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Roman Hendon - Another Piece of the Jigsaw

Report on Drainage Excavation at Middlesex University, Hendon Campus, and some thoughts on Roman Hendon

Stephen Aleck and Andy Simpson

This article is by way of a draft of a fuller version to be published in the second issue of HADAS Journal, discussing site watching at the University and the accumulated evidence for Roman Hendon. In the meantime the authors will welcome comments, pet theories, and additions.

Site History

The University, formerly Hendon College of Technology/Middlesex Polytechnic, is in the centre of historic Hendon and close to the former Grove House.

The site, presently known as The Paddock, (NGR TQ 2290 8942) is a small, fairly flat, fenced field, immediately east of the main university campus buildings, which was formerly one of the fields of Church End Farm and is now bounded on the south by the Burroughs and to the east by Church End. When in the 1750s Greyhound Hill was known as Hall Lane, it was known as Hall Field. Now used as a park as part of the University grounds, it was still used as cow pasture in 1964 and in the 1950s, for pigs. The Georgian farm with its barn dated 1750 and ruined older building bombed in the 1939-45 war, which lay immediately north of the Paddock, was demolished in the 1960s to provide extra space for the College/Polytechnic. It is shown on a map of 1756 as being John Coles’ Farm.

Roman finds are concentrated on this area of Hendon, with first to fourth century pottery and building material from HADAS digs at Church End Farm, Church Terrace, and Church Farm House, and in the nineteenth century in the grounds of Grove House. HADAS has previously excavated some trial trenches in the Paddock (in 1964) but found no Roman material, only evidence of geological strata, reaching thick blue clay at a depth of seven feet, and an eighteenth century shoe in the clay.

(Kim Stabler, Archaeology Advisor for the Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service, makes the very valid point that blue clay is typical of waterlain or waterlogged deposits, and a shoe in the clay means it could not be natural. The area formerly had a number of ponds, and perhaps what was actually found was pond fill that had filled a depression cut in the natural clay.)

The Works

In August/September 1998 a new foul sewer was constructed heading roughly east, through the University site, through the Paddock, connecting into the existing main sewer under Church End. HADAS did not become aware of the trench running through the lower university buildings until it was virtually completed, since the work could not be seen from the public highway. By early September 1998 trenching work had reached the Paddock. The depth of the drain trench was approximately three metres. The sewer in Church End is apparently six metres deep. There is a manhole in the Paddock, close to the Church End Fence, where the depth increases to six metres.

The track of the drain through the Paddock was initially partially cleared of topsoil for a depth of about 200mm, over a width of some six metres. The removed topsoil was stockpiled nearby for later reuse. Because the ground is poor the method of digging involved shoring the trench with steel sheets immediately it was dug, with little opportunity to inspect sections therefore.


HADAS member Stephen Aleck obtained permission from the University and contractor to conduct a watching brief, and he made visits throughout September 1998, (plus one by several HADAS ‘Digging Team’ members) to check topsoil and flower beds for finds – on that occasion, only post medieval material was noted. The site code PAB 98 has been allocated by the LAARC.


The Geological Survey map shows Dollis Hill glacial sand/gravel over London clay. The topsoil is sandy loam averaging 300mm in depth, but deeper in places. The subsoil is basically gravel, with flint nodules and large inclusions of boulder clay. This complies with the geological description, contrary to the contractor’s belief that it is made-up ground (though see comment above re; waterlain deposits). Thick blue clay was recorded in the 1964 excavation.


Stephen Aleck recovered finds on two visits, on the 2nd and 11h September 1998. Nothing was noted in the sub soil, either in the trench or in the spoil heaps. From the topsoil, both in situ and spoil heaps, were recovered fragments of post-medieval red brick, typically coarse red fabric peg-tiles and other tiles, wine bottle glass (one piece of base) modern stoneware, two sherds of porcelain, and several sherds of mostly coarse red earthenware (PMR) which included two sherds of better quality ‘Manganese’ glazed ware; also, most notably, a large piece of 33mm thick, sandy red fabric Roman brick (BRIC), 10cm long, with part of one face intact. Such rectangular or square tiles were used as levelling and bonding courses, as quoins for corners and to create frames for openings.

Material from the surface of a rose bed in the middle of the field, collected on the 2nd September included a 35mm long rim sherd of first/second century Verulamium Region White Ware (VRW) from the flowerbed surface, together with four sherds of modern stoneware, a half base sherd of a modern yellow glazed earthenware jar, plus two other sherds, a severely abraded rim sherd of orange-brown coarse fabric with small gritty inclusions, 45mm long with traces of burning or soot blackening along the rim, of seventeenth-eighteenth century date, the other of similar date from a coarse red London type earthenware greenish-brown internally glazed tripod pitcher sherd with grey reduced core and base tripod scar. Interestingly, there is a sherd of very similar glaze and fabric from topsoil elsewhere on the site, which could be from the same, or a similar, vessel. Curiously, there was no clay pipe and no ‘Willow Pattern’!


