– Lexden Earthworks and the defences of Camulodunum.
Those of you who follow my blog know I like a good adventure and exploring the history of the area I am in. As most places had to close due to the lockdown, I began to research into lesser-known sites of historic significance that, due to their subtleness are not noticed by those who walk past them every day. I found one such site, which to the naked eye could just be mounds in a wooded area, covered in flora and fauna. However a millennia ago they were important defences mechanisms keeping the neighbouring tribes at bay.
In Colchester, there exist the Lexden and Bluebell grove earthworks. These date back to the Iron Age, before Colchester existed and was a settlement known as Camelodium. Meaning stronghold of Camulos, the God of War, Camulodunum was the capital of the Trivovante tribe.
The Lexden and Bluebell Grove earthworks form part of a network of Dykes, which is what led to the stronghold part of the settlements name. Most of the surviving earthworks date from the first century and are considered the most extensive of their kind in Britain. The two earthworks along with Moat Farm Dykes are thought to be one single boundary, which would, along with the Roman River and River Colne, provide a defence across the western approach to the settlement. The whole area covered around 25 sq km between the two rivers, although only 6km survive as earthworks above ground. According to Historic England, the earthworks form part of archaeological evidence for the development of one of the earliest ‘proto-urban’ settlements in Britain and its translation into Britain’s firs true town.
Most of the earthworks would have formed a V shaped ditch with depths of between 5ft to 13ft with steep banks, which could reach up to 25ft in height. There is not much to say whether the ditches had palisades or timber structures like some later earthworks did.
Within the earthworks, there are some Iron Age and roman burial chambers. One of the graves (excavated in 1924 and located at Fitzwater Road) is known today as Lexden Tumulus and was originally thought to have been the grave of Cunobelinus, King of the Catuvellauni Tribe. However, the dates of some of the archaeology make the burial too early to have contained his body. Instead, it is thought to maybe be the burial chamber of either Addedomarus, ruler of the Trinovantes tribe, or his son Dubnovellaunus (for more information on the Trinovantes tribe head to https://www.romanobritain.org/4-celt/clb_tribe_trinovantes
Today when visiting Lexden Earthworks all that one would know what they were is a small information board (also do not go by Google maps as its takes you to Lexden Park not the earthworks. On this visit, I did not get a chance to visit Bluebell Grove nor to look for Lexden Tumulus. I do highly recommend visiting Lexden Nature reserve as it really does allow one to escape into the woodland realm for a time.
Since writing this post and doing more research I have found that, the Lexden Tumulus is in a private garden and not accessible to the general public. For more information on the excavation head to https://colchesterheritage.co.uk/monument/mcc7524
Image from English Heritage (c)
Anon (2020) Camulodunum. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camulodunum [Accessed 03/04/20]
A P Baggs, Beryl Board, Philip Crummy, Claude Dove, Shirley Durgan, N R Goose, R B Pugh, Pamela Studd and C C Thornton, ‘Iron-Age and Roman Colchester ‘, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester, ed. Janet Cooper and C R Elrington (London, 1994), pp. 2-18. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol9/pp2-18 [accessed 8 August 2020].
Colchester Bourgh Council (2019) Monument record MCC1356 – Lexden Tumulus, Fitzwalter Road, Colchester. Available from: https://colchesterheritage.co.uk/monument/mcc1356 [Accessed 04/08/2020]
English Heritage (nd) Lexden Earthworks and Bluebottle Grove. Available from: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lexden-earthworks-and-bluebottle-grove/ [Access 03/08/20]
Historic England (2020) Lexden Dyke at Spring Meadow: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum. Available from: www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1019965 [Accessed 04/08/2020]
Historic England (2020) Lexden Dyke Middle: part of the Iron Age territorial oppidum and Romano-British town of Camulodunum. Available from: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1019966 [Accessed 04/08/2020]
Ross, D (nd) Lexden Earthworks and Bluebottle Grove https://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=3466 [Accessed 4/8/20]
Sunbright (2020) Lexden burial mound (Tumulus), near Colchester. Available from: https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2020/02/05/lexden-burial-mound-tumulus-near-colchester-essex/ [Accessed 05/08/20]