Bronze Age Round Barrow and Later Settlement on Biggleswade Common

Overview

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
1473558
Date first listed:
11-Jan-2021
Location Description:
Barrow and associated settlement immediately to the north of Biggleswade sewage works, north-west of Furzenhall Farm, on the northern-western side of Biggleswade Common, Bedfordshire.

Map

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Location

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

Location Description:
Barrow and associated settlement immediately to the north of Biggleswade sewage works, north-west of Furzenhall Farm, on the northern-western side of Biggleswade Common, Bedfordshire.
District:
Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
Parish:
Biggleswade
National Grid Reference:
TL1876346972

Summary

The buried remains of a probable Iron Age or Roman settlement visible as cropmarks and a Bronze Age round barrow surviving as a slight earthwork mound.

Reasons for Designation

The probable Iron Age or Roman settlement and the Bronze Age round barrow are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

Period:

* the barrow, as a characteristic earthwork monument of the Bronze Age, and the settlement, which is similar to others of probable Iron Age or Roman date, both offer important insights into the religious or magical beliefs, ritual practices and settlement patterns of these periods.

Rarity:

* the complex of enclosures has the appearance of the many similar probable Iron Age or Roman settlements across this region but its incorporation of the barrow, which was then already an ancient monument, sets it apart from other settlement sites, and is an unusual and important survival.

Diversity:

* the buried remains of the probable settlement incorporating the barrow suggests the continuing importance of the site into the later Bronze Age or Roman period.

Survival:

* the probable settlement site survives as buried remains clearly visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs, and the barrow mound can still be detected as a low earthwork mound visible on the ground as well as on aerial photographs and lidar.

Potential:

* the sub-surface remains will retain archaeological evidence relating to the monuments’ construction, development, longevity, function, chronological relationship between features, ritual practices and overall landscape context. Environmental evidence preserved in the same deposits has potential, if analysed, to illustrate the landscape in which the barrow and settlement were constructed and used.

Group value:

* the sites of religion and ritual focus found close to the River Ivel near Biggleswade Common have strong group value that enhances our understanding of this area as a prehistoric ritual landscape. These include the probable Romano-Celtic temple and the Neolithic cursus and ring ditches (Scheduled Monuments).

History

Barrows – mounds of earth and/or stone of various shapes and sizes – are characteristic earthwork monuments of the prehistoric periods from about 5,800 until 3,400 years ago (3800-1400 BC). Round barrows have a considerable pedigree with origins dating to before 5,000 years ago (3000 BC), and which cover similar complex sequences of activity to that of long barrows. Size varies quite dramatically from examples of only 5m or 6m across to those that take on monumental proportions of over 50m diameter and 6m in height. While barrows are often isolated, many occur in groups, sometimes of just two or three, but occasionally of up to thirty or more. Groups of barrows are sometimes found in association with other monuments that are also often assumed to have served a ceremonial or ritual purpose during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Throughout their life, these monuments may have been modified and portions added laterally or vertically and at each stage deposits of cultural material or human burials may have been inserted and this has led to a widespread opinion that they are burial monuments. Sometimes the visible portion, the covering mound, signals the end of what has often been a long period of activity on the site and which effectively must have denied further access to the activity area. Its construction may not have been part of the original design or purpose.

Barrows were amongst the earliest of monuments recognised by antiquarians who dug into many during the C18 and C19 in the mistaken belief that they contained treasures. In fact, rich grave goods are rare and when excavated most barrows contain a few relatively mundane objects. Human burials were sometimes encountered and consequently these mounds were often considered to be the burial places of prominent people. There was a focus on this burial aspect throughout the C20 but, increasingly, the complexity of the features beneath the covering rendered any simple explanation of function inappropriate. Few barrows survive in an undamaged state. Far greater numbers have been partly or completely levelled by over two thousand years of agriculture and now appear merely as shallow swellings on the ground surface, or are visible from the air as soil or vegetation marks that indicate the position of buried ditches or spread mounds.

Surrounding the round barrow on Biggleswade Common are the buried remains of a probable Iron Age or Roman settlement, visible as cropmarks. The complex of enclosures has the appearance of the many similar probable Iron Age or Roman settlements seen in the immediate area and across this region, although it is not entirely clear if the enclosures are remains of a settlement, or if the entire site served a ceremonial or religious function centred on a revered monument. The barrow would have been a prominent earthwork mound when the enclosures were laid out, and the inclusion and respecting of earlier monuments and landscapes, though not common, is a recognised phenomenon. It is likely that the barrow mound was incorporated into the site through some sort of perceived connection to the former funerary monument. This might indicate some degree of remembered folk knowledge of the role of the monument or it could be that it was imbued with a mythical history (Gosden and Lock 1998). Its prominence as an elevated mound adjacent to the confluence of two watercourses may have led to its choice from among the other barrows nearby.

