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Historic England Research Records

Bokerley Dyke

Hob Uid: 906268
Location :
New Forest
Sixpenny Handley and Pentridge, Martin, Cranborne
Grid Ref : SU0124019900
Summary : Bokerley Dyke is a linear earthwork circa 5.75 km long and is one of the most substantial and visible of all the monuments on and in the vicinity of Martin Down. It has been the subject of part excavations and detailed survey by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. These investigations have provided much information on the nature and development of the earthwork. Bokerley Dyke is thought to have originated in the Bronze Age or Early Iron Age and was an important political and cultural boundary which divided areas showing markedly different patterns of land division. Once established, the dyke continued in use but was remodelled and adapted to suit the needs of the later periods. These included the more defensive requirements of the later Iron Age and Roman periods and it was possibly then that the dyke became the focus of the associated series of earthworks making up the `Bokerley Line'. The dyke continued in use after the cessation of the Roman administration and still forms part of a boundary, that between the counties of Dorset and Hampshire.
More information : (SU 0119 - 0616). Bokerly Dyke (OE). (1)

A defensive work in three parts: 'A' Dyke, 'B' Dyke (Rear Dyke) and
'C' Dyke (Fore Dyke). Excavated by Pitt-Rivers at two points. 'The
Epaulement' (SU 0376 1966) and 'Bokerly Junction' (SU 0321 1989).
From coin and pottery evidence, 'A' Dyke probably dates to cAD325-30.
'B' Dyke is later (it overlaps and recuts 'A' Dyke at the
'Epaulement') probably dating to shortly after AD 364 (coin of
Valens). 'C' Dyke is later still as it is cut into 'B' Dyke at their
junction and probably dates to after AD 393-5 (coin of Honorius).

'A' Dyke was probably a territorial boundary (the northern
demarcation of an Imperial reserve ?). 'B' Dyke, a strong and
definitely military work, was evidently constructed in time of
crisis, as it cuts through the Badbury-Old Sarum Road and also
ignores an existing, though declining, Romano-British Settlement
(SU 031 200), leaving most of it on the undefended side, in its
anxiety to use the ground to best advantage; and as the road was
restored over it very soon afterwards, the crisis can be assumed to
be a short-lived one, almost certainly that of AD 367-8 when the
whole of Britain was under attack by the combined Picts, Scots and
Saxons. 'C' Dyke seems to represent a last Romano-British defensive
line before the final debacle; the Roman road was again cut by it,
and this time remained cut.

The name of the works should properly be 'Bokerley Ditch'. (See Strip
Map and diagrams). (2)

The final stage of Bokerley Ditch is more likely to be a boundary
work than defensive; probably of 5th century date and demarcating a stage of agreement between invaders and Britains. (3)

For field investigation report, see annotations on Strip Map. (4)

Published 1:2500 survey revised between SU 0300-1999 and the eastern
termination. This part is striking in its proportions (some 25m in
width overall, with the bank rising in places to 4m above the bottom
of the ditch). The work has a very close resemblance to the presumed
Dark Ages `Grims Ditches' of Mongeham (Oxon) and Pinner (Herts) etc. (5)

Bokerley Dyke (016200-063168), a boundary bank and ditch, often of
massive defensive proportions, was built in the late Roman period to
serve as a protective barrier or frontier (map opposite). Facing north east, it extends for nearly four miles across Cranborne Chase from a point near West Woodyates in the west to Martin Wood in the south east. For much of its length the dyke is well preserved, though thickly overgrown in places, but north west of Bokerley Juncton, where the modern road following the line of the Roman road from Old Sarum to Dorchester passes through it, the dyke has been badly damaged or levelled by ploughing.
To the south east of the junction the dyke constitutes the boundary between Dorset and Hampshire. Excavations by General Pitt-Rivers in the vicinity of the junction are the chief source of information
concerning the structural sequence and date of the earthwork (Pitt-
Rivers, Excavations III, 3-239). His report has been the subject of
reinterpretation by C F C Hawkes (Arch. J. CIV (1947), 62-78).
Further excavations on the dyke were carried out by P A Rahtz in
1958, in advance of road widening (Arch. J., CXVIII (1961), 65-99).

