Great Chesterford Vicus

Roman Settlement

Chesterford lay on the border between the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni, with the territory of another powerful tribe, the Iceni, starting a few miles further north.

Before the construction of the fort there had been a group of huts and enclosures beside the ford, close to where the road-bridge now stands. This settlement was still culturally of the Iron Age, both the houses and the locally-made pottery showing marked local elements. Pottery of Claudian date has been found in small quantities in both Great and Little Chesterford, which suggests that trade was going on and a small partly Romanized rural settlement was beginning to grow here by, say, 50 AD.

The Great Chesterford was possible built to house soldiers brought in the put down Boudica revolt in  AD 60. It seems certain that the Great Chesterford fort was garrisoned for a relatively short time, but the developing road network greatly increased the importance and prosperity of the place. The Roman fort and the new roads changed all this. The local pottery was largely replaced by pots brought in from large production centres such as Colchester. The individual homestead enclosures gave way to a larger and more widely-spaced settlement which spread into the area where the fort had been after the garrison was withdrawn.

The fort was followed on the site by the Roman town. A masonry wall, which was still visible in the mid 18th century, enclosed a polygonal area of approximately 14.5ha lying approximately north west-south east, its northern half overlapping the site of the earlier fort. Within the walls is a dense concentration of buried features and deposits which includes wall foundations and floors of both public and private buildings, roads, open spaces, rubbish disposal areas and industrial areas. Small scale partial excavation was first undertaken in 1847 by Neville who recovered large quantities of pottery and coins. In 1948-9 further partial excavation noted the remains of timber framed structures dating to the second century. These buildings were superseded by masonry structures in the fourth century, at which date the town wall was also constructed. Also within the enclosed area are three roads, visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs and as surface scatters of construction material, which meet in the centre of the town. The entrance gates through which these roads ran are to the east, west and north. Also evident as a cropmark on aerial photographs is a large circular feature approximately 30m in diameter on the western side of the interior of the enclosed area. It is believed that this indicates the location of an amphitheatre.

Since the desertion of the Roman town, probably some time during the fifth century, the walls have subsequently been robbed for building material and hard core.