Mercia

EngliscHeritage

Mercia

Lincoln

There were certain cities in Britain which the Romans converted into “colonies” after their conquest of the country in 43 A.D., that is to say, allotments of land were there given to veteran legionaries, “ex-service men,” as we should now call them, and the Colonia thus formed became a more or less self-governing little state. It is not known how many of these colonies there were in Britain, but York, Gloucester, and Colchester, and Colchester were three cities which certainly had this status, and I am now going to speak of a fourth, namely Lincoln, which became a colony probably about 70 A.D. or a little later.

 

The originally British town was situated on the hill overlooking the river Witham, where now the cathedral stands towering above the modern city, a landmark for miles/kms around. It was called Lyn Dun, “the Hill-fortress by the Lake,” for in ancient times there was at the foot of the hill a large lake which has now shrunk into the piece of water called the Brayford; but the Romans made this name into Lindum, adding the designation “colony” to it, so that it became Lindum-Colonia, which has now contracted into Lincoln, Lin-standing for Lind(um) and –colon for Colonia just as does Koln (Cologne) on the Rhine.

 

The first Roman city covered an area of about 40 acres/16ha on the summit of the hill, forming on oblong enclosure of some 1,400 by 1,200 feet/130 by 111m. On three sides it was bounded by earth ramparts faced with stone, and a ditch or fosse twenty feet/6m deep and eighty/24m wide; but on the south side the sharp slopes of the hill and the river at the bottom provided defence enough. Later on, however, the city was extended on this south side, so that these slopes were included within the new and strongly-built masonry defences; and the mediaeval archway now called the Stonebow which spanned the High Street at the bottom of the hill, close to the river, is built on the site of the Roman south gate.

 

Two great highroads, one from London, afterwards called the Ermine Street, and the other from Exeter, Bath, and Leicester, called the Fosse Way, met together just south of Lincoln, and passed into the city though the south gate, at the other end of the town, is still standing, being now called the Newport Arch; and through this the Ermine Street passed out on its way to York. There are, however, no remains of the east and west gates, and no roads of importance led from them.

 

In the early years after the conquest the ill-fated Ninth Legion, recruited in Spain, was stationed here in Lincoln, but it afterwards moved up to York, and, as I related in a previous chapter, it was finally annihilated in the Lowers of Scotland/ Pictland at the time, and was never reconstituted. So long as these troops were at Lincoln the city must have had the nature of a military fortress; but afterwards, when the colony was formed and onwards throughout its history, the place was just a busy commercial centre, the wealth and prosperity of which is demonstrated by the remains unearthed from time to time.

 

Some of the ruins are well worth a visit, and the Newport Arch, in particular, is a monument of old Rome which ought not to be missed by the sightseer who is interested in the history of our most ancient nation. Let us, therefore, make a tour of the city, starting on the low ground at the south gate and passing up the hill towards the cathedral.

We will stop first at the large new shop in the High Street, belonging to Messrs. Boots, the chemists. During the construction of the building some stout sections of the walls of a Roman house were discovered, through which small brick archways passed, these perhaps being passages for the admission of the hot air from the furnaces into the cavities under the floors of rooms now destroyed. The modern builders had to demolish much of the ruins in order to disencumber the basement area, but one section was preserved, and was allowed to protrude through the new floor level, so that now, with the permission of the manager, you may go down into this basement and may see the ruined wall and its well-preserved archway standing there, carefully railed off. There is no saying now what sort of building it belonged to, for all the rest is either destroyed or is buried deep beneath the street and houses; but we may be thankful, at any rate, that this one piece has been saved for us and our descendants to see and to marvel at.

 

Walking northwards from this point you come presently to the end of the High Street, and a steep climb up a hill like the side of a house brings you to the cathedral. Go through the cathedral to the cloister on the north side, and there, in the dim light under the stairway leading off the north-east corner, you will find a fragment of mosaic pavement preserved in situ, which will show you that the great mediaeval edifice is built right on top of the “grandeur that was Rome.” Near it, amongst a heap of architectural fragments, you will see a Roman altar and a piece of an inscribed stone found on the spot, by which token you will know that there once stood here a temple of one of the old gods whom Christianity dethroned. Under the precentory near the cathedral part of the central heating arrangements of a Roman house  are to be seen, if you care to provide yourself with a permit, a ladder and a lamp.

From the cathedral you walk northwards, along a street now called the Bailgate, and here, in the roadway between the Plough Inn and the Lion and Snake Inn, you will see a row of circles laid in cobblestones. These mark the positions of the pillars of a great colonnade which was unearthed here and afterwards buried again. Altogether nineteen columns were found in front of the walls of a building 277 feet/84.4m long and some 70 feet.21m wide, which was probably the Basilica. Under No 29 Bailgate the actual bases of some of the columns and other Roman remains are to be seen.

 

Continuing your walk northwards along the Bailgate, you come presently to the Newport Arch, and here indeed is a sight to stir the imagination. This great archway, nearly 2,000 years old, is built of massive masonry, and still spans the highroad, the modern motor traffic trundling through it just as did the chariots and the bullock-carts in the days of the Romans. The main arch is 15 feet/4.5m across, and on the right or east side there is a smaller arch, 7 ½ feet/2.2m wide, for the use of pedestrians. There must have been a similar postern on the left or west side, but this is now destroyed, and the building here abuts a modern grocer`s shop, which, with all due respect, I feel ought to be pulled down, so that this historic gateway should stand free and tremendous at the entrance of the city. It is the only great Roman archway still standing and still in use in all Britain.

Next, if you walk a short distance along a little street, now called the East Blight, to the right of this archway, you will come across a fragment of the later Roman walls of the city, standing in a cabbage-patch behind the railings on your left hand. There is another piece of it to be seen behind the North District Church of England School, not far from here, and a third fragment is in a private garden; but with these exceptions the entire circuit of the ramparts has disappeared.

 

Nothing else that is Roman is to be seen in situ within the city, but a visit to the museum in Broadgate, down by the river once more, will give you some idea of the importance of Lindum Colonia. I may mention here a few of the outstanding objects in this well arranged but badly lit collection.

From the Bailgate comes a milestone, at which many a Roman soldier must have looked; it is inscribed with the name of the Emperor Victorinus, 265 to 267 A.D., and with the words: “From Lindum to Segelocum 14 miles/22.5km.” Segelocum is the modern Littleborough-on-Trent. Another milestone was found near Sibthorp Street, and bears the name of the Emperor Valerian, and the letter R, which may have stood for Ratae (Leicester).

A memorial tablet records the memory of a standard-bearer in the Ninth Legion, named Gaius Valerius, of the Maecian tribe, who, dying at the age of thirty-five, after fourteen years` service, “left instructions in his will that this monument should be set up.” Another tablet is to the memory of Claudia Crysis, who died at the age of ninety.

There are several pieces of mosaic flooring, amongst which is one showing the head of Mercury, found on the probable site of the Forum, up in the Bailgate. There are the fragments of a water pipe laid by the Romans; tiles stamped with the name of the Ninth Legion; an altar dedicated to Hercules; a bronze statuette of Mercury urns; some bronze vessels; much glass and pottery; many coins; and a host of small articles.

Finally I must mention a Roman gravestone now built into the outside wall of the tower of the church of St. Mary-le-Wigford. Above the original Roman inscription a Saxon called Eirtig has recorded his name, and the erection and endowment of some building “to the glory of Christ and Mary.” Lincoln, in fact, passed fairly quietly into Saxon hands, and the continuity of its existence, like that its name, has been maintained to the present day.

I have no space now in which to speak of the other Roman sites in Lincolnshire, such as Caistor, a small market-town on a spur of the Wolds, where a Roman fort was situated, of which parts of the massive walls are still to be seen; or Ancaster, where the fosse can be clearly traced, and where thousands of coins have been found; or Karkstow, where a fine mosaic floor, with representations of a chariot race, was discovered in 1796, and was buried again. There is so much in the county of interest to those who study the days of our Roman-British forefathers; but I am obliged to confine this chapter to Lincoln itself, for, after all, the whole of Britain is teeming with the remains of this epoch, and in this small book it would be impossible to do more than point out the most important sites.

In the British Museum there are several objects found in Lincoln. There is a tombstone of Gaius Saufeius, who was of the Fabian tribe, and came from Heraclea in Macedonia. He served twenty-two years in the Ninth Legion, and died at the age of forty. Another tombstone belonged to Titus Valerius Pudens, of the Second Legion, who was a Hungarian. Another records the names of Aurelius Senecio, a commander of cavalry, and his wife Volusia Faustina of Lincoln. Yet another belonged to Gaius Julius Galenus of the Galerian tribe, a veteran of the Sixth Legion, who came from Lyons in France.

 

LEICESTER

In Roman days Leicestershire was inhabited by part of the widespread tribe of the Coritani, a mild and agricultural people, whose market town was Ratae Coritanorum, or just Ratae, for short, which stood where Leicester now stands.

Although the name Ratae was known to early antiquarians as that of a city hereabouts, and although Leicester was clearly full of Roman remains, the two were not to be identified with certainty until 1771, when, just over two miles/3.2km outside the walls of Leicester, at the village of Thurmaston, part of a milestone was discovered at the side of the old Roman road, and on it was written “Two miles to Ratae,” and the name of the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian was in England in 120-121 A.D., and this milestone, which you may now a see in the Leicester museum, probably commemorates his progress through the country.

Ratae may have been a British town before the arrival of the Roman in 43 A.D., but it certainty became a place of importance very soon after this date; and at first a detachment from the Eighth or Ninth Legion seems to have been stationed here, if we may judge by a tile, found in the city, which bears the name of one of those two legions. But with this exception, its whole history was civil rather than military; for it stood in the very centre of the peaceful Midlands, and the main military road from London and the south to York and the north did not pass through it. It must, indeed, have always been rather a “provincial” place, living its own self-centred and prosperous life without much regard to events in other parts of the country.

It was not a very big city; its surrounding walls are lost, but those of mediaeval days enclose an area of 105 acres/42.5ha, and there is some reason to suppose that the Roman walls were built upon the same line. It was, however, a wealthy place, full of luxurious houses; for over thirty mosaic floors have been dug up in different parts of the city, and these are of particularly fine workmanship and beautiful design. Some of these mosaics are preserved in the Leicester museum, but two of them are still to be seen where they were unearthed.

Opposite St. Nicholas Church, at No. 50, St. Nicholas Street, there is a shop kept by a certain Mr. Goode; and if, disclaiming any interest in his wares, which are ladies` corsets, you ask to be taken down into his cellars, he will lead you, for the modest fee of 3d., through his parlour and kitchen, across his backyard, and down a flight of steps to a very spick-and-span subterranean hall, walled with shining white glazed bricks like a public washing-place, and strongly illuminated by electric lights.

There on the floor you will behold two large pieces of splendid mosaic pavement, the bright colours of which have been renovated by Mr. Goode`s diligent scrubbing-brush; and you will suddenly realise that you are standing where once stood the wealthy Roman-British master of a fine city mansion.

The design of the better piece of the two is magnificent, the central plaque having a representation in it of a peacock with spread tail, and the rest consisting of elegant patterns. There must have been the usual hot-air cavity under these pavements, connected with an outside furnace, for the mosaic has sunk in places owing to the weight of the walls and ceiling which fell in on it when the house collapsed.

The white tiles and electric light, I should add, were put in by the corporation, which bought the site on behalf of the city in 1911, and now lets the house above to Mr. Goode, who is permitted to charge the entrance fee in return of the great care he takes of the place. It is a great pleasure to see Roman mosaics for once clean and rich in colour, instead of dirty and dusty, as they so often are when preserved in museums.

The other mosaic pavement still in situ lies under the L.N.E.R station, and may also be visited. There is only one more relic of Roman days still in its original position in Leicester, but this is a mighty affair, well worth a visit by those who are interested in our Roman ancestry, it is a great mass of rough masonry, 75ft.22.8m long and 8ft/2.4m thick, standing some 25ft/7.6m above the present surface of the ground – very black and grimy now, but none the less impressive for that.

You will find it in the little passage at the side of St. Nicholas Church, across the road from Mr. Goode`s corset shop; and the trams now go clanging past between there two relics of the splendid days that are gone. They call it the Jewry Wall, apparently because this was the quarter in which Jews resided in the Middle Ages. Set into it are four recesses in the form of arches, made of tiles, and there is a niche in which a statue once stood.

There is an old tradition that it was part of a temple of Janus, and it certainly seems to have been the facade of some building, perhaps the public baths. Some have thought that it was one of the city gates; but excavation alone will solve the problem, and there are difficulties, not only financial, in the way of that.

A great many interesting Roman objects have been dug up in Leicester, and some of these are to be seen on the museum. For instance, there is a piece of pottery on which is scratched, “Verecunda, actress; Lucius, gladiator,” which perhaps records a romantic compact between these two forgotten professionals. There is also a part of a glass cup, on which is moulded a representation of a gladiatorial fight, the combatants wearing helmets and carrying short swords and shields. An inscription above the figures gives the names Spiculus, Columbus, and Calamus, and there were evidently other names as well, these being, it would seem, it would seem, the famous fighters of the day, who probably lived in Rome but whose reputations were world-wide.

There is a pair of shoes, made of black leather, in the museum; and it is interesting to notice that instead of hobnails the soles are studded all over with little knobs cut or pressed out of the leather itself. Here, too, are any amount of coins, bronze safety-pin brooches, great glass funerary urns with the ashes of the dead still in them, specimens of pottery, and so forth; and there are many fragments of columns and architectural details which are the remains of temples and public buildings.

Round about the city, traces of country houses have been discovered, including fine mosaic floor; while gold and silver coins and other articles have been dup up throughout the country.

About a mile/1.6km from the ancient boundary of the city, near the gas works at Aylestone, there are the remains of a great dyke, which is thought to have been made by the Romans to convey water to the city.

In the end Ratae does not appear to have been entirely deserted, but passed without any noticeable interregnum into Anglo-Saxon hands. This was unfortunate in one way, for now, as in the case of London and elsewhere, the modern city has grown up over the Roman ruins, and the plan of the place is lost. The past is buried beneath the present, and it is only when the modern workman digs down to lay the foundations of some new buildings that the ruins of ancient Ratae are found, and one obtains a glimpse of that rich and luxurious life which was snuffed out when the glory of Rome itself was extinguished fourteen hundred years ago.

 

GLOUCESTER, CIRENCESTER, AND OTHER SITES IN GLOUCESTERSHIRE

Gloucestershire is very full of Roman remains, and in this chapter I am going to speak particularly of the two great cities which then existed in the county, namely Gloucester and Cirencester; but it may be well to mention first some of the other sites where finds have been made. Important Roman country houses, or `villas` as they are called, have been discovered at several places. At Woodchester the mosaic floors of one of these were found in the churchyard; and a charming figure if Luna, and other sculpture, now in the British Museum, were brought from here. In Spoonley Wood, near Winchcomb, another mansion was excavated many years ago. In Lydney Park, on the road to Chepstow, a house was found containing beautiful mosaics, and, amongst many small objects, no less than 700 coins; while there were three votive inscriptions to the god Nodens, a British deity of the river, the Severn being close to the site. At Witcomb, near Gloucester, yet another fine mansion was found a century ago; and in Chadworth Wood there is a large villa which I am going to describe in the next chapter.

At Watercomb, near Bisley, two tablets were found, each having a figure sculptured in high relief. The first is that of a legionary, and has a dedication apparently to the defied Romulus; and the other represents a civilian holding a cornucopia.

The British Museum contains altars to Mars and Fortune from Kings Stanley, near Stroud, and others to Sylvanus and Mars from Bisley; and in the Bristol museum there are many objects from all over the county. The ease with which the Romans took control of this part of England, and the obvious security they here enjoyed, shows that this was no barbarian land into which they had penetrated at the sword`s point, but was a highly civilized country, as is indicated, indeed, by some of the purely British objects discovered in this district. There is, for example, in the Gloucester museum, a bronze mirror of British workmanship, decorated with a beautiful design of spirals and having an enamelled handle, which is one of the great masterpiece of our native art.

The British tribe which inhabited this territory was the Dobuni, and Gloucester appears to have beenits capital. The city was then known as Glevum, and if we remove the termination –um we get “Glev” as the original name, which in Saxon times, was written “Glow” or “Glowe,” this being identical with the “Glou” in the name still in use.

The newcomers laid it out in the usual Roman way, with two main streets crossing at right angles in the middle of the city; and to this day these streets are in use, the cross-roads being still the central feature of the town. Here traces of the forum have been found, and the ruins of the Proetorium, or Head-Quarters, where for some time the Second Legion (`Augusta`) was stationed, were discovered under the present Guildhall. The foundations of various Roman houses have come to light, and in the museum there are many mosaic floors to be seen, and a considerable collection of small objects, though outside this there is nothing for the visitor to see now in situ.

One tombstone, found in the city and now in the museum, may be mentioned. The inscription reads: “Rufus Sita, soldier of hte Sixth Cohort of Thracians (from the Black Sea), who died in the 40th year of his age and the 22nd of his military service, lies here.” Above is a sculptured figure of this personage, helmet on head and spear in hand, riding a horse which is trampling upon a fallen Welshman. At Bath there is a tombstone recording the name of an octogenarian town councillor from Gloucester, who had come there to take the waters. This inscription gives us the important fact that Glevum was a Colonia, or Colony, that to say a self-governing city whose inhabitants possessed the full rights of Roman citizenship, a clear indication, I think of the culture and orderliness of the Gloucestershire men of over 1,800 years ago.

The great commercial centre of the county was Corinium, now called Cirencester (pronounced Cicester, and sometimes spelt Cysseter in the Middle Age). The connection between Corin and Ciren is obvious, and the Saxons added the cester, as was their wont. It is now a quiet little country town, off the mainline railway line, situated at the foot of the Cotswolds, half way between Swindon and Gloucester; but in Roman days it was great road-junction at which the Fosse Way, the Roman highroad from Exeter and Bath to Leicester and Lincoln, crossed the highroad from London and Silchester to Gloucester and Wales, and other important roads also met here.

Unfortunately there are hardly any traces of the Roman city now to be seen outside the local museum, and the private “Cripps Collection,” but in these collections there are many objects of interest. There is the tombstone of a soldier named Dannicus, belonged to the Indian cavalry, and another of Sextus Valerius Genialis of the Thracian cavalry. Another inscription is important because it states that a certain Septimius caused the statue of Jupiter which had fallen into decay to be restored, and there is reason to suppose that herein we may see a reference to the return to paganism in the early years of the Fourth Century, after the people of Corinium had been Christians for some time. It was during the reign of Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) that the Christians were persecuted, and efforts were made to restore the worship of the old gods; but in the end Christianity triumphed and was the recognised religion of the land before the Romans left.

An inscribed altar is dedicated by Sulinus, son of Brucetus, to the trinity of mother-goddesses, the Sulevae as they were called, who were widely worshipped in Britain; and it is interesting to notice that this same Sulinus has left an altar at Bath, whereon he is described as a sculptor. I may also mention a tombstone now in the Gloucester museum, but found at Cirencester, which gives the name of a man called Cassavas who was by birth a Sequanian from Gaul.

But perhaps the most striking find made in the city is that of a fragment of wall-plaster from a Roman house, upon which somebody has scratched the following word-square:-

R O T A  S

O P E R A

T E N E T

A R E P O

S A T O R

This reads in all directions, up or down, or forwards or backwards: Rotas opera tenet Arepo sator, “Arepo, the sower, guides the wheels at work”; and an interesting fact is that this very word-square is also preserved in an English mediaeval inscription, which shows that it was sufficiently well-known to be quoted for centuries afterwards.

