A Bronze Age post alignment and timber platform to the east of Fengate Power Station, including Bronze Age and later field systems and settlement to either side of the Northey Road.
Reasons for Designation
The Flag Fen timber post alignment, platform and associated Bronze Age and later occupation evidence on the Northey side of the Flag Fen basin are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival / Condition: The survival of timbers and artefacts within the wet conditions of the Flag Fen basin is outstanding, while the survival of features on the dry gravels to the east is good, and their condition apparently stable.
* Rarity: The post alignment and timber platform at Flag Fen represent a class of monument where relatively few examples survive and are well documented. Amongst these it is unique for its scale, completeness, longevity and complexity.
* Group Value: The direct association of the post alignment, platform and Roman causeway with field systems and other features on the Northey side of the Flag Fen enhances the interest of both. Research undertaken here will also inform our understanding of this kind of structure and their social, economic and environmental setting.
* Fragility / Vulnerability: Waterlogged deposits and artefacts are vulnerable to changes in water levels and to the effects of encroaching industrial development.
* Documentation: The monument and its setting have been well documented in the course of over forty years of excavation and research.
Investigation of the archaeology of the fen-edge gravels to the west of the Flag Fen basin began with the recording of finds from the hand dug gravel pits of Fengate by George Wyman Abbott, a local solicitor and antiquarian, in the early C20. Our current state of understanding of the archaeology of the area increased considerably after the archaeological significance of Fengate was acknowledged in the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments' volume on Peterborough, published in 1969. This followed Peterborough's designation as a New Town and the identification of Fengate as a zone of industrial development, marking the beginning of an intense period of excavation, research and conservation lasting over forty years, at Fengate and within the Flag Fen basin and its eastern landfall at Northey.
Rescue excavations undertaken by the Nene Valley Research Committee in 1969 were followed by a major project funded mainly by the Royal Ontario Museum, with the Department of the Environment, which ran from 1971-1978. Subsequent work included the Fenland Dyke Survey of 1982-86, during the first year of which a section of timbers, later identified as part of the platform, were discovered. There followed a series of excavations within the waterlogged deposits of Flag Fen between 1983 and 1995, to examine and determine the nature and extent of these timber built structures. Much of this work took place during and after the establishment in 1987 of the Flag Fen Visitor Centre and the construction there of the lake or mere to preserve the timbers in a waterlogged condition. The greatest extent of the post alignment examined was to the west of Mustdyke; the next greatest, further to the east, is the section that remains open within the Preservation Hall in the Visitor Centre. Trenches cut along the length of the alignment between the Visitor Centre and Fengate Power Station to the west in 2005 confirmed the consistency of construction and described its route. Smaller excavated areas and boreholes determined the extent of the timber platform to the north and south of the alignment. Excavation within Fengate and the Flag Fen Basin has continued into the C21 in advance of development, and with specific research objectives in mind. Work on the Northey side of the fen has been more limited but includes close examination of the complex of cropmarks revealed by aerial photography and examination through trial trenching of selected features. Excavations were also undertaken in 1999 in advance of construction of the Green Wheel cycle route.
When early farming communities of the Neolithic period began to clear the deciduous woodland of the gravel terraces of Fengate, by about 3000BC or earlier, the low lying ground between Fengate and Northey was dry. Over the following two and half to three millennia these evolving agricultural communities were sustained by the diversity of this landscape, particularly its good seasonal grazing. As water levels rose, the lower fields on the gradually sloping Fengate side of the Flag Fen Basin were abandoned and new ones created higher on the gravel terraces. From about 350BC onwards, during the Iron Age, the pattern of settlement began to change to one of nucleated villages occupied by communities practising a mixed farming regime. The pattern of fields revealed by aerial photography on the Northey side of the Flag Fen Basin suggests that the landscape here was settled and exploited in a similar way to that on the west side.
Peats began to form within the deepest part of the Flag Fen Basin from around 2030BC to1680BC, and by about 1300BC seasonal flooding was affecting the lower fen margin. In response to rising water levels, work began on the construction of a causeway. This was aligned with one of the main Fengate droveways, and consisted of rows of posts with walkways connecting the higher ground of Fengate with that of Northey, a distance of about 1km. The structure as it survives today is currently understood to represent three main phases of construction and maintenance taking place over a period of about 400 years. The first phase of construction appears to have been followed by a considerable period of stability and use of about 150 years. In the first quarter of the eleventh century BC the structure was renewed and enlarged, with maintenance continuing into the Late Bronze Age. Although this work ceased after 900BC, the structure continued in use into the Early Iron Age and possibly later. After their discovery in 1982 the timber structures of the platform in particular were interpreted as domestic in form and function, but this view has subsequently been revised, with greater emphasis placed on the role of both platform and post alignment in rites and ceremonies involving the deposition of a range of items, particularly metalwork, including weapons and personal ornaments, into the waters of the Flag Fen Basin. These rites continued throughout the Middle and Late Bronze Age and into the Iron Age.
