Blog Post

The Great Chichester Hoax – A Bridge too far?

It seems I’ve once again stirred up some controversy among the old archaeology club members of Chichester. A few years back, there was quite a buzz in Chichester when they unearthed a Roman Villa complete with a bathhouse. Eager to contribute, I headed to the site with my drone, hoping to capture aerial shots. However, my offer was turned down, perhaps due to the slew of questions I posed to the lead archaeologist. I was particularly intrigued by the water sourcing and drainage for the bathhouse, especially given the presence of the prehistoric dyke that ran through the park. Yet, they seemed to disregard the sizable bank at the edge of the cricket ground. (The Great Chichester Hoax – A Bridge too far?)

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
The Dyke (green) next to the bank (orange) in Priory Park

Now, they’ve uncovered another segment that I firmly believe is part of the Roman drainage system, connecting to the Dyke in a direct line. However, they’ve made a somewhat surprising claim—they think it’s a bridge to the Motte and Bailey castle (but that’s another story, as it’s a fire beacon). Unfortunately, from the photographs, it appears relatively small and insufficient to be a bridge. Nevertheless, this small group of amateurs called in the local press, who then informed the BBC to tout this as a historical find, even though it’s yet to be fully excavated—an oversight I’ve dubbed “The Great Chichester Hoax.”

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
The BBC article

Sadly, this scenario reflects the current state of archaeology. Some quickly accept sensational claims simply because they’re featured on the BBC, ignoring scientific facts. It’s disappointing to see more propaganda overshadowing genuine archaeological inquiry. (The Great Chichester Hoax – A Bridge too far?)

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
The Bridge

Living and commuting past this site every day while attending university in recent years (and yes, to disappoint the sceptics, I do hold an Honors Degree in History), I couldn’t help but be amused by the public information board proclaiming it as a classic Motte and Bailey structure from the Norman period. Now, I never doubted its use during the Norman era, especially with the remains of Greyfriars Monastery, the Guildhall, at its base. This chapel had undergone modifications over the years, providing ample evidence for dating the site to this period. But was the mound of Norman origin knowing that a Dyke was nearby? There was a question that the local archaeological club did not wish to explore it seemed.

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
More of a Drainage Ditch than a bridge over a 15m moat?

What fascinated me most, however, was the massive bank on the edge of the Cricket Green, which had been paved over and led towards the mound and the eastern wall of the Guildhall. It almost seemed as if the building was strategically placed by the ditch of the Dyke. Yes, the presence of the Dyke was painfully obvious, yet its existence was never mentioned on the historic plaques or in the online information or countless books about Roman Chichester.

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
LiDAR Map showing that the Dyke ditch is in line with the ‘Bridge.’

In response to the BBC article and Facebook blog, I (helpfully) pointed out these observations again and even provided one of my unique LiDAR maps of the area (which they had never possessed or consulted). I was, consequently, taken aback by their dismissive response, insisting that their experts were correct in their assessment of the site and the supposed new bridge (which had grown to over 15 meters, now supposedly the size of the moat—identified by ground penetration surveys, but frustratingly, not published anywhere for verification). I countered that this assessment was likely incorrect, as LiDAR would have easily detected such a massive ditch, as evidenced by the much smaller Dyke ditch of about 2 meters wide visible in the LiDAR map.

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
Report on the 1855 excavation

Moreover, I reminded them that this site had been excavated initially back in 1855, and the lead archaeologist, Thomas King, had reported that the mound was, in fact, a Roman tumulus. While it may have been repurposed or utilised in some way during the Norman period, it certainly does not fit the classic Motte and Bailey castle mound. How could Roman artefacts find their way into a mound supposedly built 600 years after the Romans had left? Their response was a concocted tale about scattered debris from the Roman period being accidentally left at the top of the mound as they built it from the spoil at the bottom and subsequent moated area. This notion seemed highly improbable to me. After all, one would assume that Thomas King, who conducted the formal investigation into the Greyfriars Church and mound by excavation in an attempt to find any connectivity between the two features and potential connections, would not arrive at such an unexpected conclusion based solely on a few scattered fragments of debris.(The Great Chichester Hoax – A Bridge too far?)

