A ditch, first identied in the 1976, in the southeast corner of the excavations that the Biddles were conducting around the chancel of St Wystan's church. When investigated the ditch was shown to be V-shaped some 5m wide and 3m deep. The Biddles arranged for a resistivity survey of the trench in the same year. To the east of the church, in the grounds that of the school. This indicated that the ditch continued in a curving line north-east towards the bluff overlooking the Old Trent. Two years later they undertook a magnetometry survey to the west of the church, mainly in the graveyard. This indicated that the ditch to the west of the church followed a similar curving course to the north-west towards the same bluff. They also carried out an excavation at the north-west end of the system of ditches.
The Biddles concluded that the ditch was a part of a defensive work consisting of an outer ditch and an inner rampart, and that this defensive work included St Wystan's church at its centre. This, they estimated, enclosed and area of some 1.46 acres (3.65ha.). This, they suggested, formed a part of a defensive work centred on the church built by the Vikings (The Great Heathen Army) when they spent the winter of 873-4 there. The Biddles also implied that the entire Great Army had camped within the enclosure. It was suggested that at most the Great Army numbered a few hundred
Critics have cast doubt of some of the Biddles's claims. It has been pointed out that there is little or no evidence for the rampart. It has also been shown that the area enclosed by the defensive work would have been more in the region of 0.69 acres. The date of the ditch is also less certain that the Biddles suggest. The only datable material recovered from the ditch was a single sherd of mid-Saxon pot and 3 copper-alloy pins. So the dating rest largely on the dating of the burials in the upper fills of the ditch.
One critic, Julian D. Richards, (currently of York University) has suggested that the winter camp was considerably larger than the Biddles claimed, and that the cremation mounds at Heath Wood were also associated with the Great Heathen Army's occupation of the site. Richards's argument gained greater force when fieldwork on the site that the Great Heathern Arny occupied the previous winter, that of 872-3, at Torksey in Lincolnshire extended over 55ha.
Article in serial: Biddle, M. and Kjolbye-Biddle, B.. 1992. 'Repton and the Vikings', Antiquity. Vol 66, pp36-51.
Article in monograph: Biddle, M. and Kjolbye-Biddle, B.. 2001. Repton and the ‘Great Heathen Army’, 873-4..
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