New year, new reviews

Mithras

The Temple of Mithras, Brocolitia, Hadrian's Wall (author's photograph)

A new review of Roman Nottinghamshire has been published on the website of Oxbow Books, the specialist archaeological publisher. You can read it at: http://www.oxbowbooks.com/bookinfo.cfm/ID/92075//Location/Oxbow. We understand, too, that a positive review is forthcoming in the Royal Archaeological Institute’s periodical the Archaeological Journal.


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Romans storm council meeting

mosaic at Southwell

fragment of mosaic found at the Southwell villa in 1959 - and still there

THIS week’s biggest news item?  Difficult to choose from. Eurozone in crisis. Italy on verge of economic collapse. New Call of Duty game sells 6.5m units on its first day. They’re all interesting. But, to those watching developments in local archaeology, by far the biggest headline went to the surprise decision by elected councillors at Newark and Sherwood District Council to reject an application to build houses over part of the site once occupied by Southwell’s large Roman villa. In so doing, they went against the advice of their officers, who had recommended that Caunton Properties should be allowed to build 29 houses on the old Minster School site in Church Street. The villa bits that everyone knows about – including the mosaics and the bath house which produced the famous Cupid image – were excavated near the Minster in 1959 by Charles Daniels ahead of the building of the school and have long been protected as a scheduled monument. However, even though the former Minster School site has yielded clear evidence that it was part of the villa estate, this neighbouring area was not protected and it was precisely this area in which the developer wanted to build. Those who backed the development, including English Heritage, essentially argued that the archaeology on the school site had been so messed around with over the years that the site could be built over again, albeit with consideration for the archaeology that was there and any new archaeology that might be discovered. Yet for those protesters in Southwell and beyond who staged a powerful campaign against the housing proposal, collecting a 2,500-name petition in the process, these were myopic arguments. How, they asked, could one part of a 2,000-year-old luxurious courtyard villa be considered of national importance when another part could have houses built on it? They also argued, with the Minister School demolished, that here was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fully explore the way the site of a Roman villa and its estate had developed through the Anglo Saxon period and on to the founding of the Minster itself. Instead of building on it, they said, let’s develop the site into a Heritage Park which can showcase Southwell’s and Nottinghamshire’s Roman and Anglo Saxon history. Councillors at Newark and Sherwood appear to have heeded the strength of feeling on the matter and this week voted against their own officers – and English Heritage – by turning down Caunton Properties’ planning application. The council later emailed the three reasons for rejection to me and these included impact of the development on the conservation area and the adverse impact on the archaeology. Although there was a good deal of celebration reported in local media, campaigners know that the issue may not be over since the developer can appeal.

bathing decor

Drawing of decorative features, including the Cupid now on view in Southwell Minster, that were found in the villa bath house in 1959

But, after all that, are we any closer to knowing what the actual villa was like? By coincidence, a few weeks before the council hearing, county archaeologist Ursilla Spence gave an absorbing lecture to the Thoroton Society in Nottingham in which she dealt directly with the evidence for the villa estate and how the Anglo Saxon people who lived here after the Romans used the site for church building and some peculiar burial practices. These included sticking metal pins into the bones of their corpses. Another body was found with three legs and had been dubbed ‘the vampire’ by Charles Daniels (Ursilla thought the third leg had been taken from another corpse during disturbances of the burials). There was lots more interesting and grisly stuff like this in her talk. But hang on, what did the villa look like in its heyday? There are few, if any, known images of the villa’s outline shape – but Ursilla had produced one by piecing together the locations of various finds, showing the building as an oblong some 90m long which extended across Church Street to just short of South Muskham Prebend House (I’ve asked Ursilla if I can borrow her image of the villa to show here). There is also, of course, a neat, well-made but waterlogged Roman wall made of Mansfield Woodhouse sandstone which was found on the old Minster School site two years ago (its presence helps explain why campaigners believe the site shouldn’t have houses built on it). Ursilla believes that the wall was part of an elaborate water feature in the villa’s landscaped grounds. “What you would have seen was a beautiful red wall reflecting water with the villa in the background,” she said. She added: “It must have been an absolutely stunning building – red walls with white columns reflected in water.” The villa’s occupant could have been a Romanised local chieftain who had a taste for “graceful living.” Perhaps the wall had helped to define a sacred space – a native shrine surrounded by a water garden, said Ursilla. Talking of lost glories, this was the theme of a second article about Roman Nottinghamshire to be published by the Nottingham Post newspaper. The article – reproduced in two parts  – appeared on November 4, 2011

