Mersea Mount: a Roman barrow at Barrow Hill Farm
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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This copy shows the entry on 15-Oct-2019 at 17:14:32.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Colchester (District Authority)
- West Mersea
- National Grid Reference:
- TM 02257 14341
Reasons for Designation
Earthen barrows are the most visually spectacular survivals of a wide variety
of funerary monuments in Britain dating to the Roman period. Constructed as
steep-sided conical mounds, usually of considerable size and occasionally with
an encircling bank or ditch, they covered one or more burials, generally
believed to be those of high-ranking individuals. The burials were mainly
cremations, although inhumations have been recorded, and were often deposited
with accompanying grave goods in chambers or cists constructed of wood, tile
or stone sealed beneath the barrow mound. Occasionally the mound appears to
have been built directly over a funeral pyre. The barrows usually occur
singly, although they can be grouped into "cemeteries" of up to ten examples.
They are sited in a variety of locations but often occur near Roman roads. A
small number of barrows were of particularly elaborate construction, with
masonry revetment walls or radial internal walls. Roman barrows are rare
nationally, with less than 150 recorded examples, and are generally restricted
to lowland England with the majority in East Anglia. The earliest examples
date to the first decades of the Roman occupation and occur mainly within this
East Anglian concentration. It has been suggested that they are the graves of
native British aristocrats who chose to perpetuate aspects of Iron Age burial
practice. The majority of the barrows were constructed in the early second
century AD but by the end of that century the fashion for barrow building
appears to have ended. Occasionally the barrows were re-used when secondary
Anglo-Saxon burials were dug into the mound. Many barrows were subjected to
cursory investigation by antiquarians in the 19th century and, as little
investigation to modern standards has taken place, they remain generally
poorly understood. As a rare monument type which exhibits a wide diversity of
burial tradition all Roman barrows, unless significantly damaged, are
identified as nationally important.
The survival of Roman barrows as upstanding earthworks is rare nationally and extremely rare in East Anglia. The use of a barrow at West Mersea to demarcate a cremation burial is not unique in Roman Britian, however, Mersea Mount is unusual in that Roman barrow burials are usually found in groups (such as the Bartlow mounds at Ashdon). This lone, large barrow is indicative of a very high status burial; the individual cremated and interred at West Mersea must have had some particular position of significance amongst the community to warrant the erection of the edifice. Although partly excavated the structure of the barrow remains substantially intact. Artefacts and environmental evidence will have survived and may, through the use of modern scientific analysis, add to our knowledge of the construction and appearance of the barrow and of Roman Mersea at the time of the mound's construction; for example many fragments of marine mollusca and environmental evidence including seeds were recovered from the original excavations (the site was partly waterlogged providing conditions in which organic material can survive). Many fragments of briquetage (fired clay associated with salt production) were also recoverd from within the make-up of the mound, demonstrating the presence of this industry nearby.
The monument includes the known extent of the earthwork and buried remains of
a Roman barrow situated on relatively high ground at the north west edge of
the central plateau of Mersea Island overlooking the Pyefleet Channel.
The flat-topped conical mound is some 35m in diameter and 7m high. The top has
a diameter of some 5m. There is no enclosing ditch.
Excavations carried out by the Morant Club in 1912 found that the mound
contained a burial dating from the late first to early second century AD. The
burial chamber, sited slightly off-centre, was dug into the original ground
surface so that its floor was some 38cm beneath this level. The chamber
measured some 45cm wide by 54cm high. A foundation of boulders and broken tile
supported a floor of two roof tiles; seven courses of flanged roofing tiles
formed the walls, with the two upper courses slightly corbelled to support the
roof, which was made of a single tile some 54cm square. Within the burial
chamber, the cremated remains of a child were found in a glass flask placed
within a small lead casket with a wooden lid.
The structure of the mound comprised a consolidated central core of impure
quartz sand, above which was mixed gravel and sand. Following the 1912
excavations, a passage was constructed through the excavation trench to the
burial chamber; this is extant and facilitates viewing of the inner chamber.
All modern fencelines, railings, walls, made-up surfaces and the wooden Wendy
house are excluded from the scheduling, 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:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Hazzledine Warren, S, 'Trans. Essex Archaeol. Soc. New Series' in The Opening of the Romano-British Barrow on Mersea Island, , Vol. XIII, (1915), 116-139
Hull, M R, 'A History of the County of Essex' in Mersea Mount, , Vol. III, (1963), 159-60
Black and white print, Clack, T, CT1143/1,
Black and white print, Hedges, J, (1973)
Black and white print, Rogers, P, Aerial 1/7, (1985)
Colour prints, Rogers, P, Aerial 14/14 and 14/15, (1985)
Draft Report, Colchester Museums, Mersea Mount. A feasibility study for the conservation...., (1999)
Lawson, AJ, Martin, EA and Priddy, D, The Barrows of East Anglia, 1981, EAA Report No. 12
Tyler, S, MPP Film 7, (1999)
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