The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Ditchley Roman Villa, Near Charlbury, Oxfordshire

A typical Roman villa in England, although Ditchley was smaller.*

NGR: SP 39932 20104. In a field about ½ a mile southeast of Ditchley Park, near Charlbury, Oxfordshire, are the visible earthworks of a Roman villa. This grassy, rectangular-shaped earthwork is to be found just to the east of a wooded area (Harry’s Plantation) in the location known as Watts Wells Field – northeast of Lodge Farm. Although it has always been called “Roman villa” more than likely it was a Roman farmstead, which had a boundary ditch (dyke) enclosing it and an entrance at the south side; but because it was still inhabited into the 5th century AD, ‘Romano-British’ farmstead seems more appropriate. The rectangular earthwork is said to be 330 x 300m. Nearby are remains of a Roman bath-house, ancient field system and Grim’s Dyke, and 1½ miles south is the Roman road (Akeman Street). 1½ miles northeast of Charlbury at the B4437 (Woodstock Road) take the lane north to Lodge Farm, then follow the footpath northeast and then east to the next field – the villa (site) is in this field, just a little to the south of the footpath.

The Wikipedia website has the following: “It was a collonaded house with outbuildings, threshing floors, and a granary with capacity for the produce of about 1,000 acres (400 ha) of arable land. It was surrounded by a rectangular ditch 360 yards (330 m) by 330 yards (300 m). The site is less than 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the course of Akeman Street Roman road and is one of a number of Roman villas and Romano-British farmsteads that have been identified in the area, apparently associated with the territory bounded by Grim’s Ditch. The villa site was identified by aerial archaeology in 1934 and excavated in 1935. It was found to have been first settled in about AD 70 with a set of timber-framed buildings, which were replaced in stone in the 2nd Century. In about AD 200 a fire severely damaged the stone buildings and the site was abandoned. The site was reoccupied early in the 4th century, and occupation on a more modest scale than before continued until the end of that century.” (See the link, below).

Ground plan of Ditchley Roman Villa, Oxfordshire (after Oxoniensia vol.i,p.28).

Richmond (1963) tells us that: “At Ditchley (Oxfordshire), the timber posts which formed the first version of the earliest house plainly indicate the simplest kind of structural beginning, comparable with the now rare but once common timber arcades of Norman domestic architecture, of which carpentry made a delightful thing. The first stone-built Ditchley house differed little from Lockleys or Park Street, and it is probable that only a loft-like first floor was provided, if at all. But about the turn of the first century A.D. there were added a new stone-built veranda and projecting end rooms which gave to the establishment both privacy and a new elegance. There was now room for re-creation and entertainment in what had been previously a workaday farm, wherein the whole house had lived together. Socially speaking, the new plan divided the household and accentuated the position of master and mistress. In Britain this type of house became widespread, and it brought the new province into touch with the mainstream of contemporary West-European domestic archi-tecture. For in Gaul or the Rhineland the design was generally common, and went with a sizeable farm. And so it was in Britain, for on the basis of its granary accommodation the Ditchley villa has been related to an estate of five hundred acres. This supplies, then, a kind of yardstick, however rough, by which the size and standing of different kinds of villas can be gauged. Even allowing for the fact that, on the ancient system of crop-rotation, one-third of the arable lay fallow each year, it becomes clear; that by this standard the numerous  bigger villas must have been related to very substantial estates indeed. Not enough is known about the social organization of such larger estates to say whether they were run by slaves or by crofter-labourers. But where a resident staff of labourers appears, their accommodation nearly always takes the form of a barn-dwelling, frequently ranged on one side of a farmyard or court. This structure, convenient for so many purposes, is planned with nave and aisles divided by timber columns. As in Friesian farm-houses today, the nave served for stores, tools, and livestock, while the aisles or the whole of one end of the building were partitioned to house the workers. In the form of a subsidiary building essential to the working of a farm this type of house was so general, even in the largest establishments, that its prototype has been sought in the pre-Roman days. But no proof of such antecedents has yet appeared, and it may well be that this type is borrowed from the Italian villa rustica. There are some villas also in which this type of house is the only domestic accommodation present, as for examples Clanville (Hampshire) or Denton (Lincolnshire). These represent either small tenant farms or bailiff-run establishments, where the distinction between tenant or supervisor and workers was less sharply defined. Some, as at Castlefield (Hampshire), are so primitive in their arrangements that any distinction seems out of the question.”

Hawkes (1975) with Roman villas in general, says: “These range in size and dignity from large “country houses” to quite modest farm-houses. They were most numerous and prosperous in the Home Counties, but frequent enough right across southern England, with noticeable concentrations in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and the Cotswolds. The most elaborate villas were built round a courtyard; others had a main block with wings, very many consisted only of a single block with rooms opening on to an arcaded corridor. Their remains often include foundations of brick or stone walls, mosaic floors, small column bases, hypocaust columns from the central-heating system, and, of course, the usual Roman litter of bricks, tiles and potsherds. The buildings seem often to have been enclosed with an outer boundary ditch or wall, and the estates attached to them must sometimes have been extensive.” 

