History of Christchurch

Recording the history of the village of Christchurch (originally Brimstone Hill) in Cambridgeshire

Stonea Camp

Stonea Camp is an iron age hillfort situated across the Sixteen Foot Bank from the hamlet of Stonea. Sited on a natural island in the Fens it was an ideal location for defense and trading. The site was active from around 500 BC, and remained so Roman times and into the Middle Ages. [1] Since that time the site was used for agriculture, until 1990 when renovations were started.

The site’s historical importance stems from being the only one of three such sites in the region that has maintained enough integrity to be worth preserving for future archeological study. It is now a protected historical monument and  is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The site was first registered in 30th November 1925. [2]

“Having walked round part of the Camp, Alison, it strikes me what an enormous area it covers. It really is huge, isn’t it?”

“It is. It’s about 38 acres. Which is a good size village, I think. Imagine the number of houses that you could pack in here. If we look the other way, just to the north of this site where there are arable fields, this is not part of the Pocket Park, we are looking at the Roman town. The British Museum carried out a very exciting series of excavations back in the early 1980’s and found a huge amount. They found this complete town included a massive stone-built tower, which would have given them a superb view right across the Fens. All the streets were laid out. There was a temple, there were workshops. It was a proper town flourishing up here.” [3]

Discover more about hillforts here: https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/iha-hillforts/

Image source: https://www.visitcambridgeshirefens.org/things-to-do-31/iron-age-sites-33/stonea-camp-58


Despite being the lowest known hillfort in the UK, when it was first constructed the Fens were mostly marshes and waterways, and the island it was built on would have supported a significant settlement as well as a formidable fortification with only one access point.[2]

The defences of the site is believed to have been developed in at least three stages: [2]

  1. The first stage of the site’s development included a single ditch and inner bank. This relatively small construction is now mostly subsumed by later work. [2]
  2. The second stage expanded the site, but again consisted of a single ditch and inner bank, but now covered roughly the extent that can be seen now. [2]
  3. The third stage extended the existing defences to form a D shaped enclosure and significant proportions of these works remain, although not always from the original material. [2]
Location of trenches – Malim, 1992 – https://peterborougharchaeology.org/stonea-camp-guided-walk/


Roman Period

The fort was positioned on the border between Trinovantes to the South and the Icenian kingdom of Norfolk. [3] It is believed to be the site of a battle between the Iceni and Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula during the AD47 revolt. The battle is recorded Tacitus, and while the actual location isn’t mentioned, the details narrow it down to Stonea Camp being a likely site.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Publius Ostorius, the pro-prætor, found himself confronted by disturbance. The enemy had burst into the territories of our allies with all the more fury, as they imagined that a new general would not march against them with winter beginning and with an army of which he knew nothing. Ostorius, well aware that first events are those which produce alarm or confidence, by a rapid movement of his light cohorts, cut down all who opposed him, pursued those who fled, and lest they should rally, and so an unquiet and treacherous peace might allow no rest to the general and his troops, he prepared to disarm all whom he suspected, and to occupy with encampments the whole country to the Avon and Severn. The Iceni, a powerful tribe, which war had not weakened, as they had voluntarily joined our alliance, were the first to resist. At their instigation the surrounding nations chose as a battlefield a spot walled in by a rude barrier, with a narrow approach, impenetrable to cavalry. Through these defences the Roman general, though he had with him only the allied troops, without the strength of the legions, attempted to break, and having assigned their positions to his cohorts, he equipped even his cavalry for the work of infantry. Then at a given signal they forced the barrier, routing the enemy who were entangled in their own defences. The rebels, conscious of their guilt, and finding escape barred, performed many noble feats. In this battle, Marius Ostorius, the general’s son, won the reward for saving a citizen’s life. [4]

Whilst there is evidence of a battle and even a massacre at the site, it is not conclusively that of this battle.

© British Museum – Simon James https://peterborougharchaeology.org/stonea-camp-guided-walk/

Stone Grange

Remains of a tower a short distance to the north of Stonea Camp may have been to help maintain order in the region. They also started to drain the marches and set up an estate.

As a settlement Stonea Camp didn’t survive much past the Roman period.

It was actually failure for the Romans. Which is unusual. Most Roman towns are still flourishing today. It really wasn’t in a good place for trade and communication and so forth. There was a Roman road which ran by here, quite close to here, the Fen Causeway, but it actually wasn’t good enough and therefore it did actually fail, and didn’t attract industry, and therefore it did revert to farmland well before the end of the Roman period. [3]

Fen Causeway

The Fen causeway was a Roman road from near Peterborough and crossing the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens. [5]

Roman causeway, Rookery farm, near Christchurch 1951 [6]

Middle Ages

Throughout the Middle Ages this land was used. Again, it’s slightly dryer than much of the Fens, so it was OK for pasture, and even a little bit of arable. We know that the farmhouse stood in the corner of Stonea Camp. It’s a medieval house rebuilt in the
17th Century. It was actually pulled down in the 1970’s, so we have still have got photographs of it, so we know just what it looked like. So there was this farmhouse, quite a large building and all that went with that. So it’s a bit of an outpost in the Middle Ages and in the early Post-Medieval period but there are still people living in and using it. It’s not become as deserted as it is now. [3]


Digital terrain model, resolution 1.0 m, 3D view, raw data from the Environment Agency: https://data.gov.uk/ Rouven Meidlinger

Despite the fact that the low lying nature of the site should permit good preservation for the earliest occupation of the site, only a few small scale digs have been undertaken so far. Until the 1950s the earthworks for the fort and settlement had survived relatively unscathed, but by 1959 parts of the site where being used for cultivation. [2]

Small scale digs in 1959, 1980, and 1990 revealed that despite this activity, the ditches remained as buried history and the millennia of well preserved natural and human relics – including human remains found in the latest dig. [2]

During the restoration activities from 1991, a membrane covering was put in place to protect the original deposits, and separate them from those used in the partial reconstruction. During this process significant finds were also discovered on or near the surface of the interior of the fort. These included late Iron Age and early Roman pottery.[2]


In 1990 a change in tenancy meant that agricultural use of the land ceased, so that a year later the partial restoration could restore the general form of the earthworks and ditches. Care was taken to protect original features and deposits for future study. [2]

“Well it is, but it wasn’t until quite recently. It had all been destroyed in the 1960’s. One of the dreadful things that had happened. Agricultural grants were available for bulldozing ancient monuments and draining land and turning it into more arable, but of course we don’t need any more. So we are now, for example, looking at the sinuous ditches and banks that were built in the Iron Age, but they were also built in 1991. We re-built them. All we have done, in fact, is to take out the fill that was pushed in, in the 1960’s. We didn’t go down into the archaeological deposits except in some very small trenches, which we did deliberately so that we could look at it to understand what the development was and what had existed there. So we did that archaeological excavation; the rest that you can see is just down to the 1960’s level.” [3]


  1. https://www.geograph.org.uk/snippet/1806
  2. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1012539?section=official-list-entry
  3. http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/3F5DC95E-69F1-4176-8D7B-316D08454322/0/Stonea.pdf
  4. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Tac.+Ann.+12.31&redirect=true
  5. https://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/record-details?MNF2796-Fen-Causeway-Roman-road
  6. https://www.cambridgeairphotos.com/location/fv66/