NGR: TL 97537 24712. In the back gardens of a row of houses on Fitzwalter Road at Lexden, 1 mile southwest of Colchester town centre, in Essex, is an ancient barrow (tumulus) with trees growing out of it. The area where the mound is located was originally called Lexden Park. It was con-sidered by historians and antiquarians to date from the late Iron Age period of pre-history and, probably constructed just before, or at, the Roman occupation of 43 AD. Traditionally, it has also been thought that the mound was where the British prince, Cunobelinus, was buried, although whether there is any truth in that remains to be seen. Colchester was originally called Camulo-dunum after Cunobelinus, King of the Catuvellauni. To the north of the tumulus is the site of a Celtic cemetery and, further to the northeast at Sheepen Farm the site of the Celtic town, which would have been inhabited in the time of Cunobelinus. When the tumulus was excavated in 1924 many artefacts were dis-covered, some of which were bronze. The 4-5 foot high barrow with its outer ditch is at the far south-western end of Fitzwalter Road (Handford Place), just before St Clare Road.
Benham’s (1946) tells of the site, saying: “The Lexden Tumulus is a burial mound situated in what was formerly Lexden Park, and was excavated in 1924. It has long been a local landmark, in fact Dr. William Stukeley (1687-1765) had noted it in 1758 as ‘“Prasutagus’s grave,”’ a fanciful and unfounded ascription. Morant, though not mentioning the mound in his History of Colchester, left a plan of it with manuscript notes. The Rev. Henry Jenkins (c.1860) called it a ‘”Beacon,”‘ regarding it perhaps as a mount or mound in the vicinity so described in Speed’s Map of Essex (1610). Roman remains were found in the mound in 1860 (an amphora and pottery). Though surrounded (at some distance) by a circular ditch the mound itself was ovoid in shape.”
Benham’s goes on to say that: “The excavation in 1924 indicated that the mound was the burial place of some noted personage, probably before the Roman Conquest in A.D. 43. The objects discovered included : (1) fragments of burnt human bones; (2) fragmentary pottery, described as ‘“pre-Flavian,”’ or, at latest, of the first half of the first century; (3) masses of iron, of which several portions are apparently parts of a litter; (4) iron chain-mail (many fragments); (5) a bronze table about 13 in. long by 9¾ in. broad and about 3¼ in. high, standing on four small ball-footed legs, and adorned with pendent scroll-work (it is thought that this table may have been the base of a standard lamp); (6) bronze pedestal about 3½ in. square and 2 in. high; (7) small bronze foot, sandalled (part of a figure of which the remainder was not found); (8) bronze figure of Cupid, holding a bird, found near the pedestal; (9) neck and head of a bronze griffin originally the attachment (or handle) for a bowl; (10) a small bronze bull, lying down; (11) a small bronze boar (tusked); (12) other bronze objects and fragments, bosses (with traces of red enamel), large numbers of bronze studs of various sizes, some of which are supposed to have decorated harness, a bronze palstave (an implement or weapon devised to fit in to a wooden handle, dating from the late Bronze Age, already at least 900 years old at the time of burial), etc.; (13) remains of leather clothing, with a buckle; (14) fragments of horn; (15) remains of fine gold tissue; (16) many trefoil-shaped silver ornaments, remains of silver buckles and silver studs; (17) silver medallion with head of Augustus (Gaius Octavius, 65 B.C.—A.D. 14) said to be identical with that on denarii issued 17 B.C., cut out from an actual coin and soldered on a silver disc, enclosed in moulded silver frame. It is inferred that this must have been the burial of a personage of importance, and it has even been supposed that it may have been the funeral mound of Cunobelinus, the British King. The absence of all coins of Cunobelinus is significant.”
Benham’s adds more, saying that: “Colchester has claims to be the oldest recorded town in Great Britain. It occupies the site of the British Camulodunum, the ‘“fort of Camulos,”’ the Celtic war god, and the “‘royal seat”’ or capital of the British King Kunobellinos, according to the historian Dio Cassius. The coins of Cunobelinus, with their legends CAMV for Camulodunum and CVNO for Cunobelinus, found in hundreds in Colchester, are substantial evidence in conformation of this statement.
