Oldest town in Britain

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The title of oldest town in Britain is claimed by a number of settlements in Great Britain.


Abingdon in the English county of Oxfordshire (historically Berkshire) claims to be the oldest town in Britain in continuous settlement.[1] Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age remains have been found in and around the town, and evidence of a late-Iron Age enclosure of 33 hectares known as an 'oppidum' was discovered underneath the town centre in 1991.[2] It continued to be used as a town throughout the Roman occupation of Britain[3] and subsequently became a Saxon settlement,[4] named Sevekesham[5] (or Seovechesham)[6] at a time when most other Roman cities were being abandoned.[7][8][9][10] Abingdon Abbey which gave the town its present name was founded in the seventh century.

In 2010 the issue of whether Thatcham or Abingdon was the longest inhabited town was disputed after the popular TV program QI claimed on its website's Fact Of The Day that it was Abingdon.[citation needed]


Amesbury along with Stonehenge in Wiltshire is claimed to be Britain's oldest settlement, dating back to 8820 BC according to a project led by the University of Buckingham. The place is said to have been a transport point with the River Avon acting as a transit route. Evidence of frogs' legs being eaten as well as 31,000 flints and animal bones have also been found.[11]


Main article: Camulodunum

Colchester claims to be Britain's oldest recorded town.[12][13] Its claim is based on a reference by Pliny the Elder, the Roman writer, in his Natural History (Historia Naturalis) in 77 AD. He described Anglesey as "about 200 miles (322 km) from Camulodunum, a town in Britain", where Camulodunum was the Roman name for Colchester. It is claimed that this is the first known reference to any named settlement in Britain, although coins minted by Tasciovanus mention the Celtic name of the settlement, Camulodunon, as early as 20-10 BC.[14]

Archaeological evidence near Colchester has been dated to the Palaeolithic, with flint tools including at least six Acheulian handaxes having been discovered,[15] from the Mesolithic,[16] the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. In the 1980s an inventory showed that over 800 pieces of Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery have been found within the town, as well as many examples of worked flint.[15] However the origins of the town lie in the Celtic tribal capital of Camulodunon, which was in existence from at least the first century BC under Addedomarus.[14] Later, under the Celtic warlords Cunobelin and Caratacus in the first century AD, it became the most powerful Celtic kingdom in Britain.[17] In 43 AD, the settlement was conquered by the Roman Empire under Emperor Claudius, who led the attack in person,[18] building a legionary fortress on the site, the first in Britain.[19] This was converted into the town of Colonia Victricensis in 49 AD, becoming the provincial capital and the only pre-Boudican town to have the honour of Roman citizenship.[17][20][21][22] Its town walls, constructed between 61 AD and 80 AD, are the oldest Roman town walls in Britain by at least 150 years.[17][21] The town was home to a large classical temple, two theatres (including Britain's largest), several Romano-British temples, Britain's only known chariot circus, Britain's first town walls, several large cemeteries and over 50 known mosaics and was home to around 30,000 people.[14][17][18][23] The town is mentioned by name several times by Roman authors, including in Ptolemy's Geography, Tacitus's Annales, The Antonine Itinerary and the Ravenna Cosmography,[19] as well as on monuments such as the tomb inscription for Gnaeus Munatius Aurelius Bassus in Rome, which mentions his time in the town as a census-officer for the Roman population.[14] There is much evidence of activity in Colchester until the early fifth century AD,[14][24] after which it becomes more scarce. Although there are scattered settlement sites, burials and artefacts in Colchester from between the fifth and ninth centuries AD[24] there is a debate over whether it could be called a “town” in this period (See - Camulodunum#Sub-Roman Period). Aside from a ninth-century reference by Nennius to a Caer Colun, the first time Colchester is explicitly mentioned in written accounts is an entry for 917 AD in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when it is recorded that King Edward the Elder led a Saxon army from Surrey, Kent and Essex to recapture the town from a Danish army that had been encamped there since the mid to late ninth century.[14]

It is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network.[25]


Ipswich, the county town of the English county of Suffolk, also claims it is England's oldest continuously settled town, with a history of continued occupation since the Anglo-Saxons.[26][27]


