The Early Iron Age in Ewell

 

An interesting and exciting new development on the King William site is the finding of quantities of Iron Age pottery fragments including at least one complete pot. The finds cannot be assembled until they have dried out and further examination and precise dating will have to wait until the excavation has finished. In the meantime we give below some notes on the Iron Age period which may be of interest to our non-archaeological members.

 

The period immediately prior to the Roman invasion is referred to as the ‘Early Iron Age’, which has been divided into three main phases –

 

Early Iron Age Phase A from circa 450 BC

Early Iron Age Phase B from circa 250 BC

Early Iron Age Phase C from circa 75 BC

 

The last phase was also the period of Belgic settlement when the Belgae came en masse, men, women and children whereas the Marnian invaders (c.250 BC) appear to have consisted of men only (Copley).

 

Finds have been recorded from each of these periods in Ewell and doubtless the springs that attracted both the Mesolithic and Neolithic peoples to Ewell were responsible for the continued occupation during the Iron Age. Gordon Copley comments that A2 occupation is recorded at 230 630, and at 218 621 ‘South Eastern B, Wealden and Patch Grove Ware occurs unmixed with, and hardly influenced by Belgic styles. At Epsom for instance, Iron Age A vessels of degenerate form were still being produced as late as the beginning of the first century BC’.

 

The normal Iron Age rural settlement consists of a farm standing in its compound and surrounded by its characteristic system of fields which may or may not be entirely traceable. Sometimes these farmsteads are isolated, but quite often they are grouped into hamlets containing as many as half a dozen of these units. The individual farmstead continued to be the normal Iron Age dwelling site in Southern Britain, but here and there the more prosperous and aristocratic farmers became Romanised and substituted the buildings of a villa for the old hut and compound, sometimes on the old site.

 

Burnt stones, normally flints, known as ‘pot boilers’, were produced in large numbers by the parching of corn in ovens and they can be a clue to the siting of Iron Age farmsteads (Field Archaeology).

 

Local Iron Age Sites

 

218621 Purberry Shot (SAC 50, 1949) 228626 Chalkpit Field (NEAS)

218623 Ewell House (SAC 43, 1935) 228608 North Looe (Tom Walls)

230630 Nonsuch Park (SAC 50, 1949) 220626 King William (NEAS)

 

Occupation Sites

We are indebted to Mr. A.W.G. Lowther and the Surrey Archaeological Society for most of our information concerning Iron Age sites in Ewell. Timber huts and pebble floors are common in this period and parts of such floors, together with a cob oven and 40-foot well were found by Mr. Lowther during excavations in 1939 at Purberry Shot, London Road, Ewell. The site appears to have been occupied from 200 BC to AD 150 with considerable occupation about the date of the Claudian invasion extending well into the Roman period without any break. There was evidence of considerable iron working activity and a quantity of iron cinder and a piece of iron ingot bar were located. Other finds apart from pottery, included an iron brooch, iron latch-lifter key of common IA type, a bone point and part of a triangular burnt clay loom weight. The original ground level had been under plough during the IA period.

 

Traces of shallow storage pits, hearth and pot boilers were found at two points on the southern end of Nonsuch Park, close to the railway line from Ewell to Cheam. ‘Seemingly the pottery etc. constitutes occupation which was slight and not of long duration, both sites were fairly close together and were both part of the same settlement’ (AWGL). Three IA type pits were excavated by Tom Walls at The Looe, Reigate Road, Ewell and, in his opinion, the site was occupied by native farming people of IA tradition under Roman influence from Ewell. The presence of loom weights at Purberry Shot and Chalkpit Field indicate weaving equipment was used on both sites.

 

An interesting report on an IA farmstead of Little Woodbury type found at Hawk’s Hill, Leatherhead (SAC 62, 1965) suggests that ‘a very successful animal husbandry was practised during at least some periods of the Iron Age and the presence of a large number of rodents surely implies that arable farming was also practised successfully. The paucity of wild animal bones suggests little or no hunting’. An analysis of 2,592 bones showed that cattle provided the bulk of the meat eaten (53%), with sheep (23%), pig (13%) and horse (10%). Only the best cuts were eaten and the majority of cattle appear to be between two to three years old which suggests a reasonable amount of winter fodder with efficient methods of fodder collection and preservation on a considerable scale. (Time span on this site Southern First A to Southern Second B).

 

Pottery

Iron Age A material at Purberry Shot consisted of dark grey-brown shouldered pots with finger tip decoration, bowls with shoulder, upright rim, red-brown burnished outer surface and small bag-shaped and other vessels similar to finds from Epsom Downs. The latter part of the IA is represented by decorated pottery, coarse bead-rim ware and South-Eastern B ware apparently of Claudian date, including vessels of Patch Grove Ware. Typical early IA pottery fragments were found at Ewell House, South-Eastern B at Warren Farm, Nonsuch Park and black and red coarse flint-gritted ware, some more sandy in texture at Chalkpit Field (now 37, 39 and 41 Aragon Avenue). A fragment of a Belgic dish also occurs at Purberry Shot. 405 pottery fragments of seven main classes from Hawk’s Hill, Leatherhead, are described in SAC 62, 1965.

 

 

King William Site

The next chapter in the history of the Iron Age people in this area will come from the report of the King William excavation where some, possibly Belgic, ware has been found. If confirmed this may be the first Belgic ware to be found in quantity in the village. The report might be available much earlier if members were able to assist at our pot washing sessions at Epsom. This is an opportunity to handle and examine pottery from Roman and other periods and no previous experience is necessary as full instructions will be given. Martin Morris will supply further details. In the meantime the excavation will continue at weekends until further notice.

 

Sources

Copley, Gordon J. An Archaeology of South East England (Phoenix, 1958).

Field Archaeology: Some Notes for Beginners Issued by the Ordnance Survey (HMSO 1963).

Proceedings of the Leatherhead & District LHS 2vi (1962).

Surrey Archaeological Collections 50 (1949), 43 (1935), and 62 (1965).

1968 May pp1-2