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Bran Ditch: an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch between Fowlmere and Heydon, including an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, a section of medieval lynchet and an Iron Age enclosure

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: Bran Ditch: an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch between Fowlmere and Heydon, including an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, a section of medieval lynchet and an Iron Age enclosure

List entry Number: 1410907

Location

A linear feature which extends for 5km from Black Peak in Fowlmere parish (NGR TL 4045 4490) to Heydon village (TL 4307 4052) in an almost straight line SSE. Between Black Peak and TL 4173 4263. north of Heydon Grange, it follows the parish boundary between Melbourn and Fowlmere. Between here and Heydon village it follows the field boundary and footpath from Heydon (Harcamlow Way).

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

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Fowlmere

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Great and Little Chishill

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Heydon

County: Cambridgeshire

District: South Cambridgeshire

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Melbourn

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 15-Nov-2012

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

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

The monument includes Bran Ditch, an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch, c.5kms long, running from Black Peak in the north to Heydon in the south, as well as an associated Iron-Age enclosure at Black Peak, and a medieval lynchet north of Heydon village.

Reasons for Designation

Bran Ditch: an Anglo-Saxon bank and ditch with an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, a medieval lynchet and an Iron Age enclosure, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: Bran Ditch represents a category of monument that is characteristic of the early to mid-Anglo-Saxon period.

* Survival and potential: despite the slighting of the bank and backfilling of the ditch in the C19, excavation has demonstrated the survival of well preserved material both in the ditch and below the bank, the range of which illustrates the considerable archaeological potential of the monument. The survival of the Anglo-Saxon burial ground and its relationship to the bank and ditch is of particular interest. There is potential survival of well preserved deposits associated with the Iron-age enclosures close to the springs of Black Peak.

* Rarity: Iron Age enclosures at the north end of the ditch are included within the scheduling for their rarity as a possible religious site.

* Group Value: The significance of the monument is considerably enhanced by its relationship to the other contemporary Cambridgeshire Dykes, Fleam and Devil's Dykes, and Brent Ditch. The relationship between the Iron-Age enclosures and the northern terminal of Bran Ditch and their location in or close to the springs of Black Peak may also be of significance to both.



History

Bran Ditch is one of four parallel linear monuments, substantial ditches facing west with banks to the east, crossing the Cambridgeshire chalk plain from the springline and wetlands to the north to the junction of the chalk and boulder clay on the higher ground to the south. These monuments, generally referred to as the Cambridgeshire Dykes, increase considerably in scale from Bran Ditch to the west to Devils Dyke in the east, with Brent Ditch and Fleam Dyke in between: all are protected scheduled monuments, including the Bran Ditch. The earliest phase of Fleam Dyke has been securely dated to the C5, while the evidence from Bran Ditch indicates a post-Roman, probably early Anglo-Saxon origin; coin evidence also suggests a post-Roman date for Devils Dyke. The earliest written record of the dykes is a reference to the 'land between the Dykes and the Ouse' in the entry for the year 905 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Environmental analysis demonstrates that the four dykes traversed an area of open moorland grazing, which provided a corridor between the wooded higher ground to the south and the wetter fenland to the north, the route of the Icknield Way and access from the west into East Anglia. Their form and location makes a defensive function the most feasible interpretation of these monuments, while the dating evidence so far suggests that they were initially constructed by the early Germanic settlers of East Anglia as a deterrent to British incursions from the west. However, their almost equidistant spacing about 8kms to 10kms apart, creating blocks of moorland grazing, also suggests some form of land division or allocation.

