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CHER Number:07801
Type of record:Monument
Name:Devil's Ditch/Dyke, Reach to Woodditton

Summary

A very large vallum and fosse extending from fen at Reach to clayland at Camois Hall, Woodditton.

Grid Reference:TL 610 622
Parish:Reach, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire
Stetchworth, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire
Swaffham Prior, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire
Woodditton, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire
Burwell, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire

Monument Type(s):

  • DITCH (Saxon - 410 AD? to 1065 AD?)
  • DYKE (DEFENCE) (Saxon - 410 AD? to 1065 AD?)
  • BANK (EARTHWORK) (Saxon - 410 AD? to 1065 AD?)

Associated Finds:

  • MOLLUSCA REMAINS (Undated)
  • COIN (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)

Associated Events:

  • Excavation at Devil's Dyke, Swaffham Prior, 1991 (Ref: SWP DD 91)
  • Watching brief along Thetford aqueduct, 1991-2 (Ref: THAQ 91)
  • Investigations of Devil's Dyke, 1973
  • Resistivity survey of Devil's Ditch, 1988
  • Watching brief on installation of steps, Devil's Dyke, 2008
  • Excavation of Devil's Ditch, 1923-1924
  • Test Pit Evaluation at Devils Dyke, 2015 (Ref: BUR DDF 15)

Protected Status:

  • Scheduled Monument () 1003262: Devil's Ditch, Reach to Woodditton

Full description

1. In 1854, Dr Guest gave a paper in which he claimed British princes built the dykes as boundary lines. The report ascribed different dykes to different time periods and stated that Devil’s Ditch dates to the Viking invasions.

4. Hughes was unable to decide if the Anglo-Saxons or the Iceni built the earthworks, and thought the smaller dykes were territorial markers while the larger examples, like Devil’s Ditch, were defensive. Hughes did have the advantage of some archaeological evidence as his work included a profile of the dyke from when the railway from Cambridge to Mildenhall cut it (at TL575653) in 1884. The profile indicated a Roman coin and a sherd of amphora in a layer on top of the bank, but the finds, being near the surface, were not in context.

5. In 1913 Gosdal wrote that only Roman engineers could have built Devil’s Ditch, but that the Anglo-Saxons reused it and augmented it with other earthworks like Fleam Dyke.

6. A very large vallum and fosse extending from marsh at Reach (fen) to clayland (forest) at Camois Hall, Woodditton. Probably the finest earthwork of its class in England. In very good condition for the most part, the gaps and low parts are shown on the 6in map. It is especially perfect between the Cambs - Mildenhall roadway and the S of DEVIL'S on the map XLINE. It is possible that the owners of this sector, Mr. Charles Woollard of Swaffham Prior and Mr. Charles Cole Ambrose of Swaffham Prior may intend to plough the fosse and break down the counter scarp. A special resolution was passed by the council of CAS to the effect that special efforts ought to be taken to prevent such destruction.

8. Excavations were carried out on the south-east side of the railway cutting, 330 yards from the known Roman house in 1923 and 1924. One full section of the vallum was excavated. The foot of the bank showed stratified deposits of soil, chalk mixed with soil, disintegrated chalk and chalk rubble. The rest of the vallum was composed of pure white chalk rubble. It appeared evident that the vallum had been constructed at one time, within a short period, and had not been disturbed. The only finds were that of some animal bones, identified as a small ox. The base of the vallum contained a range of objects, including 300 fragments of pottery characteristic of the Early Iron Age. One Bronze Age sherd was recovered decorated with an impressed thong pattern. 76 Roman sherds, including three Samian fragments, and six iron nails were also identified. Pottery of the Roman period was found under all points of the vallum, and since no objects were assigned a later date than the Roman period, and since the vallum did not appear to have been disturbed since it’s original construction, a Roman date has been suggested.
Three sections were excavated to examine the fosse. The original floor of the fosse was found to be 5 feet below the present surface. The filling was almost entirely of chalk silt, and a variety of objects were recovered from it, including Early Iron Age and Roman pottery sherds, a human jaw bone and animal bones representing horse, sheep and ox. A mass of chalk rubble was encountered at section IIIf, believed to be the result of modern infilling.


