Although there are scattered remains here of the Mesolithic flint implements and Bronze Age settlement, the most interesting features of the Uphall Camp site date to the Iron Age.
Sometime during the 2nd century BC a massive fort, about 550m long and 400–500m wide, was built on this well-drained gravel knoll, covering about 26.3 ha/65 acres. It guarded Barking Creek and this part of the Thames valley. With ditches several metres deep and wide, and ramparts at least 6m high, it would have been an impressive site
(see image Reconstruction of Uphall Camp)
As it would have needed a massive number of people to defend it properly, it is more likely that Uphall Camp was an important tribal or political centre built to impress rather than as a fort. Roman records suggest that in the later Iron Age this area was on the western boundary of the Trinovantes, a tribe living in roughly modern-day Essex.
During the Middle Iron Age there are groups of round houses and other structures inside the Camp. There was perhaps a gap to keep a clear zone in front of the ramparts. The excavations found the remains of two enclosures, each containing a main roundhouse about 14m in diameter and several four-posted structures about 2m square, interpreted as raised granaries.
The people who lived here were not only farmers; there is evidence that bronzesmiths and blacksmiths worked on the site, as well as other craftworkers. Imported finds included fragments of a shale bracelet from Dorset suggesting that this was a high-status site. This picture is reinforced by the presence here of three potin coins, the earliest coins ever to have been used in Britain and a clear sign that this was an important site.
Sometime in the 1st century BC, Uphall Camp was abandoned. Roman pottery found here seems to indicate the presence of a small cremation cemetery, whilst vessels dumped in the massive Iron Age ditches may have been from the funerary feasts that accompanied the burials.
The site was also reused in the Early Saxon period, but little had survived of these later phases. Uphall Camp subsequently became the site of the manor of Uphall, later Uphall Farm.
Uphall Camp was mainly fields and orchards in the 19th century and even used as picnic spot, until the land was sold in 1899 for development as Howards Chemical Works. This factory made a variety of chemicals, increasing its output from World War I. Products were as diverse as aspirin, quinine, gas lamp mantles, luminous paint, solvents and denture powder. The factory grew, covering or destroying much of the Iron Age fort lying beneath. In 1987 a new housing estate, Fairfield Court, was built on the old factory site.
The archaeological excavations here found two ring ditches of the Middle Bronze Age, marking the sites of important burials. Urns of Deverel-Rimbury type found inside these ditches contained cremation burials. One of the ditch fills also contained pyre debris including cremated human bone, large lumps of charcoal and charred branches. A Middle Bronze Age axe head (palstave) was found in a modern field boundary.
Postholes and pits of the later Bronze Age or Early Iron Age may have been all that survived of a small farmstead or settlement of this date. Some pottery found here was also dated to the Middle Iron Age.
A rectangular enclosure – presumably marking the site of a high-status house or farm – of the Late Iron Age was also found. This was broadly rectangular with an outer boundary ditch and two internal ditches. Like many other Late Iron Age and early Roman sites this enclosure had been abandoned by the end of 2nd century AD. Boundary ditches surrounding the enclosure may have been part of field systems or an associated settlement. Some traces of Late Iron Age and early Roman huts were tentatively identified. The latest of these ditches included Roman cremation burials within its fill. The boundary ditch of one of these enclosures had been recut in the later 3rd or 4th century, but most early Roman features were not maintained this late. Elsewhere the late Roman landscape was characterised by the creation of a new field system, marked a by series of ditches. Late Roman cremations were also found. Differently dated sections suggest an evolving field system, based on 4th century alterations to a late 2nd century system. Some timber structures were also found and a late 2nd or mid 3rd century sunken floored structure was apparently associated with crop processing, as was suggested by the discovery here of fragments of a lava quern (used to grind grain) and burnt plant remains.