The Wikipedia websites also tells us that: “Some time before the villa was discovered, a hoard of 1,176 bronze Roman coins was found between Box Wood and Out Wood, about 600 yards (550 m) to 700 yards (640 m) northeast of the villa site. The coins range in date from about AD 270 onwards and seem to have been buried in a ceramic pot about AD 395, towards the end of the Roman occupation. The hoard was transferred to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1935.

Grim’s Ditch, which passes through the present park and estate, is an ancient boundary believed to have been constructed during the Roman occupation of Britain in about the 1st century AD. The toponym ‘Ditchley’ is derived from a compound of two English words, meaning the woodland clearing (“-ley”) on Grim’s Ditch.” (See the Wikipedia Link, below).

Sources / References & Related websites:

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal (Sphere Books Ltd), London, 1975.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditchley

*Liversidge, Joan, Then And There Series—Roman Britain, Longman, Green And Co. Ltd., London & Harlow, 1969.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England—Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963. 

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009420

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=334570

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol1/pp306-324

https://www2.rgzm.de/transformation/unitedKingdom/villas/VillaeLandscapes.htm

More information here Ashmolean Museum

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 


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The Multangular Roman Tower And Defensive Walls at York, North Yorkshire

The Multangular Roman Tower, Eboracum (York)

NGR: SE 60012 52072. At the east side of York city centre, just off Museum Street (A1036), and in the Yorkshire Museum’s gardens (at the north side) overlooking the River Ouse is the famous ‘Multangular Tower’, a defensive structure (with 10 sides or angles) belonging to the western corner of the Roman fort of Eburacum or Eboracum, which was built around the year 300 AD during the reign of Constantius I (Chlorus). The lower section of the tower with its nice, neat stonework is the Roman part whereas the top section with the larger stonework and arrow slits is 13th century. It is certainly the finest, and the best preserved, of all the Roman defensive structures in the city; and also there is a well-preserved 76 foot section of Roman wall (early 3rd century and still 17 feet in height, but without its parapet) running northeastwards from the Multangular Tower through the museum gardens toward Bootham Bar; along this section of wall there is the stump of an interval tower. Access to the York-shire Museum Gardens (close by Lendal Bridge) is from either Museum Street or Marygate. Also look out for the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and St Leonard’s Hospital.

The Wikipedia website gives the following: “A low plinth or skirt extends out from the lowest course. It stands almost 30 feet (9.1 m) tall, has an external diameter of 48.5 feet (14.8 m) at the base and 46 feet (14 m) above the skirt. Length of each side varies from 7.5 feet (2.3 m) to 11 feet (3.4 m) on the inner face. The tower projects beyond the curtain wall to a distance of 36.75 feet (11.20 m). The foundations are concrete, atop which the tower extends having a rubble and mortar core between faced courses of small magnesian blocks. At 15 feet (4.6 m) a scarcement reduces the thickness of the wall from 5 feet (1.5 m) to 3.25 feet (0.99 m), which continues for a further 4 feet (1.2 m) before being capped by 11 feet (3.4 m) of 13th century masonry in which arrowslits can be seen”, according to Wikipedia. (See the Link, below).

Herman Ramm (1979) says that in: “About AD 300: The defenses were again rebuilt except for the section from the south-east to the north-east gates which includes the east corner. The new wall was similar to the old except that the facing was bonded to the core by a tile band and had a tile cornice. This can still be seen at the west angle where there is also the stump of a great projecting tower, the Multangular Tower, matched by another (not now visible) at the south angle. Along the south-west side, facing the Ouse, were six only slightly less imposing interval towers and a great gritstone gatehouse.

“The reasons for these changes are not always certain……but “is often said to be the result of another similar disaster, but the new architectural frontspiece added to the river front of the fortress suggests that it had attained a new dignity, probably that of becoming the seat of the new Dux Britanniarum, commander of the land forces of all Britain.

Herman Ramm goes on to say that: “Inside the fortress timber buildings have been found, for example near St. William’s College and off Blake Street, which must relate to the timber defences. The headquarters building was first built in stone in the early 2nd century (Trajan-Hadrian), but its next reconstruction in the early fourth century was Constantinian rather than Constantian. It was not demolished until the ninth century.”

Tom Garlick (1988) tells us that: “In the early 4th century the fortress was again strengthened by Constantius Chlorus following the troubles of 296. The river façade was now equipped with two fine polygonal angle towers, six close set interval towers and a new impressive towered gateway. These alterations made York one of the strongest defended and imposing fortresses of the Roman Empire. The south-west corner tower — the ten sided Multangular tower faced in small ashlar blocks — still survives in the Museum Gardens. Once fronted by ditches, its upper storey held powerful catapult artillery.

“Constantius I died at York and his son Constantine was proclaimed Emperor there. In the administrative reorganization of the 4th century, York became the headquarters of the Duke of Britain, a new military cavalry commander. In the third and fourth centuries Whitby jet was manufactured into rings, pins, necklaces and portrait medallions in the town and mar-keted in the Rhineland. By the late Empire there were Christian churches in the colonia and a bishop of York attended the church council in Arles in France in 314. The legionary garrison was evacuated in the late 4th century but town life seems to have continued into sub-Roman times and the Dark Ages.”

The Multangular Roman Tower at York (photo).