There is a growing corpus of recorded Roman material – coins, burials, pottery and building material - centred around the plateau on which stands the thirteenth century St Mary’s Parish Church on the high ground (a hilltop 87m/280ft above O.D, the highest point in Hendon) on the glacial sands and boulder clay that supports this historic core of Hendon and the surrounding fertile, undulating and once well-wooded area. The Hendon placename (Hendun in 959AD, Handone in the Domesday book, Hendon by 1199) is derived from the Old English ‘At The High Down’ Ekwall suggests ‘the high dun or hill’, Dun being from the old English for down, hill or mountain. It was also suggested by 1920s local historian Fred Hitchin-Kemp that the ancient name Sunny Hill (the name of the local park) may have been connected with pagan worship, perhaps of the sun, though as Pamela Taylor gently points out, this is highly unlikely, Sunny Hill Fields being an eighteenth century name.

In addition to the Roman tile and pottery recovered from the Paddock in 1998 and recorded above, similar material is now recorded from Church End Farm, Church Farmhouse Museum opposite, and Church Terrace close to the Paddock and on the opposite side of the church to the other two sites. Slightly further away is the Roman cremation burial at Sunny Gardens Road. All are discussed in the following section.

Roman Hendon - The Evidence

The HADAS excavations at Church End Farm (TQ 2280 8940), now covered by Middlesex University, in 1961-66 recorded, along with some thirteenth century pottery and much 17th century material, a residual fragment of second-third century bowl from a layer of disturbed rubble, plus one possible piece of Roman tile.

Further post-excavation work by HADAS members and Jacqui Pearce of Birkbeck College, University of London on the finds from this site in 2001/2002 as part of the Ted Sammes project recorded two additional sherds of Roman pottery, one being a piece of fourth century Alice Holt type. See HADAS Newsletter 373, April 2002. Thanks also to Jacqui Pearce for her personal comment on this and the Paddock pottery.

The 1973-74 HADAS excavations at Church Terrace – the area of the present Meritage Club (TQ2289 8953) found, at the north western edge of the site closest to Church End, a small concentration of some two dozen sherds of late third or early fourth century Roman ceramics including the well known moulded coarse redware face - flagon neck, possibly of local manufacture, and other pottery and three pieces of fired clay building material (CBM-two being broken Tegulae roofing tile (TEG) and one brick - BRIC). The pottery consisted of coarse red ware, two sherds of imitation Samian red-glazed pottery, colour coated (possibly Nene Valley) and grey wares. Ted Sammes made the interesting point that also found were fragments possibly from the wide-mouthed section of a multiple vase; these and face-flagons have associations with religious beliefs, commenting ‘it is very tempting to take these two finds together and suggest that there was a ritual site at Hendon’. No Roman structures were identified.

Also found was Saxon material including nearly 400 grams of eighth-ninth century coarse grass tempered pottery in a ditch adjacent to the parish church of St. Mary, running parallel to Greyhound Hill.

Like the ditch found at the rear of Church Farmhouse Museum in the 1990s, this remained open into the Medieval period. There was also the well known, and rare, copper alloy pin with double spiral head.

St Mary’s (TQ2287 8956) may be of Saxon origin – a priest is mentioned in the Domesday Book entry for Hendon (thereby suggesting the existence of a Church), the parish being recorded in a charter (possibly forged) as being in the possession of Westminster Abbey by AD959. Also found were probable Saxon burials and two fragments of a twelfth-thirteenth century purbeck marble grave slab matching the date of the existing earliest church fabric. (The church was first built around 1080; it also has a twelfth century stone font, and foundations of a twelfth century chancel were possibly found 1929-31)

The three seasons of HADAS excavations in the 1990s to the rear of the present seventeenth century Church Farmhouse Museum at 83-85m O.D (TQ2283 8958 – See report by Bill Bass in HADAS Journal Volume 1, 2002) recorded nine sherds of residual and abraded Roman pottery, and also several pieces of Roman tile from Saxon/medieval ditch fills. These included three mid first-mid second century Verulamium Region White Wares (VRW) sherds matching the Paddock sherd and pieces of brick/bonding tile, with a preponderance of BRIC and two relatively small pieces of TEG roofing tile, one of them flanged.

Roman coins were also found some distance away south-east of the church at 51 King’s Close, Hendon TQ240 892- (Probus, 276 – 282AD) and also, somewhat closer, north east of the church in Sunny Gardens a coin of Hadrian (117-138 AD) at TQ2310 1896.

