Stanwell Cursus, Heathrow, Surrey

Cursus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 0545 7431 to TQ 0448 7782

Also Known as:

  1. Heathrow Cursus

Archaeology & History

Running roughly north-to-south, this cursus was 2¼ miles long (3600 metres) and comprised of two linear sections from a field in Stanwell up through the western side of Heathrow Airport averaging, curiously, just 24 yards (22m) across.  Of course nothing of it can be seen today as the airport and surrounding industrial crap has destroyed it.  The cursus had a lengthy internal bank along its length. During excavation work done at the Perry Oaks Sludge Works section in Hillingdon, archaeologists found evidence for a short avenue of posts, about 110 feet long, apparently constructed prior to the cutting of the cursus’ ditches, following the same direction/alignment of the subsequent monument.  In Roy Loveday’s (2006) survey of cursus monuments he said this of Heathrow’s cursus:

“This site, striking across land so flat that it has been selected  for Heathrow Airport, extends for some 4km, crosses two rivers and stops by a stream — originally perhaps a more major river.  So straight and apparently narrow is it (20m) that it was originally taken to be a Roman road.  Early excavation seemed to support the idea: vestigal remains areas of gravel between the ditches were scored by shallow gullies resembling cart ruts.  Later excavation, however, demonstrated that the ditches of a Late Bronze Age field system cut across it and several scarps of Peterborough Ware (i.e., pottery – PB) were recovered from its ditches.  Evidence also emerged of a short (50m) ragged, double row of posts, removed before the ditches were dug on the same alignment.  That this was a bank barrow was hinted at by the Charlecote test and by reduction in the depth of field ditches as they crossed the central area.”

Confirmation that an earthen bank of some kind running near the middle of the cursus was confirmed by analysis of early Ministry of Defence aerial photographs.  For those who would like a more detailed description on this site, I refer you to the excellent paper by o’ Connell. (1990)

…to be continued…


  1. Barclay, Alistair, et al, Lines in the Landscape, Oxford Archaeological Unit 2003.
  2. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  3. o’ Connell, M., “The Heathrow-Stanwell Cursus,” in Current Archaeology, 9, 1986.
  4. o’ Connell, M., “Excavations during 1979-1985 of a Multi-Period Site at Stanwell,” in Surrey Archaeological Collections, 80, 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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