) when a spate of uprisings in Britain caused heavy legionary casualties.
The siting of the fortlet is interesting. It lies some 2km north west, and within sight of, the hilltop settlement at Arbury Banks (the subject of a separate scheduling), and the associated temple complex at Claybush Hill. The Roman administration may have considered that supervision of these native foci was advisable, albeit at a tactful distance. However, its location may also have been chosen for its proximity to the Icknield Way and other routes into the Cambridgeshire Fens which, from about AD 120, saw a rapid expansion of population. This is thought to have been the result of a deliberate exploitation by the Roman government of the productive land in the fens which emerged when water levels fell during the first and second centuries AD. Military provisioning required a regular source of supplies which the rich fen farmland could produce, and the fortlet at Hinxworth may have been established during this period as part of a supply line to the north and west.
Abandonment of the fortlet late in the fourth century may have been connected with the military reorganisation which tended towards the use of larger and more elaborate fortifications: a response to the unsettled nature of the times or, perhaps, with the earliest stages of urban and rural decay prior to the collapse of Roman occupation in the early fifth century.
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: 27902
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Collingwood, RG, Richmond, I, The Archaeology of Roman Britain, (1969)
Salway, P, 'The Oxford History of England' in Roman Britain, , Vol. 1a, (1981)
Discussion with owner, Sheldrick, J, (1996)
list of finds identified by Letchworth Museum Services, (1996)
oblique monochrome photograph, St Joseph, J K, VO 89,
overhead monochrome photograph, 25 2257,
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