Posts Tagged ‘earthworks’

Offlow continued……..

Got some info to add to the post on the Offlow tumulus on the borders of Tamworth Timehikes. Staffordshire County Council HER(Historic Environment Record) kindly sent me the report on the site. Most of the info is from the early 20th century, here it is below:

Well can solve the mystery of its dissappearance. Like so many sites, repeated ploughing has all but defaced the mound.” Bedford is recorded as visiting the site in 1934 and collecting a piece of Roman roof tile, he was accompanied by Reverend E. Denesh who suggested the mound may have a Roman origin”.

Again quoting the HER report ” In 1938 Offlow was recorded as a low mound, 30 yards in diameter and not more than 2 feet high, but evidently much spread.” Interestly it was remarked that the barrow was placed so that it would have been in view of both Wall and Tamworth.

Tragically in 1948 the barrow is recorded as demolished explaining it´s dissappearance on maps and the map marker of ´site of´ In 1958 it was recorded as ” a ploughed down barrow 0.5 metres high of indefinite outline but roughly 20 metres in diameter with no possible ditch” In 1976 the site was under plough with no remains visible and no surface finds.

The report apart from confirming its demise adds to the mystery of Offlow. Could be seen from Wall and Tamworth? Roman roof tiles? intriguing place.

Post Changes

This added information together with the ´too long for me´ previous post confirms that I´m going to try another approach to long posts. The more I focus  or tunnel down on a place the more information, thoughts and questions come up this has got to be reflected by the posts growing and correcting  from time to time, so keep a look out on older posts. That’s the great thing about posts over the printed word, they can be changed, cut and add when I want and I aim to make full use of that.

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Ok back in business and straight into the heart of the metropolis of Tamworth, or at least round the edges of the centre to have a look at the Anglo-Saxon to medieval defences that once surrounded Tamworth.

Witness the Fitness, Abe and Ernst are back in training

This post is riding the wave of Anglo-Saxon popularity of which Tamworth of course is in the premier  in this field. The defences compared to other subjects in Timehikes have had  considerable time and research, internet space dedicated to them so below I´m going to review the work done by archaeologists, historians, witnesses, map makers before going on to suggest a few ways of promoting the elusive defences.

Below I´ve outlined the course of the defences in green

This was a pointless exercise  as Ordnance survey have done it already, below

The defences, known variably as King´s ditch, Offa´s dyke and Walferlong are connected with the very origins of the name Tamworth, they add the worth bit in the name, meaning enclosure, Tamworth = enclosure by the river tame( that´s one translation). That the defences are very ancient  is testified by evidence of even older defences going back to at least the 8th century but more of that later.

The defences consisting of a broad ditch and bank are no longer visible, at least without scraping away the dirt. Back in the 19th century though they formed a very visible reminder of Tamworth´s ancient past.  Below is a description from Victoria County History Vol 1, 1904:

This is an excellent collection of previous accounts. From 350 years ago when the ditch was clearly visible on the 3 sides to descriptions in 1884 of the north-west corner of the defence line.

The story of the defences is one of gradual to quick disappearance to partial  rediscovery by archaeologists.  Falling out of use between the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, they were still very present as the ´kings ditch´ in the 1600´s( see above, Dugdales account) although filled up in places.  In the 1839 map below, they are  marked on the eastern side of the town as King´s Ditch, so they were at least still present on the eastern and western sides.

1839 map with kings ditch marked on it

The above ( Victoria county) accounts from 1884 and the map below from 1885 give a privileged snapshot of the state of the defences in that time. The eastern side had disappeared and the western portion was at it´s most prominent in the north-western corner. Again quoting Victoria county history it mainly consisted of an ´earth tump´. In the 1884 map below the rounded corner is prominently marked. It runs alongside the very saxon sounding Walferlong, another name for the defences(now the less epic sounding Orchard Street)

1885 ordnance map

At some point between the 1886-1900 the visible North-western portion was built on and the northwestern course was followed roughly by terraced housing. In the 1901 ordnance map they are marked as ´remains of´ in the vicinity of the aforementioned terraced houses and along Hospital Street. ´Remains of´  could be inferred as that there was still evidence of the Defence line at the turn of the 20th century.