Mr Garlick adds more, saying that: “Today the fortress area, canabae and colonia lie buried beneath the modern city. The main lines of the camp’s streets are still preserved in Stonegate and Petergate, and the Minster stands over the Roman headquarters. Visitors can still inspect sections of the Roman defences. The Multangular tower is the finest survival, together with 35 feet of adjacent wall surviving to a height of 13 feet. Inside, the position of barracks is known, as is a bath house under the Mail Coach Inn in St. Sampson’s Square and the legionary head-quarters crosshall under the Minster. Modern buildings cover the canabae and the site of the presumed amphitheatre. No traces survive above ground of the colonia but its street plans and some of its buildings are known from excavation and chance finds. The cemeteries were extensive and lined the town’s approach roads. Visitors should establish the line of the Roman fortress and town walls as compared with the later medi-eval city walls and visit exposed Roman defences. The Yorkshire Museum contains an extensive collection of inscriptions and finds from the city which throw interesting light on the history of Eboracum and its inhabitants during the four centuries of Roman rule. In 1971 the city celebrated the 1,900 anniversary of its founding by Cerialis.” 

Richmond (1963) tells us: “At Eburacum (York) literature similarly records a shrine of Bellona, the Goddess of War, and there is a noble head of Constantine* as Caesar or newly-proclaimed Emperor.” *The head of Constantine can be seen in    The Yorkshire Museum.

Richmond goes on to tells us about jet, saying that: “Solinus describes British jet with interest, as a substance heated with water but quenched with oil and magnetic when rubbed. These paradoxical qualities endowed jet with almost magical esteem, and it became a favourite material for ornamental jewellery, much of which was manufactured at Eburacum (York). Hair-pins, spindles, finger-rings, and bracelets were made in great variety, some bracelets and many necklaces being ingeniously articulated in minute component pieces. Elaborately carved pendents and medallions, including family groups executed to order, and teddy-bears, represent either profitable lines of production.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Garlick, Tom, A Dalesman White Rose Guide — Roman Yorkshire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, 1978.

Ramm, Herman, Roman York From A.D. 71, Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society, York, 1979.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1962.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_city_walls#Multangular_Tower

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_Museum_Gardens

Check out this website: https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/heritage/civic-trust-plaques/roman-fortress/

http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/roman-empire-governed-from-york/the-multangular-tower

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/multangular-tower-and-wall-museum-gardens-7913

http://secretyork.com/multangular-tower/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 


Roman Altar-Stone in All Saints Church, Wigan, Lancashire

Roman-Altar Stone in All Saints Church, Wigan, Lancashire.

NGR: SD 58168 05667. All Saints parish church on Bishopgate, Wigan, Lancashire, houses part    of a Roman altar-stone that is said to have come from the Roman station of COCCIUM (COCCIO) – Wigan, which was probably built in 70 AD, and was located on the hill where the parish church now stands. There is no trace of this roman fort or camp today – the parish church of All Saints taking its place. The altar-stone, which has curved, scroll-like features at each end, has a 17th century inscription on its visible side whereas a Latin inscription on the opposite side is ‘not visible’. It was probably dedicated to the Roman god Mithras. A “presumed” Roman road runs west from MAMVCIVM (Manchester), converging in the centre of the town and then running northwest to Walton-le-Dale, while another Roman road runs south from Wigan towards Warrington, Wilderspool and on to Northwich (CONDATE). A Roman bath-house has recently been excavated where the Shopping Arcade now stands in the town centre. All Saints church, a mid 19th Century building, is easy to find at the southeast corner of Bishopgate, just off Market Street, in Wallgate, and opposite the War Memorial. 

The Church guide book says of the Roman altar, that: “Of special interest under the Tower are the window in the west wall which, though much restored, dates from the 13th century, and part of a pagan Roman Altar which is built into the splay of the east side of the modern window in the north wall. It was found in the rebuilding of 1845-1850 buried beneath the High Altar and was placed in its present position then. It is unfortunately only partly visible, so that it is impossible to tell whether it has a Roman inscription on the hidden side. On the exposed face is a half obliterated modern inscription, dated 1604. It was probably used in the Roman station of Coccium, which can almost certainly be identified with modern Wigan, and which probably stood on the hill now occupied by the parish church.” 

D. C. A. Shotter (1973) tells about the Roman site of Coccium, saying: “The next site northwards in probably Wigan, although no structural remains of Roman occupation have been found there. The chief evidence for the existence of a Roman site under the present town comes from Route 10 of the Antonine Itinerary, which gives distances on a route from Ravenglass (Cumberland) to Whitchurch (Shropshire). The middle section of this route is given as GALACUM (probably Burrow in Lonsdale). BREMETENNACUM (certainly Ribchester), COCCIUM and MAMUCIUM (almost certainly Manchester). The distances given are too great to refer to any settlement between Ribchester and Manchester on the direct route, but they will fit a route that runs from Ribchester to the Coastal road at its junction in Ribblesdale, then south to Wigan, and thence to Manchester on the road attested by the 19th Century observers. Thus Wigan would provide an identification for the elusive site of COCCIUM, and in Roman times it will have been entered from the South, the East and the North respectively by Wallgate, Millgate and Standishgate.