Our understanding of Bran Ditch, the slightest of the dykes in construction, though not in length, is drawn mainly from excavations undertaken by Cyril Fox and W.M. Palmer in 1924, and in 1925,1927 and 1931 by Palmer and T.C. Lethbridge. Earlier investigations by Joseph Beldam reported in 1868 that the measurement from the western edge of the ditch to the eastern edge of the bank was 24 metres, with the bank rising to c.2 metres, although by then the bank and ditch had been much reduced by levelling, following the enclosure of Fowlmere and Melbourn in 1845. Two trenches cut through the north end of the ditch in 1993 (part of a research project that included all four dykes, and the parallel Roman Road, Worstead Street), brought scientific methodology and techniques (including the environmental analysis referred to above) to the study of the Dykes, and also analysed the relationship between Bran Ditch and the Iron-Age enclosure at Black Peak, which also forms part of this assessment. Excavation in advance of proposed work on the golf course at Heydon Grange in 1996 confirmed the widening of the ditch to the south of the Royston to Newmarket Road, recorded by Lethbridge and Palmer in 1925. There are a number of archaeological sites and features around Bran Ditch visible on aerial photographs, including undated long linear features to the north, and at least one Bronze Age barrow close to Heydon. The medieval landscape is represented by a number of lynchets, mainly running north from Heydon village, one of which is included in this assessment. It seems likely that Roman and Romano-British pottery dating from the C1 to the C3 AD found in the ditch in the course of Cyril Fox's first excavations came from a settlement just south of Black Peak, visible as cropmarks and recorded by the National Mapping Programme. This is not included within the scheduled area, but the wide date range and abraded condition of these finds were instrumental in allowing the early-C20 excavators of the ditch to initially suggest a post-Roman date for the monument. This was confirmed by early Anglo-Saxon pottery found in Fox's trench south of the Newmarket to Royston Road and by finds of early Anglo-Saxon pottery in trial trenches dug by Lethbridge and Palmer in 1927, close to Cyril Fox's trench C, about halfway between Black Peak and the London Road.

Details

The scheduled area includes the full length of Bran Ditch, as well as an Iron-Age enclosure at Black Peak and a medieval lynchet north of Heydon village. Bran Ditch is a linear feature with its origins in the early Anglo-Saxon period consisting of a bank and ditch, the south end of which starts at Heydon at about 120 metres Ordnance Datum (OD), where the chalk plain meets the Boulder Clay plateau, from where it travels north-north-east, ending to the west of Fowlmere in an area of marsh fed by springs rising from the chalk. Immediately to the west of this end of the ditch is Black Peak, a slight rise containing an Iron-Age enclosure and other features.

BRAN DITCH The route of Bran Ditch is marked by the parish boundary between Fowlmere and Melbourn, to the north of the Royston to Newmarket Road, and to the south as far as Heydon Grange. To the south of Heydon Grange it is marked by field boundaries, crossing the track and footpath identified as the Icknield Way, and continuing south to Heydon village. This stretch is also followed by a footpath. For much of its length the boundary follows the top of a low bank, although excavation has demonstrated that, where observed, this is actually the west edge of the bank. At the north end three of the five trenches excavated by Cyril Fox and W. M. Palmer in 1924 show that the boundary hedge deviates here to follow the line of the ditch. At the south end the footpath enters Heydon through a hollow way. This appears to represent the ditch, a bank up to 4 metres high rising to the field to the east, with an apparent counterscarp to the west.

The bank is most visible in the small copse to the south of Heydon Grange called Gravelpit Plantation, where it survives to about 2 metres high and about 12 metres wide. Elsewhere its height and width vary slightly between about 11 metres to 4 metres wide and 0.5 metres to 1 metre high. Clear sections can be seen in pasture in the angle between the Royston to Newmarket Road and the London Road, and between the London Road and the airfield. However, between the Newmarket Road and Heydon Grange, upcast from quarrying immediately to the west of the boundary has removed all sign of a bank there, although a band of chalky soil to the east of the boundary, visible on aerial photographs, suggests that remains of the bank survive here. Extraction will have destroyed the ditch west of the boundary within Bridgefoot Quarry, and therefore this section between Heydon Grange and the A505, is not included within the scheduled area, although the bank to the east is included. In the area occupied by the Heydon Grange Golf Course, a slight bank is breached by a track to the north-west of the Barn/Clubhouse (listed at Grade II) and again to the south, to allow access across the golf course.