11. Devil's Ditch: The west end terminates abruptly; the south east end coincides with the margin of an ancient forest. A barrier (one of a series) drawn across open country from one natural obstacle to another. Five miles of the ditch are in the same straight line but each end is slightly deflected, and if ... visible from either end. The Fen termination is at Reach and there abouts the scarp is from crest of rampart to floor of ditch 60ft. This enormous work, carried out with absolute precision reminds one forcibly of Roman genius and energy. Examination of the ditch in the neighbourhood of a Roman house (Cambs 41 NE 01) yielded numerous Roman sherds, from various points in and under the ramparts. In analysing the distribution of early Iron Age coins in the Cambs region the author found that the countryside crossed by the dyke separated the Cambs region into two districts in which coins of the Iceni on the one hand and of the Catuvellauni and the S Tribes generally on the other were commonly found. Result: N of Devil's Ditch - Icenian coins 249, others 4; S of Devil's Ditch - Icenian coins 6, others 186. It now seems to be probable that the barrier when erected - presumably by the E Anglians of the C7 - followed a political frontier of very old standing the significance of which neither Roman domination nor AS conquest had destroyed.

13. Devil's Ditch. This is the largest and most easterly of the Cambs dykes and runs in a north west to south east direction for 7 1/2 miles between the fen edge at Reach and the verge of the clay country west of Woodditton. Sir Cyril Fox has pointed out that no attempt seems to have been made by the builders to choose the shortest line for defence, since the use of the line Swaffham Bulbeck - Dullingham, 1 1/2 miles to the SW, would have effected a saving of nearly 2 miles in length. The dyke, which is remarkable for its impressive size (to which its popular name is a tribute) and regularity, is laid out in 3 straight sections. The middle one from Galley Hill, 1 mile SE of Reach, to Stetchworth House is 5 1/2 miles long in a right (sic) line, and the other two bend in opposite directions, that from Galley Hill to Reach in the E, and the Stetchworth House - Camois Hall section to the W. In neither case is the deviation sufficient to prevent the whole from being virtually straight. The preservation of the work is generally good, and the only part which has been seriously damaged is that bounding the NW corner of Newmarket Heath, where the bank has been thrown into the ditch and the site of the latter ploughed over. At this point the line remains perfectly clear, but the contour of the work has been destroyed. Where the original condition has been preserved, as S of the Swaffham - Burwell road, the overall width of the vallum and ditch is 110ft, with the ditch 15ft deep, the bank 15ft above the old ground surface, and the distance from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the bank 62ft. The two ends are abrupt, neither making any return. The existence of any original gap or gaps is uncertain. No test can be made at the point where the Icknield Way passes through, 1 1/2 miles SW of Newmarket, because the Mod London- Newmarket road exactly occupies the site. At Running Gap where the Street Way crosses the line there is an opening, but its character has never been tested by examining whether or not the ditch is continuous across the line of the Way. Before 1924 the age of the dyke was a mystery. Sir Cyril Fox had observed that the dyke, or at all events its site, marks the boundary of the Icenian coinage in its distribution SW towards the lands of the Catuvellauni and other southern tribes. This, coupled with the literary evidence for fierce Celtic inter-tribal fighting in the age of the Roman Conquest and the peculiarly good defence which such a work would afford against chariots, justified his belief at that time that this dyke might prove to be of pre - Roman origin. The matter was put to the test of the spade in 1924, when sections were cut close to the Cambridge - Mildenhall railway cutting. This spot was chosen because a Roman house was known to have stood at a point 300yds in front of the dyke here. Roman potsherd rubbish was to be found all over the ground between the house site and the dyke, and it was reasonable to suppose that if the dyke was later than the building of the house some of this rubbish would be found on the old ground surface under the bank. This expectation was realised and the Roman or post - Roman date of the dyke demonstrated. At the moment our other evidence for the age of the dyke is confined to the uncertain testimony of the find of 2 iron axes with an iron lance head, spur and stirrup, found by a workman when levelling the dyke on Newmarket Heath in 1822. The axes and lancehead survive in the CAAM and could well have belonged to a pagan AS inhumation burial, but we have no exact knowledge of the relation of the deposit to the dyke. Nothing that we know about the political history of the Roman province provides an adequate reason for building this dyke to defend E Anglia from an enemy moving from the SW, nor is there likely to have been any need for this barrier in the confused period of the C5. The only political facts which accord in any way with the arrangement of this and the other dykes are those of the C6 and C7 AD when continual fighting was taking place between the Mercians and the E Angles. The design of the Devil's Ditch, with its meticulous regularity and commanding proportions, suggests Roman influence, but the general probability is that the E Angles threw up this line of defence on a site which had, through the operation of a variety of natural causes, been a frontier region in the last century before the Claudian conquest.

