BRITISH ARCHAEOLOGY MAGAZINE LOGO


ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 54, August 2000

FEATURES

London at the edge of the world

What was it really like to live in Roman London, when it was a rough frontier town in the first few decades after the Roman invasion?

Surprisingly, many of the intimate details of life in Roman London are only now becoming clear - what streets and homes actually looked like, and how people lived - despite hundreds of excavations taking place in the capital over recent decades. This is partly because `keyhole' excavations have typically allowed only tantalising glimpses of the minutiae of everyday life and it has been hard to piece the evidence together.

All this changed with the excavation at 1 Poultry in the City in the mid-1990s, where the listed Mappin & Webb building was demolished to make way for a new office building designed by James Stirling. This redevelopment provided the opportunity for the largest ever excavation on a densely-occupied part of Roman London, in which about 30 individual properties were studied in detail - something that had never been done before on one site. The work of analysing all the thousands of finds is now almost complete, and a major exhibition on the site opened at the Museum of London last month.

Now at last we can begin to see what the main street of early Roman London looked like, what its cramped buildings were used for, what sorts of pets people kept and what weeds grew in their backyards. It is both eerie and fascinating to be able to step back in time this way and get a feel for what life was like in the centre of Britain's capital city at the very start of its existence.

Many people probably assume that Roman London was dominated by stone buildings with grand classical façades - as depicted by Cecil B DeMille in many Hollywood films - and inhabited by an elite Roman citizenry in their togas and finery. This picture cannot apply to Roman London, a town built almost entirely of timber and the home of a cosmopolitan mixture of people from Britain and the continent, many of them attracted by the commercial opportunities offered by a new frontier. Some prosperous Roman citizens would have been present, but there were also freedmen, slaves and the urban poor.

The Poultry site lay right in the middle of this bustling town, on what had been the west bank of the Walbrook, a small stream that flowed south into the Thames. The Walbrook valley is an area of outstanding survival, and work on nearby sites in the past has resulted in some of London's most important archaeological discoveries including the late Roman temple dedicated to Mithras found in 1954. The capital's main east-west road, the Via Decumana, ran directly through our excavation area.

One of the biggest surprises was to see just how quickly London developed after the Roman invasion of AD 43. For a start, the excavation produced the earliest ever date for Roman London - a dendro date of AD 47 from a timber drain found beneath the earliest surface of the Via Decumana. Previously the earliest date was AD 52 from a river revetment. The new date emphasises how quickly the Romans felt the need to establish a new port and capital on the Thames.

The town then grew at breakneck speed. Topsoil was removed from large areas, hillsides flattened and valleys infilled. Road front properties were snapped up, and by the end of the 50s the whole place was built over.

This density of development has prompted us to revise our estimates of London's early population size. We now think that it may have been as great as 10,000 by AD 60 - roughly double what was thought before the Poultry excavation, and half the estimated maximum population of 20,000 when it peaked in the early 2nd century.

Frontier town

The streets of the new town excavated at Poultry would have had a busy, mixed commercial and residential character. Used and broken mill-stones and raised, post-built buildings show that mills, bakeries and granaries - essential elements of a town's economy - were established around the Walbrook crossing during the 50s.

The first settlers were probably merchants, agents involved in the supply of the military, public officials and others attracted by rumours of money to be made. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, London in AD60 was `not dignified by the title of colonia, but abounded with dealers and was a celebrated centre for supplies'.

Strange as it may seem, in some ways early Roman London can be compared to American frontier towns such as Dodge City - founded in the 1860s by ambitious traders and speculators who identified strategically important points where the cattle trails had to cross major rivers to meet the new railways. Town sites were surveyed and then promoted to attract settlers, and geographical advantage was turned into urban prosperity. The first traders from Gaul and settlers from elsewhere in Britain arriving in London in about AD 50 may have had remarkably similar motives.

As a frontier town, London had an overwhelmingly male population in those early decades. Of the hundreds of early metal clasps, pins and fittings found at the Poultry site, the vast majority came from male rather than female clothing. Sadly we haven't yet found any bar-room moll's glamorous gowns or jewellery to complete the Wild West picture.

Boudica's revolt

In AD 60 the British dislike of their new rulers boiled over as Boudica led a bloody revolt. Buildings at Poultry which were less than a year old were destroyed, and anyone who had remained behind was put to the sword.