1901 ordnance map

At some point  before 1938 they become ´site of´ , which could be taken as that there were no longer remains and have become a ´memory´ commemorated by the nearby Offa street.

1938 ordnance map

Parallel to it´s dissappearance and it´s conversion to memory and then history, archaeologists appear in the scene in the 1960´s-1980´s. A  number of small excavations are carried out in response to building work. Below I´ll outline some of their discoveries.


This is a bit of mish mash of reports and is quite difficult to outline so sorry to misquote but it gives an idea of the conclusions of the excavations.Many of the excavations were carried out by Gould in the 60´s and 70´s, his excavations on brewery lane revealed possible different phases. There´s the hypothesis that the defences correspond to King Aethelfaed´s action in 913 written in the Market charter´He went with all the Mercians to Tamworth and built the burgh there in the early summer´. The construction of fortified burhs during this period marks an important transition in the development of towns, Tamworth being a significant example.   The ditch with a turf built rampart , with frontal timber revetments and wooden strapping found at the brewery lane site was ascribed to this Aethelfaed period. Gould also found evidence though of earlier pre-Aethelfaed sequences. It´s described as a ´palisaded trench´.  It seems quite certain that there was a pre late saxon defence and there´s speculation that it originated in the royal defences of the royal site of Tamworth in the mid-8th century mentioned in the Market charters.

Speculated cross-section of the defences from mid-anglo saxon period, pre-Aethelfaed.(copied and pasted from Basset,S, Divide and rule,the military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia)

On the other side of the sequence there´s evidence of continued use of the defences after 913 up until the 13th centuries. The defences were refurbished and stone walls were placed in front of the ramparts as noted in the excavations on Albert Road and rubble found in ditch of Brewery lane. The collapsed walls were probably used in fact to fill in the ditches. (all taken from  reviews of the excavations from Bassett, S, Divide and Rule, The military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia and info from online archaeology reports)

map with excavations and original medieval streets, again the above map is again copied and pasted  from Bassett, S, Divide and Rule, The military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia. thankyou!

I remember (although I maybe completely wrong)that they excavated a wall in the excavation on Hospital street in response to the reforming of the old hospital and conversion into houses, with surrounding houses I remember it was back in the 90´s. I dimly remember that they found remains of a wall and ditch and that it was displayed in one of the reformed buildings with an explanation of the remains. I don´t know where I remember it from and  maybe it´s wishful thinking but as far as I know that´s no longer the case and there´s no explanation of the place currently. They are private residences so difficult to find out. Anyway it would have been a great idea if it did exist outside my head!  Why don´t they integrate the ditch and bank found in one of the excavations into the current townscape.With a small investment it would give back to some extent the King´s ditch back to the town and great introduction to the origins of the town. In Valencia where I live the integrating of archaeological remains into modern townscapes is seen everywhere. From an islamic wall in the middle of a museum gallery, a bakery to part of the Roman town  seen  below a glass plaza. Even if you are not interested in a ´bunch of walls,´  the results look great, as you might see from the picture below

The Almoina, Valencia, a glass covered square showing the Roman excavated ruins below. This is perhaps an overly expensive example of what could be done

Promoting the defences

A commemorative heritage gastronomic trail or pub crawl.

How about a pub crawl along the course of the ancient defences  . This can be taken in a more leisurely or decadent way depending on your style. This could integrate Tamworth heritage pub initiative and the Mercian trail promoted by the local council.

Ok here goes, start at the eastern side of the ditch, at the Weatherspoons. It´s best to start here as a: it´s very cheap and b: you miss the rush of hundreds of people later on. Take your time here as there awaits a long walk along the eastern course to the next watering hole, the Albert Inn. This is not right on the course of the defence but it´s near enough. This is an old-school boozer as are most on the itinerary, or at least it was, haven´t been there for years. You may encounter in some of the pubs, real Anglo Saxons descendents, keep a look out, you´ll know when you see one.  From here continue west along Albert street until you get to the crossroads at Gungate. Here you will face a dilemma, if you´re feeling peckish there´s a thai restaurant on the corner or you can carry on to the Globe Hotel, a fine example of a  Victorian pub palace  as described in Tamworth Heritagepubs. From here you enter a more residential area empty of pubs. Go along Hospital street, stop at the corner shop with Orchard Street and while you´re buying some maltesers imagine you´re  standing on the corner of the renowned King´s ditch. Continue along Orchard street, go past the St Johns club and the borough council buildings onto the White Lion the penultimate and well deserved resting place. From here a short step to the last pub, right next to an excavation of the ditch, called the Three Tuns. … That´s it the King´s Ditch pub crawl!

