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The Chiltern Grim's Ditches

  • O. G. S. Crawford

Quite a long time ago the Editor received an article on certain liner earthworks in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The author, Mr M.W. Hughes, developed a reasoned hypothesis to account for the facts, basing his argument on the assumption that the course of the ditches marked on the Ordnance Maps was as correct and complete as possible. It seemed desirable, however, to test this in the field, and the Editor therefore applied to the Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, with very satisfactory results. The course of each ditch was followed on foot, and its characteristic features recorded on the 6-inch map. The investigation thus initiated was carried on until nearly all the Grim’s ditches of Wessex, and some others as well, had been traced. The information thus obtained proved to be of considerable value ; many miles of new entrenchment were discovered, and these will be incorporated on the new (5th) edition of the one-inch Ordnance Map now being prepared, and will also appear in due course on the Ordnance Map of Anglo-Saxon Britain, now in preparation. It also became evident that the name Grim was attached to at least two quite distinct types of entrenchment. The date of each can, as a rule, only be determined by means of excavation; some of these examined are probably prehistoric ; others fall probably within the extreme limits of the years A.D. 350-700. Those dealt with in the present article are almost certainly either late Roman or Saxon.

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1 Usually abbreviated as the ‘CD vertical’, a term invented by Dr Williams Freeman; see his Field Archaeology of Hampshire, pp. 329–333. OH=Overall horizontal width.

2 Probably connected with the hiorotlege of the Bestlesforda (Basildon) bounds, circa. A.D. 890 ; see Birch, , Cart. Sax. 2, 565, and Grundy, , Berks, Bucks and Oxon Arch. Journ. 29, 203–6.

3 These and the other measurements quoted here were made by Dr Williams Freeman, with whom these investigations were carried out during the spring of 1930.

4 This is really Dr Williams Freeman’s discovery.

5 It is to be observed that this small almost rectangular salient occurs at precisely the point where the ditch is crossed by the Chiltern ridgeway ; see map. This can hardly be accidental.

6 His actual words are :—‘ This Vallum or ridged Bank, now called Grimes-dike, … yet remains very high, but is but single till it comes to the Woods near Tuffield, alias Nuffield, where it appears double with a deep trench between’. Is this the record of his own observation or (as I should rather imagine) an inference from the name Highmoor Trench and from what he was told ? He never saw it east of Nuffield for he says : ‘From Tuffield, I was told, it held on its course through the thick Woods, and passed the River below Henly into Berk-shire again, but the Woods scarce admitting a foot passage, much less for a Horse, I could not conveniently trace it any further’. The Natural History of Oxfordshire, by Plot, Robert, 1677, p. 317.

7 Which cuts through all boundaries and is for most of its course of quite recent origin. It had not yet assumed its present form when the first Ordnance Map was made in 1809.

8 The construction of bridges, particularly those of Abingdon, Wallingford, Henley and Maidenhead, must have had great influence upon the course of main roads, and would form an admirable subject for enquiry. We know that the construction of Abingdon bridge in 1416 diverted the traffic to it from Wallingford where previously the London and Gloucester road had crossed the Thames. This must have diverted the Gloucester traffic to the Benson–Dorchester section of the Henley–Oxford road, thence to Abingdon by Burcot and Culham. The course of the old Gloucester road w of Wallingford is unknown. The building of the Seven Bridges road had great influence upon the roads into Oxford from the west. For Maidenhead, Wallingford and Abingdon bridges see Lysons, , Berks., pp. 268, 9 ; Berks, Bucks and Oxon Journal, April, 1907, 13, 2326 (‘The Early History of Maidenhead Bridge’, by E.H. Young) ; Gough’s Camden.

9 Brit. Mus. Index to Charter Rolls, 1900, p. 314 [ADD. MS. 19615].

10 Mr W.J. Hemp, F.S.A., who first observed this gap, also regards it as original.

11 The Bucks Grim’s ditch is described in Clutterbuck’s History of Herts., p. 8, note i, by the Rev. Thos. Leman, a good observer, who traced it in 1795.

12 See Clutterbuck’s, History of Herts, 2, 78.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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