For the last three years OA East has been investigating an area to the northeast of Chelmsford in Essex that is rich in Iron Age and Roman remains, medieval manors and nucleated settlements. The works, which are being undertaken in stages but will eventually cover roughly 349ha, have been commissioned by AECOM (formerly URS) on behalf of Countryside Zest in advance of a major residential and mixed use development to be called Beaulieu.

So far we have opened around 545 trenches (following a DBA, geophysical survey and initial trenching) and excavated seven of the identified significant sites, along with nine smaller ones. One of the sites comprises a complex Iron Age settlement enclosure, remodelled following the Roman Conquest, with an adjacent small cremation cemetery containing high-status pottery vessels. Other discoveries include extensive late Bronze Age and early Iron Age dispersed settlement, two medieval moated house platforms, a large late medieval pit containing an assemblage of leather shoes, and the foundations of a high-status sixteenth-century house with brick-built cess pit and cold cellar. The most enigmatic features uncovered so far comprise extensive rows of Tudor brick foundation pads. These may represent post-pads for the temporary tented accommodation set up for the royal court, based at Beaulieu for over a month in 1527.

The project has progressed smoothly, with evaluation and assessment reports being produced at each stage: the initial results already indicate that these investigations will make a valuable contribution to understanding changing settlement patterns and land use in this part of Essex.