Return to Thurgarton please

Treasure from Epperstone

Figure recovered from the Epperstone villa, now in the University of Nottingham Museum

A former lecturer of mine at Nottingham Trent University’s Brackenhurst college near Southwell has been doing research into old field patterns and boundaries in the fields on and around the campus. His work had led him, in part, to material written by the late Philip Lyth, former Brackenhurst principal and author of A History of Nottinghamshire Farming (1989), whose research into how Southwell’s Anglo Saxon boundaries offered clues to the area’s long obscured Roman roads features prominently in Roman Nottinghamshire (see page 170). In brief, Lyth thought that some of the boundaries preserved certain Roman routes including a road from Ad Pontem on the Trent to the hill-top fort at Osmanthorpe, and a track from the villas near Thurgarton to Southwell. My former lecturer told me he thought that one of the old Roman tracks had been found on Brackenhurst’s land. And, he asked, had I seen the website about Thurgarton? I hadn’t, but when I did I had one of those ‘really-wish-I’d-seen-this-before’ moments since the Roman page on the Thurgarton village website presents hitherto little seen information – and photographs – that I could have done knowing about when writing the section on Thurgarton in the villa chapter of Roman Nottinghamshire. On Ordnance Survey map Explorer 260 the site of a Roman building is located near Thurgarton Beck, about mid-way between Thurgarton and Epperstone villages. It is an unassuming but quietly lovely place to walk to in good weather, far from any main roads and with the beck gurgling away nicely in the background. And when you consider that the area’s thick red clay soils were farmed by Romano-Britons over 1600 years ago, the landscape view becomes imbued with an additional depth of meaning. Encouraging people to get out to see places like this was one reason for writing the book.

Thurgarton beck in winter

Thurgarton beck near the Thurgarton villa site. The objects in the beck are the remains of an old sheepwash

In fact, there were at least two neighbouring Roman buildings here – one being a corridor-type villa with a hypocaust central heating system, the other also a high status building with painted plasterwork, hypocaust, bath suite and evidence of various alterations and extensions. The buildings were excavated in the 1950s and 60s, the first being dubbed the ‘the Thurgarton villa’ because it is in Thurgarton parish while the other is called ‘the Epperstone villa’ because it falls within the boundaries of Epperstone parish. The problem in writing about these was that the published excavation reports were scrappy, consisting only of brief notes in contemporaneous copies of the East Midlands Archaeological Bulletin. I always thought I’d missed a book or journal I should have known about. But, upon reading the Thurgarton website, it seems I didn’t miss anything in print: website author Ellis Morgan confirms that no formal excavation reports were published and that exacavation diaries, notes and photographs have in fact been kept at Boots Archives. The Thurgarton website’s other news is that a third villa may have been located 500m to the north of the Epperstone villa. There is also an old aerial photograph which purports to show a Roman road and minor track in the area. This isn’t the first time that additional material has come to light since Roman Nottinghamshire was published. In the past few weeks alone I’ve met people who’ve had personal involvement with excavations at Margidunum, Segelocum and Norton Disney. Derrick Riley, the pioneering air photographer who discovered several important sites in Nottinghamshire, was a name on paper only until a woman in the audience at a recent talk casually told me later that she had know Derrick very well and that he’d entrusted a pile of his notes to her. All of these stories will be followed up. Whether they appear here or in a possible second edition of the book is undecided. At present, I favour both.

muddy path to the villa

Looking down onto the site of the Thurgarton villa, near the coppice to the right

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