Ancient Earthworks of North West Essex
ASHDON: An ancient entrenchment is to be seen parallel with the Bourne stream near the Bartlow Hills, consisting of bank and ditch over 300 feet long measuring about 30 feet cross. The bank is now about 4 or 5 feet in height and the ditch which is V-shaped is of corresponding depth but was originally 5 feet deeper. There is a rectangular enclosure at one end.
ASHDON: Bartlow Hills – these fine tumuli are in the parish of Ashdon. There were originally 7 of these mounds, the height of the largest being 45 feet and its diameter 147 feet. The remainder were of somewhat smaller dimensions. There are now only 4 of the hills remaining. Those which were situated near the road were removed in 1832 for the purpose of clearing the ground for agricultural use, but their contents were duly recorded and their sites are still indicated by slight elevations of the surface. Between 1835 and 1840 three tumuli were opened up and examined. All of these works were erected during the Roman occupation.
BERDEN: Berden Mound – Three quarters of a mile south of Berden church, at Stock’s farm, is a small moated mound unmentioned in our county histories. The depth of the moat suggests serious defensive purposes, but the mound does not attain any considerable height; it is however furnished with a bank on the inner side of the moat – an important feature of early defences. On the south and east side the moat, now dry, has been partially filled in, being but 10 feet below the interior bank, while on the west and north sides the moat still contains water and is about 6 feet deeper.
CHRISHALL: In 1847 the Hon R.C. Neville opened a barrow in this parish, containing two different modes of interment, one Roman, the other British.
CHRISHALL: On the southern edge of a wood south east of Chrishall church, is a circular work with moat, a low broad bank or rampart surrounding the outer edge of the moat, save on the south west, where it has been destroyed, or where possibly a natural declivity rendered additional protection unnecessary. It is approximately 150 feet diameter, with moat of about 10 feet depth, excepting on the south-west, where it is 5 or 6 feet deeper. The outer bank above mentioned, being intersected by ditches from the surrounding wood, assumes somewhat the form of a succession of mounds.
CLAVERING: Clavering Castle – The principal part of the remains here consists of an oblong mound with a summit area of about 300 by 185 feet, elevated some 16 or 17 feet above its surrounding moat. On the north is a long rampart outside the moat, and further earthworks. There is nothing in the character of the castle earthworks inconsistent with a pre-Norman origin. Suene of Essex held the lordship at the time of the Domesday survey, and possibly by him or Robert Fitz Wimarc, the mound was erected. No masonry remains above ground. Mention must be made of the great banks adjoining on the north. The Stort flows between deep precipitous banks, and forms a bend on the north east, with a high and wide embankment on its southern side; below this bank is a low hollow area, about 70 feet wide, ending southward against the bifurcated rampart immediately north of the castle moat. It is evidence that the waters of the Stort flowed in part through the hollow area; the great banks keeping the water back formed a reservoir probably for use in part to work a mill which may have stood at where the banks divide. There is an inlet through the banks high enough to flood the whole moat surrounding the castle. The bifurcation of the rampart close by the inlet was no doubt furnished with sluices, which allowed the water to be carried away outside the works or to be retained when needed. The castle moat proper could be relieved of its surplus water by a sluice at a point much lower than the other inlet. Close to and on the east of the present footbridge over the Stort is a break in the embankment, now partially filled up, through which the river water could be led into the reservoir but further west the stream flowed along the bottom, indeed it is most probably that the Stort itself flowed here and was artificially diverted. Banking is evident to the west of the ground shown on the plan, and there are two mysterious little banks on the east. Overall, the outer earthworks appear to form an interesting example of hydraulic engineering of an early date.
ELMDON: Close to Elmdonbury is a wood for generations past known as Castle Grove; within it is a circular moated mound, to which no reference is made in our county histories. It may have been the first site of the castle or manor house of the manor mentioned in Domesday, then held of Count Eustace of Boulogne by Roger se Sumeri. The moat is only about 150 feet in diameter, and has been lessened in depth by centuries of accumulation of leaves and decayed vegetation. Along the inner edge of the moat runs a bank, giving a saucer-like form to the top of the mound.
FELSTED: There is a small mound at Bannister Green known as the Quakers’ Mount. It is from 15 to 20 feet high and somewhat oval, with a flat top, being about 20 paces along at the top and 18 broad. Its sides include at an angle of 45 degrees, and it was formerly surrounded by a moat about 8 to 10 feet broad. Not quite half of this moat still exists, the rest having been filled in great part by earth removed from one end of the mound. The original symmetry can be well made out in spite of this mutilation.
FELSTED: There is an ancient dam across a valley about a mile north of the village. It was intersected by the railway, and is about 150 yards long, about 35 feet broad at its base, 10 feet at its top and 20 feet high at its highest part. It has been suggested that it forms the dam of a lake constructed in prehistoric times.