“Cunobelinus is the Cymbeline of Shakespeare, though beyond the name the poet borrowed nothing of his story—either legendary or historical. Cunobelinus resigned from about 5 B.C. till his death about A.D. 43. He is described on his coins as son of Tasciovanus, whose coinage is also plentiful, and who was perhaps descended from Cassivellaunus (Caswallon), who resisted Julius Cæsar’s invasion of Britain in the year 54 B.C. Cassivellaunus made terms with the Romans and continued to reign after there departure. He is reputed to have seized Camulodunum about 50 B.C., taking it from Man-dubratius, who was restored to his sovereignty by Julius Cæsar. These latter details, however, cannot be accepted as authentic.
“The Celtic settlement was discovered to be a large area of wattle-and-daub huts, dotted over the hill now occupied by Sheepen Farm, from the river marshes on the north up to the plateau towards the south, very much in the manner of native ‘“kraals”’ in Africa. Great quantities of pottery were found, as well as moulds for the striking of Cunobeline’s coins. The pottery included native (British) ware and Roman ware imported from the Rhineland, N. and S. Gaul, and Italy. Brooches and bronze objects and coins were also discovered. The coins were mainly of Cunobelinus, but one of his predecessor, Tasciovanus, was unhearthed. Over 50 Roman coins were found, ranging up to Claudius (A.D. 41—54). The evidence showed that the Celtic site had been occupied by the Roman soldiers for many months, or even a few years, before the Roman Colony had been established to the S.E., thus changing the position of the town to that which it now occupies on the hill adjoining.
“The Celtic cemeteries were on the south side of the main settlement, many burials having been found in the Lexden Park area. Several lines of massive earthworks, including Gryme’s Dyke, protected Camulodunum on the west, running from the river Colne in the north to the Roman river in the south, thus cutting off the peninsula formed by those two rivers.”
Hawks (1975) regarding Colchester, says: “The town stands, as it were, at the junction of British history with prehistory. Cunobelin or Cymbeline, who united south-east Britain into a single powerful kingdom during the early years of our era, established his capital here in about 10 A.D. He chose a slope above the Colne just to the south-west of the present town at a place where now there is little for the visitor to see beyond a huge notice by which the Corporation have obligingly announced that this is the site of Camulodunum, capital of King Cymbeline. The outer dykes defending the settlement —comparable to those we have seen at Chichester and St. Albans……are still visible within the area of Lexden Park. These long lines of bank and ditch are typical of Belgic military ideas in contrast with the enclosed hill-fort of their immediate predecessors. The faint remains of the scattered city of Camulodunum are now under fields, houses and roads on the outskirts of Colchester. Excavation showed that Cunobelin, and after him, no doubt, his ill-fated sons ruled there until the time of the Roman conquest.”
Darvill (1988) telling of the inhabitants of Camulodunum, says: “The Lexden Tumulus………contained the burial of one of their leaders, possibly King Addedomaros. Accompanying the cremation were many ritually broken objects including fine tableware, wine amphorae and jewellery. Following the Roman Conquest, Camulodunum became an important colonia for retired Roman army veterans.”
Priestley (1976) tells us Colchester is: “One of the earliest Roman towns to be founded in Britain. Colchester has a great deal to show the visitor. In days before the Roman conquest, Cunobelinus (Cymbeline) King of the Catuvellauni ruled the whole of SE England from his capital here. It was situated on flat land to the W and NW of the modern town and defended by an elaborate system of earthworks and dykes between 2 and 3 miles (3.2 and 8 km) distant from the town. Traces of these may still be seen and followed with the aid of an Ordnance Survey map.”
There is a second tumulus, though this one is not so well known, 665m to the northwest of the Lexden burial mound, on a grassy area in the middle of a modern housing estate (Marlowe Way) at NG: TL 96877 24882. This tumulus, known as ‘The Mount’, probably dates from around the same time as the one at Fitzwalter Road, Lexden.
Sources / References & Related Websites:
Benham’s, Benham’s Colchester — a history and guide, Benham And Company Limited, Colchester, 1946.
Darvill, Timothy, AA Glovebox Guide — Ancient Britain, The Publishing Division of The Automobile Association, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988.
Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal (Sphere Books Ltd), London, 1975.
Priestley, Harold, The Observer’s Book of Ancient & Roman Britain, Frederick Warne & Co Ltd., London, England, 1976.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.