Geology Site Account
St. Swithins Pit (Carswell Pit) (site of), CLAYHALL, London Borough of Redbridge, TQ418895, Historical site only
Gravel pit in the 19th century yielding Palaeolithic artifacts and fossils. Further excavations in the vicinity could yield further artifacts.
The Boyn Hill/Orsett Heath terrace, the highest and oldest of the Thames terraces, forms an extensive spread of gravel across north London which has been dissected by tributaries such as the River Roding. On the left bank of the Roding there were gravel pits at Redbridge (see below) and further north at Clayhall, on land belonging to St. Swithins Farm.
St. Swithins, or Carswell Pit as it was also known, was situated behind a property called Carswell Cottage on Roding Lane South. A delightful account exists of a visit to this pit by 40 members of the Essex Field Club in July 1893 when the area was rural and surrounded by fields and meadows. The pit then extended for over an acre and revealed some 15 feet of what is now called Orsett Heath Gravel, recorded as containing mostly flint pebbles but also a proportion of ‘exotic’ rocks such as quartz and quartzite. The gravel also contained fossils which included a considerable number of bones of aurochs (a large ancestor of today’s cattle) and/or bison.
Of particular interest to the members visiting was the occurrence of Palaeolithic flint tools which indicated that at the time the gravel was deposited, some 400,000 years ago, these animals were being hunted by our human ancestors, probably an early form of Neanderthal. Sixteen hand-axes are known from this pit, the majority of which are in the British Museum.
The site of St. Swithins or Carswell Pit is now occupied by a cul-de-sac called Carswell Close off Roding Lane South.
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Reference: Cole 1893, Hinton 1900 (p.272), Monkton 1893 (p.116), Wymer 1985 (p.292)
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