EXTRACTS FROM THE REPORT OF THE EXCAVATION OF THE BARROW OPENED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE YEAR 1912 BY THE MORANT CLUB ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY

by Mr. S. Hazzledine Warren. F.G.S.

ROMANO-BRITISH BARROW ON MERSEA ISLAND

Little more than a half-a-mile to the north west of the mound is the artificial causeway, known as the “Strood-way,” which connects Mersea Island with the mainland. This causeway forms a water-parting between the Pyfleet Channel on the east and the Strood Channel on the west, and is submerged only at high spring tides. It is commonly supposed to be a Roman work; but whether this is so or not, I am unable to say. I have not found any pottery or other relics in association with it.

Immediately to the north of the mound, there is a spot where the Pyefleet Channel is crossed by an ancient and long-disused ford, made of hard material which must have been brought there artificially. it seems to my mind probable that it was this ancient ford, rather than the comparatively modern-looking Strood-way,

VII. – THE TOMB AND ITS CONTENTS

I will describe the tomb beginning with the foundation, in the order in which it was built.

With regard to the foundation, it will be understood that it was only one side of this which was accessible. This I exposed to the bottom and as far round the corners as I could conveniently reach.

Assuming that the foundation was symmetrical, the first operation in making the tomb was to dig a hole in the ground, 3 feet 6 inches square and 2 feet 3 inches deep. In this were placed two courses of boulders, with some tile, set in mortar. The boulders consisted chiefly of London clay septaria, with some flints and a few blocks of Kentish rag. Their size was from 5 to 8 inches, or more, in longer diameter. Upon this foundation, two flanged roofing-tiles, with the flanges turned downwards, were then set to form the floor of the burial chamber. This floor was 15 inches below the original surface of the ground.

The walls of the chamber were built up of seven courses of flanged roofing-tiles. The flanges were turned inwards, to form the walls of the chamber, but they did not meet each other. Some of the flanges were turned upwards and some downwards, there being no regularity in this; and the general finish was not more than moderately neat. The chamber was 18 inches square and 21˝ inches high. The two upper courses stood slightly over the lower, in order to give a better support to the roof, which was formed of a single bonding-tile 21˝ inches square.

The foundation of the outer part of the structure was formed of a single course of boulders, similar to those described above, set in mortar along the line of the original surface. The spread of the outer portion of the tomb extended to a diameter of somewhere about 9 feet; but, as this part was not fully exposed in our tunnel, I am a little uncertain as to its exact size and form. We were working at a depth of 23 feet in made earth, and I thought it inadvisable, from the point of view of safety, to undercut the walls of the tunnel in order to ascertain the outer margin of the structure, as this could be roughly estimated from what I had seen on the side we had cut away in order to reach the contents.

The top of the dome was 22 inches square, and it rose 21 inches above the roof of the chamber. Below the dome, the structure splayed out to 5 feet in width at about 5 or 6 inches above the roof of the chamber; while below this again, as indicated above, it again splayed out, probably to about another two feet all around.

In orientation, the inside walls of the chamber of the tomb faced N70°W, S70°E, S20°W, and N20°E respectively. The structure being square, one could not give preference to any one aspect, rather than to another.

Occupying this chamber was a leaden casket, within which was a beautiful glass vessel containing cremated remains. There was no cover to the glass vessel, but two wooden boards, still in good preservation, were loosely placed across the top of the casket.

As in the case of the Bartlow Hills, the glass vessel was partially filled with fluid, which I have little doubt was due to condensation. The tomb was completely water-logged, and both mortar and tiles were in a very soft and decayed state. As I worked a few inches below the foundation, I found a spring of running water.

Urn and casket were carefully packed as soon as they had been removed from the tomb, and were taken by Dr. Philip Laver in his motor-car (dreadful anachronism!) to Colchester Museum. Indeed the glass urn was not removed from its casket until it had reached that destination.

Mr. Arthur G. Wright has kindly furnished me with the following detailed description of both vessels:-

The relics discovered in the brick tomb beneath the Mersea barrow are:-

  1. A large glass bowl containing
  2. The cremated remains of an adult:
  3. A leaden box or coffin in which the glass urn was placed.

Two pieces of board served as lid, doubtless to protect the urn from damage during the building-in of the interment.

Section of tomb in Mersea Barrow
 
Section of the Tomb
Conjectural restoration assuming that the structure was approximately symmetrical


View of tomb
 
View of the Tomb showing leaden casket in place with the covering boards removed and placed on either side, displaying the top of the glass urn within.
A flashlight photo by Mr. Hazzledine Warren

The above are extracts from the report. View the full report.



Copyright Mersea Island Museum Trust 2017