“Further evidence comes from the finds made in and around Wigan. To judge from cinerary urns recovered from the area of the gas works, a cemetery appears to have lain on the South side; the Church has a Roman altar built into it; further, various coins have been found in the area, including a hoard of some 200 coins recovered in Standish in the late 17th Century; this hoard contained coins from the late 1st to the mid-3rd Century A.D. Another important find, this time from Dalton (five miles north-west of Wigan) is the headless statue of Cautopates………, one of the attendants of the god, Mithras.” 

Joseph P. Pearce (2005) says that: “Here, on the rising land within a loop of the river Douglas, the Roman Conquerors of Britain have founded their camp and castlefield. The Roman road leading from Warrington to Preston and Walton-le-Dale, passed through the very centre of the town of Wigan, bearing the traffic of the Legions and the Guilds and Trades of old. Four streets radiate from the Market Place—Standishgate, Wallgate, Millgate, and Hallgate; all bearing a Roman stamp. A stone from a Roman altar has been found, embedded within the walls of Wigan Church. Here the Romans ruled until that day when Rome, herself, was beset by barbarian hordes. Then the Roman soldiers were withdrawn from Britain and the ancient British race was left to the cruel mercy of the Norsemen.”

All Saints Church, Wallgate, Wigan, Lancashire.

Besides the Roman stone there are other interesting features in All Saints. In the Crawford Chapel   is a tomb with recumbent and battered effigies of Lady Mabel de Bradshaw of Haigh Hall and her husband William, a now rather forlorn and somber monument that has stood here since the 14th century. Lady Mabel is the heroine of the famous Wigan Cross or Mab’s Cross in Standishgate, which dates back to 1338 when it was set up by Mabel, a saintly and charitable lady…… who endowed her chapel with property in Haigh and Wigan to enable a priest to celebrate divine service at the Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Wigan Church, remembering especially the souls of herself after death, King Edward II, her husband, Sir William, her parents and all her ancestors, Roger, then Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, and all the faithful departed, says the Church guide book. The very ornate font in the south aisle is 14th-15th Century and its large gritstone bowl can be seen close-by. It has a band of quarter foils run-ning around its outer surface; apparently this was in use as a water butt in the gardens of the hall before being being restored   to the church.

And finally, there was at one time in the past a school of thought indicating perhaps that the Roman station of Coccium was located on Castle Hill, 3 miles east of Wigan, at Hindley, in Lancashire (NGR: SD 62460485). However, this thought, account, or suggestion now seems to have been ‘completely discounted’, and is not the case with Coccium, which is nowadays considered to have been where the parish church of All Saints is now to be found in Wigan town centre. There was, however, a Medieval structure on Castle Hill, at Hindley, which was probably a timber castle.

The Historic England List Entry No. is:- 1384556.

Sources / References and related websites:-

Church guide book, The Parish Church of All Saints, Wigan — A Short History and Guide, 2003. The two images (above) are from this guide.

Pearce, Joseph P., Lancashire Legends, Book Clearence Centre, Wigan, 2005. (Originally published by The Ormskirk Advertiser, 1928. This edition is re-published with the kind permission of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo Group).

Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd, Clapham, Yorkshire, 1973. 

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2014/11/07/mabs-cross-standishgate-wigan-lancashire/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Saints%27_Church,_Wigan

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1384556

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol4/pp57-68

http://www.wiganarchsoc.co.uk/content/Projects/Millgate/wbe1.html

Roman Roads

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


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Uncra Roman Fort, near Keighley, West Yorkshire

Old Map of Uncra Farm, near Keighley.

The site of Uncra Farm (today).

NGR:- SE 0858 4142. The lost (forgotten) Roman fort of Uncra was located where the farmstead of that name used to be – close to the bank of the River Aire, and roughly halfway between East Riddlesden Hall and Marley – at the northeastern side of Keighley, West Yorkshire. Uncra farm was said to have been built on the site of the Roman fort or camp. The location of this “lost fort” was in the field at the north side of the present A650, which used to be called Marley Road. However, on the site ‘today’ there is the Marley Sewerage Works, which seems a great shame to me, though the field at the north side might still have slight traces; other than that there are no visible remains. Sadly, it is lost to the Mists of Time. The Roman road from Manchester to Ilkley, or maybe a medieval track, ran through this area and crossed the River Aire by way of a wooden bridge. Fragmentary sections of this, or a later bridge, were excavated in 1929, and a number of Roman coins and, some fragments of a Saxon cross, were found close to East Riddlesden Hall. There is a display of Roman coins in the hall.

Marie Campbell (1999) tells us about this site, saying that: “Long before the River Aire changed its course in about AD 78, a Roman fort is believed to have existed between East Riddlesden and Marley Hall, near Keighley. The road to the fort is thought to have stretched along Hog Holes Lane, Long Lee, cutting along Parkwood Top before its decent to Uncra and Marley. Here it passed over the ford at the River Aire to climb the steep slopes of Morton Banks and beyond. The farmstead of Uncra was supposed to have been erected over the fort’s foundations. From the August pages of the Keighley News 1883 a clue to the site of Uncra Farmstad may be gleaned. Mr F. Morgan, a tenant of Uncra farm, reported smoke rising from a haystack, the property of Mr Wallbank of High Shann Farm. The haystack was in a field by the River Aire, close to his farmstead and bordered by Keighley Corporation tip and local gasworks.”

