OS Grid Reference: TM 02257 14341. At the southeastern side of Barrow Hill at West Mersea on Mersea Island, overlooking Pyfleet Channel, in Essex, there is a large tree-covered mound which is a round barrow (tumulus). In this burial mound a Romano-British king was probably buried at the end of the 1st Century AD, or in the early 2nd Century, so the story goes. However, there seems ‘now’ to be some uncertainty about the age of the monument. When the barrow was ex-cavated in 1912 a glass cinery urn was found in a lead container. This contained a child’s remains. Locally the barrow is called ‘The Mount’. The burial mound is 1½ miles north-east of St Peter & St Paul’s Church, West Mersea, and 9 miles south of Colchester. The island, which is 5 miles long, is reached by a causeway (southeast of Peldon) called ‘The Strood’ which crosses over the creek; then follow the East Mersea road for a ¼ of a mile, keeping to the left, until you reach Barrow Hill. The tumulus is to be found beneath the tall trees close by Barrow Hill farm.
The Historic England website says that: “The monument includes the known extent and buried remains of a Roman barrow situated on relatively high ground at the north-west edge of the central plateau of Mersea Island overlooking the Pyfleet Channel. The flat-topped conical mound mound is some 35m in diameter and 7m high. The top has a diameter of some 5m. There is no enclosing ditch. Excavations carried out by the Morant Club in 1912 found that the mound contained a burial dating from the late first to early second century AD. The burial chamber, sited slightly off-center, was dug into the original ground surface so that its floor was some 38cm beneath this level. The chamber measured some 45cm wide by 54cm high. A foundation of boulders and broken tile supported a floor of two roof tiles; seven courses of flanged roofing tiles formed the walls, with the two upper courses slightly corbelled to support the roof, which was made of a single tile some 54cm square. Within the burial chamber, the cremated remains of a child were found in a glass flask placed within a small lead casket with a wooden lid. The structure of the mound comprised a consolidated central core of impure quartz sand, above which was mixed gravel and sand. Following the 1912 excavations, a passage was constructed through the excavation trench to the burial chamber; this is extant and facilitates viewing of the inner chamber. All modern fence lines, railings, walls, made-up surfaces and the wooden Wendy house are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included,” according to Historic England. See their website, below.
Benham’s (1946) says of the West Mersea Sepulchral Deposit, that: “A glass urn (containing bones) and the cist in which it was discovered. Exhumed from a large tumulus at Mersea, the deposit is supposed to have been in honour of a British chieftain (1st Century).” These antiquities were to be found in Colchester Castle Museum, but they are now in the Mersea Museum. Benham’s then adds, saying: “Roman Glass: Included in this collection is the magnificent glass urn, containing burnt human bones, found in a large barrow or tumulus at West Mersea.”
Richmond (1963) tells of: “……….Another very large tomb was the circular mausoleum at West Mersea (Essex), a stone-revetted structure with earth fill, sixty-five feet in diameter, braced by radiating walls and marginal buttresses.”
Benham’s (1946) tells of other Roman remains on Mersea Island, saying that: “When some alterations were being made in West Mersea Hall, which stands near the church, about the year 1730, a fine Roman tessellated pavement was discovered. In the chancel of the church was found a pavement of red tesserae an inch-and-a-half square, forming rays of stars. From the diversity and continuity of these tesserae, extending nearly 100 feet from east to west, by about fifty from north to south, it has been conjectured that this grand mosaic pavement was not merely the groundwork of a general’s tent, but rather that the whole belonged to the villa of some Roman officer, who might have been invited by the delightfulness of the situation to make this his summer abode. In 1920 a Roman pavement was found in fixing a telegraph pole forty feet south of Yew Tree House, and a further portion of the same pavement was uncovered in 1931 in the garden of the house.
“West Mersea Church (St. Peter and St. Paul)…….The stone upon which the church font (which has a 13th century bowl) rests has been supposed to be the cupola of a Roman column. In December, 1896, not far from the church, the foundations of a circular building were unearthed. The ground plan of this building was that of a 65-ft. diameter wheel, with six spokes, and a central hexagon “axis” five feet across. The structure is Roman and is obviously the base of a large tomb, though it has been thought by some to have been a Roman lighthouse.”
The Historic England List Entry No. is 1019019.
Sources / References and related websites:-
Benham’s, Colchester — a history and guide, Benham And Company Limited, Colchester, 1946.
Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — 1 Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.