The pub´s named and placed, click to enlarge

A collective search for the ancient defences

This is a call out in Timeteam or maybe big dig style for anyone living on the course of the defences to have a look around, you never know there just might be a telling dip in the garden, a cellar with adjoining wall,  anyway would be amazing to hear any stories. Also memories of the remains would also be great to hear. Below is a map with the houses and adjoining back yards where there might be evidence. I think the corner of Hospital and Orchard street is the most promising place for some sort of evidence, maybe a rise in the garden.

The residences and church( below St Johns Catholic church, probable basement) highlighted on the defence line where maybe, just maybe there is evidence of the ancient defences

I´m really enthusiastic about this idea so I´m  going to risk the ridiculous and am going to try and post a call out on the Tamworth Blog!

Abe and Ernst getting into the spirit of the search for the ancient defences

This post is far too long and has got out of hand!

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This post has the particularity(is that a word! it sounds Spanglish to me )that will probably be not much longer  than the title.  The previous post about Robin Hood´s Butts refers to Elford Lowe  a probable bronze age barrow, located by farm of the same name. The other butt mentioned, Wigginton butt (2 miles away) is a mystery, can´t find any more info either text or map based anywhere. Returning to  Elford Lowe, it´s entered into the scheduled monument database as a bronze age Lowe Bowl Barrow(I assume it´s the same one). Elford has got a considerable prehistoric material record(with bowl barrow, burials,etc). It´s location on a buff on the bend of the  river Tame would have made it a prized location for prehistoric agricultural communities.

Elford represents a sort of gateway to a stretch of the Tame and Trent Valley which  have been relatively well investigated by archaeologists and have turned up a lot of prehistoric material evidence.Take a look at this detailed project on the area called Where Rivers Meet: Landscape, ritual and Archaeology of River Gravels, researching  landscapes from Neolithic to early medieval.  At the same time its the way out for Tamworth Timehikes,  representing  the limit of the area covered in the blog.

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This will get the American tourists coming in, come to Tamworth and see Robin Hood’ s Butt!

Well according to history of the town and castle of Tamworth, by Charles Ferrers Raymond Palmer, 1845 they were located nearby in Elford and Wigginton. I´ll stop going on and leave pasted  below this extract from the remarkable stories of Robin Hood and some “roman tumuli” in the vicinity:

Abe and Ernst who have been out of the picture for a while couldn´t resist testing out the theory that Robin Hood could shoot from one butt or ´prehistoric mound´  to another.

preparing to shoot

will it make it >>>————->

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If there´s a candidate for hordes of treasure hunters descending on a place in the area, it´s got to be the circular mound called Gold´s clump, overlooking the  village of Hints, next to the roman A5. Thats not to advocate treasure hunting and wanton destruction of sites, but the idea of treasure does seem to be a very attractive one(Staffordshire Hoard) a sort of lottery ticket lying in the ground but also the metaphorical idea of treasure, or looking for treasure is very attractive.  The idea of a quest for treasure, information, a lost site,  etc is one of the most appealing facets of archaeology and history. Its an activity thats ‘ out of this world’ , its not mundane in the same way as looking for your keys is! even if the ´quest´ is to study paleodiets in late roman rural sites.

As I´m mentioning treasure hunting I might as well bring up the issue of revealing archaeological sites and protection. Going around revealing and bringing my little grain of exposure to largely overlooked places could bring unwelcome attention and potential destruction of sites. This is an argument commonly used by people in heritage. I would argue though that the policy of hush hush has brought a lot more destruction to sites in the area than actively promoting and creating an awareness and interest in overlooked places.  You can´t always keep a secret especially post facebook days so maybe it´s time to try other ways. This is a controversial issue so it would be great to hear peoples views….please

The above candidate is a tree covered almost perfect mound on a prominent point. Considering its prominence and the fact that its next to the A5, its surprising that there hasn´t been any tunneling to look inside by 18th century learned scholar types or more recent efforts.Famous  Silbury hill on the other hand even got a BBC programme called  big dig commisioned by David Attenborough in the 1960´s  dedicated to tunneling the hill.