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
Plan of the Excavation – the castle is tiny so Probably not a Norman Motte and Baily

So, to further their understanding of Roman beacons, I included additional information they may not have been aware of. I suggested that if they were genuinely interested in the archaeology of the mound and its historical significance, they should consider visiting Lewes, just down the road—a place where I’ve lived and conducted surveys. In Lewes, they would find not one but two fire beacons. Interestingly, both have been misidentified again! The Trump, a mound serving as a fire beacon for the Cluny Monastery, was crucial in guiding ships from France into a safe harbour.

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
Other Roman Tumulus of this period

I also mentioned another site associated with a real motte and bailey castle, Brack Hill. Initially thought to be part of the Norman Castle, recent finds of Roman artefacts suggest it dates back to pre-Norman times, possibly even Roman or earlier, serving as a fire beacon. This aligns with the historical context, as the town would have been a harbour, with The Brack situated right on the shoreline of the prehistoric river.

Page 155 lewes
Brack Hill – not Norman as Roman finds in the centre of the mound.

Their response was rather dismissive, claiming that the Lewes Trump was not a fire beacon but nothing more than a garden feature— a mere 75 feet high and 140 feet in circumference. However, I argued that this seemed implausible for a mere “garden feature,” especially considering its location at the edge of the monastery’s grounds. I suggested they study a LiDAR map, which would reveal that The Trump, formerly known as The Mount, sits on the prehistoric shoreline of Lewes. Adjacent to it is another ancient site, the “dripping pan,” a salt production site for the Cluny Monks, requiring constant saltwater. This, I argued, provides empirical evidence supporting its role as a fire beacon—guiding French-origin ships off the English Channel to safe harbours and the monastery.

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
Trump – A fire Beacon for the ships from France

Unfortunately, my contributions were met with silence, as they seemed more interested in celebrating their historic bridge discovery rather than engaging in meaningful archaeological discussions, as they considered the matter closed. It’s disappointing to see archaeologists shut down debate and ignore valuable information, promoting unsupported propaganda instead of evidence-based inquiry. This closed-minded approach is a stark departure from authentic scientific practice, contributing to the devaluation of archaeology as a subject and the subsequent decline of related courses due to this ‘dumbing down’.(The Great Chichester Hoax – A Bridge too far?)

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
The fantasy and archaeological propaganda – so what happened to all that soil in the ditch (as its not on the motte?) or was it a moat??

it is crucial to remain open to new interpretations and theories that might differ significantly from traditional views. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Still, it does require us to question and reassess historical assumptions, ensuring our understanding of the past is as accurate as possible.

The Great Chichester Hoax - A Bridge too far?
The Reality – is the Mound is smaller than the Church/Guild Hall and no signs of the moat or ditch

(The Great Chichester Hoax – A Bridge too far?)

Further Reading

For information about British Prehistory, visit www.prehistoric-britain.co.uk for the most extensive archaeology blogs and investigations collection, including modern LiDAR reports.  This site also includes extracts and articles from the Robert John Langdon Trilogy about Britain in the Prehistoric period, including titles such as The Stonehenge Enigma, Dawn of the Lost Civilisation and the ultimate proof of Post Glacial Flooding and the landscape we see today.

Robert John Langdon has also created a YouTube web channel with over 100 investigations and video documentaries to support his classic trilogy (Prehistoric Britain). He has also released a collection of strange coincidences that he calls ‘13 Things that Don’t Make Sense in History’ and his recent discovery of a lost Stone Avenue at Avebury in Wiltshire called ‘Silbury Avenue – the Lost Stone Avenue’.

Langdon has also produced a series of ‘shorts’, which are extracts from his main body of books:

The Ancient Mariners

Stonehenge Built 8300 BCE

Old Sarum

Prehistoric Rivers

Dykes ditches and Earthworks

Echoes of Atlantis

Homo Superior

Mysteries of the Oldest Boatyard Uncovered

Pages

Categories

(The Great Chichester Hoax – A Bridge too far?)