Harlow’s Rich Past

by Neil Warner-Baker

The proposed route for The Stort Crossing is steeped in archeology and history. Here follows a brief snap shot.

The Stort Valley was formed during the Glacial Maximum and The Stort is where the Ice Age stopped. Like a tide, huge deposits of clay silt, chalk and other aggregates were deposited on the permafrost. During the next periods of global warming, vegetation increased helping to create soil strata, thus trapping the melting glacial permafrost some 60 feet below the surface, becoming part of The Thames Basin and also part of the original course of the River Thames. At this stage, Britain was connected to continental Europe by the landbridge of what is now the submerged “doggers bank”. Various animal species such as aurochs (ancestors of modern cattle) and mammoths migrated across what is now Kent and Essex followed by the early hunter gatherers who relied heavily upon them for basic survival.

Over the the following period of global warming the surrounding landmass became more dry and arid. Migrating animals were drawn to The Thames Basin and the chalk springs which made the area lush and green in an otherwise harsh environment. The landmass that Harlow forms part of still floats on top of the glacial ice water and is responsible for the springs that Harlow was once renown for. At the time, the springs helped contribute to a rich and diverse habitat, attracting hominids long before they settled west in The Thames Valley.

There is a considerable amount of evidence pointing to Iron Age Settlements throughout The Stort Valley, between Gilston and Harlow. Most notably at Pole Hill farm, an incredible 24,000 year old hand axe has recently been found. Subsequent settlements soon became established. At Templefields there is a sacred shrine, reportedly attributed to the goddess “Andraste’” an Icenic war goddess invoked by Boudica in her fight against the Roman Occupation of Britain in AD 60. One of the largest hoards of Celtic coins was also found near this site, in a steam bed, as offerings. By way of a modern comparison, this would be like throwing coins in a wishing well.

During the British Celtic rebellion Boudica came to worship at this site having defeated an entire Roman legion at Colchester, before heading off to what is now known as St. Albans. This evidence is collaborated from the Roman writer Dio Tacilus. Eventually The Romans won and rededicated the temple to their own goddess, Minerva, goddess of wisdom strategic warfare justice, law, victory, and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. Perhaps this was done to atone for their legions lost in battle against Boudica, as she was a formidable foe. The current Harlow Council information board states that the Roman temple is one of the most important Roman sites in Southern Britain and certainly one of the largest. It should also be noted that several roman roads and a bridge crossing The River Stort have since been discovered close to this site.

Once The Roman Empire fell, The Saxons settled in the area and constructed The Latton water mill. This water mill has played a vital role in the local economy throughout history and is the heart of The Latton Parish. Famous landmarks include Latton Street, Latton Clock house, Latton Common and Latton Priory. All because of this Saxon Mill. The Altham map of 1616, which is on display in The Harlow Museum shows its prominence and indicates outbuildings which will be bulldozed during the construction of the roundabout on River Way, should it be built. Several noteworthy owners included The East India Company, who developed a special method for silk milling and the Arkwright family who invented the spinning loom. Another extremely interesting legacy is the Johnny Walker whisky label. It features a certain Mr Burgoyne as a young man. His parents were owners of Latton Mill at some stage in history.

During the 19th century the millpond became the home to Latton diving club and later became Harlow swimming pool until the new swimming pool was built in the 1960s. The public footpath to Latton Lock still remains and a plaque commemorates it saying 0.4 kilometres to Latton Lock. This footpath will be lost should the proposed roundabout be built.

The Friends of Latton Island met with local Archeologist Mick Jury, to learn just how important the area around Latton Island truly is. You can see him here showing a tool dating back 2400 years.

These a photographs by Maria Warner of the footpath leading to the Temple Site

Images of the Ancient Temple site by Maria Warner

Depiction of Boudicca from the National portrait gallery by Willaim Faithorne. Image in public domain

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