In the above LIDAR image it stands out as a spherical bump.

This is a slightly blurred LIDAR close up of the mound, with Geomatics group emblem splashed across it, the raised line to the left is a hedge.

The  Hints Village site has got a couple of paragraphs dedicated to the mound and talk about a possible roman or prehistoric origin, I got the sense they also wonder why despite being declared a scheduled monument there´s never been any investigations of the place. According to the site a trial excavation and the potential communication mast have been rejected.

Theres a great description of Hints in Guide to Staffordshire and the Black Country by Michael Raven(online with Googlebooks) It mentions Golds Clump as a “large circular prehistoric burial mound ” He also mentions the rolling hills around Hints.  The hills and tree covered ridges that surround the area are indeed captivating, there’s the feeling that you don´t want the rolling landscape to end so its best not to travel too far to avoid disappointment.

gateway to the land of the rolling hills

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After my curiosity was awakened by Bill´s comment about Offlow, I decided to embark on this post about Offlow, although it´s a little further out than the remit of this blog. The rule of thumb is basically if you can  hike there and back from Tamworth, or more specifically Leyfields within a day then it’s included. Abe and Ernst had this in their contract and refused to go any further.

Like some rumbling herbivore though, the blog plods through the landscape with its head down and stops at any choice juicy sites, munches through and stumbles aimlessly on. In the search for juicy sites though I´ve been caught far out on the outskirts of Tamworth Timehikes. It’s a sort of slow travel , but even with slow travel  you could cross the globe with enough time so have to agree with Abe and Ernst and pull back across the borders after this one. Anyway now were here might as well enjoy it.

It´s located immediately north of the A5, (watling street) near Weeford, and just west of Swinfen, a public path goes right past it.

Offlow´s evocative name lended  itself to the Offlow hundred(an administrative unit) . Bill on the comments  pasted this info from the british library which I´ve again pasted  below. It mentions it as possibly some sort of Royal Mercian buriald mound

Lichfield may also have been a good base for missionary work. Woden worship in the area is attested by the place names Wednesbury and Wednesfield, while Weeford, the name of a parish south-east of Lichfield, indicates the existence there of a pagan shrine. The shrine could have been associated with the tumulus called Offlow, which lay in Weeford parish to the north of Watling Street. It may have been the burial mound of the Mercian royal family when it was still pagan and thus the focus of pagan feeling to be counterbalanced by Lichfield. (fn. 20) The tumulus was important enough to give its name to the hundred of Offlow.

Lowe itself means barrow, a burial mound, if that’s what it is, is an open question if indeed it  still exists. A number of encyclopedia like volumes written in the early 19th century mention it. Their thorough recompilations of the landscapes never seem to have been repeated or at least there online! Anyway here´s the extract on Offlow.

Taken from History, gazetteer, and directory of Staffordshire, 1834, Whites

The extract above states from the great weaving together of stories, and geographical information, that it was thought of as the burial place of the famous  King Offa! which is discredited by the wonderfully named Matthew of Paris. It was evidently thought of as saxon in origin It´s closeness to Lichfield and Roman Wall could give wind to all sorts of speculations about its significance and origin

The city is built in a pleasant and fertile vale, within two miles of the Roman station Etocetum, and about the same distance from Offlow Mount, another station at Swinfen.

Topographical dictionary of England, 1848

The most detailed description of the site I found is over 200 years old, pasted below

History of the city and cathedral of Lichfield,   John Jackson, 1805

The description above gives it some geographical context and hints at some sort of connection, by mentioning its location at an intersection of Watling Street and Borrow cap Hill, another site, talked of as a Saxon site. He goes on to conclude that it’s the monument of some eminent person, although not Offa, military in origin and Saxon. The above extract is the only mention of something physical, an exploratory mount, some forty feet in diameter. As I haven´t visited the site, have no photos, whats there? At least those exact measurements demonstrate that someone must have measured something even if it was 200 years ago. So were getting something. There was something tangible called Offlow.

Over 150 years passes before I can find anything else written on it. Was it worth the wait, well decide for yourselves.
Pastscape entry enters it to it´s database:

Bronze age round barrow, known as site Offlow Tumulus.

