Geology Site Account
Norton Heath Gravel Pits, NORTON HEATH, Epping Forest District, TL601042, General geological site
Site name: Norton Heath Gravel Pits
Grid reference: TL 601 042
Brief description of site:
Disused shallow gravel pits, now ponds, exist at Norton Heath. The origin of this small patch of gravel, known as Stanmore Gravel, is unclear. It dates from the early part of the Ice Age and may have been deposited by northward-flowing tributaries of the pre-diversion Thames. Exposures of this gravel therefore have the potential for future research.
Several shallow pits where sand and gravel was once exploited, can be seen at Norton Heath. This sand and gravel is referred to on geological maps as ‘Stanmore Gravel’ and it occurs elsewhere on the high ground of the adjoining Brentwood district. How it was formed has been debated by geologists since the 19th century. Its origin is still unclear today although one theory is that it was laid down by a river, probably over one million years ago, during the early part of the Ice Age. This was at a time when the Thames flowed across what is now North Essex and Suffolk. The river in question may therefore have been a northward-flowing tributary of the Thames. Others have favoured a marine origin for the gravel.
The heath is unfortunately a rather dark and shady woodland and district council is undergoing work to restore it to the condition it was in when the Essex Field Club visited just before the First World War (Willmott 1913) when there was a wide variety of heathland plants. Willmott refers to the gravel as ‘Bagshot Pebble Bed’ but this view is now discredited.
The heath has been proposed as a Local Nature Reserve to reflect its importance as a remnant heath. The site is a Local wildlife Site and access is available at all times.
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Reference: Millward et al. 1987 (p. 28), Willmott 1913.
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