Bokerley Dyke lies across a tract of open Chalk country, furrowed by
dry valleys, between the upper reaches of the River Allen and those of the River Crane. At either end it terminates where later deposits (Clay-with-flints in the north west and Reading Beds in the south east) overlie the Chalk; these deposits support woodland today and probably gave rise to more extensive tree cover in the past. In Martin Wood the dyke is of modest dimensions, measuring less than 50 ft. across overall, but it increases steadily in size as it proceeds along the shoulder of the narrow ridge leading to Blagdon Hill, from which it commands a view over the lower ground to the east. On Blagdon Hill the dyke crosses one of the branches of the Grim's Ditch complex (17) and then turns to descend the northern slope of the hill obliquely (Plate 56). Here it reaches its maximum dimensions, 100 ft. across overall, with the bank 8 ft. high and the ditch up to 9 ft. deep. It then continues for over 1 1/2 miles across a relatively low, broad pass or saddle to Bokerley Junction, where the Roman road from Old Sarum to Dorchester and the modern road (A 354) pass through it. Another branch of the Grim's Ditch complex meets it from the north on Martin Down. Some 600 yards east south east of Bokerley Junction a short stub of bank and ditch of comparable dimensions to the dyke itself and known since Pitt-River's day as the Epaulement, extends west from the dyke and marks an earlier termination; the west part of this stub has been levelled.

West of Bokerley Junction the precise course of the dyke is less
certain than to the east because of ploughing and earlier levelling.
Pitt-Rivers showed by excavation that it bifurcated at Bokerley
Junction and he traced the two arms westward on a roughly parallel
course. The more northerly of these, which he termed the Fore Dyke,
extends to a point 400 yards west of Hill Copse (01562000) and is still clearly visable on the ground for much of its length, though it
diminishes in size westward. The southern arm or Rear Dyke, which
Pitt-Rivers believed came to an end just north of West Woodyates Manor (01491961), is now almost entirely obliterated. There is no surface evidence to support Pitt-Rivers's belief, and air photographs (V 58 RAF 3250: 0126; C.U.A.P., RC 8 X99) show clearly that it ended
140 yards east of Hill Copse (02221986). A length of bank and ditch
extends south west from the Fore Dyke in Hill Copse and appears to join a feature which Pitt-Rivers regarded as part of the Rear Dyke, just north east of West Woodyates Manor.

In his analysis of the date and structure sequence of the dyke (based
largely on Pitt-Rivers's observations) Hawkes concluded that it was
built from its south eastern end as far as the Epaulement in circa AD 325; that it was extended sometime after 364 (perhaps during the crises of 367-8) to block the Roman road and to continue as the Rear Dyke; that the road was soon unblocked, and that finally, sometime after 393, the Fore Dyke was built and the road was then permanently blocked. As a result of more recent work Rahtz suggests that the dyke extended initially as far north west as the Roman road, leaving an entrance or gap beside the Epaulement, and that this was blocked later, either when the Rear Dyke was built or perhaps permanently only when the Fore Dyke was built. The evidence at present available is insufficient for definitive interpretation.

The course and dimensions of Bokerley Dyke leave little doubt that it
was built as defensive barrier or frontier, especially in its final
form. It blocks a stretch of open downland which constituted a
vulnerable gap between what probably were areas of extensive
woodland, a gap through which passed the Roman road from the north east. The dyke was surely designed to prevent penetration from that quarter. Ultimately it may have served to protect the Romano-Britains of east Dorset from the unwelcome attentions of Anglo-Saxon settlers, whose early presence barely 10 miles away in the Avon valley around
Salisbury is well attested. It seems likely, too, that Bokerley Dyke
echoes or replaces, on a line better sited tactically, an older non-
defensive boundary represented by part of the Grim's Ditch complex.
To the north west of the Epaulement it is possible that it overlies and follows a branch of Grim's Ditch; on Martin Down a further branch of Grim's Ditch mets, but does not run under the dyke. (6)