So possibly giving its name to a hundred, rumours of burial places of kings and its reduced to this, what happened? Maybe there is no physical remains and pastscape simply entered in the info because of previous representations on maps and previous textual evidence, I really don´t know.

I´m in no position to offer any insights into its origins, use and even it still exists, could have been bronze age, could have been saxon, could have been royal(they did build them for burial purposes,especially in pre-Christian times,) could have other origins,could have been a saxon renaming and appropriation of older site, so many possibilities…. Its location though next to Watling street, Roman Wall, Lichfield and other earth works is intriguing though and is more than worth investigating(mentioning the Staffordshire hoards findspot being in the vicinity could open a can of worms, take a look at an interesting post about this phenemenon on Brownhillsbob´s blog ). The first ordnance map from 1815 tells us more about its location and intriguing possibilities below.

The 1815 map without taking away credit from following attempts is a sumptuous map, capturing the folds and soft curves in the landscape, has  an almost 3D quality. Anyway the above map shows Offlow itself depicted as a mount situated on a prominent rise in the area. Also immediately to the left a barrow is depicted. This is intriguing stuff the sign of a barrow isn´t seen in any other maps. The surrounding area has or had a relatively  high amount of mounds and bumps in the landscape with different types of origins ascribed to them(Golds clump, Knowles hill, Borrow cap hill, Knaves Castle)

The 1837 First series ordnance map again with Offlow prominently depicted above . This period seems to be the high point for interest in the site, it was a time of antiquarian inquisitiveness so it’s not surprising.

Above I´ve squeezed together 4 maps, from left to right respectively, 1887,1899,1923, 1948, click on each one for larger view.

The above clipping is of the 1955 ordnance map. It´s the last siting I have of Offlow. It´s pointed out as site of as oppose to the usual Tumulus. Had something happened to the place? Anyway to this day it´s not depicted in any ordnance maps. Did map makers lose interest, were the russians behind it or did it get ploughed under? My desperation led me to have a look through streetmaps, no luck hedge blocking the view, if anyones got photo of, knowledge of the fate of Offlow appreciated. Bill mentioned in his comment a mobile mast !

Above,X marks the spot.  depictions of Offlow through time. Starts with an embryonic form, ends with tombstone like symbol.

This whole post about a site possibly dating back thousands of years made me think about comparing other exploring much more recent sites. I don’t remember where I read it but someone said that recent history, within living memory was easier to investigate. I suppose  recent history  could be seen or perceived  as more the realm of the amateur. It´s perceived that anyone can look at old photos, maps talk to witnesses and piece together stories. Older prehistoric landscapes though on the other hand are more inaccessible, they are the realm of the ´archaeologist´ They are percieved as having the know how and skills to decipher the mysteries. The inaccessibility makes it more select, prestigious from the outside. Thats not to say there not many professionals studying recent pasts, but there traditionally has been leaning to these prehistoric inaccessible past sites. It’s as if the archaeologists are living in other far off  uncontested worlds.

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Just a bit of explaining of the sub-heading ” landscape history voyeurism” before I get deeper into Wigginton park´s past.

All this as the title suggests has something of voyeurism about it. The obsession with uncovering the landscape, sneaking around has definitely got something of the perv about it. Even the action of  nosing around in places that are not commonly frequented, looking suspicious(make sure no mac is worn) or taking photos of apparent mundane objects has something voyeuristic about it. So maybe all those ´investigaters´ are just a bunch of voyeurs´!But I suppose    that you are  actually creating something which is positive at least for the person doing it, so onwards  to peek below the sensual curves of Wigginton Park.

The fact that the wigginton estate was created at the start of the 19th century and the fields were left to revert to grass means that it’s as if the area was covered in a green shroud,  preserving what´s underneath, and leaving suggestive shapes .Its unlike other areas that have been ploughed over and urbanised since the early 19th century. These suggestive shapes have led others to observe and think about what those shapes tell us. For example this letter from the herald pasted below.

Intrigued by a ‘lost palace’

Thursday, October 01, 2009, 14:20

WITH regards to the recent stories on Wigginton Park.

In the 70s when I played rugby at Tamworth, I used to see in the low sun of a winter’s afternoon some shapes in the grassed area opposite the entrance to the club.This intrigued me as I thought it looked like the remains of a ‘lost village’ or large building.I could find no map references, and nether could Birmingham University or the county archaeology department. My interest was heightened at this time because there was local discussion as to the whereabouts of Offa’s palace.