Evidence of the revolt was clearly visible as a horizon of burnt debris overlying the ruins of the early buildings, some with their scorched timbers still in place. A deposit of soil and charcoal sealing the earliest metalled surfaces of one of the roads on site indicated a short period of disuse in the aftermath of the rebellion - civilians may have been reluctant to return to the town until absolutely certain that the army had restored security.

So what did early Roman London look like? Of the numerous buildings along the Via Decumana, a group of three was particularly telling and these have now been reconstructed from our excavated evidence in minutest detail as part of the Museum of London exhibition. They are thought to be representative of the street as a whole.

Two of these buildings, a bakery and a craftworker's house, have been rebuilt as they appeared in AD100. The third, a merchant's shop, has been portrayed just before its destruction in the Boudican fire 40 years earlier.

The buildings had relatively narrow road frontages with shops at the front and corridors with inter-connecting small rooms behind. They were single-storey buildings - like most of the rest of Roman London - and timber-framed with mudbrick or wattle and daub walls, compacted earth floors and thatched or boarded roofs. They were the product of production-line carpentry rather than the work of individual craftsmen. Their exteriors were whitewashed or weatherboarded.

The merchant's shop shared a narrow alley with a neighbouring building to the east. Eavesdrips and covered drains between the properties carried rainwater from the roofs into a larger roadside drain along the main road. The front of the merchant's shop may have had removable wooden shutters to improve access for customers. The shop and a storage area behind had been stocked with samian and other glazed pottery imported from southern and central Gaul, when it was burnt down in AD60. Wooden shelves within the shop collapsed, spilling wooden and bone spoons and large quantities of spices which included mustard, dill and fennel, coriander and black cumin - all used in Roman cooking - onto the floor.

After the Boudican revolt the merchant's property was rebuilt on the same plot of ground and with a similar layout. Across the alley to the east another narrow strip building was built and also consisted of three rooms and a corridor. Off-cuts of silver fir and other timber suggests that a carpenter may have lived here. The building included a back yard lean-to around a water reservoir built from reused barrels.

Again, the front room has been interpreted as a shop. The central room contained hearths, tiled surfaces interpreted as `hot-plates' and hollows containing food waste. In the absence of other living areas, we assume a family used the space as a kitchen, living-room and bedroom combined. The back room was the workshop.

Further to the east, and separated from the carpenter's house by a damp, overgrown alleyway, was a more substantial building. Constructed on a large platform of oak beams dated to about AD 73, the building is interpreted as a bakery and contains a central corridor with rooms to either side where grain had been scattered. Deposits of cereal bran suggest that wholemeal flour was being sieved to make higher quality white flour.

A hearth was built into the back wall and an oval, wooden trough for kneading dough was found behind the building. A type of mealworm beetle which feeds on decaying flour was found in one of the rooms. The bakery had a front shop where freshly-baked bread was sold over the counter, with the internal rooms used for preparing and serving food - rare evidence for a Roman café.

Picture the scene. It is one of strange contradictions. A bustling, frontier boom town with substantial well-built buildings. Business is thriving but conditions are, by modern standards, terrible. Soil samples from the yards behind the roadside buildings revealed large numbers of housefly and horsefly pupae associated with kitchen waste and other domestic rubbish. Pigs, chickens and other animals were also kept in the yards and outbuildings and the presence of dungheaps added to the squalid conditions. Botanical evidence from the yards includes thistles and stinging nettles.

Most of the owners, shopkeepers and workers from the buildings must have lived on the premises or rented single rooms nearby. Life would have been austere. Very few houses had their own bathing or toilet facilities - human waste was either carted away, dumped in back yards, or tipped into roadside drains or the Walbrook stream.

Cramped living

Workrooms, living-rooms and storerooms within the buildings were tiny - perhaps 2.5m square on average. Many people must have slept in their shops at close of business, just as they do today in overcrowded Third World cities like Calcutta.

Shutters would have let in some light but most rooms were dark and dingy. Evidence for the positioning of oil-lamps suggests that people sometimes worked either at floor level or on raised benches, but detailed jobs requiring good light presumably took place in outbuildings that were less enclosed.

Glazed windows and underfloor heating, although available in the public baths, were unheard of in private homes in the 1st century, and in the winter daily life must have been cold, damp and miserable. For a native of Italy, two weeks' hard-travelling away from his native land, Britain must have felt like the end of the Earth.