From the Nottingham Post

....from the Nottingham Post

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Ave, Roman book signing ahead

Roman Nottinghamshire author Mark Patterson will be signing copies of his book at Waterstone’s in Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham, on Saturday, November 12. The session starts at 11.30am.

Meanwhile, the first of four articles about different aspects of life in Nottinghamshire’s Roman past was published in the Nottingham Post newspaper this week. For those who would prefer to read a neat on-line version of the text, which concerns the discovery of the Roman fort at Broxtowe estate in the 1930s, the article can be read at http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/did-Romans-Created-Broxtowe-s-hidden-fort/story-13664944-detail/story.html. The next article is due to be published on November 1.

Broxtowe part one

From the Nottingham Post, October 26 2011

Broxtowe 2

...Nottingham Post, Oct 26, continued

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Thoroton Society reviews Roman Nottinghamshire

Two new positive reviews of Roman Nottinghamshire have appeared. One of them, by Nottinghamshire’s historical and antiquarian society, the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire, appeared in its autumn 2011 newsletter and is reproduced below. The shorter review below it appeared in the autumn/winter 2011 issue of Nottinghamshire Historian.

Thoroton review
Nottinghamshire historian

Nottinghamshire Historian review

Thoroton Society review
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New Roman village found in Trent Valley

Langford well

cross-section of a well found at the Romano-British village. This image and all others on this page are copyright of Tarmac and Trent and Peak Archaeology.

A previously unknown Romano-British village has been found at Tarmac’s Langford Quarry, near Collingham. Measuring approximately 0.5km by 400m, including its field systems, the village has yielded artefacts from the Neolithic to the Anglo Saxon periods, with the Roman finds including the exceptional number of eight stone-lined wells (see left), 26 burials, ‘vast’ amounts of pottery, including fine Samianware and 200 coins up to the reign of the Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century. The work was led by Lee Elliott, head of project development at Trent and Peak Archaeology. News of the excavations was released by Tarmac in a press release, which says that finds also included Romano-British brooches, iron knives, pins, buckles, rings and lead weights as well as a ‘major number’ of animal bones. Pots were found in the well, which – as at Margidunum – contained timbers still carrying tool marks. Speaking to Roman Nottinghamshire, Lee said that the site had been known about two years ago but that the full extent of the village wasn’t recognised until the soil was stripped off.”It’s a multi-period site with evidence from the Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods,” he said. The core area of the village measures around 200m x 180m and what led archaeologists to believe that this was a village, rather than the kind of small farmstead found more often in the Trent Valley, was the number of stone wells and evidence of buildings as well as tracks, burials and metalwork finds. Altogether, the village is an exceptional find for the Trent Valley and Nottinghamshire, underlining how much more of the local Roman landscape remains to be discovered.  Describing the Roman coins, Lee said they covered the 1st to 4th centuries, with most dated to the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. “A lot of them are going to have to be sent off for conservation because they have eroded in the acidic conditions,” he said. “There are a few silver ones from the 1st and 2nd centuries but most of them are bronzes from the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, which is what you would expect because of inflation at the time. The latest coins are from the House of Constantine.”

brooch

fan-tail brooch found at Langford Quarry

Reports on the excavations have been published in local media including The Newark Advertiser and the Nottingham Post. The Post report can be seen at http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/Major-Roman-near-Newark/story-13359342-detail/story.html while the Newark Advertiser piece is at http://www.newarkadvertiser.co.uk/articles/news/Ancient-finds-at-quarry.

