LIDAR confirms defensive structure of The Burgh at Hastings

Work continues at the site we believe was the Hastings Burgh and Caesars first landing site:

I’m pleased to say the recent publicity has brought me some expertise on board which is helping us track down the really important issue of exactly where Hastings was pre 1066. I’m pretty sure the evidence in the written documents near the time will lead us to the right site.

As we home in on the location we have now spent some time looking at the LIDAR and am very surprised how much it can reveal if you spend a little time on it.  This LIDAR has been produced by independent processing and shows a lot of information which poses the question why wasn’t the LIDAR produced by East Sussex County Council showing this information when the information was made available to the Inquiry (I leave that for you to judge).

This is the clean imagelidar Wilting Farm East Sussex

This is one marked with things that need to be noted:

wilting farm and redgeland wood LIDAR1
(start page 94).

A number of things appear to be clear and need to be addressed in relation to the archaeological dig on the top field. Cow Lane has been a mystery that is slowly unravelling. We know the hedgerow there is at least 1000 years old dating it from the Conquest on Cow Lane but there is no reason for it to be there. I have marked the current route in light blue. It goes from the corner of the marsh to the top of the field but does not seem to serve a purpose – unless it was part of the port of Hastings in that corner of the Bulverhythe/Combe Haven at the south end of the line. If it was, then this was the main access route from the inland waterway, to where the Burgh of Hastings stood (if the top field was the Burgh). All the indications appear to confirm it was so far.

There is a wide junction about half way down the hill where the hedge rows cross north of Cow Lane but if you look carefully you can see there are two tell tale streaks of the earlier road route going directly north from this junction which I have marked dark blue. These dark streaks are similar in style to that produced by the 1740 coach road, which is easily seen, even through ploughed fields. You will also notice that I have marked another major ditch within the boundary of the upper field at Wilting (the Burgh) in red which appears to be an internal ditch of fairly large proportions cutting the top field, where I believe the Burgh is found, in two with the main farm buildings in the eastern side of the same field.

The LIDAR reveals that the outline of the top field was well defined by a rampart at least six feet high all round as can be seen on the image. To the south of the Burgh are three parallel ditches and many other ditches located inside the site marked yellow. These are not of course on the road route so this is not an issue connected to the road but one of understanding the history of this site.

As I see it the LIDAR appears to clearly indicate Cow Lane was a significant roadway built to deliver goods from the waterway in the Combe Haven into the Burgh (at the top of Wilting). The earthworks and depth of the road in relation to the fields at either side appear to confirm major usage over a long period of time and it seem to me that it is reasonable to hypothesise that this was probably connected to the Roman occupation of the site and even before that as Oxford Archaeology have now found Roman evidence at the west end of that field.

It looks to me that the road infrastructure that I uncovered in my book (Secrets of the Norman Invasion pages 124 and 126) is now confirmed by the LIDAR. This Roman road infrastructure led back to the largest Roman bloomery in southern England and was connected to at least two other bloomeries requiring at least 30,000 tons of iron ore to be shipped. The evidence is stacking up that the port for the ore must have been Wilting where the tracks terminated (Secrets of the Norman Invasion Chapter 32 Roman Development).

However Cow Lane is not in the immediate area of the track network which terminates at Redgeland, where it is hypothesised the port of Hastings was found in Norman times (shown on the same LIDAR). The fact that the track from Cow Lane shows an earlier route suggests to me that this earlier route predated the Romans, because it passes through the area that was later built into an earthworks, but was outside what was probably the main earlier defense. This indicates to me that the earlier port may well have been at the foot of the lane where Cow Lane terminates, at what is now the marsh in Iron Age and Bronze Age period of the development of the Combe Haven community.

There is good reason to hypothesise that the fork in the road half way up Cow Lane to the right would have come into existence later, at the time Hastings developed inside the top field, after the Romans had levelled it. The Roman development would have covered the earlier route, because it must have been the Romans who built the earthworks in the field. The major ditch that bisects the top field (Chapel Field, where I believe the Burgh is found) having been built earlier than the Roman occupation, with the road originally arriving at the top of the field outside of the protected earlier defensive area.

Later when Alfred ordered the Burgh to be built (940AD appx) the top field was already flat and the entrance to the top field well developed since Roman times entering the peninsular top field to the east of the old road, and pretty much dead centre of the south facing field, which overlooked the port. It was effectively a ready made defensive structure located where Hastings had developed over the 500 years since Roman occupation.

There are many ditches in the fort and the parallel ones at the edge suggest defensive construction, confirming that the earthworks was defensive and further fortified. It was not the normal shape for a Roman fort because the Romans used the natural structure of the peninsular shape of the field, but was an excellent defense none the less.

Lastly the outline of the Roman shore fort which I believe was built when the Romans first arrived in the Combe Haven can also be seen on the LIDAR. It was the practice of the day to construct these upon landing and the topography of this area exactly fits Caesars description of the first landing in Britain in 55BC.” target=”_blank”>This was hypothesised by RC Hussey FSA. In order to understand exactly how this all fits together it is necessary to read Hussey and his analysis of Caesars own words.

It looks to me like Hussey was probably right in his conclusions, but he made one error of judgement. Like those who had gone before him he assumed that the port of Hastings would be found on the coast. He therefore looked at Bulverhythe as the landing site because of the establish documentary evidence for that site as the port of Hastings and the high ground he identified as the area immediately adjacent to the coast where he believed the port must have been. He did not know what Margaret Gelling (the place name expert) had told me – that all Hythes (in Olde English were inland ports). If he had known this he would have looked inland, inside the Combe Haven valley, and then he would have have identified the earthworks on the highest ground there overlooking the site as the Roman fort site, because this is where he believed the Roman fort described by Caesar as a “peninsular fort” would be found. The failure to find that fort by the coast undermined the veracity of his work. However the facts in his assessment cannot be denied and now that peninsular fort is known to be further inland on the highest ground on the Wilting Farm peninsular. If we had this LIDAR twenty years ago the story may have been completely different but I have to say despite the road setback the end result will be the same and the truth will now come out.

This information is relevant to two listing applications made to English Heritage numbers 480200 and 480509 for the protection of the Burgh. This information has been sent to the team responsible for the assessment.

Categories: Announcements | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “LIDAR confirms defensive structure of The Burgh at Hastings

  1. Mike Shipway

    The evidence is stacking up very nicely.

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