Roman rubbish near Stevenage

In 1988-9 I directed the first season of a rescue excavation at Boxfield Farm, Chells, on the north-eastern fringe of Stevenage, for the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust (HAT).

When I arrived, the site, destined to become an estate of box-like mini-houses, was a large, mostly level field with the stubble of its last crop still showing. We machine-dug long shallow trenches to locate a pattern of ditches and gullies, and then an area excavation.

It seems that the site was of an Iron-Age/Romano-British settlement that extended over several hectares of clayey and flinty Hertfordshire soils. We found little evidence of structures, but plenty of rubbish, including areas that I could identify only as refuse-filled ponds. It must have been a smelly place. There were dozens of ditches, mostly, I guess, marking boundaries.

Most of the site was heavily damaged by ploughing and drain-laying. The ploughing may have obliterated traces of structures and just left the lower deposits of pits and ditches. There was no stratification linking different areas of the site.

There were a great many finds, and the dig was great fun. Because the stratigraphy was simple, it was possible to involve school children as well as adult volunteers. I was greatly helped by a group of volunteers from Stevenage who eventually formed themselves into the Stevenage Archaeology Group (SAG).

Most of the features were criss-crossing ditches and gullies, with some pits, wells and cremation burials. Perhaps the most spectacular structure was a chalk-lined kiln — what is sometimes called a "corn-drying kiln", though there is a debate as to what these structures were actually used for.

I only directed the excavation at Chells for a single season. Life and a lover took me away from archaeology and to a very different life in London.

The project was taken over and completed by Jonathan Hunn, and published in 1999: Going, C.J and Hunn, J.R 1999: Excavation at Boxfield Farm, Chells, Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust report no. 2 (Hertford).

ARCHAEOLOGY