14. Meaney gives grid ref TL/61--/61--.

16. The Gas Board inserted their pipeline deep under the earthwork in a borehole so no archaeology was disturbed or uncovered.

18. A section was dug in advance of the building of the bypass, which uncovered a Roman coin dating to 350AD sealed under the bank and evidence of an initial marker bank.

19. Muir in 1981 in a short section of a much wider book began to ask searching questions as to the function of the dykes. He dismissed the idea the builders could man them claiming it would take 13,000 defenders to hold Devil’s Ditch though he admitted the earthwork was a very useful defence against a cavalry charge. Muir wondered if the builders made the dykes to display royal power and suggested it was unlikely they were all used at the same time.

20. Aubrey in the seventeenth century noted the existence of four of the dykes and said Devil’s Ditch was the western border of the kingdom and bishopric of East Anglia.

21. The earthwork extends approximately 7 miles and reaches a height of 9m from ditch bottom to bank top and 36,5m across in some places. Along its length it is crossed by 5 roads, a railway and a disused branch line. The ditch travels through agricultural land in the NW, through the Newmarket Heath racecourse in the middle portion, ending to SE in the wooded land on the Stetchworth estate. The profile is best seen to the N of B1102 and to either side of A11 where the bank is under grass. In several areas intrusive scrub is causing erosion and deterioration to the banks, this is especially noticeable to N on the S side of land owned by Mr. Woollard. Here the ditch has been filled and the bank is being undercut. To N of A45 on Mr. Chambers' land, tipping of stone and agricultural waste is altering the profile of the ditch, this has been followed by garage waste. To the S in the Stetchworth Estate the bank supports mature elm, lime and sycamore, some dead and some felled. A footpath runs along the whole length of the bank. This appears to be used by horse riders and motor cycles as well as pedestrians, causing some erosion especially down the banks bordering the disused railway cutting.

22. Resistivity Survey carried out at Cambridgeshire Gap, Street Way, to try to determine whether there had been any break in the original dyke construction. Results were inconclusive, though indicating there may have been a gap at this point.

23. Although cartographic evidence for British dykes is almost nonexistent before the Ordnance Survey editions of the late 19th century, Devil's Dyke appears in an 1830 map of Cambridgeshire.

24. Walked the whole length of the monument, except for a few hundred yards south east of A1304 and a small section at extreme south east end in Rickmore Wood owing to failing light. In Reach 4 small trees planted on bank where it forms part of the village green, scrub dense with chalk erosion scars probably caused by children sliding. In several areas there is plough and tractor damage. Clearance N of disused railway shows good profile, with footpath to Burwell diverted from old line, but erosion still severe. From B1102 to A45 shows dramatic improvement with sheep grazing. Beyond this scrub again masks the profile and a pipeline has cut through it, with excavations to the SW at the time of the visit. Erosion of banks once again visible and further plough damage to W, especially severe in corner adjacent to A45. Cleared banks are regenerating. Section across Newmarket Heath eroded where gap occurs on the racecourse. One of structures previously noted has been removed, though concrete base left. In general this stretch is in good condition with healthy grass cover. More scrub towards A1304,though some areas cut, with heaps of wood lying in ditch. Profile continues good towards Cambridge to Newmarket railway line with bramble and hawthorn in a few areas. In woodland S of railway banks and ditch covered with scrub and many mature trees. Two drain covers noted in ditch next to Stetchworth Park. Many fallen trees in this section.