GREAT CANFIELD: Canfield Castle – All antiquaries may be thankful for the state of preservation in which the earthworks of Canfield Castle remain. The work is second to none as an example of the methods of defence adopted in its construction – a great mound of earth, no doubt originally furnished with rings of wooden barrier defences, surrounded by a deep moat fed with water by the diversion of a little stream from its natural course, the mound still showing where one or more courses of palisading surrounding it, and showing too breaks in its ring, where probably approach and exit were effected by drawbridges; while appended to the mound, but separated from it by the moat, is the horseshoe-shaped bailey, defended by its own deep moat, still retaining the greater part of a rampart on its outer side. There was a dam on the east, by means of which the waters of the Roding could be added to those of the little diverted stream, forming a never-failing body of water as an added defence to the mound on its eastern face. Moating is projected forward at two points on the west; this may indicate extension to form a second court or bailey, but it seems hardly likely, as the land rises considerably and shows no traces of continuation of the fosse.
GREAT EASTON: The moated mound here may have been a lonely little fortified work in a clearing of woodland, or it may represent part of the defensive work of the grantee in Norman William’s reign. This view is perhaps strengthened if we can regard the scanty traces of outer work on the south as part and parcel of the whole.
LITTLE HALLINGBURY: Wallbury Camp – Wallbury contains about 35 acres, protected by a double rampart and two ditches. Cultivation has destroyed all trace of huts or houses. It is not improbable that this great earthwork, which stands on the high ground overlooking the valley of the Stort, was an oppidum of the Trinobantes, as a defence against the Catuvellauni, their neighbours on the west. Of one thing we may be sure: whensoever made, this was one of the largest and most important fortresses of these eastern lands.
HATFIELD BROAD OAK: Within the forest, at or within the Portingbury Hill, there are the remains of a defensive enclosure (now little more than ditches and a slightly raised platform with shallow mound) so indistinct in parts that it is difficult to classify the work.
LITTLE DUNMOW:There are references to a square area, surrounded by earthworks which are very high on the southern side to the south of the church. These are probably simply remains of the Dunmow Priory fishponds. In a field sloping towards the Stane Street were found some pits containing numerous fragments of pottery and much charred matter.
LITTLEBURY: Ring Hill Camp – The earthwork is about 1,100 yards in circumference, occupies the eastern end of a chalk range on the western side of Audley End, and covers about 18 acres of ground. It is an oval fortification originally provided with rampart and exterior fosse, but the construction of a drive above the fosse has largely obliterated the inner bank.
RICKLING: Rickling Mound – Traces of extensive moating remain around Rickling Hall, suggesting the existence here of some earlier well-defended abode. We are inclined to think the mound adjoining the hall enclosure on the south is earlier than the moats of the hall, mainly because the fosse or moat proper to it has been at some period obliterated by the southern moat of the hall, which though now filled up, is easily detected. The mound keep, never large, has been mutilated. The size of the banking outside the keep-fosse on the south-west side, indicate considerable protective work, and for the greater part of the circumference the moat or fosse is still in evidence.
SAFFRON WALDEN: Grimsditch Wood – this has a fosse along what was probably one side of a camp or station, a purpose for which the commanding site would render it suitable. Of the sides of the fortress there are traces, but nearly all the banks have been partially destroyed and the ditches correspondingly lessened in importance.
SAFFRON WALDEN: The Repelle or Paille Ditches – These are situated on ground gently rising from the course of the Slade, a stream once of sufficient volume to give added security to the north of the earthworks. Of this defensive work only part remains, buildings and gardens have largely destroyed the inner ditch and altered the levels.
SAFFRON WALDEN: Traces of earthwork defences are around the castle of Geoffrey de Mandeville on Bury hill, the highest point in the town; they are however too slight to warrant detailed mention. The interest of the place centres in the ruined castle of the Norman lords rather than in the possibly earlier earthworks.
STANSTED MONTFITCHET: Stansted Castle – it is thought that the castle was destroyed during its possession by Richard de Montfitchet in 1215, and that it never was rebuilt. Just a few feet of stone walling remain on the keep but foundations of other portions may exist, long hidden beneath the turf. We incline to think this one of the latest mound and court forts in Essex. Advantage was taken of a naturally strong position, on the spur of hill in a little valley. The existing earthworks show a strongly situated keep, defended in part by the steepness of the slope and in part by a deep fosse (the eastern side of this fosse separating the keep from the slightly higher bailey) and the bailey or base court with high rampart and remains of fosse. Unfortunately the bailey rampart and fosse has been destroyed all along its southern side. Ancient houses occupy part of the fosse on the west of the keep, and a road has destroyed its extension on the north of the bailey.
STEBBING MOUNT: The mound is raised artifically some 38 feet above its surrounding moat, which is well fileld with water from a spring. The manor of Stebbing Hall was held by the Ferrers and Peverells at the great survey, when probably the main building was on the summit of the mound, which is flat, with a surface area of 60 feet by 25 feet.
These notes are from the earthworks chapter by I. Chalkley Gould in The Victoria History of the County of Essex, vol 1, pp 275-313 (1903). Since this was written over a century ago, there have been additions to this information through fieldwalking, archeology, aerial photography and metal detecting. But the VCH chapter remains a useful guide to the most noticeable earthworks in the area.