Campbell goes on to say: “A severe drought in the 1850s at Uncra near Marley revealed an ancient oak and sycamore bridge, 120cms wide and 18 metres across. It rested ‘upon uprights fixed into three blocks of masonry with large-headed nails and wood pegs’. During the 1920s antiquarians digging at the site recovered a large block of stone with a hole in the centre. Masonry dispersed on the water’s edge was thought to be ‘the central pier, the river having changed its course since the bridge was erected’. Horsfall Turner in his History of Ancient Bingley said of Marloe/Marley Bridge. ‘”I have no memo-randum to show this bridge was destroyed”‘. The Sessions Rolls of 1650 to 1700 reveal that, ‘the ford through the water where carts and carriages with wyne and oil and iron pass from the city of York to the market town of Keighley is worn with pitts so as to be very dangerous to passengers’. In January 1687 the wooden bridge was restored at a cost of £230. In 1929 Mr C. Bailey of East Riddlesden Hall granted permission to dig part of the Aire and its banks in this location during a drought. A number of faced stones were found in the mud, about 60cms higher than the course of the river running between Marley and Riddlesden Hall. This was close by the present course of the river near How Beck. Excavations on the North bank uncovered the sycamore central trestle sighted by antiquarians way back in the 1850s. The trestle was removed from the site and presented to Keighley Museum by its finders. It was transferred to Cliffe Castle but has since disappeared, perhaps disintegrating after being dredged from the riverbed. With only obscure references to the existence of the ancient cart ways and bridge to Uncra, had it not been for two very dry spells all may have lain hidden forever from sight.”     

Marie Campbell (1999) adds that: “The dreaded Ninth Roman Legion, a body of 5000 men, was stationed somewhere near Uncra in AD117 according to two local amateur archaeologists in the 1980s. They said they believed the whole legion to have been massacred within a two-mile radius of Crossflatts. Two coffers, one containing gold and the other bronze coins, are supposed to have been hurriedly secreted near the banks of the River Aire by Roman paymasters. The Yorkshire Archaeological Society is sceptical about this theory although the archeologists have found, with the aid of a metal detector, several fragments of metal which had once been part of a spear, a metal skirt tailpiece and a medallion. They were dug from the ground close to Druid’s Altar, a plateau high above Uncra and Marley.

“In the summer of 1917, a Mr Bennet discovered a small bronze eagle in almost perfect condition in a newly ploughed field to the north of Parkwood Top Farm, Keighley. The area is identified on the 1919 OS map as enclosure 528. This spot is only a mile or so distant from where the old Roman road from Manchester to Ilkley once ran. Bennet handed the Bronze figure over to Keighley Museum. Expert Alex Curle from the Museum of Antiquities had no doubts as to its Roman authenticity. He thought it might have been a finial for a staff. Again at Parkwood, a hoard of Roman coins was found by a man named Robert Lister in Edwardian times.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Campbell, Marie, Curious Tales of Old West Yorkshire, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1999.

Ordnance Survey, Historical map and guide — Roman Britain, South Sheet, Fifth Edition, Scale: 1:625 000, Ordnance Survey, Southampton, United Kingdom, 2001. 

http://roadsofromanbritain.org/gazetteer/yorkshire/rr720a.html

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/east-riddlesden-hall

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Riddlesden_Hall

https://library.thehumanjourney.net/1580/1/L9970_CompleteRep.pdf

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 


Barrow Hill Tumulus (West Mersea), Mersea Island, Essex

Glass Burial Urn

Roman Glass Funery Urn & Lead Cist from West Mersea Burial Mound (tumulus).

OS Grid Reference: TM 02257 14341. At the southeastern side of Barrow Hill at West Mersea on Mersea Island, overlooking Pyfleet Channel, in Essex, there is a large tree-covered mound which is a round barrow (tumulus). In this burial mound a Romano-British king was probably buried   at the end of the 1st Century AD, or in the early 2nd Century, so the story goes. However, there seems ‘now’ to be some uncertainty about the age of the monument. When the barrow was ex-cavated in 1912 a glass cinery urn was found in a lead container. This contained a child’s remains. Locally the barrow is called ‘The Mount’. The burial mound is 1½ miles north-east of St Peter & St Paul’s Church, West Mersea, and 9 miles south of Colchester. The island, which is 5 miles long, is reached by a causeway (southeast of Peldon) called ‘The Strood’ which crosses over the creek; then follow the East Mersea road for a ¼ of a mile, keeping to the left, until you reach Barrow Hill. The tumulus is to be found beneath the tall trees close by Barrow Hill farm.

