A Colourful History


The Romans


The area around Bartlow has been occupied since Roman times. Bartlow is home to the Bartlow Hills, a Roman tumuli cemetery originally comprised of seven hills although only three of the mounds remain, the tallest being 15 metres in height. Through excavation it has been demonstrated that they are the graves of a wealthy family and date from the 1st or 2nd century AD. Excavations in the 19th century found large wooden chests, decorated vessels in bronze, glass and pottery and an iron folding chair, most of which were lost in a later fire at Easton Lodge, Dunmow, in Essex.

A small Roman villa, occupied until the late 4th century, was situated about 100 yards NE of the Bartlow Hills and was excavated (by Neville), in 1852. The building measured 48 feet North to South and 43 feet 9 inches East to West. The walls were composed mainly of flint varying from 1ft 6ins to 2ft 6ins in thickness. The northern half contained two heated rooms and their furnaces; the southern half was rougher and less habitable. The villa was enclosed by substantial ditches,suggesting possible fortification of the site. The finds suggest the villa was occupied until circa 350AD. A coin hoard was also found from the area. Further field investigations in 1950 located no trace of the villa. English Heritage Mon No 374140 


The Mounds

The seven mounds covered extraordinarily rich burials containing a wonderful collection of artistic objects, the best found in Britain. Mound 4, the largest is 13 meters high and 43 meters in diameter. Their steep conical shape, originally surrounded by a ditch, is typical of Roman burial mounds.

Burilk mounds of this type were built in the late 1st and 2nd centuries AD in Britain and Belgium. Most artefacts within them show the high status of the owner. They were usually imported from the Rhineland and Northern Gaul, and are associated with feasting and sacrificial offerings, rather than personal belongings that would be used in the afterlife.

In 1815 Busick Harwood excavated mound 4 to provide work for the unemployed. “They began at the apex and, digging down at great labour to the cist, despoiled it of its contents, which were distributed and no account of them taken”.

John Gage carried out better recorded excavations between 1832 and 1840. Eminent scientists, including Faraday, pioneer of electricity, analysed the contents of vessels and other organic remains.


1256 The Village

The first mention of the Church in the Village of Berkelawe, which means “mounds, or tumuli where birch trees grow”.

Bartlow is one of the smallest parishes in Cambridgeshire, covering 156 ha (385a) in 1971.


1279 The Anchorite

‘Geoffrey Barle-corn holds of the Earl of Oxford a messuage and half an acre of land at 6d rent, and keeps up a wax candle in the Church, the Anchoress of Berclawe holds of the Earl of Oxford one acre of land at 4d rent’. (Hundred Roll)

An anchorite, or hermit, in the middle ages usually had his cell near a church or ford, so this one may have looked after the ford at Bartlow, keeping it clear of obstructions. No traces have been found of the cell.