Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Marston Moretaine > Iron Age Marston

Iron Age Marston

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county's historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website.  

A number of archaeological excavations carried out in advance of development in the Marston Moretaine area have produced considerable evidence of early occupation. In 2000 work carried out to the east of Woburn Road in the area of what is now Howes Drive and Drapers End showed prolonged occupation from the Middle Iron Age to the Roman period. Structural features were uncovered which were thought to be associated with an agricultural settlement, and a number of finds probably associated with domestic hearths were recovered. The centre of the settlement appeared to be to the west of the site, trailing off on the downward slope to the east. The alignment of ditches suggested that the enclosure continued westwards towards the A421 bypass. This may have been a small separate settlement, or the periphery of a larger Late Iron Age / Romano-British settlement [HER17713]. 

Archaeological work carried out in 2010 showed evidence of occupation from the mid Iron Age to the Roman period in two areas close to Elstow Brook [HER15321]. The results were published in South Midlands Archaeology, volume 41 (2011). The site is now under housing to the east of Gold Furlong. 

Excavations on a site on raised ground to the west of Elstow Brook which showed evidence of cropmarks revealed a Mid to Late Iron Age enclosed settlement with five roundhouses in two separate clusters. The two roundhouses to the north may have been the remains of an unenclosed settlement, pre-dating the main enclosure, and produced exclusively hand-made pottery. The three roundhouses in the southern part of the enclosure were 12 to 15 metres in diameter and had all been rebuilt at least once. They produced both hand-made and ‘Belgic’ Iron Age pottery, and were probably built later than the northern two. The westernmost roundhouse was the best preserved and included a central, clay-built hearth-base surrounded by a four post structure. Parallel ditching to the east of the enclosure ditch probably formed a stock-control system and may have been the eastern boundary of the settlement. 

In the Later Iron Age the south-eastern entrance to the existing enclosure was closed and a number of smaller enclosures were built into the existing ditch system. Two new roundhouses were built to the south-west, nearer to the main enclosure’s southern entrance; these produced both hand-made ‘Belgic’ and late pre-Roman Iron Age pottery.  

During the Late Iron Age and early Roman period the focus of the settlement began to move north west and the old enclosure system was largely abandoned. It probably survived as an earthwork. The Late Iron Age enclosure system was largely abandoned and replaced by a rectilinear ‘ladder’ enclosure system associated with a ditched routeway with a large D-shaped enclosure, possibly for stock control, on higher ground at its south eastern end. It seems that flooding had become a problem, but a number of ditched field systems were created to the south-east of the enclosure and another ditched routeway aligned northwest to southeast was created to the west of the enclosure. There is also evidence of cremation burials and an inhumation. 

A small Late Iron Age / Romano-British cremation cemetery was located in a second area about 30 metres south of Elstow Brook. This contained four urned cremation burials, including an unusual double burial with two urns in the same grave, and two inhumation burials. Around 90 metres to the north-east were a series of ditches and a large, square-shaped pit or cistern which contained pottery dating from the Late Iron Age to the 4th century. Archaeological investigations at the entrance to the Marston Vale Millennium Country Park had previously showed evidence of late Iron Age activity in this area, with dense pit clusters, ditches, roundhouses and enclosures [HER17715].  

Further evidence of Iron Age occupation has also been found at Wood End [HER20504]