25. In October 1991 a small section (8m by 3m) was cut across the lower fill of the ditch of Devils Dyke in advance of the construction of an aqueduct from Cambridge to Euston
(Norfolk).Only 20 artefacts were recovered, none of which was chronologically diagnostic, though land mollusc remains were well preserved and have been sent for analysis. Three phases of ditch fill were revealed - initial coarse fill, stabilization (grazing) and recent elder-dominated scrub. In the centre of the ditch the total depth of silt was only 0,75m.

27. The legend of Devil's Dyke - see http://www.reach.drakken.com/myth/mdyke.htm

28. A set of wooden steps were installed on the slope of Devil's Dyke at Court Barns Road, Stetchworth to improve access up the bank to the footpath, and monitoring was a requirement of the SMC. 10 pairs of holes were mechanically drilled to a depth of 30cm, with some widening done by hand or to avoid tree roots. Very little chalk material came from the holes, except at the top of the steps where the route met the top of the bank. The material was all light brown topsoil and therefore was not possible to get any indication of the profile of the bank in this area.

30. Devil’s Ditch is an exceptionally large and impressive south-facing earthwork that lies about three kilometres southwest of Newmarket and runs from low land at Reach southeast and uphill to Ditton Green. If the Cambridgeshire dykes are a single system, then this would be the inner dyke. It is usually assumed the reference dated 904 in the A text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to King Edmund harrying the territory between the River Wissey and the Dykes (dicum) in retaliation for a raid of Vikings based in East Anglia refers to this earthwork. The association of the Devil with the dyke is not recorded until 1574, previously it is just the big dyke (magnum fossatum) in thirteenth-century documents. As it lies in the bounds of St Edmund’s Abbey or because it marked the boundary of the Liberty of St Edmund it is recorded as fossam Sancti Edmundi in 1354. There are also records to the name of the settlement of Reach attached to the dyke (fossum de Reche) as early as a mid-twelfth century account of Hereward the Wake and in the seventeenth century the name Seven-mile-dike was used.The dyke runs southeast for twelve kilometres (TL566662 to TL653583), all but the westernmost 1,200 metres (to TL574653) is contiguous with parish boundaries. However, the name Seven-mile-dyke would suggest a length of 11.2 kilometres, but the village of Reach probably covers the western extremity The dyke is in three straight sections all of which are only a few degrees different from one another.
The earthwork consists of a single ditch with a single bank on the northern side. The earthwork was built in a single phase and was so well constructed that the earthwork retains much of the original profile with as little as 0.75 metres of fill in the ditch despite the absence of a berm. There is no evidence of a rampart or revetment, the lack of fill in the ditch merely being a product of the design. The ditch has a wide almost flat bottom approximately 7 metres wide with sides sloping up at about 60° to the surface and 15 to 19 metres wide at the surface and 4 to 5 metres deep. The bank is 4.5 to 5.3 metres tall and 20 to 23 metres wide. There are numerous gaps in the dyke, but there have been no successful attempts to prove archaeologically if any are original.
In 1972 an Anglo-Saxon spearhead was recovered from the inner edge of the ditch. (Recorded seperately as MCB8974.)

31. Devil's Dyke is the most impressive archaeological monument in Cambridgeshire and is the largest of this type in Britain. It is 7.5miles long running from the fen edge at Reach to Woodditton.

32. On December 1st and 2nd 2015 an archaeological investigation was carried out at Devils Dyke. A total of five hand excavated 1m square test pits were opened into the upper most fills of the ditch, three to a depth of 1m. This work was undertaken to determine if the ditch infill contained sufficient amounts of re-deposited chalk to be used to repair erosion scars on the dyke bank. No evidence of suitable chalk material was found. The materials exposed within the test pits were all modern in date, presumably derived from 20th century infilling as a result of local agriculture. No further archaeological features or finds were recovered.


<1> Anonymous, 1854, Proceedings at the meetings of the Archaeological Institute IN Archaeological Journal 11, pp. 389-421 (Article in serial). SCB22005.


<2> Neville, R.C., 1854, Ancient Cambridgeshire, a survey of vestiges of early occupation in Cambridgeshire and Essex. Arch J 11: 207-215, p. 207 - 215 (Article in serial). SCB936.


<3> Ridgeway, W., 1893, Are the Cambridgeshire ditches referred to by Tacitus? Arch J 50: 62-72, p. 62 - 72 (Article in serial). SCB916.


<4> 1913, Journal of the British Archaeological Association Volume 19, 135-160 (Article in serial). SCB6659.


<5> Godsal, P., 1913, Woden's, Grim's and Offa's Dykes (Bibliographic reference). SCB22007.


<6> Fox, C, 1920, Scheduling notes (Unpublished document). SCB16668.


<7> Fox, C., 1923, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, 124 (Bibliographic reference). SCB1232.


<8> Fox, C., 1925, Excavations in the Cambridgeshire Dykes. Part IV. The Devil's Dyke. PCAS 26: 90-129 (Article in serial). SCB10098.


<9> 1925, OS 6 inch map (Map). SCB8995.


<10> 1925, PCAS (Article in serial). SCB10426.


<11> Fox, C., 1929, Dykes. Antiquity 3(10):135-54, ill (Article in serial). SCB618.


<12> Gray, A., 1931, The Massacre at the Bran Ditch, A.D. 1010. PCAS 31: 77-87, p. 85 (Article in serial). SCB10120.


<13> Salzman, L.F (ed), 1948, The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Volume 2, 7 - 9 (Bibliographic reference). SCB14649.


<14> Meaney, A., 1964, A Gazetteer of Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Sites, p. 64 (Bibliographic reference). SCB191.


<15> Various, 1967, The History and Archaeology of the Cambridge Area. Journal of the Royal Archaeological Institute 124, pp. 214-58, p.256 (Article in serial). SCB19706.


<16> Taylor, C.C., 1969, Archaeological Results from the North Sea Gas Pipeline in Cambridgeshire, 1968. PCAS 62: 29-34 (Article in serial). SCB10251.


<17> RCHM, 1972, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire. Volume II. North-East Cambridgeshire, 139 - 144 (Bibliographic reference). SCB13360.


<18> Hope-Taylor, B., 1976, The Cambridgeshire Dykes: I. The Devil's Dykes Investigations, 1977. PCAS 66: 123-5 (Article in serial). SCB10260.


<19> Muir, R, 1981, Riddles in the British Landscape (Bibliographic reference). SCB22006.


<20> Fowles, J. (ed), 1982, John Aubrey's Monumenta Britannica (Bibliographic reference). SCB22008.


<21> Paterson, H, 1983, Fieldwork notes 1983 (Unpublished document). SCB16669.


<22> Trump, D, 1988, Resistivity Survey (Graphic material). SCB16670.


<23> Moule, T., 1990, The County maps of Old England (Bibliographic reference). SCB22009.


<24> Paterson, H, 1992, Fieldwork notes (Unpublished document). SCB16671.


<25> Wait, G.A., 1992, Devil's Dyke Excavations 1991 (Unpublished report). SCB18139.


<26> DCMS, A. R. Middleton, 1999, Proposed works at Devil's Ditch Reach to Woodditton, Burwell (Scheduling record). SCB16910.


<27> http://www.reach.drakken.com/myth/mdyke.htm (Website). SCB17822.


<28> Carroll, Q., 2009, Watching Brief on installation of steps on the footpath on Devils Dyke (Unpublished document). SCB21192.


<29> Wilson, S, 2010, Aerial photograph of Devil's Dyke crossing a disused railway, Reach. (Aerial Photograph). SCB21835.


<30> Grigg, E., 2011, Extract from a draft PhD thesis on medieval dykes (Unpublished document). SCB22004.


<31> Taylor, A., 1978, Anglo-Saxon Cambridgeshire, p. 33 (Bibliographic reference). SCB1272.


