Planning Case Study 12

Land north of Oxford Road, Thame, Oxfordshire


Planning scenario(s)

1 - Pre-determination assessment/evaluation identified significant new heritage assets - Pre-determination assessment/evaluation identified significant archaeology on the development site (i.e. the results created significant new knowledge), especially where none was previously known in the HER.
7 - Pre-commencement archaeological conditions were attached to a planning permission - Pre-commencement archaeological conditions were attached to a planning permission and were necessary in order to enable the development to be permitted.

Heritage assets affected

Undesignated heritage assets with archaeological and historic interest

Type of application & broad category

Major, Residential

Local planning authority

Authority: South Oxfordshire District Council
References: P14/S3841/FUL

Development proposal

Erection of 203 dwellings, with new allotment plots, public open space, new pedestrian and cycle routes, construction of internal access roads, foul water pump station, surface water attenuation, ancillary enabling works, together with the formation of new vehicular and pedestrian access points.

Archaeological information known about the site before the planning application was made, or before the development commenced, as appropriate

A single ‘Belgic’ (late Iron Age) pottery jar had been recovered from the site in the 1960s, and traces of ridge and furrow were present.

The development site is on a ridge but largely on north-facing land sloping down to the River Thame, and so might not, a priori, be considered to have the highest potential for early activity. In addition, there were no real clues to the presence of the complex and significant remains prior to the evaluation.

Archaeological/planning processes

A desk-based assessment and a field evaluation carried out before the determination of the planning application gave rise to concerns that important archaeological remains were present. Evidence of activity in the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods was recovered.

Planning permission was given for the development with a pre- commencement planning condition to secure a programme of archaeological investigation. Prior to planning permission being given mitigation works were agreed with Oxfordshire County Council Historic and Natural Environment Team. A total of 3.9ha (40% of the total area proposed for development) was machine-stripped and investigated through full excavation.

Once the initial area of archaeological features had been uncovered and understood, their significance led to re-design of subsequent phases of the development to achieve preservation in situ.

Outcomes: archaeological

The mitigation fieldwork, undertaken by Oxford Cotswold Archaeology (a joint venture between Oxford Archaeology and Cotswold Archaeology, OCA), revealed over 5000 years of human occupation on the site, which sits on a ridge of higher ground with wide vistas across the surrounding landscape, overlooking the River Thame to the north and the Cuttle Brook watercourse to the east.

By far the most significant result was the discovery of a large part of a triple- ditched early Neolithic (c. 3800 BC) causewayed enclosure monument. A number of early Neolithic pit clusters highlight the importance of this location just prior to, or contemporary with, the causewayed enclosure. A hengiform monument and a probable barrow ring-ditch were also recorded. The monument complex is of national importance.

Later activity was represented by an early Iron Age (700 – 400 BC) D-shaped enclosure, some c. 150 pits (some of them probably grain storage pits), and a number of roundhouses and four-post granary structures. Some of the storage pits contained human and animal burials and artefacts which had been ritually deposited, a widespread phenomenon of this period. In the Roman period (AD 43 – 410) a dramatic change was evident on the site, with the development of a highly structured and integrated land management system of ditched features. It included droveways that led from the available watercourses up onto the ridge, associated with a sequence of integrated settlement and stock enclosures. Several corn driers dated to this period suggest the presence of a settlement that was engaged in grain processing for supply to a Roman hinterland. Inhumation burials and urned cremation burials also testify to the enduring importance of the site during this period.

In the early – middle Saxon period (410 – 850 AD) at least 11 (and possibly 13) sunken-featured buildings (SFBs) as well as a possible ‘hall’ structure (undated) were constructed at the site, all bar one SFB lying on the highest ground. A number of artefacts indicative of textile production (loomweights, spindle whorls, textile combs, needles) were recovered from the SFBs, a common phenomenon for these Saxon structures, which strongly suggests a function as textile workshops. In the late Saxon – early medieval period (9th – 12th centuries AD) a substantial ditched enclosure was constructed, but no associated settlement features were identified.

A post-excavation assessment has been completed; a full monograph is in preparation and is expected for publication in 2020.

Other outcomes/outputs e.g. other public benefit such as public engagement, research and new/changed work practices

OCA undertook a series of visits to local schools and hosted local archaeological and historical societies on site. A display was exhibited in Thame Museum. A day of talks was held, in conjunction with the museum, at Thame Town Hall, as part of the Festival of Archaeology.

References and links/bibliography

  • John Moore Heritage Services 2014, An Archaeological Evaluation at Site F, Oxford Road, Thame, Oxfordshire. Unpublished report.
  • Oxford Cotswold Archaeology Joint Venture 2017, Site F, Oxford Road, Thame, Oxfordshire; Post-excavation Assessment and Updated Project Design: Volume 1. Unpublished report, OCA Project: 669021.