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Grim's Ditch in Wychwood, Oxon

  • O. G. S. Crawford

There are many Grim’s ditches in the South of England; and there are other ditches of similar appearance and dimensions which, though not called by this name, may have had the same origin. Amongst them probably is Wansdyke, more correctly called Wansditch, and originally Woden’s ditch. Locally these earthworks are now generally known as the Devil’s ditch. I shall describe here the course of one such Grim’s ditch, based upon field-work carried out during the spring and summer of this year, in the course of which I both walked and flew along the whole course of the various ditches mentioned and was able to add many miles to the portions previously known.

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1 The Ridgeway Grim’s ditch, running along the slope or brow of the escarpment of the Berkshire Downs, is of quite a different character from the rest and is probably prehistoric.

2 The name Bokerly dyke as applied to the intrenchment is of modern origin. It was called Grim's ditch by Aubrey in the 17th century and by Warton in the 18th.

3 Proc. Camb. Ant. SOC. 1929, 30, 7896.

4 The whole question of these dykes in general was dealt with by Dr Cyril Fox in ANTIQUITY, III, 135–54.

5 ‘ Et sic per medium Dustlesfelde usque Grimesdiche, et sic directe per dictum Grimesdiche inter boscum de Bloxham et boscum de Spelesbury’. P.R.O. Misc. Roll 113, Membr. 8,printed in Archaeologia, XXXVII, 435. Another version of the same perambulations, dated 1298, is printed and collated with the former in the Cartulary of Eynsham edited by the Rev. Salter, H.E. 1908, 2, pp.92- 96. (Oxford Historical Society, vol. 51).

6 Field or ground called Ledwell Sartes adjoining to Rawlins Crosse and ‘Grymesditch’. P.R.O. Land Revenue Miscellaneous Books, vol. 202, fol. 32b.

7 Natural History of Oxfordshire, 1677 edition, p.321.

8 Monumenta Britannica (ms. in Bodleian Library, Oxford).

9 Hearne’s, Collections, 6 187–8, sub anno 1718 (Ox. Hist. Soc, vol. 43).

10 History of Kiddington, Warton, T. 2nd edition 1783 pp.60,61.

11 Origines Celticae, by Edwin, Guest 1883 vol.2 p.151.

12 Archaeologia, 1857 37, 424440 (map).

13 Journal of the Ethnological Society, 1869 vol.1, pp.24 (read 1868).

14 Oxfordshire, 1907 2, 339.

15 This is the ‘merewey’ of the perambulations, and there can be little doubt that it was in use, probably as a main artery of native origin, during the Roman period. This would account for the making of an additional entrenchment across it, though here the work is outside the area, not inside it as are those on Callow Hill.

16 The name is variously spelt in the perambulations-Hulworke (1298), Hulwerke (1300), Hulwerk (1642). The last reference occurs as follows:- ‘et sic per communem regiam viam in Ramsden Heath alias Hulwerk, ducentem a burgo de Woodstock’, etc. This suggests that the name had become almost or quite obsolete in the 17th century. Another reference to a ‘Hulwerke’ near Loueburyhurne in the 1298-1300 perambulations probably refers to the rectangular earthwork there, which I located and marked on the map.

17 Kemble, Codex Diplomaticus, 3, 342.

18 Proc. SOC. nt. London, 1899 67, 333–5.

19 Excavations to determine the age of Grim’s ditch and its subsidiary defences are badly needed. Callow Hill is the place to dig. Will not someone do it?

20 The site of a Roman tile-kiln ‘in the valley between Stonesfield and North Leigh, not half a mile from the course of Akeman Street ’ is not marked on the map (fig. l) because the foregoing is the only account of it, and the description is too vague to plot. (Warton, Kiddington, 1783, p. 59). A bibliography of these and other Oxfordshire sites, compiled from the Percy Manning MSS. at the Ashmolean, was published by MrThurlow, E. Leeds in Archaeologia, 71, 227–64.

21 On the second edition areas of natural woodland have been restored upon a geological basis. Fig. 2 is based upon this map.

22 It occurs at a point near Adlestrop : ‘ ad regiam stratam de Norhampton ’. The same document describes the hill as ‘ montem Susibre’, a plainly Celtic word representing some such form as *Susobriga. The document was printed by Kemble in Codex Diplomaticus, vol. vi, no. 1367 from B.M. Cotton MSS. Vesp. B. xxiv, fol. 63. Dr Grundy, who made the identifications quoted above, regards the charter as probably of not much later date than 1066 (Saxon Charters of Worcestershire, Trans. Birmingham Arch. Soc. 1929, vol. LII, pp. 12,73).

23 Tacitus, Annales, book il, chapter 19. Postremo deligunt locum, ilumine et sylvis clausum, arcta intus planitie et hÚmida : sylvas quoque profunda palus ambibat, nisi quod latus unum Angrivarii lato aggere extulerant, quo a Cheruscis dirimerentur : hie pedes asti tit : equitem propinquis lucis texere, ut ingressis sylvam legionibus a tergo foret. Compare also the Limes Saxoniae, an account of which was reviewed in ANTIQUITY, II, 125–6.

24 Two pagan Saxon cemeteries have recently been found in the Wychwood district, one inside Grim’s ditch and one just outside. I am indebted to Mr. E. T. Leeds, V.-P.S.A., Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, for this information.

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