<32> Webster, M., 2015, Archaeological Test Pits at Devil's Dyke, Ditches Farm, Burwell, Cambridgeshire: Archaeological Evaluation Report (Unpublished report). SCB46805.

Sources and further reading

<1>Article in serial: Anonymous. 1854. Proceedings at the meetings of the Archaeological Institute IN Archaeological Journal 11. pp. 389-421.
<2>Article in serial: Neville, R.C.. 1854. Ancient Cambridgeshire, a survey of vestiges of early occupation in Cambridgeshire and Essex. Arch J 11: 207-215. p. 207 - 215.
<3>Article in serial: Ridgeway, W.. 1893. Are the Cambridgeshire ditches referred to by Tacitus? Arch J 50: 62-72. p. 62 - 72.
<4>Article in serial: 1913. Journal of the British Archaeological Association Volume 19. 135-160.
<5>Bibliographic reference: Godsal, P.. 1913. Woden's, Grim's and Offa's Dykes.
<6>Unpublished document: Fox, C. 1920. Scheduling notes.
<7>Bibliographic reference: Fox, C.. 1923. The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region. 124.
<8>Article in serial: Fox, C.. 1925. Excavations in the Cambridgeshire Dykes. Part IV. The Devil's Dyke. PCAS 26: 90-129.
<9>Map: 1925. OS 6 inch map.
<10>Article in serial: 1925. PCAS.
<11>Article in serial: Fox, C.. 1929. Dykes. Antiquity 3(10):135-54. ill.
<12>Article in serial: Gray, A.. 1931. The Massacre at the Bran Ditch, A.D. 1010. PCAS 31: 77-87. p. 85.
<13>Bibliographic reference: Salzman, L.F (ed). 1948. The Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. Volume 2. 7 - 9.
<14>Bibliographic reference: Meaney, A.. 1964. A Gazetteer of Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Sites. p. 64.
<15>Article in serial: Various. 1967. The History and Archaeology of the Cambridge Area. Journal of the Royal Archaeological Institute 124, pp. 214-58. p.256.
<16>Article in serial: Taylor, C.C.. 1969. Archaeological Results from the North Sea Gas Pipeline in Cambridgeshire, 1968. PCAS 62: 29-34.
<17>Bibliographic reference: RCHM. 1972. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire. Volume II. North-East Cambridgeshire. 139 - 144.
<18>Article in serial: Hope-Taylor, B.. 1976. The Cambridgeshire Dykes: I. The Devil's Dykes Investigations, 1977. PCAS 66: 123-5.
<19>Bibliographic reference: Muir, R. 1981. Riddles in the British Landscape.
<20>Bibliographic reference: Fowles, J. (ed). 1982. John Aubrey's Monumenta Britannica.
<21>Unpublished document: Paterson, H. 1983. Fieldwork notes 1983.
<22>Graphic material: Trump, D. 1988. Resistivity Survey.
<23>Bibliographic reference: Moule, T.. 1990. The County maps of Old England.
<24>Unpublished document: Paterson, H. 1992. Fieldwork notes.
<25>Unpublished report: Wait, G.A.. 1992. Devil's Dyke Excavations 1991.
<26>Scheduling record: DCMS, A. R. Middleton. 1999. Proposed works at Devil's Ditch Reach to Woodditton, Burwell.
<27>Website: http://www.reach.drakken.com/myth/mdyke.htm.
<28>Unpublished document: Carroll, Q.. 2009. Watching Brief on installation of steps on the footpath on Devils Dyke.
<29>Aerial Photograph: Wilson, S. 2010. Aerial photograph of Devil's Dyke crossing a disused railway, Reach..
<30>Unpublished document: Grigg, E.. 2011. Extract from a draft PhD thesis on medieval dykes.
<31>Bibliographic reference: Taylor, A.. 1978. Anglo-Saxon Cambridgeshire. p. 33.
<32>Unpublished report: Webster, M.. 2015. Archaeological Test Pits at Devil's Dyke, Ditches Farm, Burwell, Cambridgeshire: Archaeological Evaluation Report.