Now this site is unusually flat, and would have commanded a strategic position over the River Tame and the ford at Hopwas. Unfortunately the council built a BMX track over the site shortly after I raised my thoughts with them. However, with the advent of Internet access to satellite imagery you can just make out the patterns I saw back then. Perhaps with the interest in things Anglo Saxon, and the proposal to develop the site, an investigation may take place.

A. Smith

I think there’s a case for that medieval village Mr Smith mentions, as a key sign is there, possible evidence of a  medieval ridge and furrow system. Ridge and furrow is the name given to the regular humps and troughs that can sometimes be found on ancient fields and is the result of ploughing over a long period of time. This is usually a medieval practice although continued into early modern times. People owned these  different strips of land,which were continually ploughed.  this system was obliterated by Enclosure, of which modern fields and hedges are in a large part a result.

In the grassland of the park you can´t fail to notice the undulating landscape, especially in the lower areas of Wigginton Park.

It´s a perfect candidate for a preserved Medieval ridge and as mentioned above, the area is undisturbed post 1815  furrow system. Also the troughs and bumps are separated by more than 2 metres in line with characteristics for medieval ridge and farrow.

Above is an example from Nottinghamshire to compare

This above LIDAR image of Wigginton park  with ordnance map below it  shows the potential candidate, a ridge and furrow medieval field system, with at least 2 different fields.( the pit is the gravel pit mentioned in the previous post). Notice the way the rows  curve to the left towards  the end. Could this be a result of early middle ages practice of ploughing with large teams of oxen turning left along the headland, resulting in a twist to the left of each furrow. Anyway from other nearby  sites like Amington and Stanfold, where there are documented medieval RAF systems, the medieval village is never far away. So maybe Mr Smith,   was right all along.

The google image above  shown in previous post, with potential evidence of ridge and furrow systems(the arrows point to old remnant paths)

Finally going as deep as possible . From  looking at arch reports for area, there existed  an excavated roman site in the area,  probably a romano-briton farmstead or military post complete with a sandal some roman left behind, right next to Wigginton park, so it’s totally feasible to speculate that the area was farmed and inhabited in Roman times. It’s now underneath Lichfield Industrial estate together with those hapless agency workers.

This is updated information added after this post was published: Found out there´s a an initiative called friends of Wigginton park, started by a local school with a page on facebook, they´re going for green flag status, looking at the green flag awards I think there´s even potential for Green heritage site status.

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After watching the 2nd episode of the excellent  new BBC series The Normans, I´ve taken an opportunity to contribute a post about a norman monument in the area.  3 Miles east of Tamworth is the village of Seckington which has on the edges of the village a satisfingly complete early Norman motte and bailey earthwork. It’s a remnant of the heady days of Norman conquest and would have probably been built in  a largely hostile area with forced labour. It was surmounted by a wooden structure and was one of many throughout England, made to establish control over their new subjects. It was built by the earl of Mellant in the 11th century or his son Robert earl of Leicester.

A satisfying place

One of the most satisfying aspects  of the earthwork was that it was abandoned early on and so didn´t emerge as a masonry built castle like the nearby Tamworth castle, in a sense its a fossilised Norman early Motte and Bailey earthwork.

Another satisfying aspect is its excellent state of conservation, with its great conical shape, survival of the ditches and signs of ramp on SW slope.

Third satisfying point, its location, on the edge of an idyllic village surround by slightly undulating fields(possibly remains of medieval ridge and furrow fields) whereas directly behind it to the north is the busy Ashby road,which its cheekily obscured from. How many times have people  passed right next to it and never known about this wonderful earthwork.

fourthly is its size it’s quite small in a satisfying put in your pocket sort of way.

Finally the last satisfying point is it’s a great place to lie around and hang out with people or alone, weather permitting.

Put all that together and you have got a lot of satisfaction.

a view which encompasses the conical Motte and surrounding ditch. Theres a resource site for exploring your area  acompanying the BBC series The Normans called Hands on history

Seckington was the site of a royal murder. Ethalbald, king of Mercia was murdered here according to Bede by his bodyguards in 757 AD.

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