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The 2001 edition of Essex Archaeology and History (published by the Society at the Museum in Colchester Castle) contains over fifteen articles, including one on the Prehistoric settlement and burials at Elms Farm, Heybridge by M Atkinson and S Preston, and the Bronze Age enclosure at Springfield Lyons in its landscape context by Nigel Brown. Brown writes in the latter that –

Another major monument, the Springfield Cursus (Buckley, Hedges and Brown forthcoming) was constructed in the valley below Springfield Lyons. The cursus as revealed by air photographs and extensive excavations prior to development, was a rectilinear enclosure 670m long and 40m wide with squared terminals and apparently aligned on the cropmark large mortuary enclosure.  Together these two monuments cut off the neck of a spur of ground just above the Chelmer floodplain and marked by the 20m contour line within a broad loop of the river. The break in slope is not great but may have been significant.  Despite the canalisation of the Chelmer in the 18th century and more recent drainage works, the river still floods each winter to the east of Chelmsford in the vicinity of the Cursus. The Springfield Lyons causewayed enclosure would have provided a panoramic view of the monument in the valley below. Today (or rather 20 years ago since the valley is now obscured by housing) the view from Springfield Lyons can often be dramatic in midwinter when the rising sun is reflected from the often frozen floodwater in the valley below. Such a view may have been more spectacular when the Cursus and oval barrow/mortuary enclosure were standing monuments. It seems likely that winter flooding in the Neolithic would have been even more extensive than it is today in which case, in midwinter, the cursus and mortuary enclosure/barrow would have formed a line of monumental earthworks cutting off an area of land surrounded on three sides by water.

The Springfield Cursus
Watercolour by Frank Gardiner © Essex County Council


The late Bronze Age causewayed enclosure at Springfield Lyons as it appears today
Image credit and © Littlestone

The above photograph shows the late Bronze Age causewayed enclosure at Springfield Lyons as it appears today; the line of sight is towards where the Springfield Cursus was situated some half a mile away. Athough the view is now obscured by trees, and the causeway is now surrounded by houses and a retail park, the place still exudes a sense of history and a glimpse into what the area may have looked like, and what it may have meant, to the generations of people who once lived there.

Sophie Edwards, writing in the Echo Newspaper on 10 March, reports on  the find  of  eight Neolithic houses dating from 2000-4000bce at a site between Basildon and Wickford in Essex. “Workers at the dig also found the remains of timber posts set in circles and a rare cursus monument, said to show the area was once used for pre-Christian religious rites. A cursus monument is two parallel banks of earth about 160 feet apart, at right angles to a river.”

Cursus monuments are rare, and their purpose still poorly understood.* Not far from the Basildon Cursus however there once existed a similar cursus at Springfield in Chelmsford, Essex. The Springfield (Chelmer) Cursus seems to have been similar to the Basildon one as it ran close to the river and also had a wooden circle at its east end (see the artist’s impression below of the Springfield Cursus, reproduced here with the kind permission of Essex County Council).
The Springfield Cursus. Watercolour by Frank Gardiner © Essex County Council
Sadly, the Springfield Cursus, which was still visible in aerial photographs taken during the last century, now lies beneath Chelmer Village, while the wooden circle that once stood at its east end is buried beneath a supermarket carpark. Let’s hope the newly discovered Basildon Cursus, with its associated Neolithic remains, does not suffer the same fate as its nearby Springfield cousin in Chelmsford.
* See and Hedges, J, & Buckley, D G, 1981, Springfield cursus and the cursus problem (Essex County Council Occasional Paper 1). Chelmsford. Essex County Council.


September 2021

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