The presence of the bank to the north of the London road is confirmed by aerial photographs showing a light, chalky strip to the east of the boundary, identified in the course of T.C. Lethbridge's 1927 excavation as compacted chalk upcast from the ditch. The excavations undertaken by Cyril Fox and W.M. Palmer, and by Lethbridge, between 1924 and 1931, and later by Cambridgeshire Archaeological Field Unit in 1993, produced slight evidence of the bank, although the latter found a buried soil slightly mounded, possibly forming a marker bank, above which was a layer of chalk rubble, partially destroyed by ploughing; this contained, in the lower 20-30 mm, struck flint flakes of Mesolithic and Neolithic date. The bank seems to have been retained by a timber revetment, with a c. 2 metre berm between this and the ditch. The ditch is generally flat bottomed, with a more rounded profile observed in Fox's trenches closest to Black Peak, but otherwise shows slight variations in form and depth, the latter at around 2 metres from the present ground surface; the width of the ditch was seen to vary between 5 metres and 10 metres, the wider sections observed close to Heydon Grange. Two temporary and undated hearths were found above the lower fills of sections cut through the ditch between the Newmarket to Royston Road and Heydon Grange in 1923 and 1925 respectively.

ANGLO-SAXON BURIAL GROUND About 60 burials were also found in trenches excavated between the London Road and the airfield. Here the bank appeared to have been pushed out in an arc to accommodate the bodies, all of which had met with a particularly violent death and were in an advanced state of decomposition at the time of burial. Initially seen as victims of a massacre, this interpretation has been reviewed, with the suggestion that the evidence is more consistent with the site of an Anglo-Saxon criminal burial ground. The fact that the line of the parish boundary deviates slightly at this point suggests that the presence of burials here may have been known about at the time the parish boundary was created.

IRON AGE ENCLOSURE The 1993 excavations also examined the relationship between the ditch and the rectilinear enclosure at Black Peak, known from aerial photographs. This encloses an area of about 0.4 hectares, and is about 2.5 metres wide and 0.92 metres deep. The ditch cut through a second feature, in the bottom of which was a large fragment of Iron Age pottery, while a few sherds of Late Iron-Age pottery were found associated with a third feature. These features may represent an Iron-Age settlement, but given their proximity to springs, and the observed significance of this relationship in the Iron Age, they may represent structures with a ritual or spiritual function.

SECTION OF MEDIEVAL LYNCHET Towards the south end of the ditch, and about 114 metres north of Heydon is a section of a medieval lynchet, one of a number around Heydon; the best of these sweep away to the north, where some survive as pronounced scarps, but most have been lost to cultivation. This lynchet is on the east side of the bank and ditch, joining the bank at a height of about 4 metres to form two sides of the field to the north. It runs north-east for a distance of about 204 metres and survives to a height of about 4 metres.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The scheduled area includes the route of the bank and ditch of Bran Ditch, captured in a corridor 40 metres wide: 20 metres to the east of the parish/field boundary, which covers the full extent of the bank including a buffer zone of between about 5-8 metres. This allows for the deviation of the boundary over the ditch at the north end, where for a short distance the buffer zone is reduced to c.3 metres. The corridor to the west of the boundary is also 20 metres, covering the full extent of the ditch at its widest and allowing a minimum buffer zone of 8 metres to protect the western bank and any surviving evidence of a counterscarp. The scheduled corridor tapers into the entrance between the property boundaries either side of the footpath at the Heydon end, and includes a strip 205 metres long and 15 metres wide to capture the lynchet to the east of the bank and ditch. A section of destroyed ditch within the quarry to the west of the boundary between Heydon Grange and the Newmarket to Royston Road, is excluded from the scheduling, although the bank to the east of the boundary is included. At the Black Peak end the scheduling includes an area to the west of the ditch measuring 170 metres from north to south, bounded to the north and west by the inner arc of the nature reserve, the south boundary being a straight line running west from the parish boundary.

EXCLUSIONS All modern structures, fences, and road or track surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 20/11/2012

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Hope-Taylor, B, Hill, D, The Cambridgeshire Dykes, (1976)
Fox, C, Palmer, M D, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Excavations in the Cambridgeshire Dykes, (1926)
Lethbridge, T C, Palmer, W M, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Excavations In The Cambridgeshire Dykes., (1929)
Malim, T, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in New Evidence on the Cambridgeshire Dykes and Worsted Street Roman Road, (1997)
Palmer, W M, Lethbridge, T C, Leaf, B A, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Further Excavationas at Bran Ditch, (1932)
Taylor, C C, 'Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society' in Archaeological Results From the North Sea Gas Pipeline in Cambridgeshire 1968, (1969)
Other
Aerial photograph:
Date: 17th March 1934
Ref: TL4043/2
Frame: ACA 7180/1016,

National Grid Reference: TL4173042711

Map

Map
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