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Historic England Research Records

Cambridgeshire Car Dyke

Hob Uid: 1034621
Location :
City Of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
City Of Peterborough, Fenland, Huntingdonshire, South Cambridgeshire, East Cambridgeshire
Grid Ref : TL1560008400
Summary : A series of artificial watercourses traditionally thought to be part of a Roman transport system between the rivers Witham and Cam. May have been part of a wider drainage and reclamation scheme. Probably late 1st or early 2nd century.
More information : A series of watercourses, usually in fairly straight lengths, extending from the River Cam at Waterbeach to the River Witham at Washingborough has traditionally been named Car Dyke but this strictly applies to the largely Lincolnshire section north of the River Nene (LINEAR 53). The application of the name to the Cambridgeshire section south of the River Nene is erroneous and attributable to Stukeley. This section includes Cnut's Dyke, which runs from the present course of the Nene to the old course near Ramsey and The Old Tillage from the Ouse at Setchell Fen to the Cam at Waterbeach. The tradition that Car Dyke was a Roman canal has been refuted during recent investigation north of Bourne and it seems to have formed part of a fen drainage and land reclamation system. Investigation of the section between the Welland and the Nene (LINEAR 53) by Pryor has confirmed its function as a catchwater, constructed in the late 1st or early 2nd century. Excavation on part of the Old Tillage gave a similar date; the dyke here had silted up by the 7th century. See Linear Archive File LINEAR 53 for further details. (1)

The idea that the Car Dyke was a Roman canal constructed to supply troops on campaign in the north of England, by replacing a longer sea voyage with one via inland waterways from East Anglia to Lincoln and York, was first proposed by William Stukeley in the 18th century (2a). Excavations by J G D Clarke at Bullock's Haste in Cambridgeshire, in 1947 and 1948, concluded that the Car Dyke here was indeed a canal, probably built as early as 50-60 AD, and continuing in use until the later 2nd century, after which there was a long period of stagnation during which the dyke was used as a convenient rubbish dump for adjacent settlements. Clarke did not challenge Stukeley's model (2b).

From the 1970's research began to reveal that immense areas of the fens had been subject to mass colonisation in the Roman period between c. 100 and 150 AD (2c). The Car Dyke was still viewed as a waterway but its role as a catchwater drain in general land reclamation was also promoted. It was suggested also that this reclamation may have been promoted by Hadrian following his visit to Britain and that the whole area was administered as an Imperial estate (2d).

Work in Lincolnshire and near Peterborough has shown that the Car Dyke there was almost certainly part of an elaborate drainage scheme, acting as a huge catchwater (2e). In Cambridgeshire, however, the case is not proven for that a stretch of the dyke between the Cam and the Old West River. Excavations at Waterbeach in 1995 concluded that the wide and shallow profile of the dyke, like that revealed by Clarke at Bullock's Haste, was well suited to use as a canal. No date of construction could be ascertained but large amounts of pottery had been dumped into the dyke during the Antonine period c. 140-180 AD, suggesting disuse. Later Roman levels had been truncated by a 17th century re-cut but the base of one Roman re-cut was visible, and the excavators thought the function of the dyke may have changed to a catchwater from the Antonine period (2f).

The question of function for the Cambridgeshire Car Dyke is not resolved but it is probably correct to view its construction in a regional context of drainage, land reclamation and colonisation, within which waterborne transport may well have played an important part.

A short stretch of the Car Dyke was recorded at Bullocks's Haste Common during RCHME survey work between January and March 1996 (see monument record TL 47 SE 4) (2).

A short stretch of the Car Dyke was seen as cropmarks during an air photographic survey carried out by the Aerial Survey section of RCHME in February 1997. A 280m stretch was visible to the north east of Northborough, centred at TF 155 084. (See record TF 10 NE 37).
(3)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Ordnance Survey Linear Archive File LINEAR 53 in NMRC
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Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : RCHME Bullock's Haste Survey, Jan-Mar 1996
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Source : Northborough, Cambridgeshire/ink AP transcription
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Source Number : 2a
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : William Stukeley (1757): The Medallic History of Marcus Aurelius Carausius, Emperor of Britain
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Source Number : 2b
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : JGD Clarke (1949) `Report on Excavations on the Cambridgeshire Car Dyke, 1947' Antiquaries Journal 29, 145-63
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Source Number : 2c
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : P Salway (1970) `The Roman Fenland' in CW Phillips 'The Fenland in Roman Times' 1-21
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Source Number : 2d
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : S Frere (1978) Britannia: A History of Roman Britain
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Source Number : 2e
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : BB Simmons (1979) `The Lincolnshire Car Dyke: Navigation or Drainage?' Britannia 10, 183-96
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Source Number : 2f
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : SP Macaulay and T Reynolds (1996) `Car Dyke: A Roman Canal at Waterbeach' (Cambs County Council)
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Source Number : 3
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Carolyn Dyer/25-FEB-1997/RCHME: Northborough Enclosure Project
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Source : Northborough, Cambridgeshire/report
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Drainage System, Canal
Evidence : Earthwork, Cropmark

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : LINEAR 327
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 372111
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1034661
Relationship type : Is referred to by
Associated Monuments : 1620449
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1034826
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1072806
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : BULLOCKS HASTE COMMON, CAR DYKE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1947-01-01
End Date : 1948-12-31
Associated Activities : HALL FARM
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1988-01-01
End Date : 1988-12-31
Associated Activities : CAR DYKE FARM
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1988-01-01
End Date : 1988-12-31
Associated Activities : LOTS QUARRY, SETCHEL FEN
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1988-01-01
End Date : 1988-12-31
Associated Activities : RCHME BULLOCK'S HASTE COMMON SURVEY
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1996-01-29
End Date : 1996-03-22
Associated Activities : CAR DYKE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1997-01-01
End Date : 1997-12-31
Associated Activities : RCHME: NORTHBOROUGH CAUSEWAYED ENCLOSURE PROJECT
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 1997-02-19
End Date : 1997-02-25
Associated Activities : DENNY INDUSTRIAL CENTRE
Activity type : EVALUATION
Start Date : 2000-01-01
End Date : 2000-12-31
Associated Activities : PARKERSTEEL SITE, DENNY INDUSTRIAL CENTRE
Activity type : WATCHING BRIEF
Start Date : 2001-01-01
End Date : 2001-12-31