In 1966, a Highgate Wood Type Roman pottery cremation jar of the late first-early second century, containing charcoal and the ashes of an adolescent, was found east of the church at 111 Sunny Gardens Road (TQ2298 8998)- perhaps indicating a cemetery beyond the eastern boundary of the Roman occupation. The urn is now held by Church Farmhouse Museum.

However, a watching brief on building work for extension of the Garden Hospital at 45-60 Sunny Gardens Road in October 1992 found only topsoil and London clay (HADAS Newsletter 261, December 1992). Similarly, an evaluation by Thames Valley Archaeological Services at 15-17 Sunningfields Road, Hendon in September 1995 (TQ2296 8972) found no features or finds of archaeological significance (Other cremation burials of similar date were found in 1953 at Pipers Green Lane, near the foot of Brockley Hill)

Earliest recorded Roman material is that from the former Grove House on the Burroughs .In 1889 at a point 730ft W.S.W of the church and 300ft north of Grove House during the digging of a gravel pit its then occupant, Dr. Henry Hicks, found bone fragments, flanged roofing tile, brick, millstones, a complete 19cm high ring necked single-handled flagon of second century date and other fragments of mortaria food mixing bowls, water jugs and other pottery including ‘broken cinerary urns’ all scattered about a foot below the surface in a ‘well defined longitudinal excavation’. The approximate OS ref is TQ 2270 8940. Whether in a Roman pit or even a burial not now clear. Some of this material survives in the Barnet local history collection, including a fragment of flanged roofing tile and, most interestingly, a section of circular brick of the type used to build small diameter columns which would be faced with moulded cement and painted plaster; the surviving material is considered to be of late first or second century date.

Grove House itself, a large eighteenth century building, was demolished in 1934, but a public park called The Grove survives at the rear of the Fire Station and University, and could be a useful location for excavation one day, although the findspot itself is under the extensively landscaped university playing field. In May 1995, the South East London Archaeological Unit undertook a watching brief at the Hendon Campus of Middlesex University which showed that extensive terracing had removed any possible archaeological evidence, and no dating evidence was recovered from the single feature exposed, a broad hollow

Excavations at the other end of the Burroughs, south-west of the church by HADAS at 31-34 Burroughs Gardens, Hendon (TQ2265 8909) in 1972 however found no Roman material, but plenty of 12th-14th Century pottery, perhaps suggesting a limit to the western edge of the Roman occupation.

It should be noted also that the 1969 trial trenches by HADAS in the rear of Peacock’s Yard and Mount Pleasant, Church End found pottery indicating occupation no earlier than the late 19th century. Similarly, a HADAS excavation at 50 The Burroughs (TQ227 891) in 1986 found only post-medieval material, as did a dig by Percy Reboul in the garden of 14 Cedars Close in 1980 (TQ238 897).

A watching brief on the site of the Hendon Bus Garage at the Burroughs in 1993 by MOLAS ( (TQ2290 8930) showed only natural clay overlain by 18th century makeup. HADAS site watching at the PDSA building at Church Terrace (TQ2298 8950) on the 5th November 1993 showed only modern concrete, soil and drain disturbance above natural clay in a 45cm wide trench at the rear of the building, with no finds.

A more recent HADAS excavation south west of here in 1991/2 in land formerly part of St. Joseph’s Convent at the junction of The Burroughs and Watford Way (TQ2245 8915) found a single residual sherd of medieval Hertfordshire Grey ware, and much post-medieval material, in disturbed top layers, plus an undated ditch, but no Roman evidence. (See HADAS Newsletter 256, 1992)

The Paddock/Church End sites lie one mile east of the A5/Watling Street, a known major Roman route from London to Verulamium (St. Albans) and the north which forms the western boundary of the present day Borough of Barnet, and south of the Roman road projected by the Viatores study group in 1964 as their route No.167, running south from Verulamium to London through Barnet Gate (where Roman coins, now lost, were found some years ago) and possibly Mill Hill and Hendon.

Other nearby Roman finds including a third century coin at Moat Mount This route or, more likely, that of another road was recorded in section by HADAS a mile or so east at Copthall playing fields in 1967/8, (TQ2325 9140) when some 130 native and Roman sherds of mid - late first century pottery were found associated with the 21 foot wide cambered pebble road surface.

Stephen Aleck suggests an early route of some sort from Church End Hendon to Red Hill, Burnt Oak roughly along the line now represented by Greyhound Hill, Aerodrome Road, Booth Road and Gervase Road, as shown by early maps and the alignment of a former footpath, linking two known sites with Roman occupation, though to prove any Roman connection would be difficult.