The Historic England website says that: “The monument includes the known extent and buried remains of a Roman barrow situated on relatively high ground at the north-west edge of the central plateau of Mersea Island overlooking the Pyfleet Channel. The flat-topped conical mound mound is some 35m in diameter and 7m high. The top has a diameter of some 5m. There is no enclosing ditch. Excavations carried out by the Morant Club in 1912 found that the mound contained a burial dating from the late first to early second century AD. The burial chamber, sited slightly off-center, was dug into the original ground surface so that its floor was some 38cm beneath this level. The chamber measured some 45cm wide by 54cm high. A foundation of boulders and broken tile supported a floor of two roof tiles; seven courses of flanged roofing tiles formed the walls, with the two upper courses slightly corbelled to support the roof, which was made of a single tile some 54cm square. Within the burial chamber, the cremated remains of a child were found in a glass flask placed within a small lead casket with a wooden lid. The structure of the mound comprised a consolidated central core of impure quartz sand, above which was mixed gravel and sand. Following the 1912 excavations, a passage was constructed through the excavation trench to the burial chamber; this is extant and facilitates viewing of the inner chamber. All modern fence lines, railings, walls, made-up surfaces and the wooden Wendy house are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included,” according to Historic England. See their website, below.

Benham’s (1946) says of the West Mersea Sepulchral Deposit, that: “A glass urn (containing bones) and the cist in which it was discovered. Exhumed from a large tumulus at Mersea, the deposit is supposed to have been in honour of a British chieftain (1st Century).” These antiquities were to be found in Colchester Castle Museum, but they are now in the Mersea Museum. Benham’s then adds, saying: “Roman Glass: Included in this collection is the magnificent glass urn, containing burnt human bones, found in a large barrow or tumulus at West Mersea.”   

Richmond (1963) tells of: “……….Another very large tomb was the circular mausoleum at West Mersea (Essex), a stone-revetted structure with earth fill, sixty-five feet in diameter, braced by radiating walls and marginal buttresses.”

Benham’s (1946) tells of other Roman remains on Mersea Island, saying that: “When some alterations were being made in West Mersea Hall, which stands near the church, about the year 1730, a fine Roman tessellated pavement was discovered. In the chancel of the church was found a pavement of red tesserae an inch-and-a-half square, forming rays of stars. From the diversity and continuity of these tesserae, extending nearly 100 feet from east to west, by about fifty from north to south, it has been conjectured that this grand mosaic pavement was not merely the groundwork of a general’s tent, but rather that the whole belonged to the villa of some Roman officer, who might have been invited by the delightfulness of the situation to make this his summer abode. In 1920 a Roman pavement was found in fixing a telegraph pole forty feet south of Yew Tree House, and a further portion of the same pavement was uncovered in 1931 in the garden of the house.

“West Mersea Church (St. Peter and St. Paul)…….The stone upon which the church font (which has a 13th century bowl) rests has been supposed to be the cupola of a Roman column. In December, 1896, not far from the church, the foundations of a circular building were unearthed. The ground plan of this building was that of a 65-ft. diameter wheel, with six spokes, and a central hexagon “axis” five feet across. The structure is Roman and is obviously the base of a large tomb, though it has been thought by some to have been a Roman lighthouse.”

The Historic England List Entry No. is 1019019.

Sources / References and related websites:-

Benham’s, Colchester — a history and guide, Benham And Company Limited, Colchester, 1946. 

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — 1 Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1019019

https://www.merseamuseum.org.uk/mmbarrow.php

https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/mersea-mystery-of-the-island-bones-is-finally-solved-1-2246793

https://colchesterheritage.co.uk/monument/mcc6928

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Mersea

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Roman Bath-House at Ribchester, Lancashire

Roman bath-house at Ribchester, Lancashire.

Roman bath-house remains, Ribchester.

OS Grid Reference: SD 65090 35206. In the village of Ribchester, Lancashire, are the excavated foundations of Roman bath-houses, dating from around 100 AD, though there may have been an earlier Flavian structure here. The ruins are to be found in a secluded area at the back of the White Bull Inn and Water Street – at the north-western side of the River Ribble, and in an area of the village that is called Greenside. It would seem that the bath-house only survived for a few hundred years, if that, being built outside of the Roman fort of (BREMETENNACVM’s) ramparts. Excavations took place in 1978. The foundations of the bath-house are now well-looked after, with green lawns in between, and excellent information boards to boot! The White Bull Inn has four Doric or Tuscan columns supporting its front porch – two of which could have come from the bath-house, the fort or a temple? In the village from Church Street (south-side) follow the footpath (east) beside the river, and then northwest through the wooded area to the bath-house site.

John & Phillip Dixon (1993) give some good information regarding the bath-house remains. They tell that: “Another Roman feature to be viewed is the excavated Bath House, located at the rear of the White Bull. Recently erected explanation boards help one to pick out the outline of the bath house amid the crumbling piles of stones (the excavation was a costly disaster and much damage was done to floor tiles, walling etc.). 

“It consisted of a furnace room with three flues, the two southerly ones leading to the Caldarium (hot room) and the Tepidarium (warm room) respectively. The third leads to the Sudatorium (sweating room), this being round in shape. A fourth room on the south east of the building was the Frigidarium (cold room) with an apodyterium (changing room) adjacent to it. A stone-lined well stands on the south west corner of the site.”

Roman Bath House ruin

Roman Bath House foundations and Well.

The authors go on to say: “The building was erected in the 2nd century, with rebuilding work in later years. The whole structure was in use well into the late 4th century. On display inside the White Bull is a conjectured reconstruction in model form of what the bath house may have looked like in its heyday, along with a good example of a Samian ware bowl that was found hereabouts: Samian ware was first identified on the Greek island of Samos, hence its name. It is a fine hard red ware, burn-ished, with moulded designs, produced and exported throughout the Empire from the potteries of Gaul. This ‘terra sigillata’ was mass produced tableware, developed in slightly simplified versions of originally Italian prototypes. This type of pottery predominated until the Gaulish factories were forced to close during the revolts of around 250.” 

Richard Peace (1997) tells us more, saying that: “An explanatory board explains the complex system of underground heating. The baths were basically a version of the modern sauna, involving heating and cooling the skin then scraping off the exposed dirt with an instrument known as a stirgil. In the museum a small model reconstructs a cross section of the bath houses. The baths were situated some way away from the main fort so as not to constitute a fire hazard and a timetable existed to segregate female from military and male use.”

D. C. A. Shotter (1973) says of the site that: “Excavation has also revealed to the North of the fort the presence of a large vicus, which apparently grew around the road outwards to the North. This seems to have been occupied from the 1st to the 4th Centuries A.D. and in the early stages at least to have consisted largely of timber buildings. Buildings known to have been included in the vicus are a temple (known from an inscription) and a large bath-house, which was shown by excavation to belong to the 2nd Century and to overlie a Flavian predecessor.”

Jessica Lofthouse, writing in 1974, has nice things to say about Ribchester: “I like it for what it is, an honest to goodness community without any frills or attempt to exploit its undoubtedly rich past. No Ye Olde Praetorium Guest Home, or Minerva Café, or Agricola Gift Shoppe about Ribchester, but it has a good, compact Museum of Roman Antiquities, an hour in which is most rewarding.

The Information board at the bath-house.

“Tracking down the Romans is fun. Their mark is found in pillars intended for temples but now holding up the porch of the White Bull Inn, the quaint façade of the Stydd Almshouses and the church gallery. You can walk the fort earthworks west of the churchyard, gaze down on granary floor and hypocaust in the Museum gardens, and trace the foundations of a gateway through which the legionaries passed. The pleasant house at the church gates is on the site of the fort commandant’s H.Q. Within the churchyard, so green and immaculate, a gem among country graveyards, you may ponder on what lies beneath, on the forms of ritual practiced by the Romans within the fort………”

Lofthouse goes on to say: “For three centuries Bremetanacum was an active cavalry fort on Julius Agricola’s military highway linking Chester and Manchester  with the Wall. The Ribble fort was at the hub of five great roads. The camp contained within five and three-quarter acres.” 

For information on the Roman fort and museum at Ribchester see the following link:  https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2012/08/02/roman-ribchester-photos/

Sources / references and related websites:-

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia — Volume Nine — The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Lofthouse, Jessica, Lancashire Countrygoer, Robert Hale And Company, London, 1974.

Peace, Richard, Lancashire Curiosities, The Dovecote Press Ltd., Stanbridge, Wimborne, Dorset, 1997.

Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, Lancashire, 1973. 

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=43639

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/lancashire/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8973000/8973921.stm

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1005110

https://www.visitlancashire.com/things-to-do/ribchester-roman-bath-house-p782220

Ribchester’s Roman Bath House

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.  

 


Pompey’s Pillar And Sphinxes, The Serapeum, Alexandria, Egypt

Pompey’s Pillar and Sphinx at Alexandria in Egypt.

Latitude:31.182515  Longitude:29.896394. On the rocky hill called ‘The Serapeum’ near the center of Alexandria, Egypt, are three monuments dating from the Roman period. The ornate granite ‘triumphal pillar’ or monolithic column (over 20m high) has wrongly been called ‘Pompey’s Pillar’ (it was probably erected to honour the Emperor Diocletion (297-300 AD) when he saved the city from famine. The pillar is also known as Awud as-Sawari (The Horseman’s Pillar). The two monuments (at either side) are Roman copies of the Sphinx, although much smaller than the more well-known Great Sphinx at Giza. Both are made from pink granite and of an earlier date than the pillar; they show the body of a lion and the head of a man. The Serapeum, at the south-west side of the city, on Shari Amûd al Sawari, northeast of the Catacombs of Kom al Shuqqafa, was the site of the Temple of Serapis and the Sanctuary and Library buildings, which were built either by Ptolemy I or III, the ruins of which are now the Acropolis Archaeological site. The  city of Alexandria was conquered by Rome in 30 BC. Pompey the Great was murdered in Egypt (48 BC).

Old Postcard showing Pompey’s Pillar at Alexandria, Egypt.

The Insight Guide – Egypt (1988) says of the site that: “Long before Alexander arrived on the scene, this hill was the citadel of Rhakotis, dedicated to the worship of Osiris. The Ptolemies in their turn built a temple of Serapis on its summit. Here, with a collection of 200,000 manuscripts given to her by Mark Antony, Cleopatra endowed the second great Alexandrian library, which was to remain attached to the Serapeum until the temple itself was destroyed by a Christian mob; and thus here, for 400 years, was the most learned spot on earth. Today not much of the Serapeum remains: some tunnels in the rocks with crypts and niches and a few marble pillars. What the Christians wiped out in 391 A.D. later vicissitudes have put paid to. But the principal attraction, a solitary 72-foot (22 meter) high pillar of pink Aswan granite, seems to touch the sky defiantly and when European travelers arrived in the 15th century it caught their attention. No scholars they, but since they had heard of Pompey, they named the pillar after him and said his head was enclosed in a ball at the top. It actually has nothing to do with Pompey: according to an inscription on its base, it was dedicated to the Emperor Diocletian in 297 A.D. and it may once have had an equestrian statue on top, which would explain its Arabic name. Even less is left of the temple to Isis that once stood on the hill than of the Serapeum. You can see a statue of Isis Pharia, found near the site of the Pharos, as well as two granite sphinxes.”  

