Archaeology and scheduled ancient monuments in Southend
Concern for our heritage is not just about our visible historic buildings and areas. Hidden features below ground, in our landscapes and in some of our historic buildings hold evidence of our past and how our own society has developed. It is important that such evidence is protected and investigated wherever possible, and that comprehensive archaeological records are maintained.
Scheduled ancient monuments
The most important archaeological sites are designated Scheduled Ancient Monuments by the government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), on the advice of English Heritage. These are protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, 1979. Ancient Monument Consent is needed from the DCMS for any works or activities, such as metal detecting, digging and ploughing, that will affect the site. (Other forms of consent such as planning permission or listed building consent may also be necessary.) Southend has six such sites:
At the rear of the Waitrose supermarket in Eastern Avenue, this is a late Bronze Age or early Iron Age (8th to 5th century BC) circular univallate hill fort with extensive views across the Roach valley. This type of hill fort is rare and surviving examples are of national importance. The purpose of this particular example is not yet known. But there is likely to be good evidence surviving below ground.
The "Danish Camp"
Sections of ancient ramparts remain at the former Shoebury Garrison. They form part of the defences of a prehistoric settlement on the edge of the shore. Recent excavations have indicated that the main period of settlement was in the middle Iron Age (300 to 100 BC) and have shown the position of round houses and other structures. There is also evidence of later occupation in Roman times and the possibility of a Roman building east of Ness Road. The site had originally been thought to have been a 9th century Danish encampment, but no evidence of this has been found.
The Priory was established by the Cluniac monks of Lewes Priory in the early 12th century. It was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1536, and now only part of the refectory and the Prior's chamber remain but the ruins of some of its buildings can still be seen and the Priory's fish ponds still survive. The scheduled area covers the grounds of the Priory, including the fish ponds. It also includes an area east of Prittle Brook believed to contain part of a 6th-7th century Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The surviving buildings are not part of the scheduled area but are protected as listed buildings.
Southchurch Hall was built as a manor house in the early 14th century, on a raised island surrounded by a moat. Although the building has been modified many times, it was restored to something like its original appearance in the 1920s and is now used as a museum within a small park. The area of the original moat is likely to contain much archaeological evidence of its history, a gatehouse existed close to the present bridge. The scheduled area covers the whole of the park but excludes the buildings above ground which are protected as listed buildings.
Cold War Defence Boom
A defence boom was built across the Thames Estuary from Shoeburyness to Sheerness to control shipping movement in the early years of the Cold War. It replaced a similar World War II defence boom. The surviving sections of the Boom extend seawards for about 2 km from the beach just to the north of Shoebury East Beach to the mean low water mark. It comprises two parallel lines of concrete posts linked by angle iron straps. Originally, the boom extended to the deep water shipping channel and continued on the other side of the channel to the Sheerness coastline. In an emergency, the channel would have been blocked by moored ships. Rapid advances in technology, however, soon made the boom redundant and all but the surviving sections was demolished. It is the only known example of this form of Cold War defence.
World War II Caisson (Mulberry Harbour)
This is a ‘Phoenix’ caisson, its back broken, lying on the West Knock sandbank about 1.8 km off Thorpe Bay. The caisson is a section of temporary ‘Mulberry Harbour’ intended to be used in the Normandy landings following D Day, for the rapid re-supply of troops. The Mulberry Harbours were planned to extend 3.5 km along the coast and extend 1.75 km out to sea. The Mulberry Harbour formed at Arromanches played a crucial role in on the success of the landings. This caisson was being towed from Immingham, on the Humber, to Southsea in the run up to D Day, when it sprang a leak and was brought into the Thames estuary and allowed to sink.
Sites and monuments record
A comprehensive database of Southend's known archaeological sites is in the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR). This is maintained by our Museums Service and includes information on sites where there has been previous archaeological investigation, sites where artefacts have been found and other sites of known interest. At present, about 500 sites are recorded in the SMR.
Records include information on archived material, such as evaluation reports, photographs and finds, and where they are kept. The SMR helps us to ensure that new development proposals take adequate account of archaeology. Where appropriate, planning conditions requiring archaeological investigations can be imposed.