On the other hand, imported goods reflect a highly Romanised way of life from the outset of the settlement. Most households probably had sufficient income to purchase many of their daily staples, although individuals may also have been involved in small-scale market gardening and farming. Basic foods like bread were produced locally, whilst garum (a strong-smelling fish sauce made from anchovies), wine, olives and pine nuts were imported. Meat formed a large part of the diet, particularly cattle, and Roman Londoners also ate wild game.

Family life and customs varied greatly within Roman London, reflecting the cultural diversity of the population, but a Romanised routine was probably adopted by many people. Roman traditions of the family were strong with the man at the head of the household, although women did work outside the home and the bakeries, mills, and shops may well have had both male and female employees.

Ordered life

Officials and the well-to-do could certainly read and write, indicated by the large numbers of writing-tablets and stylii recovered at Poultry from the Walbrook. Sadly none has yet been deciphered. Some of the Roman families who lived here also kept pet cats and dogs. Life was not entirely without its luxuries.

The waking day may not have extended much beyond the hours between sunrise and sunset. For most, the day would have been regimented with the morning set aside for work. Private business was conducted at home and clients were received or visited. Many people would then proceed to the forum to take part in the public business of the day. Mid-afternoon and early evening were devoted to baths, entertainments and the daily meal.

The excavation at Poultry also provided some of the best evidence yet found for the character of the late Roman town, as well as extensive finds from the late Saxon and medieval development of London - but that is another story. The evidence for the early town alone makes Poultry one of the most important Roman excavations in Britain in recent years, and sheds a fascinating new light on what life was like for the traders and artisans who followed the Roman armies over the Channel in the 1st century AD.

Peter Rowsome is a Senior Project Manager at the Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS) and led the excavations at Poultry. Analysis and publication were funded by English Heritage. The exhibition, `High Street Londinium', sponsored by Banca di Roma, is at the Museum of London from 21 July to 7 January. An illustrated book on the excavation, `Heart of the City', is available from MoLAS (87 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V 4AB) for £5.99.


Great sites: Little Woodbury

Everyone thought that prehistoric Britons lived in holes in the ground rather than houses, until a German refugee began to dig a site in a Wiltshire field

On the south side of the city of Salisbury in an unremarkable ploughed field lies one of the most important Iron Age sites ever dug. In fact, most of the prehistoric remains are still there, unexcavated, waiting for the day when the ground-breaking excavation that stopped 60 years ago may one day, perhaps, resume.

There is nothing much to see here now - no walls, no earthworks, not even a sign to tell the curious visitor what lies under the ploughsoil. Yet this field is the location of Little Woodbury, an Iron Age enclosed settlement containing a large domestic roundhouse that has become - for British archaeologists - the archetype of a later prehistoric farmstead.

The excavations that took place here in the summers of 1938 and 1939 changed the look of prehistoric Britain. It is hard to imagine that before this site was dug, no one thought of Iron Age or Bronze Age farms as containing roundhouses or surrounded by a bank and ditch. Incredibly, most people had actually assumed that people in pre-Roman Britain lived in holes in the ground rather than houses - that is, in what have now been identified as storage pits. They thought this, despite the fact that roundhouses are depicted on Trajan's Column in Rome and had been discovered at the Glastonbury and Meare lake villages before the First World War.

Little Woodbury changed that view forever. The site was discovered by the aerial archaeologist OGS Crawford in the years after the First World War, its circular boundary ditch showing up as a dark cropmark from the air. It was recognised as a settlement, and was chosen for excavation by the `Young Turks' of the Prehistoric Society - Grahame Clark, Stuart Piggott and Christopher Hawkes - who were then pioneering an interest in prehistoric daily life and economy. Previously, archaeologists such as Mortimer Wheeler had been more interested in grand narratives of invasion and cultural change, and the details of `ordinary life' had largely been overlooked as less interesting or important.

Looking for life

There had, of course, been excavations of Iron Age settlements before but most of these had simply followed the course of ditches, or had dug individual pits and not what was around them - hence the theory that people lived in holes in the ground. At Little Woodbury, an attempt was made for the first time to excavate the settlement as a whole, allowing a more accurate picture of the site to emerge. It was not an open-area excavation in the modern sense, but one in which wide parallel trenches were dug across the site one after the other, and their individual plans brought together and interpreted at the end of the excavation - a major innovation in itself.

