The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Threat of a 'Solar Farm' to Dean Lodge and Durcks Pigthtle at Belchamp St Paul

There is very likely to be a Roman site in the area, at Dean Lodge Field, Church Street, Belchamp St Paul, and it is under threat of being turned into a 'solar farm'.

Our archaeological sites are important. There is much that has never been explained about the archaeology of the edge of the Stour Valley between Clare and Melford. The 'Metal Detectorists'  say that there are signs of a Roman military building of some sort, and field-walking turns up a fair amount of Roman material, mostly tile. If the pattern here is the same as the edge of the valley around Melford, then one can say that there are evenly-spaced villas roughly two miles apart on the gentle south-facing slopes.

Essex archaeological sites are particularly valuable. The Roman occupation of Essex is not well understood, mainly because the dry soil isn't kind to any archaeology. It was very densely occupied due to the nearness of the Colonia at Colchester, and there are a surprisingly large number of roman roads criss-crossing  the area. The Roman buildings are detectable by their roof-tiles rather than their walls. Then, as now, there is precious little stone and the Romans did what the medieval inhabitants did, build out of wood. Detecting a Roman oak sill-plate would be next to impossible.
The roads themselves were very lightly built too, just like their medieval counterparts. The climate is kind and 'soft' roads sufficed, but leave very little trace. In short, East Anglian archaeology isn't spectacular, even though it was the most densely populated part of Britain.

We strongly suspect that there is some sort of Roman site here. Roman pottery was found at Langley Wood and Little Dean Lodge in 1913-23. This is part of an area that  lies within a Historic Environment Character Area (HECA) and Historic Environment Character Zones (HECZ).  The Historic Environment Management and Records Teams of Essex County Council are of the opinion that  a range of high quality archaeology  probably survives within the zone (2010. Braintree. Historic Environment Characterisation Project Essex County Council) 
'These sites constitute a finite, non-renewable resource vulnerable to damage and that Braintree District Council will seek to protect, enhance and preserve both sites and their settings.' (p4)
 It was distressing to hear that this site is part of a proposed 'Solar Farm'. This involves the installation and operation of a solar electricity generating plant along with all the required infrastructure, including PV panels, mounting frames, inverts, switchgear, access tracks, security fencing and pole mounted security cameras.  This involves piles of c 0.1m diameter being driven into the ground for support a framework over 2 metres high that holds the support solar panels. An archeological survey funded by the energy company proposing to build this industrial installation concludes
'Based on current evidence the site is shown to have potential for heritage assets to be present, particularly relating to the Roman period. Accordingly, the proposed scheme may have an impact on any archaeological remains that are present.'
This means 'Yes, there is probably archaeology there and Yes, it is going to be ruined by putting in the industrial equipment. if it is nearer the surface than 1.5 metres.
It isn't just the piles that will hurt the archaeology
Impacts on archaeological remains, if present, are likely to arise where groundworks associated with the scheme extend below the topsoil, thus the construction of the array frame, sub-stations and cable runs may have an impact.
 So, is there likely to be archaeology there and would it be interesting?
“Much pottery has been ploughed up at the top of the field W of the wood, 28 ins below the surface (78754403)”;  (Essex Historic Environment Record-EHER report)
Roman artefacts are recorded as having been recovered from within the site and to both the west and the north, and it is therefore considered likely that there are further heritage assets of Roman date within the site. These could range from additional artefacts in the ploughsoil to more substantial features such as field boundary ditches or settlement remains.
To the north of the site, on the edge of the study area, a large collection of Roman metalwork was recovered in the mid 1990s. The artefacts included 30 Roman coins and three broach fragments of Longton Down and Hod Hill type, along with various studs and rivets (Essex Historic Environment Record EHER 48136, Fig.2). On the western edge of the study area a scatter of Romano-British pottery was found in the 1980s (EHER 7045, Fig.2).
The St Paul's Hall/Church manorial site is close to the site.
Sources have suggested that masonry remains have been found on the site and they may perhaps be of Roman date (EHER 6992).
Yes, it seems that this was a roman site.
Not only is the archaeology likely to be destroyed, but a number of listed buildings around the site will be spoiled by their proximity to what will become an industrial area. To quote the report...
There is the potential for the development to have a limited impact on the setting of heritage assets (Listed Buildings) located outside the boundary of the development area.
It is probably best to ask the home-owners how limited that might be!

If you're as concerned as I am, there is time to object to these plans and make sure that Braintree District Council is aware of the concern of local historians and anyone who is keen on our vanishing countryside.

13/00832/FUL: Installation and operation of a solar farm and associated infrastructure, including PV panels, mounting frames, inverts, switchgear, access tracks, security fencing and pole mounted security cameras. Big Deere Lodge Field, Church Street, Belchamp St Paul, Essex

All quotes taken from the Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment  prepared for the applicant, Sovereign Energy Partners, by Ellen Heppell  June 2013

Information from Essex Historic Environment Record


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