Borough Hills necropolis, West Mersea, Essex

Tumuli (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TM 022 143

Also Known as:

  1. Barrow Hills
  2. Five Barrows

Archaeology & History

Known as Five Barrows presumably from the five main burial mounds that were once here, very little in modern texts seem to describe them.  In the grid-reference given above, I’m not 100% certain that this is the correct spot – and as many of them have been destroyed, we’ll stick to this until someone tells us otherwise! (it is only Essex anyway)

The ‘barrow’ site that remains has been ascribed as Romano-British in date, whilst the others don’t seem to get a modern mention.  These missing barrows were described in a short article in The Gentleman’s Magazine by a Mr J.A. Repton (1840), who told the following:

“In reading an account of Essex, I find the following Borough, or rather Barrow Hills, on the north side of the Black Water Bay, were considerable in number. These tumuli are supposed to have been raised indiscriminately over the bodies of the Danes and Saxons that fell in the battles occasioned by the frequent landing of the former in this part of the coast. The lands on which the barrow hills stood were completely inclosed from the sea in 1807, and the whole are now levelled, one excepted.

“This barrow I heard was going to be cleared away for manure. I made a point of visiting it under an idea that it might be proved a Roman one; when I arrived at the spot, I found it to be a bowl barrow, about 14 yards diameter, and about 6 or 7 feet high, and rather more than half of it cut away, and what surprises me, not a single urn, bone, or ashes, nor any mark to be found; perhaps the barrows being mostly under water during the tide may account for the disappearance of bones, etc., if there ever were any placed; or rather that the Danes and Saxons were not so careful as the Romans in preserving the remains of their friends. I met one of the old inhabitants who lived in the parish more than forty years; he remembered the number of barrows being destroyed, and said not a single bone or urn was ever found in them.

“Perhaps you can give me some information, whether by digging below the natural surface of the ground, any remains may be traced. It is not a gravelled, but a clean, light clay soil. The land is low and marshy, and celebrated for Maiden salt, and near it there is a decoy. ”

If anyone has further information about the other barrows which are described in several old early accounts, it’d be good to know!


Archaeologist and folklorist Leslie Grinsell (1976) noted briefly that the barrows here supposedly covered the remains of Danes who died in battle here.


  1. Grinsell, Leslie V., Folklore of Prehistoric Sites, David & Charles: London 1976.
  2. Repton, J.A., “Borough Hills, Essex,” in The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1840 (part 2, p.114).

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian