Springfield Cursus, Chelmsford, Essex

Cursus Monument (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 735 084

Also Known as:

  1. Springfield Barnes Cursus

Archaeology & History

The first cursus monument discovered in Essex, archaeologists were fortunate when they came to excavate the site in 1979 as they found it almost complete.  A rarity these days!  Close to the Springfield Lyons causewayed enclosure monument, the cursus here was some 45 yards across and 750 yards long.  Like a number of other cursuses, the Springfield one was dead straight all the way down, running northeast to southwest with squared terminii at both ends. (of the Bi category, as Loveday called them)  And it appears to have had quite a long period of use.

Springfield Cursus (painting by Frank Gardiner)

The ditch that constitutes the very outline of the cursus — averaging between 3-4 feet in depth all round — was cut into the earth in the neolithic period.  It had small ‘entrances’ at certain points along its longer axis, both on the east and west sides.  The flat ends of the cursus were both ‘closed’, without entrances or breaks of any kind.  Some depositional remains were found scattered at different spots along the course of the ditch: neolithic pottery and flints in both the northern and eastern ditches, but archaeologists were unsure whether these deposits were left at the time the monument was in use, or at a later period — though it seemed consensus opinion that the deposits were from a period when the cursus was in use.  Charcoal remains were also found, but these were associated with an internal timber circle that was erected within the northeastern end of the cursus.  The timber circle was found to have consisted of 14 upright wooden posts arranged in a near-complete ring, some 26 metres in diameter.  It seems highly likely that this part of the monument had some ritual or ceremonial function relating to the dead (“mortuary practices” is the term used at the moment!).

Later excavation work here in 1984 found there to be various other linear and pit-like features within the confines of the monument, and what seemed to be the remains of a barrow beyond its eastern end.

Archaeologist David McOmish (2003), thought that “alignment is also significant,” saying that the “Springfield Cursus, 700 metres long, is aligned on a smaller enclosure some 300 metres away.”  The alignment potential here was first suggested by Pennick & Devereux (1989), albeit pointing “to the village of Wexford just over two miles to the southwest.”  McOmish also suggested there may have been some an astronomical reason for the alignment of the monument NE-SW, but I’m not aware whether this has been explored further.

The creation of these huge monuments had obvious relationships with human death rites, the spirits of trees, and celestial gods.  But much more research is needed at these sites if we’re to find out more about the nature of these prehistoric giants in the landscape.

References:

  1. Buckley, D.G., Hedges, John & Brown, N., “Excavations at a Neolithic Cursus, Springfield, Essex, 1979-85,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 67, 2001.
  2. Hedges, John D. & Buckley, D.G., Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  3. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape: The Cursus Enigma, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  4. McOmish, David, ‘Cursus: Solving a 6000-year-old Puzzle’, in British Archaeology, 69, March 2003.
  5. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links:

  1. Unlocking Essex’s Past: The Springfield Cursus and Associated Remains

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Springfield Cursus

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Springfield Cursus 51.747791, 0.512577 Springfield Cursus

Springfield Lyons, Chelmsford, Essex

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – TL 7357 0818

Archaeology & History

Springfield Lyons enclosure (after Brown, 2001)

We’ve known that there was an excessive number of prehistoric archaeological sites in and around the Chelmsford region for quite a long time now, but defining precisely the age and nature of the finds takes some doing! (as you’d expect)  It hasn’t helped, of course, with the housing estates and other ecologically destructive building operations in and around the area, screwing up a more accurate and patient assessment of the material there.  And this predicament was exemplified with the Springfield Lyons neolithic causewayed enclosure just as much as at the Springfield Cursus and other sites nearby.

Although excavations here found a large, deep ditch with impressive ramparts and entrance, in Oswald, Dyer & Barber’s (2001) survey of these giant monuments, they defined the remains here as “probable,” pending further investigations.  But the site was primarily defined by the large deep ditch, broken in several places round its edges with the ’causeways’ built leading onto the site.  The enclosure gave good views over the small valley from here and had streams running either side of it.

Adjacent to the site were the remains of a “small circular enclosure with multiple entrances,” saying that excavation here,

“has proved that it is of late Bronze Age date and might be interepreted variously as a defended settlement, or a ritual monument.”

This external small enclosure site was then conjectured, quite spuriously it’s gotta be said, to be a mini-version of the great causewayed enclosure monument, saying:

“Its siting and form both hint that it could have been a conscious imitation of, or re-invention of, the perceived form of the earthworks of the neolithic enclosure.”

I like the idea, it’s gotta be said — but without direct evidence we’ve gotta take this idea with a large pinch of salt!

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Brown, N., ‘The Archaeology of Essex 1500 – 500 BC,’ in Bedwin, O. (ed.), The Archaeology of Essex, ECC: Chelmsford 1996.
  2. Brown, N., “The Late Bronze Age Enclosure at Springfield Lyons in its Landscape Context,” in Essex Archaeology & History, volume 32, 2001.
  3. Oswald, Alastair, Dyer, Caroline & Barber, Martyn, The Creation of Monuments: Neolithic Causewayed Enclosures in the British Isles, EH: Swindon 2001.
  4. Priddy, D., ‘Excavations in Essex, 1987,’ in Essex Archaeology & History, 19, 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Springfield Lyons enclosure

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Springfield Lyons enclosure 51.745477, 0.512569 Springfield Lyons enclosure