Buckinghamshire Grim's Ditch: 1500m long section from Great Widmoor Wood to Oaken Grove
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021199
Date first listed: 31-May-1962
Date of most recent amendment: 24-Feb-2004
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Aylesbury Vale (District Authority)
District: Chiltern (District Authority)
Parish: The Lee
National Grid Reference: SP 89640 06833
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or
multiple ditches and banks which may extend over distances varying between
less than 1km to over 10km. They survive as earthworks or as linear features
visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs or as a combination of both. The
evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that
their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although
they may have been reused later.
The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were
constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries
in the landscape; their impressive scale displaying the corporate prestige of
their builders. They would have been powerful symbols, often with religious
associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of those
groups who constructed them. Linear earthworks are of considerable importance
for the analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age; all well-
preserved examples will normally merit statutory protection.
The boundary known as the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch includes numerous surviving sections from within three main linear earthworks aligned along the Chiltern Hills between Bradenham and Berkhamsted and spanning a total distance of 18km. It does not appear that these principal sections were ever joined to form a continuous boundary. Current evidence suggests that the sometimes quite sizeable gaps represent areas which were formerly forested, or in which natural features served to perpetuate a division of the land. The same pattern has been discerned along the North Oxfordshire Grim's Ditch to the west of the Thames. A further comparable linear boundary, the Moel Ditch, extends to the east across parts of neighbouring Bedfordshire. For the most part the visible sections of Grim's Ditch in the Chilterns include a wide single ditch flanked by a bank of upcast earth, which is always upslope of the ditch. Other features, discovered by limited excavation include a turf core within the bank, a berm separating bank and ditch (concealed over time by the spread of bank material) and a trench for a fence or palisade, along the outer rim of the ditch. The Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch is thought to have served as a territorial boundary, separating, and perhaps enclosing, organised groups of land and settlement. It may also have been an agricultural boundary, denoting grazing areas and impeding the movement (or theft) of stock. Excavations to date have provided only limited dating evidence. Pottery recovered from the fill of the ditch indicates that it was in existence in the Iron Age. As such, the boundary provides important evidence for the management of the landscape in the centuries preceding the Roman Conquest in AD 43, although it may have a considerably earlier origin. It remained a notable feature in later centuries, acquiring its present name (a variation on the name of the god, Odin) at some point in the early medieval period, perhaps during the period of pagan Saxon settlement in the 5th and 6th centuries. The earliest recorded use of the term, `Grim's Ditch' occurs in a charter granted by Edward, Earl of Cornwall, in 1291. All sections of the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Grim's Ditch which survive in visible form, or as well-preserved buried remains (identified by aerial photography or ground survey), are considered integral to a general understanding of the monument and will normally merit statutory protection. The section of Grim's Ditch from Great Widmoor Wood to Oaken Grove survives well as a visible earthwork along most of its length and provides a fascinating insight into the nature of early territorial land division in the Chiltern Hills. It will contain archaeological evidence for the manner of its construcion as well as environmental evidence for the appearance of the landscape in which it was built. The archaeological evidence may also include artefacts or scientific dating material from which to determine the period of its construction and the duration of its maintenance as an active boundary. The stretch of Grim's Ditch between Wendover and Berkhamstead follows an arc across high ground above the Aylesbury Vale and Bulbourne Valley. Prehistoric hillforts are located close by on Boddington Hill, 1.75km to the north west and Cholesbury Hillfort 3km to the east.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a 1500m long section of a prehistoric boundary known
as the Buckinghamshire Grim's Ditch, which runs broadly north for 320m
along the west side of Great Widmoor Wood and into Mercer's Wood before
changing direction and running in a north east direction for 1180m along
the north west edge of Baldwin's Wood and through Oaken Grove.
The section of the Grim's Ditch sited on high ground from Great Widmoor
Wood to Oaken Grove survives as a clearly visible bank and ditch along
most of its length. The ditch measures up to 8m wide and 1.6m deep, and
has been infilled in places. To the west and north of the ditch lies a
parallel bank, approximately 7m wide and standing up to 1m in height. To
the south west of Oaken Grove a 160m section of the boundary has been
levelled by cultivation over the years, but the bank and ditch survive as
buried features, identified as cropmarks on an aerial photograph of 1988.
In the 190m section between Mercer's Wood and Baldwin's Wood the ditch is similarly under cultivation, and is also believed to survive as a buried feature. An excavation, carried out in 1973 along a section of Grim's Ditch approximately 3km to the north east, produced evidence of a level area, or berm, separating the bank and ditch. A palisade trench, which would have supported a wooden fence, was also found along the outer edge of the ditch. Similar components may survive as buried features along this section of Grim's Ditch. In the area of Mercer's Wood the monument changes direction from north east-south west to north-south creating a dog-leg. Here the bank and ditch are less substantial than elsewhere. It has been suggested that there may originally have been a break in the monument at this point and that the two separate lengths were joined together at a later date. The prehistoric boundary is also affected by later activities elsewhere, notably by a large extraction pit cut across the monument towards the north of Baldwin's Wood and by a small pit cut through the bank in Mercer's Wood. Unmetalled track surfaces cross the monument at various points. Further sections of Grim's Ditch exist, immediately north of Oaken Grove and some 2km to the south near Cottage Farm, and these sections and others along the entire known route of the boundary are the subject of separate schedulings. It is possible that there was a break in the boundary between the second of these two sections and Great Widmoor Wood. All fences, walls, gates and stiles are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 35341
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Network Archaeology, , Grim's Ditch: Archaeological and Management Survey Phase II, (1998), 9-11
Network Archaeology, , Grim's Ditch: Archaeological and Management Survey Phase II, (1998)
BCM 474/146, Bucks County Council,
BCM 475/074, Bucks County Council,
BCM 514/HD149, Bucks County Council,
Title: Ordnance Survey 1st Edition Source Date: 1896 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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