Anyone interested in gaining a fuller picture of the density of settlement in the Trent Valley during the Roman period is advised to seek out the book The Emerging Past: Air Photography and the Buried Landscape, by Rowan Whimster, which was published by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England in 1989. The book describes a 15km long zone of dense occupation from Newark to Normanton-on-Trent, most of which remains unexcavated.  Trent and Peak Archaeology, incidentally, is no longer part of the University of Nottingham but is now part of the York Archaeological Trust. Please note that the images on this page are all copyright of Tarmac and Trent and Peak Archaeology and should not be reproduced without their permission.

jar

globular jar recovered from one of the eight wells

burial
One of the 26 Romano-British burials
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Roman further afield…

Maps coverRoman Nottinghamshire author Mark Patterson is one of 17 writers who contribute to a new anthology titled Maps, published by Five Leaves Publications and currently available post free for £7.99 (see link below). The book is described as “a quirky compendium of essays on maps, places and people, many by leading writers including Iain Sinclair and The Guardian‘s David McKie and Chris Arnot as well as writers from the London Review of Books, academic journals, a journalist from the BBC World Service and several biographers.” The Roman connection comes from Mark Patterson’s contribution, A Short Walk up Dere Street, which examines the convoluted cultural and mapping history of the eponymous Roman road, which runs from York to the Firth of Forth. Long associated with the military campaigns of Agricola in the 1st Century, Dere Street’s story has also been tied up with the history of British mapping efforts, an extraordinary 18th century hoax and much more. Maps is available from Impress http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/maps_ross_bradshaw_i022678.aspx

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Reviews: Local History Magazine, the Chad and the ‘Five Leaves Diary’

A review of Roman Nottinghamshire has appeared in the May/June 2011 edition of Local History Magazine:

Local History MagazineAn article about the book also appeared in Nottinghamshire’s weekly Chad newspaper as part of Bill Purdue’s regular books column. The text is reproduced below (the original article has colour pictures!):

Bill’s local book of the month
FOR many people the history of Nottinghamshire
goes back as far as the days of Robin Hood, but as Mark Patterson found out when he began research for his book Roman Nottinghamshire, published last year, our local history goes back much further than that.
Whilst our county was not the site of famous battles during Roman times, there is still much to discover about Roman
activity in the area.
Though there is only one visible sign of Roman occupation left in the county – which Mr Patterson calls “a bump in a farmer’s field next to the A46 Leicester to Lincoln road, the remains of several Roman villas have been discovered down the years, as well as forts, towns and even a bridge across the River Trent.
Some of the most notable villas are at Southwell, at Margidunum which was a “sprawling Roman town” near East Bridgford and at Mansfield Woodhouse.
The villa near Woodhouse was discovered
at the end of the 18th Century and included an intricate mosaic floor.
A small building was erected over the mosaic to protect it from the elements, but, by the early 19th Century, the floor had been vandalised and destroyed and the walls written over.
Fortunately a copy of the mosaic had been made and this is reproduced in the book.
Now nothing is visible above ground, but a model showing what the Mansfield Woodhouse villa would have looked like is in Mansfield Museum.
Mark Patterson is a freelance journalist
and is keen to emphasise that he is not an archaeologist, but his interest in the Roman period stems from the fact that he was born in County Durham and made many trips to Hadrian’s Wall during his childhood.
Roman Nottinghamshire is a very informative and entertaining read. It is published by Five Leaves Publications at £11.99 and can be obtained online at http://www.nottinghambooks.co.uk or http://www.fiveleaves.
co.uk .
You can also find out more about the book at https://romannottinghamshire.wordpress.com

Finally, Roman Nottinghamshire gets another few mentions in Nottingham’s LeftLion magazine thanks to Pippa Hennessy, who, when not studying for a BA degree in creative and professional writing at Nottingham University, works as a marketeer for the book’s publisher Five Leaves Publications (not Five Leaf, as Local History Magazine would have it). Pippa’s ‘Five Leaves Diary’ can be read in full at:   http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/title/the-five-leaves-diary/id/3864

 

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