The man chosen by the Prehistoric Society to lead this work was Gerhard Bersu, a German archaeologist who had already had experience of recovering posthole timber buildings at prehistoric settlements on the Continent. A former director of the Romisch-Germanischen Kommission, a leading German archaeological organisation, he had been stripped of his post by the Nazis and forced to flee the country on account of his anti-Nazi views. He arrived as a refugee in this country in 1937.

Bersu was one of the first to realise that prehistoric houses were made of timber, leaving behind postholes as evidence of their existence. Using his parallel-trench technique, he eventually uncovered the complete plan of Little Woodbury's large roundhouse and excavated many other features. For the first time in Britain mundane evidence such as animal bones, seeds and carbonised grains were sought in a systematic way. Bersu was able to demonstrate once and for all - not only through his excavated evidence but also by ethnographic parallels from the Balkans - that holes in the ground on settlement sites were not homes but pits for the storage of food.

Eccentric vision

This is not to say that Bersu got everything right. His conception of what a roundhouse actually looked like was - to modern eyes - decidedly eccentric. At first, he saw it as a curious multi-gabled affair, then later as a kind of wigwam with no walls and a relatively flat roof. It was all a far cry from the simple conical roof supported on a low circular timber wall that has been the accepted norm ever since Peter Reynolds completed his reconstruction experiments at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire a couple of decades ago.

Bersu's grand plan to reconstruct the details of Iron Age daily life and economy also failed (in the main) to bear fruit, as the excavation was cut short by the Second World War and post-excavation work was never completed in full. Bersu himself was interned as an enemy alien on the Isle of Man, along with many other German, Austrian and Italian refugees including the architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner and the great Iron Age art expert Paul Jacobsthal.

He carried out a number of excavations on the island, but he never returned to dig in southern England and no-one took up his baton. Over 30 years was to separate Bersu's dig and the resumption of large-scale area excavations of Iron Age settlements in the 1970s with important work in Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Wessex - especially by Geoffrey Wainwright's excavation at Gussage All Saints that was meant to be a `new Little Woodbury'.

Setting a path

But the original Little Woodbury excavation was anything but a failure. Not only was the roundhouse immediately accepted as the normal form of prehistoric domestic architecture, but Bersu's quest for the minutiae of daily life such as animal bones and plant and insect remains, together with his original and sophisticated use of ethnographic parallels, presaged many of the techniques and interests of Iron Age archaeologists from the 1960s to the present day.

Ritual and religious aspects of roundhouses and settlements have become fashionable in recent years, but the basic objective of most Iron Age archaeologists remains that of Bersu - understanding the daily lives of prehistoric people. This is the chief legacy of his transformative pre-war excavation in that nondescript Wiltshire field.

JD Hill is Curator of the British and European Iron Age Collections at the British Museum


Landscape of war

Historians are only now coming to appreciate the Second World War's vast impact on Britain's landscape. William Foot reports

If you walk down the lane from the Cambridgeshire village where I live you come to the church, now standing in isolation with its medieval settlement revealed as low mounds in the fields alongside. Nearby is the site of a Roman villa - its exact situation not publicised for fear of the metal detector users who can be seen on occasions in these quiet country lanes.

Passing from the churchyard on a footpath which rises to a low ridge you come to an area of flat open fields - unnaturally flat and open, it seems, even to eyes accustomed to East Anglia's prairie fields of recent years. The footpath joins a concrete track, which bends away into the distance. It is spread with mud from tractor tyres, with a large pile of sugar beet alongside.

Also piled here are heaps of broken concrete, some pieces with rusty metal rods protruding. To the trained eye, the concrete is as telling as, for example, chunks of roof tile in the ploughsoil would be of a Roman villa. This is the site of a Second World War airfield, and the concrete track once ran around its edge.

An elderly village resident who had lived here at the time told me about the airfield - where the main gates had been, the directions of the runways, the site of the control tower, and where, set amongst the fields around the airfield itself, the accommodation blocks and their ancillary buildings had stood. We walked to one such area. I noted that the footpath running by the hedgerow was paved with concrete. This was all that remained now of the site of the airmen's living quarters.

Further along the lane, set now deep amongst trees, was a concrete pillbox, its embrasures facing inwards towards the airfield. This had formed part of the system of airfield defences. The enemy were expected to try and capture the airfield by landing on it - hence the defending guns that were aimed inwards rather than outwards. A hundred yards further on, a great concrete block leaned drunkenly at the edge of the lane, tilting by millimetres each year towards the black waters of an adjacent pond. Its use was not obvious.