SU 0124 1990 [left flank] to 0625 1698 [right flank]
The name Bokerley Dyke or Bokerley Ditch appears first in the
medieval period (Bockedic 1280). The earliest 10th century reference
is merely to 'dich'. The name 'Bokerley' appears to be descriptive
and to relate quite specifically to deer (?'Buck' and 'Wood
clearing') and so plausibly to the 'chase' and the 13th or early 14th
century Blagden deer park, which at that time was bounded at the
north east by Bokerley Dyke.

The Dyke as defined by RCHME is an earthwork bank and ditch of
considerably larger dimensions than those which constitute the normal
run of Wessex boundary ditches. The whole line was probably
refurbished at some late stage, making a feature over 5.2km long
whose final unitary nature was confused by the incorporation or
nearby survival of many diverse strands, some certainly prehistoric,
some slight, some only postulated because of the placing of other
features, probably embodied in or destroyed by the later Dyke, and
others running roughly parallel.

RCHME divided Bokerley Dyke into 8 components and 5 sectors. The
components are; Left Flank, Fore Dyke, Rear Dyke, Left Centre,
Epaulement, Traverse, Right Centre, Right Flank.
Alterations, modifications, levelling and even total destruction of
certain areas have taken place in the use life of the Dyke. The
chronology of Bokerley Dyke is not certain. Excavations have revealed
4th century coins and pottery as well as earlier samian, but the
context of the discoveries and the quality of the excavations are in

The Bokerley Line was stabilised as a political frontier, indicated by differences in land allotment patterns sometime in the
Bronze or Early Iron Age. Linears marking the limits of a
particular type of land allotment were built on the Bokerley Line in
unknown sequence and detail. A Roman road passed through an entrance
in the linear. A massively deep ditch, the Rear Dyke was dug in a
discrete length and apparently unfinished. Not long afterwards the
ditch was filled in sufficiently to take a rebuilt road. The Dyke may
be thought at this time to deter hostile movement into what is today
the county of Dorset. This failed because the Dyke was subsequently
slighted. The Fore Dyke is different in character from the Rear Dyke,
both by reason of its lesser size and by its continuous extent and is
possibly post Roman. Perhaps then, on the basis of inevitably slight
evidence, Bokerley Dyke in its final form can be conceived as a
single frontier work of post-Roman date, placed where it was very
largely because it followed a major boundary line established in
prehistory but plausibly ending against areas of thick scrub which,
at the north end, would have regenerated in former arable. However,
there is no convincing argument to exactly what Bokerley Dyke was
protecting (7)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source :
Source details : Ordnance Survey 6" 1902
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source :
Source details :
Page(s) : 62-78
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 104, 1947
Source Number : 3
Source :
Source details :
Page(s) : 377
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1967
Source Number : 4
Source :
Source details : First Ordnance Survey Archaeology Field Investigator 17/06/1954
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 5
Source :
Source details : Second Ordnance Survey Archaeology Field Investigator 28/06/1969
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 6
Source :
Source details :
Page(s) : 55-6
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 7
Source :
Source details :
Page(s) : 15-41
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 8
Source :
Source details : English Heritage Schedule Entry 07/08/1996
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Bronze Age
Display Date : Bronze Age
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date :
Monument Type : Linear Earthwork
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Early Iron Age
Display Date : Early Iron Age
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date :
Monument Type : Linear Earthwork
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Late Iron Age
Display Date : Late Iron Age
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date :
Monument Type : Linear Earthwork
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Linear Earthwork, Frontier Defence
Evidence : Earthwork

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DO 72
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : HA 590
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 25610
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 25620
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 25618
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 25623
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 25622
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DO 850
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : LINEAR 74
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments :
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :