The 1st mention of Grim’s Ditch was a Grant of 1170-90 in the Missenden Cartulary referring to it as Grimesdic. The Anglo Saxons commonly named features of unexplained or mysterious origin Grim. The word derives from the Norse word Grimr meaning Devil and a nickname for Odin or Wodin the God of War & Magic. Another mention is to be found in a 10thC Anglo Saxon Boundary Charter for the Mongewell area.
The Oxfordshire Grim’s Ditch is a series of discrete Linear Earthworks of Iron Age date which together make up at least one segmented Circuit. The Earthworks which define this area were only built in Open Country leaving apparent gaps in the areas previously Forested. Where visible, the Grim’s Ditch always includes a Rampart of dumped Earth & Stone, a berm & outer Ditch and, in places, a narrow Palisade Trench beyond. It is believed that, together, these components served to enclose & divide an area of Land and provide control over access through the Open Country which existed between heavily Forested areas. The Ditch is Iron Age in date and provides evidence of how the Landscape was managed & divided in the Period immediately prior to the Roman Conquest. The high concentration of Sites representing Iron Age Ritual & Agricultural activity which occur within the area defined by the Ditch confirms the view that it served to define an area which was of particular significance to its Builders.
This is a Bank & Fosse which runs in a semi-circular Course, commencing in the Northern portion of Blenheim Park and passing through some portion of the Parishes (though not in any case touching the Villages) of Glympton, Kiddington, Enstone & Spelsbury and ending, so far as its present remains have been found, on the East Bank of the River Evenlode, South of Charlbury Town.
Dr Plot in 1676 & Dr Warton in 1782 traced it, but it is difficult at points to follow the Course as laid down by them. The work exists at present in fragments, and 1st appears in Blenheim Park in the form of a slight entrenchment at the place South of the Ditchley Gate, where Akeman Street crosses the Park. There is now no trace of it as it leaves the Park, but 650-yds. due North of the Gate it reappears in the further Hedge of the Field in which Woodley’s Farm Buildings are situated. From here it runs in a Northerly direction down the Hill, which falls 68-ft. in 500-yds, to Slape Bottom. It consists of a Ditch 38-ft wide, with a Bank along the Western edge the top of which is 6ft-4ins from the bottom of the Ditch and 2ft-9ins from the Ground Level. The Ditch is 4-ft below the Ground level on the Eastern side (see Section A/B on Map).
At Slape Bottom it enters Hark Wood and ascends the opposite Hill amid the Woods which clothe its side. Here it is not so pronounced. About 80-yds from the bottom of the Hill a Barrow rises in its Course, after which to the Northern end of Hark Wood it exists in the form of a Bank 7ft-6ins from the bottom of the Ditch, which is to the East, and is 43-ft wide & 3ft-6ins. below the Ground, which here slopes to the East. All traces of it are lost at the end of Hark Wood, but it begins again suddenly with a Dead End due apparently to no natural feature at a point in Berring’s Wood 570-yds North-west of its end in Hark Wood and 130-yds South-east of Tomlin’s Gate. Here as before the Ditch would appear to still face Eastward, and is of the same width as before, being 6ft-6ins. below the ground on the West & 3ft-6ins on the East. From the top of the Western Bank the ground slopes with a natural declivity to the rear; in fact the Ditch runs along the Eastern side of a Defile, shown on the Ordnance Survey Map by the 400-ft Contour Line, for about 540-yds, when it turns Westward, and after crossing an Open Field, where its dimensions have been very much reduced, enters Out Wood, in the middle of which it Ceases. There is no further trace of it in the direction in which it was pointing, but on the Summit of the Hill, 600 yds North of Out Wood and at an altitude of 449ft, it re-appears in a small section in the Field to the west of Assarts Cottage. It runs due East & West, and has been practically demolished by the Plough, but appears as a small Bank facing North. It is to be seen again at the Western end of the same Field, and can be traced, still in a very much reduced condition, across the Kiddington Drive of Ditchley Park. In the Park there are no traces of it until a quarter of a mile to the West of the House near the Rosary, where it appears again with the Ditch 40ft wide. It has here the local name of ‘Love Walk,’ and runs East & West on the North of the Road from Ditchley House to Model Farm, at one of the Western Entrances to the Park. At the Farm it makes a curious sweep to the North as if to Skirt the Buildings, and comes to an end on the Road, which is apparently an old Trackway. There is no raised Bank remaining along its Course at this place, but the Southern Bank of the Ditch is 6ft high from the Bottom, while the Northern is only 3ft-6ins. The ground here slopes naturally to the North. At this Point the Ditch would enter the cultivated and open ground between Ditchley & Charlbury, and there is no trace of it until it re-appears in a Field called Baywell to the South of the latter place, where it runs in the shape of a Bank 4ft high with the remains of the Ditch on the North along the Northern side of a natural Gulley, and comes to an end above the Railway and the River Evenlode, pointing straight for one of the Rectangular Earthworks in Cornbury Park on the other side of the Narrow Valley. This is the last appearance of it so far as it can now be traced, but Dr Robert Plot asserts that he was told that it could be found in the Woods beyond Cornbury Park pointing for Ramsden. In this case it would probably again join the Akeman Street, which runs through that Parish, and from which it started in Blenheim Park 5-miles Eastward. The Roman Road, if this were so, would form a Base upon which Grim’s Ditch, as sketched above, would form a semi-circular Arc to the North, its centre being at Stonesfield, near which Village important remains of Roman Villas have been found.
The remains of 2 other pieces of Entrenchment must be mentioned as apparently forming part of the Scheme of Grim’s Ditch. The 1st is a Trench which commences at Starveall Farm, and, crossing the Charlbury to Woodstock Road, runs due North down the Hill to Pool Bottom, parallel to but about half a mile to the West or in the Rear of the section of Grim’s Ditch between Woodley’s Farm & Slape Bottom. This Ditch, which is on Ploughed Land and is being rapidly reduced, is now 70ft from Bank to Bank, the Westward being 3ft. high & the Eastern half that height.
The 2nd of the remains is of a short line of Entrenchment which formerly ran East & West at 100-yds North of Shilcott Wood above Ditchley New Park and parallel with that section of Grim’s Ditch from Ditchley Park to the Model Farm. It has disappeared in the Fields, but can still be traced where it crosses the old Trackway which runs down the West side of the Park and which at this spot is a grass-grown Lane. This Entrenchment would be in front of the Grim’s Ditch assuming that the latter faced Outwards, as the different heights of its Bank would appear to justify us in looking upon it as doing.
In 1868 General Pitt-Rivers examined the Ditch and the Ground encompassed by it, and came to the conclusion which he stated as follows:—
I have only to add, from personal Inspection of it, that it is not merely a Boundary, but without doubt a Fortification, for its commanding position, its adaptation to the features of the Ground, and the situation of its Ditch, are points which, viewed tactically, are sufficient to determine it to be a work of Defence. Throughout its whole line it so much resembles other Dykes which I have examined in Yorks & elsewhere – that if I were to be guided by its Trace alone I should be inclined to class it with those Dykes and to attribute it to the same Origin, but other considerations are favourable to its being a Roman Earthwork. These considerations are: firstly, that it covers a portion of the Akeman Street, which runs across the Country in a North-easterly direction, passing along the rear of this work in such a manner as to be defended by it from a Northerly Attack; and secondly between Akeman Street and the Dyke, and within the area defended by the Dyke, there are traces of several Roman Villas and other Roman remains. – These circumstances favour the supposition that the Dyke may have been thrown up by the Romans to defend a Roman Settlement established in this place in connection with the Great Road and to secure the Communication of the Inhabitants with the Road.
Against this assumption of a Roman Origin must be set the evidence of Mr F Haverfield, who in a communication on his examination of the Akeman Street in Blenheim Park in 1898, points out that so far as could be judged the Road ran over the Ditch and cut through the Entrenchment (which is taken to be the commencement of Grim’s Ditch), and if this be so the Entrenchment at that point, at all events, would appear to be pre-Roman.
Grim’s Ditch (Chilterns) is a series of Linear Earthwork in the Chilterns. A complete outline cannot be identified but separate sections exist over a 30-kms (19-mls) span between Bradenham, Bucks, Berkhamsted, Herts and as far as Pitstone & Ivinghoe Bucks. Pottery shards have been unearthed in excavations during the 1970s & 1980s suggesting that its origin may have been during the Iron Age and was believed to have been during a period when the Landscape was clearer of Scrub and the dense Woodland than today as the straighter sections would have required clear lines of Sight. Its size varies considerably. At Hastoe the Ditch is 3.5M (11-ft) wide & 2M (6ft-7ins) deep with a Bank of 2M (6ft-7ins) and an overall spread of 13.5M (44-ft). The purpose of the Earthwork is uncertain. It is thought by the Ordnance Survey (1974) that it may be a set of local Boundaries used to Control the movement of Cattle & Carts and dating back to the Iron Age, as no Anglo-Saxon event is connected with it. It is not seen as having a Defensive Function due to the way that the Banks have been constructed. It may in fact be a collection of Structures with 2 or more purposes, with the Hilltop section near Cholesbury being associated with the nearby Iron Age Hillfort whilst other Sections lower down towards Aylesbury Vale may demarcate areas where Pig & Cattle grazing occurred. Sections are scheduled as Ancient Monuments.
Grim’s Dyke or Ditch enters Bucks from Herts at the Junction of Shire Lane with the Road to Layland’s Farm in Drayton Beauchamp; it continues in a South-Westerly direction, to a point a little North of King’s Ash, where it turns East of South to Woodlands Park, then curves round towards the West, descends the Hill, and is faintly visible as far as the Railway Line. From this point there is a gap of nearly 2-miles before it reappears in Oaken Grove, about 2/3-mile South-East of Hampden House, where it runs in a North-Westerly direction: at its South-East extremity, there are 2 Moated Mounds. The Dyke continues, with intervals, for about 1¼-miles, and then turns at right-angles in a South-Westerly direction through Monks Risborough & Princes Risborough to Lacey Green; there it turns to the South East, through Beamangreen & Park Woods, in Bradenham Parish, where it dies out. A similar work bearing the same name appears at the West end of the Chilterns near Nuffield in South Oxon. The course of the Dyke, which keeps chiefly to High Ground, may be followed without any great difficulty, except between Woodlands Park & Oaken Grove, where it is completely obliterated. It consists of a single Rampart and a Ditch which, in general, lies South or South East of the Rampart. At its best, the Rampart is about 6ft above the bottom of the Ditch, which is 3ft below the Counter-Scarp & 40ft wide.
Two sections of Grims Ditch, each about 500 yds long, can be traced running in a South-Easterly direction through Beaman Green & Park Woods, in the North of Bradenham Village.
Grim’s Dyke or Ditch enters Bucks from Herts at the Junction of Shire Lane with the Road to Layland’s Farm in Drayton Beauchamp; it continues in a South-Westerly direction, to a point a little North of King’s Ash, where it turns East of South to Woodlands Park, then curves round towards the West, descends the Hill, and is faintly visible as far as the Railway Line. From this point there is a gap of nearly 2-miles before it reappears in Oaken Grove, about 2/3rds of a mile South-East of Hampden House, where it runs in a North-Westerly direction: at its South-East extremity there are 2 Moated Mounds. The Dyke continues, with intervals, for about 1¼-miles, and then turns at Right-angles in a South-Westerly direction through Monks Risborough & Princes Risborough to Lacey Green; there it turns to the South East, through Beamangreen & Park Woods, in Bradenham Parish, where it dies out. A similar work bearing the same name appears at the West end of the Chilterns near Nuffield in South Oxon. The Course of the Dyke, which keeps chiefly to High Ground, may be followed without any great difficulty, except between Woodlands Park & Oaken Grove, where it is completely obliterated. It consists of a single Rampart & a Ditch which, in general, lies South or South East of the Rampart. At its best, the Rampart is about 6ft above the bottom of the Ditch, which is 3ft below the Counter-Scarp & 40ft wide.
Grim’s Ditch approaches Lacey Green from the South-east, stopping short at the Southern end of the Village. After a 500M break, the Earthwork re-emerges again in Kiln Lane, heading in a North-easterly direction, having turned almost at Right-angles. The Kiln Lane section is located just outside of the curtilage of the Village. Lying to the east of the Lane, there is evidence of its course passing through the Gardens of 2-Properties and adjacent Pastureland. The Ditch continues beside Bridleway L21, which descends steeply into a valley. Crossing Kiln Lane on the Valley Floor, the Earthwork continues North-eastwards, by Bridleway and public footpath, en route to Great Hampden. This 2.5-mile stretch is the longest complete section in the Chilterns. At Monk Risborough the Ditch is visible in this Parish, running in a SW direction from Redland end, along the edge of Hillock Wood & Monkton Wood to Lilybottom Farm. At the best preserved part of this section the Bank is about 4-ft above the Ditch, and the Ditch is about 30-ft wide.
Grim’s Ditch ‘B’
The 2nd Dyke bearing this name in this County appears to have run from the River Thames opposite Wallingford in a South-easterly direction across the Chilterns to the same River at Henley-on-Thames, the distance between the 2 points being 10-miles. The name Grim’s Ditch applied to this work appears in a Charter of or before the Reign of Richard I. Commencing on the West the Ditch appears to have run from the River Bank three-quarters of a mile below Wallingford Bridge, along the North side of the Grounds of Mongewell House to the Road from Crowmarsh Gifford, where it reaches Higher Ground. It then runs East-by-south in a straight line for 3-miles to Nuffield, and this Section is the most perfect of its whole Course. From the Lodge of Mongewell House to the edge of Foxberry Wood, where it crosses the Icknield Way, about a mile and a quarter, it exists in the shape of a grass-grown Bank 5ft-9ins in height, with a flat top 4-ft wide which appears to be used as a Footpath. It runs here across High Ground which slopes gradually North & South, though more so to the latter, and as the Land is Arable it forms a conspicuous object seen for some distance when the ground is clear of Crops. In Foxberry Wood & Oaken Copse the Bank had been reduced, and outside the latter to the East it disappears altogether for about 200-yds in the Course of a modern Hedge. Then it re-appears in the shape of a Ditch and enters the Belt of Trees leading into the Mongewell Woods, and here the Bank appears again on the Northside of the Ditch. As it descends into Morrell’s Bottom and the Wooded Enclosure North of Mongewell Woods the Bank rises 6-ft from the Ground Level on the North and falls 8ft-6ins into the Ditch, which is 7-ft below the Ground Level on the South and is 45-ft wide from Bank to Bank. Inside the Enclosure the Bank disappears and the work continues in the shape of a Ditch only: at 1st, near Woodlands Farm, with the sides of equal height, but nearer Nuffield the Northern Side is 9ft-6ins above the bottom of the Ditch, and the Southern 4ft-6ins It is here pointing straight for Timber’s Barn, but about 6-yds inside the Field in which the Barn stands it comes to an end, to re-appear again in the form of a Ditch on the Northern Side of a rectangular wooded Enclosure called Heycroft Shaw, at the South corner of Nuffield Common and half a mile due East of its end near Timber’s Barn. It did not, however, apparently go straight across this Interval, for a Bank about 270-yds. to the South would suggest that the Ditch made a Dip to this point and then turned North-east to its present Trace at the corner of Nuffield Common. Continuing from the latter point a Bank running South-east carries it to Hayden Farm. The remainder of its course to Henley exists only in fragments, and from these it appears to have been of a rather tortuous character. It is a significant fact that down to Lambridge Wood, where the last remaining Section of it is to be found, the fragments of it are all on the Line of the Southern Parish Boundary of Nettlebed and the Western & Southern Boundaries of Bix. It is not an unreasonable suggestion that these Parish Boundaries were laid along the Ditch, and that in those parts where it has disappeared the Boundaries mark its Course. It is upon this that the conjectured Line of its Course has been laid down on the Map herewith.
Often these Dykes became used as Footways and obtained in places the local names of Lanes. In the Grim’s Ditch ‘A’ a Footpath runs down it from near Woodley’s Farm to Slape Bottom, and near Ditchley Park a section of it retains the name of ‘Love Walk.’ A continuation of a fragment of the Ditch under present consideration which appears at the North of Swan Wood is a Lane called ‘Deadman’s Lane,’ while a portion of the Southern Boundary of Bix, in one of the Gaps of the remaining Course of the Ditch, but leading straight to the one in the Woods above Greys Court, runs along a Lane called ‘Rocky Lane.’ In these Lanes we may possibly see further evidence of the Course of the Ditch, and if so they support the suggestion that it was used in the Demarcation of the Parish Boundaries.
Reverting to the remaining traces after Hayden Farm in the Parish of Nuffield, a Footpath along a Hedge planted with Trees and sweeping in a curve 1st South & then South-east would appear to be its Course. The Boundary of the Nettlebed Parish joins this and runs along it, and upon it at the Northern edge of Swan Wood there is a Trace of the Grim’s Ditch in a Bank from which runs the Lane called ‘Deadman’s Lane.’ The present Boundary leaves this to make a straight turn to the North-east for 120-yds, and then at Right-angles again back to the Lane, and the latter would appear to have been the more probable continuation of the Ditch, which re-appears at the point where the Boundary rejoins the Lane and runs due South, skirting the Western edge of Highmoor Common Wood, for 700-yds and then turns, still carrying the Parish Boundary, due East for 300-yds, where it Ceases. In Highmoor Common Wood, at the point where Grim’s Ditch re-appears on the north, there is a Trench running to the East through the Wood, known as Highmoor Trench, which can hardly, however, have been part of the Course of the Ditch. After leaving the remains of the Ditch at the South of Highmoor Common Wood the Parish Boundary continues Eastward to a Plantation called Broom Pightles and then Southwards to ‘Rocky Lane‘ and Eastward along it into the Woods North of Greys, in which slight remains of the Ditch have been traced on its Course, and then up to the North-west corner of Lambridge Wood. There the Ditch re-appears, but leaves the Boundary and in the form of a Ditch makes a sweep to the South-east for about half a mile, and then comes to an end, pointing straight for Henley Town. This is the last trace of the Ditch.
On the other hand an attempt was made to give the line of the ‘missing’ Section in the Victoria Counry History. This is scarcely reliable. The Ditch runs the 1st 3-miles between Mongewell & the Chiltem Ridge in a single alignment and even when it turns there it never truly departs from its dependence upon straight Alignments. The’ remaining’ 5-miles given in the Victoria Counry History scrupulously avoid such practices; they include 7 Bends, 3 of them through Acute Angles, and take all of 7-miles in doing so. The truth is that this Account simply uses stray lengths of Parish Boundary to join together various spurious Earthworks denounced by Crawford as the remains of a relatively recent Road.