It had most likely formed part of a roadblock. Very possibly this whole stretch of lane was `stopped up' by the Air Ministry, and this was a point beyond which civilians were not allowed.

My informant described the days in the village when the airfield was operational - how the population had trebled almost overnight once it was built. There were two pubs in those days, packed with airmen and WAAFs every night. The RAF mixed in well with the local population and there was little friction. The worst time was when the land was requisitioned and the construction carried out. A line of cottages had to be demolished as they were in line with the main runway. One farm lost most of its productive land, and the buildings themselves were used as part of the airfield buildings. The Ministry of Agriculture tried to find the tenant farmer another farm, but could only obtain him a place as a labourer in the next county. He moved away never to return.

My elderly friend had other stories to tell. The great bombers approached the airfield low in the eastern sky, he said, banking around the church tower. One day one crashed on take-off. It fell in flames in the wood. If you push deep into the trees, you can still find small pieces of wreckage there. Some of the trunks still show the marks of the fire.

The Germans also attacked the airfield. Bombs fell across the farmland. On one farm you can still see the craters. One, near the farmhouse, has been turned into a neatly circular pond. On the far side of the village there was a light anti-aircraft battery. The shape of its earthwork where the gun had been dug in can still be seen in the corner of the field.

And two fields away was the searchlight battery. This was the first military presence in the village early in the war. The villagers were proud of `their light', and brought the searchlight crew tea and food. My one elderly informant had perhaps seen his village play a more significant part in the march of history in a few years during the war than it had done in all the previous thousand years put together. The wartime experiences of my village were repeated across the country, parish by parish, in what was the single greatest planned transformation of the British landscape ever undertaken.

Until recently, though, history has had remarkably little to say about the impact of World War II on the countryside. The scale and nature of this transformation are only now beginning to be revealed by studies such as the Defence of Britain project, where we have now compiled information on 15,000 surviving wartime sites of which some three-quarters were previously unrecorded.

Inevitably some areas - for obvious strategic reasons - saw more militarisation than others. East Anglia, in particular, lying closest to Germany across the North Sea, was the landscape of the bomber airfields. A look at the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey sheets for Suffolk and Norfolk, for example, shows the sites of airfields, mostly disused, almost every five miles wherever you look. Five miles was the minimum safety distance for operational flying. Our research, however, has shown that in 1942 the Air Ministry proposed reducing the safety limit to two miles, such was the pressure to step up the bombing campaign.

About 450 airfields, some occupying up to 800 acres, were built in Britain during the war, and many of those already existing were enlarged and given concrete runways, amounting to what was, at the time, the greatest single construction feat in Britain's history. Over 300,000 acres were gobbled up in the process, much of them prime farming land. In the inevitable battles between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture, operational necessity normally prevailed, although farming was sometimes allowed within the perimeters of airfields, and among ordnance stores, factories and other military compounds wherever there was an open stretch of land not needed for any other use.

The impact of these airfields on rural landscapes that had seen little change since the advent of the railways was like the building of so many new towns. Suddenly thousands of men and women arrived to live alongside local communities; and many were not British but were from America, France, Holland, Poland and other Eastern European countries.

The building of the airfields, needed to take the war to the enemy at a time when Britain was largely consolidating and training its ground forces might be considered part of a `landscape for attack'. Other components in that landscape would come later, in particular in preparations for the D-Day landings. This enormous operation, with its massive need for land for camps, stores, ammunition dumps, hospitals, and above all for the training of 3.5 million British and American troops, led to an incredible figure of 11 million acres under military control by 1944. This amounts to 20 per cent of the total land surface of the UK.

In some areas, such as the South Downs and in Devon, land requistioned for training sustained massive damage. Farms were shelled and blown up, churches were damaged, whole tracts of landscape resembled battlefields.

In places entire villages were requisitioned with the promise that they would be given back to their inhabitants at the end of the war. Some, such as Stanford near Thetford in Norfolk, never were.

Earlier, when Britain had stood alone in 1940, her military landscape might be termed a `landscape of defence'. Popular impressions gleaned from television programmes like Dad's Army of a bunch of inadequate but willing part-time soldiers (supplemented by a regular army bruised from Dunkirk and without equipment) facing hopelessly the Nazi hordes - who fortunately never came - are grotesquely distorted. From June 1940, over the space of some 15 intensive weeks of construction on a massive scale, Britain was prepared as an armed fortress. There was not one square foot of land that was not subject to some detailed defence scheme.