Alice Taylor (1964) adds to that that: “Among the best-preserved remains of the Roman period in Alexandria are Pompey’s Pillar and the sphinx. The red granite pillar, eighty-five feet high, was erected by Diocletian in 297 A.D. Excavations here have unearthed dozens of fragments of other Roman objects and buildings, but they are only fragments.”

And Taylor (1964) also says that: “In the last years of the Ptolemaic era a succession of rival rulers, constantly at war with each other, fell under the rising power of Rome. Cleopatra VI, the last of them, a woman of remarkable ability, tried her best to save the dynasty.”

And further to that Alice Taylor adds with regard to Egypt that: “Most of the Roman rulers, like the Greek, considered Egypt a “”cow to be milked””, although at times the people appear to have been fairly prosperous. Gradually, despite persecutions, Christianity gained converts. Many sought refuge in the harsh lonely desert, where they created the world’s first Christian monasteries. Later, Christianity became the official religion, known as the Egyptian (Coptic) Church, and the non-Christians in turn were persecuted.”

View of Pompey’s Pillar c 1850. (Wikimedia).

Edith Flamarion (1997) writes regarding Pompey the Great that: “One man especially became the champion of Egyptian independence: the roman imperator (commander) Pompey the Great, wreathed in glory after suppressing a revolt in Rome, clearing the Mediterranean of pirates, and crushing the powerful Asian king Mithradates. In 64 BCE he over-threw the Seleucid kingdom; the following year, he reduced Syria to the status of a Roman province—thereby creating a Roman stronghold in the Middle East, at the gates of Egypt—and took Jerusalem. Auletes made an alliance with Pompey, sending him 8,000 cavalry for his wars and many gifts, among them a heavy gold crown. 

In 60 BCE, though, the pharaoh had reason to tremble, for Pompey allied himself with Julius Caesar, who became consul the following year. The Egyptian king sent to Rome the huge sum of 8,000 talents, which brought him official acknowledge-ment of his authority. Julian law declared Ptolemy XII Auletes “”an ally and friend of the Roman people,””  which made him, in reality, a vassal.

“The looming military presence of Rome may have alarmed the Alexandrians, who rebelled against the ruler. Driven out by his subjects, Auletes fled Egypt for Rome. There, beginning in 57 BCE he launched a campaign of politicking and corruption, seeking to regain the throne of Egypt and to rally to his cause every powerful citizen of the Roman capital. Auletes bribed senators, spending so much that he was obliged to borrow from Rabirius, a wealthy Roman financier. 

“In the meantime, the Alexandrians put his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, on the throne, and sent a delegation to Rome to request the Senate to arbitrate the conflict between father and daughter. While Rome hesitated, equivocated, and consulted sacred texts, Auletes simply arranged to have a number of the delegates assassinated. But Rome was reluctant to commit a large armed force to returning Auletes to power. In despair, the deposed pharaoh left Rome for Ephesus, in Asia Minor. Cleopatra, then about ten years old, remained in Alexandria, where her half-sister now reigned.

“It was then that Rome decided upon a military intervention. One of Pompey’s lieutenants, Gabinius, governor of Syria, marched on Egypt at the head of a mighty army—an expedition in which the ten thousand talents promised by Auletes undoubtedly played a part. Leading the cavalry was a fiery twenty-four-year-old officer named Mark Antony. Gabinius took Pelusium, then Alexandria; Archilaus, Berenice’s husband, died in combat. Auletes entered the Egyptian capital as its conqueror, and immediately had his daughter executed.

“With the pharaoh back on the throne, Gabinius quit Egypt, leaving behind a military guard composed in the main of German and Gallic mercenaries. The Roman Rabirius, Auletes’ creditor became his prime-minister in Egypt.”” And the rest ‘they’ say is History! 

Sources & Related Websites:

Flamarion, Edith, Cleopatra – From History to Legend, (New Horizons), English Translation – Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1997.

Ingram, David, (Insight Compact Guide), Egypt,  APA Publications GmbH & Co. Verlag KG Singapore, (Reprint 2008).

Taylor, Alice, United Arab Republic, (Around The World Program), Nelson Doubleday, Inc And Odhams Books Ltd., 1964. 

Youssef, Hisham & Rodenbeck, John, (Insight Guides – First Edition Reprint), Egypt, Hans Johannes Hoefer, APA Publications (HK) Ltd., 1988.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompey%27s_Pillar_(column)

https://www.ask-aladdin.com/Alex-Travel-Information/PompeyPillar.html

http://brewminate.com/serapea-of-ancient-egypt/

http://tvatravels.com/adventures/egypt/alexandria-city-lost-glory/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.