Little Hadham’s road to the past

The team uncovered evidence of farming activity within the enclosure, alongside the foundation walls of a late Roman ‘tuning fork’ corn-dryer.

Excavations along the new A120 Little Hadham Bypass in east Hertfordshire – a route established in the 1st century AD as a Roman road running east–west between Colchester and St Albans – have uncovered evidence of Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman activity. Cotswold Archaeology, working with civil engineering and construction company GRAHAM, carried out the investigations in 2019, ahead of Hertfordshire County Council (HCC)’s road construction project (due for completion this winter), and post-excavation analysis is revealing new insights.

PHOTO: Hertfordshire County Council/Cotswold Archaeology.

The archaeologists surveyed the length of the route, and excavations in the west revealed indications of a previously unknown settlement, including a large circular or semi-circular enclosure, divided into fields, which appears to have been ‘initiated in the late Iron Age to early Roman period,’ as Sarah Cobain, Cotswold Archaeology’s Principal Post-Excavation Manager, said. This was associated with a small cemetery that had been in use from the late Iron Age through to the 4th century AD, with four inhumations and 16 cremations. Further Bronze Age cremations were found to the east of the excavation site, beyond the main enclosure, Sarah added.

The team uncovered evidence of farming activity within the enclosure, alongside the foundation walls of a late Roman ‘tuning fork’ corn-dryer. Charred grain was found inside, so it may have been abandoned after catching fire. Another crop-dryer may lie outside the excavation area, but it is thought that the crops processed there were only for local use, despite the site’s location on a main thoroughfare. Had the area functioned as a large-scale production and export site, Sarah said, they would have expected to find multiple ‘features of an industrial nature.’

Further prehistoric finds were located to the east along the bypass route, including a large enclosure containing post-holes and a ring ditch, thought to date from the middle Iron Age, with some evidence of activity continuing into the late Iron Age. Although the team did not find any structural remains, these features ‘probably indicate settlement in the form of a roundhouse’ said Jo Barker, Senior Publications Officer at Cotswold Archaeology. This excavation area also contained the edges of a Roman farmstead. ‘Like with all linear schemes, we’ve got a snapshot of what was going on,’ said Sarah.

The A120 Little Hadham Bypass and Flood Alleviation scheme is supported by Local Growth Fund investment from Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), with additional investment secured by the LEP from the Department for Transport, as part of a wider funding package with HCC and the Environment Agency.