The site occupies a relatively small area within which there has been intensive activity with multiple small conjoined enclosures with evidence of at least two phases of reorganisation and sub-division of enclosures, but little sign of expansion. The settlement is now a buried feature, possibly plough-levelled, but the barrow still survives as a mound, though probably much reduced in height. It was still a notable feature in the C19, as the name ‘Round Hill Field’ was applied to the field immediately east and south-east of the site on the 1838 Tithe Map. The mound is depicted on the 1834-5 original series Ordnance Survey 1 inch to the mile map but not on the OS first edition 25 inch to the mile (1:2500 scale) map of 1884. It is likely that the barrow survived as an earthwork because of its size and its location on the common which seems to have been less intensively cultivated, certainly in the last 50 years, compared to the adjacent arable fields.

The site lies within an area defined on three sides by watercourses and which contains numerous archaeological features. To the south of the sewage works there is a scheduled cursus and associated round barrows that indicate this area was a focus for ceremonial and funerary activity in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. This area appears largely devoid of later prehistoric settlement and agricultural sites which can be seen extensively beyond. To the north-east of this is the scheduled site of a probable Roman temple adjacent to a former water course.

Details

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS

The buried remains of a probable Iron Age or Roman settlement visible as cropmarks and a Bronze Age round barrow surviving as a slight earthwork mound.

DESCRIPTION

The site is centred at TL1877 4698 on relatively flat ground just above 25m Ordnance Datum (nominal sea level) immediately to the north of Biggleswade sewage works, north-west of Furzenhall Farm, on the northern-western side of Biggleswade Common. The south-western corner of the site is cut by the NW-SE course of the railway which at this point is constructed on an embankment. The site is bounded to the north and west by two tributary streams of the River Ivel. The western edge of the settlement is marked by the 25m contour and sits on a distinct terrace at the edge of the stream.

Cropmarks and earthworks visible on aerial photographs and lidar indicate the remains of a probable Iron Age or Roman settlement which appears to incorporate and enclose a large circular mound of a probable Bronze Age round barrow. The settlement remains are plough-levelled and only visible as a cropmark, but the barrow can still be detected as a low earthwork mound visible on the ground. The settlement is defined by conjoined rectilinear ditched enclosures which cover an area roughly 125m (E-W) by 180m (N-S). Further fragments of ditch can be seen as cropmarks on photographs taken in 1986 which appear to be a continuation of the site beyond the hedged field boundary marking the eastern side of this arm of the common. Aerial photographs taken in 1969 show this triangle of land occupied by a group of settling beds for the sewage works and it may be the cropmarks seen in 1986 are as a result of this. This area to the east of the field boundary is not included in the scheduling.

The south-western half of the site is cut by the embankment of the railway line which cuts a swathe 32m wide aligned NW-SE. Faint traces of the settlement enclosures can be seen to the west of the railway, with five E-W aligned ditches stopping abruptly, appearing to be truncated, at the edge of a level terrace on which the settlement sits adjacent to the stream. This edge is visible as a marked scarp on lidar and on the ground. It is possible that this part of the site has been eroded by the stream, originally extending further to the west. The site has a strong N-S – E-W internal alignment to the ditches and enclosures, with evidence of later sub-division and reorganisation to the enclosures in the southern two thirds of the site. This indicates at least two phases of development, suggesting a longevity and intensity of activity at the site. Despite obvious signs of internal reorganisation to the settlement, it appears to have remained confined to the same footprint rather than shifting or expanding.

At the southern edge of the settlement there is the eastern half of a distinctive D-shaped annex enclosure protruding southwards, visible as an arc of ditch with a radius 13m. This appears to have an inner concentric circular or sub-circular ditched structure with a radius of 7.5m. The western side of this apsidal structure is cut by the railway embankment so only the eastern half of both inner and outer arcs of ditches are visible. Both are cut by an E-W double ditch from a different phase.

The northern third of the site is dominated by the low circular mound of a possible Bronze Age round barrow 31m in diameter with a ring ditch visible as a cropmark around the mound. The barrow mound is enclosed within a large rectilinear ditched enclosure measuring 45.5m W-E and 52m N-S, with a ditch-defined entrance leading westward from the NW. The enclosure around the barrow is markedly different in scale and form from the more compact and less ordered complex of enclosures of the settlement to the south. This suggests two different functions to the adjacent parts of the site.

The probable Iron Age or Roman settlement and Bronze Age round barrow sits within a wider multi-period archaeological landscape which includes a probable Roman temple and a Neolithic cursus with associated barrows, both of which are scheduled.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING

The area of protection includes the site of the probable Iron Age or Roman settlement visible as cropmarks and a Bronze Age round barrow with a 5m buffer zone. The embankment of the railway line, the railway tracks, any post and wire fences, wooden fences or modern tracks and surfaces are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included.

Nationally important archaeological remains may lie outside the protected area.

Sources

Other
Abrams, Joe 2010 ‘Aspects of a prehistoric landscape in the Ivel Valley, north of Biggleswade’. Bedfordshire Archaeology 26 41-54
Gosden C and Lock G, ‘Prehistoric Histories’ World Archaeology 30 No. 1 The Past in the Past: The Reuse of Ancient Monuments
Malin T 2000 The Ritual Landscape of Neolithic and Bronze Age along the middle and lower Ouse Valley, in Dawson M (eds) Prehistoric, Roman and Post Roman Landscapes of the Great Ouse Valley. CBA Research Report 119. Council for British Archaeology 2000.

Legal

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

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