George Campion’s plan of the Roman fort at Broxtowe, superimposed on the street plan of Broxtowe Estate.
In 1937 workmen digging the foundations and drains of the new Broxtowe housing estate in north west Nottingham found three Roman coins. Further digging revealed the floor of a building described as a ‘large hut, rich with coins and other relics’. But as interesting as this was, nobody yet knew that the people of Nottingham were about to start reading about the discovery of the city’s first Roman fort, albeit one that was soon to be covered up again by the housing estate that had revealed it. The terrain the fort was built on had only become an official part of Nottingham five years earlier; the city was growing and the Corporation was building comfortable public housing on the new urban fringe while knocking down the old slums of the inner city.
George Campion’s own drawings of artefacts recovered from the Broxtowe excavation, dated 1938.
The land that was to become Broxtowe estate, its future street patterns designed in elegant symmetrical ovals and halfmoons, was still covered by woodland and the full extent of the site only became apparent as the trees were felled. The coins and ‘large hut’ were found in Lindbridge Road, in the estate’s western half. Work on housing in the eastern section took place in the second half of 1937 and it was here, while drains and pipes for gas and electricity were going in, that a ditch and parapet were found. As the clearance of the woodland continued in November and December, a ditch and a parapet 182 metres (600ft) long came to light. In all, in excavations carried out by the Thoroton Excavating Section, the outline and interior detail of what appeared to be a fort had appeared, its southern long edge just south of the line of what was to become Fenwick Close, and with an apparent entrance at the junction of Alwyn Road and Firsby Road. It was indeed ‘a very important and unexpected discovery’, as it was described. A drawing of the camp, bordered at the northern end by ‘natural fortifications’ formed by an incline dropping 29 metres (95ft) to a valley, was made by the director of excavations, George Campion, a passionate but amateur archaeologist whose CV included studying Nottingham’s sandstone cave system.
Borstal boys help with the digging. From the Nottingham Journal, 15th February, 1938.
As work continued at Broxtowe into 1938, boys of the HM Borstal Institute at Maythorpe were loaned to help with the digging. In all, 20 boys a day worked for six weeks and moved 600 tons of earth. Many artefacts were found at the Broxtowe site, later described in an article published in the Nottinghamshire Guardian. These included an ‘amazing’ amount of pottery, mostly in fragments; more than 30 brooches ‘of which no two are exactly alike’; numerous coins, the latest dated to the reign of Vespasian and struck in 71; ivory dice; two parts of a quern for milling corn; sickles; and several iron and bronze pieces including knives, razors and an impressive bronze skillet, stamped with the name Albanvs, which is now on show in the University of Nottingham Museum. Despite all this, the construction of the housing estate carried on and the site was quickly built over the following year.