Monument record MCC3043 - Barrow cemetery, East of Moler Works, Colchester


Group of five round barrows, A to E, within the floodplain (and on the east side) of the River Colne and at the confluence with Salary Brook.


Grid reference Centred TM 0208 2416 (142m by 73m)
Map sheet TM02SW
County ESSEX


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

The remains of a Bronze Age barrow cemetery located on the floodplain of the River Colne, at the point where Salary Brook joins the Colne. Five round barrows (labelled A to E in CAT report 638) were defined by aerial photography taken in 1948 and 1962. The barrows are bisected by the railway - Barrows A to D are on the east and Barrow E is on the west side (A and E are over 100m apart). The western edge of Barrow D has been cut by Salary Brook - the Brook was realigned when the railway was constructed in the 19th century. Although Barrow E is located on the west side of Salary Brook, it would have been originally to the south (along with the other barrows), and Salary Brook would have joined the Colne to the north of the barrow group.

At the time of the ECC FAU Desk-Based Assessment (2003), three of the barrows were visible as upstanding earthworks (Barrows A, B and C). Barrow C was the most obvious, 900mm high and 18m in diameter. The DBA records that field observations in 1960 suggest that faint traces of a ditch were visible at one time. Until recently, Barrow C (the highest and best surviving of the mounds) had an electicity pylon erected upon it - The pylon is visible on the 1962 aerial photograph but had been removed before the ECC FAU evaluation took place in 2004 (they were present when the DBA was compiled in 2003). The NMR refers to this as a bowl barrow. Another bowl barrow (Barrow B) is recorded c.20m to the north-east of Barrow C, and also visible as an upstanding earthwork, c.500mm high and 15m in diameter. A further ring ditch, 18m in diameter, is located c.30m to the north-east (Barrow A). The NMR reports this as being visible as a 'low vague mound…with no visible ditch. The DBA records that it is barely visible, and likely to be a bowl barrow or possibly a platform barrow. <1>

The final barrow on the east side of the railway (Barrow D) is partially cut away by the railway and Salary Brook. It is ill-defined and is not visible on the ground, but it is thought to be a ring ditch. Barrow D is clear on the 1962 Farrands air photograph.

There is a fifth barrow on the west side of the railway, shown on the 1962 air photograph, within the floodplain of the Colne, and cut by a later N-S drainage ditch on its east side. The photograph shows an impressive ring-barrow, 28m in diameter, with two concentric ditches separated by a low bank. The DBA records there was evidence of an excavation trench, possibly the work of EJ Rudsdale before the 1960s.

An evaluation trial trench was excavated across the eastern side of Barrow A by ECC FAU in 2004 (after removal of turf by a machine, the trench was excavated by hand). The ring ditch was visible as a slight circular depression, c.25m in diameter. The evaluation established that the mound is at least 800mm tall and may have been constructed in a far dryer valley. Several worked flints (the latest were Iron Age) were recovered from the mound material, and abraded Roman pottery was recovered from the edge of the possible ditch/mound edge. A small sherd of prehistoric pottery was also recovered. The trench did not penetrate deep enough into the mound to determine if there was a central burial. It was concluded that the barrow was likely to be Bronze Age in origin, perhaps reused and the ditch recut in the Iron Age and/or Roman periods (but they could originate from then). <1>

The topsoil from Barrow A was removed in 2010-11 under a watching brief, in advance of the University of Essex's new research park. The removal of topsoil from Barrow A provided the opportunity to record the extant mound and undertake a magnetometer survey; note that the shallow topsoil strip, c.150mm deep, and removal of vegetation, had been partially undertaken with a bull-dozer without archaeological supervision. All remaining topsoil stripping was, however, undertaken with a toothless ditching bucket under supervision. The top of the exposed barrow mound stood 150mm higher than the surrounding alluvial deposits, after topsoil removal. Once the topsoil had been removed, clay was deposited to raise the ground level by 750mm (thereby protecting the remains of this barrow). The remaining three barrows on the east side of the railway (B, C and D) were outside the development area. <2>

An evaluation trial trench was excavated across the site of Barrow E (on the west side of the railway) by Cotswold Archaeological Trust in 1998. Trenches 16-20 were positioned in the immediate vicinity of the ring ditch, recorded by aerial photography. There was no evidence for the ring-ditch and, it was suggested, its survival was likely to have been severely compromised by the recent demolition of factory buildings and by tipping. <3>

Two further possible ring ditches/barrows are visible on the Farrands photograph. The first is located adjacent to the gas valve compound site, TM 0217 2409, comprising a darker area of ground to the south of Barrow C (the west edge is cut away by the railway). A second possible ring ditch is located at TM 0224 2406, approximately 150m south of Barrow C. Neither of these have been evaluated.

Sources/Archives (3)

  • <1> Evaluation Report: Ennis, Trevor. 2004. Land adjacent to Elmstead Road and Boundary Road, University of Essex, Colchester, Essex. Archaeological Evaluation..
  • <2> Evaluation Report: Cotswold Archaeological Trust. 1998. Former Moler Works, Hythe, Colchester, Essex.
  • <3> Watching Brief Report: Wightman, Adam (CAT). 2012. An archaeological watching brief at the Knowledge Gateway, the University of Essex, Colchester, Essex September 2010-August 2011.

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Record last edited

Oct 8 2020 8:11AM

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