Thatcham in Berkshire is often said to be the oldest town in Britain,[citation needed] since its occupation can be traced back to a mesolithic hunting camp, which was discovered there beside a Post-glacial rebound period lake,[citation needed] and there is evidence of human occupation within and around Thatcham covering the past 13,000 years or more.[citation needed]

There is strong evidence to support the case that people settled in Thatcham in the Mesolithic Age (10,000 BC - 4,000 BC).[citation needed] Thatcham has strong evidence that it was settled by the Romans,[citation needed] then Saxons,[citation needed] and was mentioned in the Domesday Book.[citation needed] Subsequently it received medieval charters.[citation needed]

Thatcham has a place in the 1990 Guinness World Records as being the strongest claimant to the longest continually inhabited settlement in the UK.[citation needed] It is mentioned in the 1993 Guinness World Records book as an example of a place with early prehistoric occupation with a comment on the difficulty of showing continuous habitation.[28]


  1. ^ Cox, Mieneke (2013) [1987], The Story of Abingdon: part one (2 ed.), Pieter Cox, p. 19, ISBN 978 1 78280 145 0 
  2. ^ Thomas 2014.
  3. ^ Cox 1987, p. 37.
  4. ^ Cox 1987, p. 57.
  5. ^ Cox 1987, p. 76.
  6. ^ A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 4. The borough of Abingdon, British History Online 
  7. ^ "Guide to Abingdon, Oxfordshire". BBC. Retrieved October 2, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Abingdon". Royal Berkshire History. Retrieved January 18, 2008. 
  9. ^ "Frontier territory along the Thames". British Archeology. Retrieved October 2, 2009. 
  10. ^ Thomas, Roger (2014), The Archaeology of Abingdon, Abingdon-on-Thames: Abingdon Area Archeological and Historical Society 
  11. ^ "Amesbury in Wiltshire confirmed as oldest UK settlement". bbc.co.uk. 2014. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Colchester Tourist Board (2011). "Culture and Heritage". visitcolchester.com. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  13. ^ Colchester Tourist Board (2011). "Colchester—Britain's Oldest Recorded Town". visitcolchester.com. Retrieved 19 May 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f Crummy, Philip (1997) City of Victory; the story of Colchester - Britain's first Roman town. Colchester Archaeological Trust (ISBN 1 897719 04 3)
  15. ^ a b Crummy, Philip (1992) Colchester Archaeological Report 6: Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in Colchester 1971-85. Published by Colchester Archaeological Trust. (ISBN 0-9503727-9-X)
  16. ^ Wymer, J. (1977) (ed.) "Gazetteer of Mesolithic sites in England and Wales", in CBA Research Report 20
  17. ^ a b c d Wilson, Roger J. A. (2002) A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain (Fourth Edition). Published by Constable. (ISBN 1-84119-318-6)
  18. ^ a b Todd, Malcolm. (1981) Roman Britain; 55 BC - 400 AD. Fontana Paperbacks (ISBN 0 00 633756 2)
  19. ^ a b Colonia Camulodunensium at romanbritain.org. Retrieved 2/08/2015
  20. ^ Crummy, Philip (1992) Colchester Archaeological Report 6: Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in Colchester 1971-85. Published by Colchester Archaeological Trust (ISBN 0-9503727-9-X)
  21. ^ a b Crummy, Philip (1984) Colchester Archaeological Report 3: Excavations at Lion Walk, Balkerne Lane, and Middleborough, Colchester, Essex. Published by Colchester Archaeological Trust (ISBN 0-9503727-4-9)
  22. ^ Iron Age and Roman Colchester, pp 2-18, at British History Online, 2014. Retrieved 2 August 2015
  23. ^ McCloy A., Midgley A. Discovering Roman Britain, p. 60, at Google Books. Accessed 2 August 2015
  24. ^ a b Faulkner, Neil (1994). "Late Roman Colchester", in Oxford Journal of Archaeology 13(1)
  25. ^ Most Ancient European Towns Network at Internet Archive. Accessed 2 August 2015
  26. ^ "History of medieval Ipswich". Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  27. ^ Hills, Catherine. "England's Oldest Town". Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  28. ^ Matthews, Peter (1992). The Guinness Book of Records 1993. Guinness World Records. p. 175. ISBN 978-0851129785. 

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