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Julius Caesar and Cowey Sale

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For many years local legend has maintained that Julius Caesar had close connections with the Elmbridge area. The iron age hill fort on St George's Hill is known as Caesar's Camp, and it is maintained by many that Julius crossed the Thames at Cowey Sale, immediately upstream from Walton Bridge.

The basis for this particular legend was that wooden stakes were found in the river at Cowey Sale, and it is known that Julius' crossing of the Thames was opposed by British troops at a ford defended by stakes.

Unfortunately, neither of these attractive legends has any base in truth. The camp on St George's Hill shows no actual sign of being occupied by anyone, let alone a Roman Emperor. The notes below discuss the basis of the rumours concerning Julius Caesar and put forward more convincing explanations for the 'stakes' found in the river. The details below are from the museum's archive and are not attributed to any one author. Please note that they are in note format.

Caesar crossed the Thames during his second invasion when advancing westward in pursuit of Cassivelaunus (the British Leader). There was only one place where the river could be forded on foot and that with difficulty. The opposite bank was defended by a sort of breastwork of sharp stakes. Similar stakes were driven into the bed of the river under water (information from prisoners and deserters).

Caesar's cavalry broke through at once. Footmen followed with only heads above water. Britons fled.

The Anglo-Saxon historian Bede asserts remains of stakes were seen in his day, each as large as a man's thigh and covered with lead. Formed of the entire bodies of young oak trees. Wood so hardened as to resemble ebony could be polished. Each about 6 foot long. Stood in 2 rows as if going across river. 9ft apart as water runs, 4 ft apart crossing the river. The Ford crosses the stream in a circuitous direction so the stakes cross it twice.

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