Kidman's Dyke North and Middle: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum of Camulodunum


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019991

Date first listed: 10-Aug-1923

Date of most recent amendment: 02-Sep-2002


Ordnance survey map of Kidman's Dyke North and Middle: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum of Camulodunum
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Colchester (District Authority)

National Grid Reference: TL 96402 23226


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 25sq 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 time in Britain. These developed over a period of about one hundred years from the foundation of the settlement in the early first 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 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 5th 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 surviving earthworks of Kidman's Dyke (Middle and North) are among the best remaining examples of the linear earthworks which defined the perimeter of the settlement. The bank remains a substantial and impressive earthwork which will contain evidence for the date and manner of its construction and use. Furthermore the ground surface sealed beneath the bank at the time of its construction may retain evidence of pre-existing settlement activity which will assist the process of ascribing a date to its construction. 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 it was maintained. The silts may also contain environmental evidence illustrating the appearance of the landscape in which the dyke was set.

Together with its continuation to the north and south, this section of Kidman's 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, most significantly, 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 parts of the middle and northern segments of a late Iron Age linear boundary earthwork, or dyke, named after Mr Kidman who owned part of the land along its route at the time of its investigation in the 1950s. The division of the dyke into three parts (Kidman's Dyke North, Middle and South) follows the terminology used in archaeological publications.

This visible section of the dyke is located some 3.5km south west of Colchester town centre and extends over a distance of about 280m between the Wallis Court housing estate and the Shrub End landfill site. The dyke follows a north-south alignment for 190m south of James Carter Road, where it is known as the southern part of Kidman's Dyke North. It then turns to the south west and runs for 90m towards the minor lane leading to Brickwall Farm, this stretch being the northern part of Kidman's Dyke Middle.

The bank (or rampart) along the eastern side of the boundary was partly denuded by gravel quarrying prior to the recent landfill operation. The western scarp nonetheless survives fully intact, measuring some 10m in width and rising 2.5m above the base of the partly infilled ditch. During archaeological excavations, sections were cut across the earthwork in at least six places between the 1950s and 1978. In each case, however, the excavations were either extremely limited or the records incomplete. The most recent excavation demonstrated that the ditch measured 10m across and allowed the original depth to be estimated at 4m.

Kidman's Dyke is part of the western boundary of the territorial oppidum of Camulodunum, positioned to surround the western side of the high status farmstead and associated field systems at Gosbecks. The middle section of Kidman's Dyke continues to the south of the lane leading to Brickwall Farm (where it is scheduled as part of the Gosbecks complex) and combines with Kidmans's Dyke South to enclose one phase in the settlement's development. The earliest settlement at Gosbecks (dated to around 50-25 BC) is thought to have been bounded by the Heath Farm Dyke; this followed a parallel course inside Kidman's Dyke before extending towards Lexden Dyke and the Iron Age industrial complex at Sheepen to the north east. Kidman's Dyke is believed to have superseded or reinforced the southern part of this boundary. The continuation of the dyke to the north west of the landfill site (not included in the scheduling) was examined between 1973 and 1976 prior to housing development. These excavations indicated that the dyke was constructed to enhance the oppidum's defences in the early first century AD (perhaps in response to local unrest or the increasing threat of Roman invasion). Lesser ditches found abutting the dyke suggest that it also formed part of an irregular pattern of stock enclosures in the late Iron Age or early Roman period, and it appears that the northern spur may have been integrated into a system of additional defensive boundaries (Dugard Dyke, Shrub End Dyke/Triple Dyke) created under Roman administration. It is possible that the northern section of Kidman's Dyke (which has only been recorded as far as Lexden Straight Road) curved south again toward Heath Farm Dyke, perhaps even accounting for the convergence of banks recorded as a `Roman Camp' by the Reverend Henry Jenkins in 1843. The expansion of houses across this area in the earlier part of the 20th century has, however, removed all visible traces of these features.

All fences and fence posts 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: 29453

Legacy System: RSM


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), 116
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), 120
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, , Vol. 11, (1995), 161-178
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

End of official listing