Today’s post presents the results of a recently completed HLF supported project on behalf of the Hadstock Society. The village of Hadstock in Essex, near the Cambridgeshire border, is situated in an area rich in archaeological and cultural heritage. Of particular interest for the Hadstock society is the nearby Red Field, a potential site for the Battle of Assandun 1016.


Red Field

The Battle of Assandun was a decisive victory for the Danish King Cnut over the English King Edmund Ironside. While the location of the battle is disputed, the construction of the Saffron Walden to Bartlow branch line through the Red Field in the 1860s discovered a large number of skeletal remains in the cutting (Officers of Uttlesford District Council, 2014). Unfortunately, the location of these remains is currently unknown. Further evidence supporting the Red Field as the battlefield is the Parish Church of St. Botolph’s in Hadstock village. The present church was constructed in the 11th century around the time Cnut dedicated a minster in commemoration of the battle. The church is dedicated to St. Botolph; a saint Cnut is believed to have taken a special interest in (Croxton-Smith, 2002).

The entire Red Field and its greater area have an extensive archaeological history. Of particular note are the Roman villa located north of the survey area, originally excavated in the 19th century, and a group of substantial Roman barrows know as the Bartlow Hills, located 2km south-east. The nature of this archaeological landscape required excavations of the Red Field in the 1990s in response to the construction of a water pipeline following the field’s eastern boundary. Cumulative archaeological work of this area discovered a range of archaeology including Roman buildings with associated ditches and yard surfaces, Romano-British pottery, Iron Age pits and gullies, and Belgic field ditches (Etté and Hinds, 1993). However, annual metal detecting over the field for the past 25 years has not recovered any finds of significance.

Geophysical Survey

The primary aim of the geophysical survey was to detect any potential mass burial pits that may have been dug to bury fatalities from the Battle of Assandun. Burials can be tricky features to detect through geophysical survey; the success of which can depend on the state of decomposition, the association of any magnetically enhanced grave goods, surrounding soils and geology, and the grave’s size.

Due to the sizable survey area (> 8Ha) and ground’s crop cover, a magnetic survey was utilised as the primary survey strategy. The magnetic survey was complemented with a simultaneous EM survey, which measured electrical conductivity and magnetic susceptibility properties of three soil volumes. Employing multiple techniques that measure different soil properties increases the confidence in the survey results because some features may not be detectable with one technique, but detectable with another. This was particularly important for the targeted features of this survey.

Magnitude Survey’s bespoke cart system supports the simultaneous collection of magnetic and electromagnetic data, positioned with an RTK GPS and custom-built datalogger. The following results are presented:

Magnetic results with Bartington Instruments 1oooL fluxgate gradiometers:

Magnetic Greyscale

Magnetic Greyscale Interp

Two large potential pits are identified in the magnetic results (numbers 1 & 2 in the interpretation). While they cannot be confidently classified as mass burial pits without further investigation, these anomalies do exhibit characteristics of large pits due to their discrete size and nature of response (visualised in the XY traces). However, this type of anomaly could be produced by a number of different anthropogenic or even natural processes. As such, further archaeological investigation is required to confirm these anomalies’ origins.

The magnetic survey has also identified many anomalies of probable archaeological origin. These responses are distinct and potentially reflect ditches, pits, enclosures and roads. When considered alongside the features and finds excavated during the water pipeline’s construction (Etté and Hinds, 1993), it is likely these anomalies are of Iron-Age / Romano-British origin. However, it cannot be determined if these features are an outer complex to the Roman villa or a separate site which may have co-existed. Furthermore, annual metal detecting over the field for the past 25 years has not recovered any finds of significance. Additionally, some of the anomalies could potentially be associated with the nearby Barham Friary and medieval villages. These anomalies are not resolved in electromagnetic datasets.

Electromagnetic conductivity results (C2) with GF Instruments CMD Mini Explorer:

CMD C2 Greyscale

CMD C2 Greyscale Interp

The magnetic and electromagnetic methods resolve anomalies that relate to the agricultural usage of the field. The electromagnetic datasets are particularly sensitive to the near-surface impact this usage has made, resolving many features of agricultural origin, which are not as prominent in the magnetic results.

Overall, this work has provided a set of really interesting results! A big thank you to the Hadstock Society whose contagious enthusiasm and passion made this a truly enjoyable project to be a part of. Also, thank you to the Hadstock Parish Council for letting us use their village hall to host an open night presenting the project’s results. And of course, a final big thanks to John Barker, for being so accommodating throughout project and welcoming us onto his land. Coming soon: Part 2 to this work, with a magnetic and earth resistance survey over St. Botolph’s Churchyard in Hadstock.

Croxton-Smith, P., 2002. The Site of the Battle of Assandun, 1016. Saffron Walden Historical Journal 3.

Etté, J. and Hinds, S., 1993. Excavations at Linton Roman Villa. Cambridgeshire Archaeology Report no. 88.

Officers of Uttlesford District Council, 2014. Hadstock Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Proposals.