The British Army was reinforced by Dominions troops and by the battalions of the Home Guard, not manned, as the TV humorists would have us believe, by old men (although there were certainly some of these) but largely by experienced veterans of World War I - men in their 40s and 50s with a good sprinkling of younger men too. Had the Germans landed by sea and air, there would have been bitter and protracted fighting with the outcome very uncertain.

The linear defences - stop lines - that seamed the country were supplemented by more intensively defended points such as anti-tank islands, `nodal points' and defended villages. These were typically protected by earthworks, barbed wire and gun emplacements. Gun loopholes were added to existing garden walls and houses, some of which survive today.

The characteristic feature of the landscape of defence, however, is the ubiquitous pillbox, a structure which has become almost synonymous with Britain's defiance in 1940. Thousands have been demolished but great numbers still survive - around former airfields and nodal points, on the coast lines, and running like great stepping stones the length and breadth of Britain following the courses of the stop lines.

A stop line was primarily an anti-tank barrier, forming a continuous line of obstacles, natural and artificial, to check the advance of the enemy's armoured units. The idea was to `stop' the tanks at the barrier, and then, while they were temporarily halted, to blast them from gun emplacements set up to control the road and rail crossings of the stop line.

The most important stop line was the GHQ Line running east from the North Somerset coast, parallel to the south coast, around London, and then running parallel with the east coast to Scotland. Other stop lines used major valleys, taking advantage of the natural barriers provided by the rivers. Where necessary, these rivers were improved by recutting the riverbanks and building revetments and ramparts on the attacker's side.

Most remarkably, rivers were linked to one another by hundreds of miles of artificial ditches about 10ft deep and 15ft wide, complete with ramparts (see BA September 1998) - modern successors to the late Iron Age dyke systems around oppida (defended towns) which may have been intended as a foil to chariots.

There were many other components of the militarised landscape. The camps constructed in their hundreds, often occupying as much as 100 acres, provide an interesting history of settlement. Many changed towards the end of the war from military occupancy to the housing of agricultural workers, refugees, prisoners of war, or bombed-out civilians.

In addition there were ordnance stores, munitions factories and coastal forts, ranging from single gun batteries to long-established fortified buildings such as at Newhaven in East Sussex. There were also anti-aircraft artillery sites, air raid shelters, aircraft watching posts, barrage balloon tethering points, vehicle storage parks, decoy sites (to fool the Germans into bombing `open land' rather than airfields or cities) - a seemingly endless list of new structures imposed on the landscape.

Particularly interesting were all the requisitioned buildings used for war purposes including many great country houses, some of which were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished once the war was over. To a significant extent this spelled the end of Britain's country house estate culture.

Moreover, the militarised landscape demanded an infrastructure that was also militarily controlled - the railway and the road systems that were graded and coded to give priority to the movement of troops and war material.

Many of the military sites of the Second World War are still obvious in the landscape - the airfields with their concrete runways between the fields of wheat, the over-grown pillboxes, and the long since derelict camp sites perhaps used by farms or industrial parks.

Not quite so obvious are the positions, for example, of tented camps, searchlight and light anti-aircraft batteries and anti-tank ditches. Many such sites can only be proved today by archaeological evidence. Documentary sources are far from complete, and as the generation that knew these places slowly disappears many will be lost forever. Searchlight positions, when seen today from the air can look remarkably like robbed-out round barrows, and the lines of anti-tank ditches, with their sharply-angled changes of direction might easily be confused with Roman roads.

There is now a growing business in `heritage tours' looking at military sites of the Second World War. At present, it is mainly confined to places associated with the British and American air forces, but important points of the defended landscape such as groups of pillboxes, anti-tank obstacles and coastal forts may eventually be added to the itineraries.

Some such sites are already commemorated with plaques and information boards. More will be marked and labelled when English Heritage, and the other national agencies, complete their current work of scheduling WWII military sites. Then we will be able to visit our local fort, heavy anti-aircraft battery site or pillbox knowing it is protected by the same legislation that preserves such famous prehistoric jewels as Neolithic Avebury or Skara Brae.

William Foot is the Database and Archive Manager of the CBA's Defence of Britain project


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