Medieval saltern adjacent to Hawbush Creek


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020491

Date first listed: 24-Apr-2002


Ordnance survey map of Medieval saltern adjacent to Hawbush Creek
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This copy shows the entry on 09-Dec-2018 at 21:35:48.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Chelmsford (District Authority)

Parish: South Woodham Ferrers

National Grid Reference: TQ 82354 96328


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

Reasons for Designation

Salt has been produced from sea water or, in inland areas, from brine springs since before Roman times, and the technology used in the medieval period displays a marked continuity with earlier production methods. Brine, from which the water was evaporated to produce the salt, was collected in one of two ways, either by its filtration from coastal sand, soil or pebbles impregnated with salt water during high tides and periodic inundation, or by its collection in pools or pits filled at high tide or by inland springs, sometimes by way of a system of channels, dams and sluices. Medieval salterns include a range of features connected with the collection and evaporation processes, of which the most visually distinctive are the oval or kidney-shaped middens of waste material which may cover areas of 2ha or more. Other features usually survive in buried form beneath and around the middens, illustrating the fact that salterns were often in use for periods of at least a century, during which time they were occupied seasonally, their component structures being rebuilt at the beginning of each summer or as required. Evaporation was often aided by an evaporation kiln fuelled by peat or wood products, of which several different types are known, and the remains of temporary wooden buildings, wooden or wicker troughs and clay-lined pits have also been found during excavation. Salt was an expensive commodity during the medieval period, particularly in demand for food preservation and curing. Salterns are known from documentary sources and place name evidence to have been widely distributed around the English coast and the inland brine springs of Cheshire and Droitwich from at least the end of the 10th century. The industry had declined by the beginning of the 16th century and competition with the superior and cheaper rock salt, mined from the beginning of the 17th century, led to its demise during the early post-medieval period.

Once common in coastal and estuarine localities, surviving salterns are now extremely rare and most survive only as soilmarks. In particular, salterns of medieval date are rare survivals. In Essex out of over 300 salterns recorded only ten are considered to be of medieval date, and of these the Hawbush Creek saltern is the only one to retain significant extant earthworks.

Structures and artefacts preserved within the stratigraphy of the saltern adjacent to Hawbush Creek will provide valuable information about saltmaking in this area; its study will greatly enhance our understanding of the processes involved and the technology utilised in the production of salt during the medieval period.


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


The monument is situated adjacent to Hawbush Creek, a tributary of the River Crouch. It includes the remains of a medieval salt manufacturing area (saltern) visible as a group of earthworks with associated buried remains. The principal features of the medieval saltern are the remains of a series of low platforms, pits or tanks dug into the marsh clay and adjacent mounds. The earthworks cover an area approximately 250m north-south by 450m east-west. The medieval features, which survive as low banks, mounds, cut tanks (originally rectangular but now somewhat eroded) and platforms, are interspersed with much higher modern banks and mounds, some partly overlying the monument. Small scale excavations in 1913 by the Morant Club investigated major components of the monument and showed the low platforms and rectangular tanks to be salt production areas with the adjacent mounds (some standing up to 2m in height) formed by the piling up of the spoil. During the period of operation sea water would have been introduced at high tides from the creek into the shallow tanks, where solar evaporation reduced it to a strong brine. This brine was then boiled and further reduced in salt houses, the remains of which (hearths and flues) are believed to survive as buried features.

In between these structures lie working platforms with associated middens containing bone and ceramic artefacts. Finds from the excavated areas included medieval pottery of 13th to 14th century date, burnt clay (which may have formed the sides or coverings of hearth flues), tile, wood ashes and charcoal; the latter is still visible on parts of the monument.

All modern fencelines, timber causeways and bird hides 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: 32449

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Barford, P M, 'Colchester Archaeol. Group Annual Bulletin' in After the Red Hills:Saltmaking in Late Roman,Saxon&Medieval Essx, , Vol. 31, (1988), 3-8
Christy, R M, Dalton, W H, 'Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society' in On Two Large Groups Of Marsh-Mounds On The Essex Coast, , Vol. 18 Pt.1, (1925), 27-53
Christy, R M, 'Essex Naturalist' in A History of Salt-Making in Essex, , Vol. 14, (1906), 193-204
Fawn, J, 'Colchester Archaeol. Group Annual Bulletin' in Losing Savour: the Decline of Essex Salt, , Vol. 39, (1996), 3-17
Conversation relating spoil dumping, Brown, N, Conversation with Senior Archaeologist, (2001)
Conversation relating spoil dumping, Mason, D, Conversation with Farm Manager, (2001)
Conversation relating spoil dumping, Peet, C, Conversation with Country Parks Manager, (2001)
Essex SMR, Strachan, D, BW/99/24/10, 11, 12, 13, 14, (1999)
Frames 1 to 16, Tyler, S, MPP Film 29, (2001)

End of official listing