Interim - Moat Site

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Between the 30th September. 1978 and the 8th October, 1978 Maldon Archaeological Group undertook an excavation at Lofts Farm, Great Totham. Its purpose was to discover basic information about a site, which hitherto had been known only as a rectangular shaped crop mark. due for destruction by gravel extraction.

We are indebted to Mr. Hughes, the farmer of Lofts, and Contractors Aggregates, the gravel company, for allowing us to work on the site. For professional advice, loan of most tools and material and finance to pay for machine removal of topsoil we are indebted to Michael Eddy and the Essex County Council, Archaeological Section. Contractors Aggregates kindly back-filled our excavation without charge. During the week thirty different people assisted for at least half a day each. This included invaluable help from Wickford members of the Billericay Archaeological & Historical Society and Colchester Archaeological Group.

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The site is situated on a gravel terrace that stretches along much of the north side of the Blackwater Estuary. On modern maps the Heybridge-Great Totham parish boundary and the 25ft contour are both shown cutting across our enclosure and I now believe they are both related to our site. The former bends at one edge of one side of the 'moat' and the latter probably represents the lowest 'safe' height above the pre-sea wall flood plain.

The only documentary evidence we have discovered so far has been found in the enclosure and tithe awards and their associated maps, which date to the early 19th century. Just 250 yds north-west of our 'moat' site lies the present Lofts Farm which was also probably moated, and is shown clearly on the Chapman & Andre map of 1777 in its present position. A rental. of 1441 is the earliest reference we have found of La Loftes, as it was called. Later documents indicate that Lofts was an estate of some size (over 100 acres) and had assumed some importance.

The excavation was unhindered by rain and, rather surprisingly for the time of year, we were confronted not by mud but by a concrete hard layer of brickearth under the topsoil. Potatoes growing in the field covered three quarters of the site and this dictated the positioning of our trench. Due to a very unscientific law, that often seems to work against archaeologists, we were unable to identify any man-made features, other than the moat, until the last hour of the last day. These were shallow pits and a stoney sloping surface and are in the part of the trench shown as incomplete on the sketch plan.

Finds collected during the week do give us that basic information which we were seeking and therefore made the excavation a success.

Two or three flint flake implements discovered represent the activities of Stone Age man. This is not enough to indicate a settlement but represents a scatter that one might expect to find in any field if one looked carefully enough.

In the brickearth, immediately below the topsoil. was a concentration of tile and pottery sherds which provided us with the best indication of the site's type and first occupation. This pottery has a rough sandy grey fabric and is dated tentatively to the 14th century by comparison with pottery from other Essex medieval sites. Some, but very little, of the better quality glazed pottery of the same period was found. Later post-Medieval types of pottery were also poorly represented as well as this level. Not one sherd has been identified as being earlier than this rough grey pottery (i.e. no Roman or Saxon).

We were able to extend our trench over the north length of the 'moat' to reveal a butt end and hence the enclosure entrance. It appeared to have been back-filled with gravel and contained a lot of 16th-17th century broken brick. Four sherds, the most recent being late 18th or early 19th century, were also in the fill.

The shape and size of the enclosure, and the finds we have collected, indicate that the site was typical of the small moated homesteads that came into being around 1300. It was a period in which England's population was expanding and the demand for more agricultural land led to the clearance and occupation of land not used before. Chapman & Andre show woodland adjacent to our site in 1777. Most moated homesteads in Essex came into being between about 1250 and 1320 (see Fieldwork in Local History by W.G. Hoskins). Moats probably served several functions, which could have included defence, drainage control and the control of animals. Current research suggests that moats at this time were considered fashionable and enabled their owners to keep up with the Jones (De Veres).

Although our excavation failed to reveal foundations we can expect a building to have existed somewhere within the 'moat' and it may have lasted long enough to have brick additions in the 16th or 17th century. These could easily have been chimneys. The moat, which may well have outlasted any enclosed buildings, was filled in during the late 18th or early 19th century but part of one side was left as a pond. This section, which we did not excavate, still shows today as a dip in the field much more distinctly than any other part of the moat, excluding the ditch and hedge on the west side. Over the coming year documentary research and field walking will be continued by M.A.G. in the hope of uncovering more clues. Next autumn, after this coming year's wheat crop, the gravel diggers will require the site. It is our hope that we will have a chance to recognise any building foundations or any other features when this takes place and that we will have time to plot and examine them. A full report of this excavation will not be put together until the site has been destroyed but processing and drawing are already underway.

A special thanks is due to M.A.G. members who put in more than one day on the site, Dave and Jackie Gustard, Tony Froom, Malcolm and Frances Billinge, Pauline and Geoffrey Clark, Susan Matten, Betty Parker, Brian Semmonds (Wickford) Janet and David Eacersall, Pauline and David Neild, and to John Bailey (Photographs) Richard Hansen (Finds) and Patricia Ryan for the documentary research.



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