This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

Heath Farm Dyke Middle (rear of Alan Way): part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum of Camulodunum

List Entry Summary

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.

Name: Heath Farm Dyke Middle (rear of Alan Way): part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum of Camulodunum

List entry Number: 1019962


The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Colchester

District Type: District Authority


National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 27-Oct-1970

Date of most recent amendment: 24-Apr-2002

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 29458

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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

Reasons for Designation

The Latin term `oppidum' usually refers to a town, although in the context of the Roman invasions of Britain, its use in the writings of Julius Caesar and Suetonius encompassed a wider range of fortified settlements and native strongholds. In archaeological terminology `territorial oppida' is used to describe a settlement phenomenon of the later Iron Age - areas of farmsteads, field systems and nucleated settlements of various kinds covering wide areas bounded by substantial earthworks. Such sites are considered to have been tribal capitals or focal places for communities between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, serving as centres of trade, manufacture and social prominence. Only a handful of sites in England have been identified under this term (principally Colchester, Bagendon, Silchester, St Albans, Chichester, Grims Ditch and Stanwick), all of which lie in southern, central and western parts of the country. They all share the common characteristic of boundaries defined by massive linear banks and ditches, sometimes intermittent and positioned to include natural barriers such as rivers and marshes. The enclosed areas vary from between 30 sq km and 90 sq km, some marked out by curvilinear boundaries, others by more rectilinear patterns. Activities within the enclosed areas may vary considerably and, given that Iron Age society in southern England was not homogeneous, there is no reason to suppose that all territorial oppida exhibited the same status or served identical purposes. In addition to farmsteads, areas of nucleated settlement and related field systems, other known features of the enclosures include storage pits and wells, areas set aside for burials (sometimes extremely elaborate), temple complexes and areas of pottery manufacture, metal working and the minting of coins. Some, particularly those positioned in coastal or estuarine locations, provide evidence of widespread trade in the form of imported goods, notably Gallo-Belgic pottery, from the continental mainland and the western Roman Empire. Territorial oppida reflect the development of complex social organisation and increased permanence of settlement in the late Iron Age. They also provide some of the most valuable evidence for the impact of Roman conquest and government on native society. Given the rarity of this settlement form and its importance for our understanding of the period, all territorial oppida are viewed as being of national, if not international importance, and all surviving elements are considered worthy of protection.

The territorial oppidum surrounding Colchester (`Camulodunum' in antiquity) encompassed an area of about 25 sq km mainly located between the converging courses of the River Colne and the Roman River to the west of the Colne estuary. In addition to the rivers the settlement was defined and protected by the largest group of linear earthworks of the period in Britain. These developed over a period of about one hundred years from the foundation of the settlement in the early 1st century BC and mostly take the form of large V-shaped ditches with banks constructed from upcast on the sides facing the settled area. The dykes may have been made still more formidable by the addition of timber palisades and gateways, and they have been interpreted as an expression of the settlement's status, as a means to control and protect grazing stock and as an effective defence against chariots - one of the principal features of later Iron Age warfare. If placed end to end the dykes would extend over a total distance of about 25km. Some 6km now survive as extant earthworks, and many other sections are known to survive as buried features.

The interior of the oppidum is thought to have been largely agricultural - a mixture of enclosed fields, pasture and woodland - with small occupation sites scattered throughout and two particularly large and complex areas of activity located to the west and to the north. At Gosbecks, to the west, an extensive farmstead has been identified. This has been associated with Cunobelin (one of the most famous British kings prior to the Roman Conquest) and interpreted as a centre of political authority and religious practice. Further north, at Sheepen, excavations in the 1930s and 1970 revealed widespread evidence of industrial processes, the minting of coins and continental trade. Associated with the settlement sites are burial grounds, the three most prominent of which are the Lexden Tumulus, a group of excavated burial enclosures at Stanway (beyond the western dykes) and a similar (unexcavated) enclosure at Gosbecks. These sites reflect the beliefs and complex burial rituals afforded to the the society's elite; a large number of less elaborate burials have been discovered across the oppidum.

The rulers and occupants may have fluctuated according to the relative fortunes of two rival tribal polities - the Trinovantes centred on modern Essex and the Catuvellauni based in modern Hertfordshire. An alternative suggestion is that the oppidum served as a Catuvellaunian colony within Trinovantian territory, maintained through political agreements or the warlike ascendancy of the former in order to provide this otherwise landlocked tribe with access to coastal trade. In either case, the oppidum was clearly of central importance to the region in AD 43 when it formed the primary military objective for the invading Roman army. After the collapse of local resistance, the Emperor Claudius personally led his victorious forces into the oppidum, which was subsequently reorganised to provide a centre of provincial government and bridgehead for the further conquest of Britain. A small Roman fort was constructed within the Gosbecks complex, and a larger legionary fortress was established on the hill to the east (now the centre of modern Colchester). As the focus of military activity shifted towards the north and west of Britain, the fortress was redesignated as a `colonia', a chartered town for a colony of retired soldiers. `Colonia Victricensis' (City of Victory) was the first Roman town established in Britain and thus the earliest truly urban settlement in the country. The burgeoning town was destroyed in AD 60-61 - the first major casualty of the tribal revolt led by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. In the aftermath of the revolt the town was rebuilt with a protective wall (based on the perimeter of the earlier fortress), and with the return of order the colonia developed in a manner apparently calculated to integrate the old and new social orders. Native settlement and burial practices continued within the territorial oppidum (now probably a `civitas' or self governing town) which was protected with additional dykes. A temple and a theatre were constructed at the Gosbecks site, and the Sheepen industrial zone was maintained, enlarged and extended to include a further religious complex. The collapse of Roman government in the early fifth century signalled the end of Colonia Victricensis. Medieval Colchester emerged within the walls of the former Roman town, leaving the greater part of the extended settlement and oppidum to disappear beneath its rural hinterland. As a consequence the archaeological remains in this area are remarkable for the lack of later disturbance and present a unique opportunity for the study of the Iron Age and Roman past.

