Historic Maldon District: The history beneath Heybridge

  Posted: 28.11.21 at 08:38 by The Editor

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The subject of new housing is always a controversial one – but by no means new to our area. Previous developments have revealed the traces of homes that were built two thousand years ago, and as I write, archaeological investigations are being conducted on the planned Westcombe Park development - formerly known as the North Heybridge Garden Suburb.

Field surveys in the summer suggested that some very interesting remains could be found. This recalls the excitement generated in the 1990s, when a large area was excavated prior to the Bovis Homes development.

Finds of Roman pottery and cremations were already known in Elms Farm and Crescent Road when, in 1993, an opportunity arose to conduct a massive excavation of the land which Bovis Homes had bought up between Crescent Road and Heybridge Approach.

Over two years of digging this led to the discovery of 2,910 Roman coins and large collections of animal bones and pottery fragments from the late Iron Age and Roman periods. First occupied in the mid 1st Century B.C., around 2,100 years ago, the site grew to become a major Romano-British village in the 1st Century A.D., with farm plots, roads, wooden buildings and a temple built over an earlier shrine.

This settlement was located where the modern Temple Way and Roman Close were built. The area north of this, closer to where Crescent Road runs, was used for burials, cremations
and funeral pyres.

Archaeologists believe the village was both a market and a centre for religious activities. By the 5th Century the site was largely empty, though it is possible a Christian chapel was built over the temple, as there is evidence of a substantial building being added to replace the earlier structure at this time.

In its day the site was a hive of activity, with cereal growing, stock rearing, textile production, metal and pottery production, fishing and oyster harvesting. As this community declined, another grew up nearby on higher ground. ‘Maeldune’ became the Maldon that we know today.
The new excavations offer tantalising possibilities. Some early Saxon material was recovered from the Elms Farm site, but if there was a transition from a late Roman/British settlement to an early Saxon one it probably shifted to the present Crescent Road area. The archaeology at the new development may have connections with this.

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