NGRef: TL 472 125
OSMap: LR167; B16.
Type: Romano-british Temple Or Shrine, Romano-british Temple Or Shrine, Building, Building
River Stort Upstream: NE (6) to Bishops Stortford (Essex)
NW (10) to Bravghing
River Stort Downstream: S (23) to Londinivm

The Name of Romano-British Harlow

"Harlow Essex. Herlawe 1045, Herlaua 1086 (db). 'Mound or hill associated with an army (perhaps a Viking army).' OE here + hlaw." (Mills)

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Harlow was mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography of the seventh century A.D., appearing perhaps as one of the four settlements listed between Durobrabis (Rochester, Kent; R&C#74) and Utriconion Cornoviorum (Wroxeter, Shropshire; R&C#79). These stations are:

Roman Harlow may be any one of these stations, or it may not be represented at all. The Tamese entry in particular looks hopeful because Harlow lies upon the River Stort, a tributary stream of the Thames. Another tentative contender is the name Alauna, which may be associated in some way with rivers or with water in general, for example Maryport in Cumbria (Alauna Carvetiorum) lies at the mouth of the River Ellen, and Learchild in Northumberland (Alauna Votadinum) is associated with the River Aln, which was itself named the Alaunus in Roman times (q.v. R&C#283). With reference to the derivation of the modern place-name quoted from Mills above, the transition Alauna - Herlaua - Harlow, may be more than just a coincidence.

The Romano-British Settlement at Harlow


The Harlow Romano-British Temple

The Foundations of a 'Romano-British' temple were found during excavation at Harlow in the 1950's. This square temple lies in a temenos or 'sacred enclosure' on a low hill beside the River Stort. The outer portico measures 54½ feet square, the inner cella 24¾ feet square, both interior and exterior walls being a uniform 3 feet in thickness. Wall-plaster was found in the front wings of the building. Built in the late-3rd and in use until the late-4th centuries, the temple faces south-east. The temple is of particular note as it is one of only fifteen or so known Romano-British temple buildings in Britain, and the only one fronted by a substantial rectangular porch, which is the same width as the outer colonnade and extends some 13 feet to the south-east, being of a lighter construction than that of the templum proper. (Type Ib or Ic, or IIb/c)

Altar to the Spirit of the Emperor
To the Living Spirit of the Augustus and [...]
(RIB 190b; altar; JRS lv (1965), p.221, no.3)

There is only one inscription on stone entered in the R.I.B. for Harlow, the text and translation of which is given above. The piece is remarkable because, aside from those recovered from the Colonia at Colchester, this is the only other inscribed Roman stone in the entire county of Essex. Also of note, however, is the dedicatory lead tablet shown below, which apparently contains a list of requests to various gods, in order to secure a successful business enterprise, perhaps in order to exact revenge on a third party.

Votive Offering to Various Gods
To the god Mars.¹ I present to thee the situation and a third [share]. Also herself neither do I long for [since] I saw Metimotneo² get blood-stained for her. I bestow to thee Mercurius the other business of the ship [...] Minerva³ [...] bloody for her [...]
(RIB 190c; lead sheet; Britannia iv (1973), p.325, no.3)
  1. The Roman god of War. The deity in question may equally be the god Mercury, the patron god of traders, who is later mentioned by name.
  2. This word is possibly corrupted but may be translated along the lines of 'reap what you sow'.
  3. The fearsome goddess of battle, also of the peace that results from victory. The expansion and translation is tentative however.

Excavations in 1970

TL470127 - During machine trenching by building contractors on the east bank of the River Stort at Holbrooks in 1970, four Roman buildings were observed, one of which sported a hypocaust heating system and a mozaic floor. Portable finds included small votive axes and spears of bronze, a miniature pewter jug and parts of three guilt-bronze letters: part of a letter A; part of a vertical upright, perhaps of an M or N; and the vertical upright of a letter L.

Other Nearby Roman Remains

The remains of another substantial Romano-British building were uncovered close by the Harlow temple (at NGRef. TL4712), but no details are currently available. There was also a villa at Hallingbury in Essex (TL4916) along the Stort about 3½ miles upstream, and a pottery at Bromley Hall in Hertfordshire (TL4121) about 5½ miles along the road to Braughing at the crossing of the River Ash.

See: Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names by A.D. Mills (Oxford 1998);
Britannia ii (1971) pp.272/3, 289 & 295;
Temples in Roman Britain by M.J.T. Lewis (Cambridge 1966);
The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
A Romano-British Temple near Harlow, Essex in Ant. J., viii, pp.300-326;
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.

This page is dedicated to John O'Boyle - Yo Comite!

Link to maps of the area from: StreetMap Old-Maps MultiMap
Page Citation: Kevan White (2018) "Roman Britain: OLD HARLOW"