By the early Roman period peat and alluvial deposits had covered the post alignment and platform, leaving perhaps a raised line to act as a marker for the surveyors of the route for the Fen Causeway, part of the road connecting the Roman town of Durobrivae, to the west of Peterborough, (National Heritage List Entry (NHLE) Number 1021429), to Denver in Norfolk and so to a wider network of roads and settlement; cropmarks of enclosures to the east of Flag Fen may also date to this period, including a possible Romano-Celtic temple. In the late first and early second centuries AD lower groundwater levels and dryer conditions would have made construction and use of this route feasible, with subsequent wetter conditions and the intensification of arable farming in the upper reaches of the Nene resulting in increased floodwater deposition of alluvium across the Flag Fen Basin.
The post alignment, constructed from timber apparently felled and worked specifically for this purpose, consists of five rows of posts, with at least five levels of horizontal timbers identified. The first phase consisted of two rows, Rows 1 and 3, mainly alder, with more oak used in the later phases of construction. The posts of Row 1 are widely and regularly spaced, with the more closely spaced posts of Row 3 forming a solid main axis along the length of the structure; this was the only row to be maintained throughout the life of the post alignment. Associated with this first phase is a consolidating layer of horizontal timbers as well as a narrow walkway. A wide opening in Row 1 appears to give access to a pool south of the alignment, within the timber platform.
Row 1 fell into disuse soon after the long period of stability of the second phase, possibly replaced by Row 2. The more densely spaced Row 3, and later Rows 4 and 5, appear to present a barrier or boundary to the north. The main pathway across Flag Fen was between Rows 2 and 3, successive surfaces showing signs of trample and wear, with sand and gravel laid to apparently provide grip on wet and slippery surfaces. Narrower walkways have also been identified.
Throughout its long life the walkways of the post alignment were used in rites involving the deposition of weapons and other metalwork into the waters or fen edge below the post alignment. Domestic items and personal items of jewellery have also been found, with almost every object apparently deliberately broken or disabled in some way. Different classes of item seem to have been favoured in different periods, but the distribution of objects appears to be of particular significance. The great majority of offerings were made to the south of the post alignment, or carefully placed within the timbers, while different categories of object tend to be found together within particular zones of the structure's length. The structure and purpose of the timber platform is more difficult to determine. It may not have been a continuous platform, but pierced with openings to the water below, as the pool accessed from Row 1 suggests. The presence of fragments of adult human bone has also led to the suggestion that it was used for the laying out of bodies after death.
The post alignment ends to the east shortly after reaching landfall on the Northey side of the Flag Fen basin. Aerial photographs of the fields to the east of the visitor centre and Northey Road reveal a complex range of cropmarks, the most prominent and extensive of which are the ditches of an axial field system aligned on the fen edge, similar to that examined by excavation at Fengate. These features include a pair of parallel ditches, a possible droveway, the presence of which has been confirmed by excavation. The excavations undertaken in 1999 demonstrated the survival, amongst other settlement evidence, of lines of stake holes to the east and north of Mustdyke well preserved beneath alluvial deposits. The Bronze Age may also be represented by two probable bowl barrows, one immediately to the east of the Northey Road and one to the north of a small quarry at the north-east end of the same field; in both, limited excavation confirmed the presence of a ditch and mound. Two small, clearly defined, rectilinear enclosures to the east of the Northey Road may be of Iron Age or Roman date, while another rectilinear, apparently double ditched enclosure close to the fen edge and north of the Roman Fen Causeway appears to overlie a slightly smaller circular feature and has been interpreted as a Romano-Celtic temple or, alternatively, a wayside inn. The line of the Roman Fen Causeway can be seen travelling across the field to west of the Northey Road, swinging south to run roughly parallel where the road turns east.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING
The monument includes the full extent of the Flag Fen Visitor Centre and, to the west of that, a corridor of land that includes the route of the post alignment and Roman Causeway. This corridor is bounded to the north by the north bank of the Catswater Drain; where the drain turns south-west, just east of the Power Station, the scheduling boundary is formed by the east side of the road, slightly to the west of the drain. At its widest point this corridor of land is about 142m wide, and at its narrowest, where the track enters the Visitor Centre, about 85m. The scheduled area also includes the paddocks and fields to either side of the Visitor Centre access road, between the Catswater drain and the Northey Road, as well as the field to the east of the Northey Road. The scheduling boundary here falls on the inside of the field boundary drains to south-east and north-east, and is defined to the north-west by Willow Hall Lane. Willow Hall Lane and the quarry in the field to the east of the Northey Road are not included in the scheduled area. Where the north-west boundary crosses the Northey Road and runs south-west from Halfpenny Toll House it follows the inner, south-east bank of the Catswater Drain up to where it crosses the Adderley Drain.
All modern road and track surfaces are excluded, as are all fences, gate posts and modern agricultural buildings. Modern buildings and structures within the Visitor Centre are also excluded from the scheduling, including reconstructions of prehistoric structures, however, the ground beneath all these features is included.