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Bronze age Burial Ground on Round Hill

I was fascinated by the letter from David Guest in the September 2006 issue of the Reporter, referring to the discovery of a possible Bronze Age burial beside Upper Lewes Road, and decided to see what more I could learn. The document inspiring David’s letter, from East Sussex County Council written in 2002, contained references to a site visit by a member of the Ordnance Survey (OS) Archaeology Division in March 1972, articles in the Brighton Herald of October 1822 and of 7 July 1923, and an OS archaeological records map.

The easiest to follow up was the Brighton Herald 1923 issue held on microfilm in the Local History library at Brighton museum. Page 12 held a regular feature called ‘Brighton 100 years ago’, and it was there that an item from 1822 was reproduced at the suggestion of Mr H S Toms, the Curator of Brighton Museum. The item was a letter written by ‘R.H.’ of Middle Street, and related the discovery of five skeletons and some broken pottery on land owned by a Mr John Colbatch at a site on the south side of Round Hill. Workmen had been removing a mound formed of stones and loose earth, when they discovered the human remains about 30 inches below the surface. R.H. visited the site with Mr Colbatch and noted that the bodies were not interred into the solid chalk. The letter failed to give a specific site for the burial.

Why does it matter where the exact location was? Ultimately I guess it doesn’t, but once hooked on the search, every nuance takes on meaning. The East Sussex document that started this trail gives an eight- figure grid reference for the site – that pinpoints it to a specific ten metre square. Where did this apparent accuracy come from? As far as I have been able to discover so far it is down to Herbert Toms.

Having drawn the Herald’s attention to the 100 year old item, he added the information to a map of record of archaeological finds, held by East Sussex County Council. The map is now held in Barbican House by the Sussex Archaeological Society and the printed OS sheet has been hand annotated by Toms. He scribed a ‘2’ on the bottom edge of the map just where Upper Lewes Road runs off the printed area, so that the upper part of the figure 2 is totally within the open land behind 20 to 23 Upper Lewes Road.

Mr Toms also wrote a note on the margin of the map as follows:
2. Mound with 5 skeletons and pottery Oct 1822 see BH 12/10/1922 See also article in B’ton Herald July 7, 1923.

The second line I followed was the OS Archaeology Division visit of 1972. A call to the OS in Southampton revealed that they no longer have such a division, that the named inspector no longer appears in their internal phone book and that the full report is likely to be lodged at the National Archive at Kew Gardens. A letter to them may unearth the site report, which might provide more information.

The OS field investigator is quoted on the East Sussex document that started this search. He says, “The given siting falls within an old quarry now occupied by a coach park, behind a Georgian house at the roadside. The Brighton Herald issues referred to are now no longer available.” His term ‘the given siting’ must refer to Toms’ original figure 2 written on the archaeological records map. The eight- figure grid reference coincides with a point halfway up the vertical height of the 2 and on the actual drawn line of the figure two. This combination leads me to conclude that the field investigator gave an eight figure grid reference to Toms’ site, picking the middle of the figure two arbitrarily.

It occurred to me that a 1972 OS visit to a site originally recorded some 40 years earlier must have had a cause, and I thought that it might have been a significant planning application. Records from the seventies are held somewhere in Newhaven, but the Council did get them for me. I learnt of some very big plans including a 6- storey block of flats over a car maintenance and repair garage with petrol station forecourt - a plan submitted on behalf of National Benzole in 1965 - but there were no applications in the 1970s – another dead end.

One remaining line of enquiry would be to find records of land ownership for 1822, and to see what parcels of land on the south side of Round Hill were held by a Mr John Colbatch. There is a J Colbatch of 4 Grand Parade in the Baxters directory of 1822, listed under ‘nobility, gentry and others not in trade’. Googling Colbatch and Brighton led me to the Round Hill Society’s website and an article by Chris Tullett.

The Colbatch family owned the Sylvan Hall Estate, land at the western end of Upper Lewes Road. This is more fully documented in a Brighton Books publication, ‘Rose Hill to Roundhill’, written by the Round Hill Society local history group and published in 2004. The Colbatch name is mentioned on pages 17 and 19. The nearest part of Sylvan Hall Estate is sixty metres from Herbert Toms’ figure 2. Several years ago the newly formed Round Hill Society bid for, and acquired, a substantial collection of land ownership and transfer documents relating to land between Upper Lewes Road and Wakefield Road.

In part, they relate to the land which would become 20, 21, 22 and 23 Upper Lewes Road, and the earliest indenture for this plot, dated 8th August 1826, was between Thomas Read Kemp and William Acton, George Faithfull and Henry Faithfull. There is no earlier transfer listed in the schedules, and no mention of the Colbatch family.

The original newspaper piece appeared because Mr Colbatch had some men working on his land in 1822. An 1830 map of Round Hill, on page 8 of the ‘Rose Hill to Roundhill’ book, shows no building at all along Upper Lewes Road, but there is a large detached dwelling just east of Ditchling Road and barely south of the present Bromley Road, right on the ridgeline of Round hill and on land belonging to the Colbatch family, at about 130 feet elevation. Perhaps it was during initial clearing and groundwork for this dwelling – Rosehill Villa - that the mound was removed and the skeletons discovered?
This page was last updated by Ted on 15-Nov-2013
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