The Heath Farm Dyke is believed to be the earliest boundary around the late Iron Age oppidum, and the section to the rear of Alan Way is the only segment to survive as a visible earthwork. Although denuded, the bank will contain valuable evidence, no longer available elsewhere, for the date and manner of its construction. Furthermore, the old ground surface, sealed beneath the bank at the time of its construction, may retain evidence of pre-existing settlement activity which would greatly enlarge the picture of the development of the oppidum. The line of the attendant ditch survives well as a partly buried feature. The lower fills of the ditch are unlikely to have been disturbed and will contain valuable archaeological evidence related to the period over which the dyke was maintained. The silts may also contain environmental evidence illustrating the appearance of the landscape in which the dyke was set.

Together with its continuations to the north and south (which are the subject of separate schedulings), this section of Heath Farm Dyke forms part of a system of some 12 dykes constructed to define and defend the territorial oppidum of Camulodunum and the later Roman colony. It therefore forms part of the archaeological evidence for the development of one of the earliest `proto-urban' settlements in Britain and for its reorganisation in the years following the Roman Conquest.


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


The monument includes buried and upstanding remains of a section of a late Iron Age linear boundary earthwork, or dyke, named after Heath Farm, which formerly lay across its route. The whole dyke, known from archaeological excavations and aerial photography, covers a distance of some 2km and is divided into three parts (Heath Farm Dyke North, Middle and South) for ease of reference in archaeological publications. The monument described here forms part of the middle section of Heath Farm Dyke and is the only segment to remain visible at ground level.

The visible section of the dyke is located some 2.8km south west of Colchester town centre and extends over a distance of about 150m, following a north east to south west alignment across the gardens to the rear of Nos 43-51 Alan Way and within the south eastern corner of the grounds of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Straight Road. In 1970, when the earthwork still ran through woodland, records indicate that both the bank and the ditch measured some 10m in width, and the bank (to the south) rose about 1.5m above the base of the partly infilled ditch. The earthworks have since been been masked by modern landscaping. The rounded ridge of the bank remains visible, however, and the ditch infilled to a greater extent, can still be detected as a slight depression.

The section of dyke to the rear of Alan Way has not been excavated, although numerous investigations have taken place along adjacent lengths prior to quarrying and housing developments. In the 1950s excavations across the former Cooperative Sports Field to the north east revealed the line of the dyke and exposed a narrow causeway, one of only six excavated entranceways in the entire system of dykes to the west of Colchester. Investigations in the Shrub End gravel quarry to the south west in 1974 revealed a complete profile of the buried ditch, measuring 7.8m wide and 2.4m deep.

The convergence of Heath Farm Dyke Middle, Shrub End Dyke and Prettygate Dyke at Bluebottle Grove (to the north east of Alan Way) was examined during tank trap construction in 1943 and more thoroughly excavated in 1956-8. This work clearly demonstrated that Heath Farm Dyke was the earliest of the three and it is now considered to be the earliest linear earthwork in the system surrounding the territorial oppida of Camulodunum. The dyke is thought to have originated around 25 BC, built to define and protect the western side of a high status farmstead at Gosbecks (south of the Shrub End quarry) as well as a considerable expanse of land to the north. In the early years of the first century AD a further defence (the Lexden Dyke) was added to provide a continuous boundary to the west of both Gosbecks and the industrial area at Sheepen to the north. Heath Farm Dyke survived as a visible boundary up to the time of the Roman invasion of AD 43 (when it was incorporated into a Roman fort at Gosbecks), although it may have been strengthened or even superceded by further outlying dykes (Gosbecks Dyke and Kidman's Dyke) around the southern settlement.

All fences and fence posts, garden structures, ornaments and paths 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. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Crummy, P, City of Victory: The story of Colchester, (1997)
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 30-31
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995)
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 48-50
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 8
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 170-75
Radford, D and Gascoigne, A, The Colchester Iron Age Dykes: Archaeological summary, 1997, Colchester Museums Internal Report
Radford, D and Gascoigne, A., The Colchester Iron Age Dyke System: Integrated Management Plan, 1997, Colchester Museum internal report
SAM entry EX 147, Ritchie, P, Dyke between Lexden Straight Road and Gilwell Park Close, (1970)
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 TL 9623 Source Date: 1961 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Antiquity model: revised 1956 Ordnance Survey

National Grid Reference: TL 96894 23667


© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1019962 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 25-Sep-2018 at 09:53:24.

End of official listing