Other Roman occupation in the vicinity includes the (now scheduled) first/second century pottery import and production site at Brockley Hill on Watling Street excavated at various times since 1937(succeeded by some late third-early fourth century, possibly agricultural, activity), pottery and tile scatters from nearby Edgwarebury, and the late third/early fourth century pit or ditch with barbarous radiate coin, pottery, building material and bone found in Thirleby Road, Burnt Oak by HADAS in 1971 (TQ2059 9080); one of these is probably the site of Sulloniacae as recorded in the Antonine Itinery. The seven Roman Lamps and defaced coins reported near Mill Hill in 1769, alleged Roman finds at a possible earthwork at Mote Mount, Mill Hill, a Roman gold coin at The Hyde, Colindale, odd pottery sherds at Hendon Isolation Hospital, Welsh Harp, The Hyde, both close to the Watling Street, and also more recently, to also add to those recorded by Helen Gordon in 1979, the two sherds and tile fragments found by HADAS at The Mitre Inn, at High Barnet in 1990 and a single sherd at 1263-1275 High Road, Whetstone on the line of the old Great North Road in 2001 hint at scattered outlying Roman occupation of some description.


What is clear is that from half a dozen quite closely grouped sites in the centre of Hendon there are indications of first – fourth century occupation, possibly centred on the area now occupied by the church of St Mary, that seems to have included tile bonded and roofed masonry building(s), possibly with brick columns, (but no trace of wall plaster as yet, and only one, vague, mention of possible mosaic tesserae) and possible outlying early cremation cemetery(s) south and east of it – but, as yet, no recognised Roman inhumations or in –situ building remains. With the paucity of villas in the area and the dominating high ground position of the site I find myself thinking of a then remote ‘Romano-Celtic’ (cella and ambulatory) type temple, possibly on a site sacred in earlier times, perhaps with associated scatter of buildings that might have hosted occasional festivals or fairs – hence the pottery - or even a mausoleum, though I suppose an isolated tile kiln lying between the Brockley Hill and Highgate Kiln sites is another possibility. Ted Sammes also thought the site might have ritual/ religious connections, based on the pottery evidence – see above. The lack, so far, of ovens, iron tools, quernstones, animal bone, glassware, spindle-whorls and loom-weights might argue against it being a domestic or agricultural site.

The phasing/dating of the finds needs more study – the cremation burials are likely to be of early date, but the pottery found includes both contemporary VRW and other wares and third/fourth century material, indicating either continuous occupation throughout the Roman period or perhaps Brockley-Hill style early and late bursts of activity with a possible lull in between during the unsettled third century. Masonry buildings did not become common in Roman Britain until the second century though timber framed buildings from the first century did feature tiled roofs. Only more finds can fill in the gaps!

To quote the late Ted Sammes ‘This would seem to suggest that there must have been a building of some pretension in the area, and since the finds were concentrated in the area next to Church End, one wonders whether the Roman site may be under the modern road or under the church’. This is an interpretation still valid today, for an area that will repay careful study.


Brief progress notes in HADAS Newsletter, 331 (October 1998) and 332 (November 1998)

'Roman Roads In And around The London Borough of Barnet' Unpublished Paper, Stephen Aleck, June 1998

Town Trail 1: Hendon Barnet Library Services/HADAS, June 1979

'Church Farmhouse', Bill Bass, HADAS Journal, Vol. 1, 2001 pp.11-20

The Buildings of Roman Britain Guy de la Bedoyere, Batsford, 1991

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Placenames, Eilert Ekwall, Fourth Edition, OUP 1960

Roman Hendon, HADAS, 1971

Various HADAS Newsletters from No 1, October 1969.

'An Investigation Of Roman Road No.167' Brian Robertson, Transactions London And Middlesex Archaeological Society Vol.22 Pt 3 1970, pp.10-29 [LAMAS]

'Roman Material Found at Grove House, Hendon, in 1889', Brian Robertson, Transactions of London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, Vol. 24 1973 pp.146-150 [LAMAS]

'A Moulded Face-Flagon Neck From Church Terrace, Hendon', Edward Sammes, LAMAS Transactions vol. 28, 1977, pp.272-273

Pinning Down The Past – Finds From a Hendon Dig, Edward Sammes, HADAS, 1986

A Place In Time edited Pamela Taylor, HADAS, 1989

'Sulloniacis – A Dampener For Sun Worshippers?', Pamela Taylor, HADAS Newsletter 333, December 1998, p.2.

Parish Church of Hendon St Mary – Visitor’s Guide, ND

'A Roman Presence in the borough of Barnet (A Gazetteer of all known Roman Finds in the borough)', Helen Gordon, HADAS Newsletters, 102-3, Aug-Sep 1979 Newsletter Issue 102, Newsletter Issue 103

'Hendon Church Farm House Excavation 1993 Interim Report', June 1994, HADAS

'London Fieldwork and Publication Round-up', London Archaeologist, various issues.