In the British Museum there is an inscribed stamp from Cirencester, used by a Roman doctor to stamp his remedies, which were made up in sticks, and which therefore is written backwards like a die. It names a medicine, perhaps laudanum, to be used with white of egg, in case of inflammation, and an ointment of quince to be used “for all ills.” Several such stamps have been found in Britain. One comes from Sandy, Bedfordshire, and names a vinegar lotion for sore eyes, two salves for dimsightedness, anda preparation of poppy for inflamed eyes, as prescribed by an occultist named Gaius Valerius Amandus; and in this connection I may mention that Galen (131-200 A. D.) refers to the prescription of a famous British aculist named Stolus.

Another specimen found at St. Albans, and now also in the British Museum, records a prescription of L. Julius Juvenis for ophthalmia; another, from Colchester, names a salve made from saffron; and one from London names of preparation also of saffron, for granulations. Others, too, are known, and it is apparent that the British oculists and their remedies were in great demand.

I have not the space to speak of any other of the hundreds of Roman objects found at Cirencester. Of the walls of the city, originally two miles/3.2km in circuit, and enclosing an area of 240 acres/97ha, hardly a fragment remains. Excavations have shown that it had a basilica of magnificent proportions, and accidental finds have revealed mosaic floors, architectural details, and even some of the paving-stones of the streets, deeply grooved, like those at Pompeii, by the wheels of the carts. But for the rest, all is lost or buried underground; and the sleepy little town of the present day will itself have to fall into ruins before the treasures it hides can be brought to light.

 

CHEDWORTH, IN THE COTSWOLD HILLS

I am inclined to think that if you or I we resuddenly transported by magic into the Britain of Roman days we should find the general characteristic of the countryside recognisably similar to those of our times. We should not stare about us with that gloomy horror we might well feel of our school-books were right in describing ancient Britain as covered with dreary marshland and impenetrable forests; for though there were undounbtedly large tracts of woodland which have now disappeared, and wide areas of fen-country which have now been reclaimed, most of the rural features we love would be present to make us feel at home.

It is true that in the Doomsday Book of Norman times much of the country is described as being uncultivated, but this was after 400 years and more of Anglo-Saxon rule, during which time whole areas of land must have gone to waste.

In Roman Britain we should see here and there the same serene cornfields that we see today, rich with the same poppies; the Roman roads and lanes would have the same wealth of English wildflowers on either side, and would be shaded by the same English trees; the sheep and cattle would be browsing in the same luscious meadows of grass and daises and buttercups; and even the houses, built of brick and timber or of grey stone, with their gardens ablaze with old English flowers and trim with clipped hedges, would not be strange to our eyes.

Especially would this be so in that glorious district of the Cotswolds, where today the flower-bordered lanes lead you through sun-flecked woods and picturesque villages, up beside bountiful fields on to the rolling open country where the larks are singing, and down again into secluded, luxuriant valleys, and along the banks of meandering brooks.

These things, which constitute for us our dearest picture of the unrivalled English countryside, were here when our Roman-British ancestors of this neighbourhood went into Corinium (Cirencester) or Glevum (Gloucester) dressed in their best togas, transacted their business in the Latin tongue, and discussed the latest news from Rome in the shadow of the colonnades of the local Forum.

The ruins of the great mansion of one of these country gentlemen have been found in Chedworth Wood, in a valley amongst the Cotswolds, seven miles/11.2km as the crow flies from Cirencester and thirteen miles/20.9km from Gloucester; and here we have an excellent illustration of this fact that the general aspect of the countryside as we know it now, formed the setting of the story of Roman days. The site is backed by the trees, just as it must have been in ancient times; it overlooks a peaceful valley which can hardly be much changed since that far-off age; and nearby there still passes the White Way, the road from Cirencester, made by the Romans, close to the great Fosse Way which was the main military highroad of the legions running from Exeter through Bath and Cirencester to Leicester and Lincoln.

The ruins were discovered by accident one day in 1864, when some men who were out rabbiting, having lost a ferret in one of the holes, opened a section of the warren with their spades, and found to their astonishment that the rabbits were living in a mosaic-paved Roman bedroom. The place was subsequently excavated, and now you may see the greater part of the whole mansion laid bare, the original stone walls still standing two or three feet/.6 or .9m in height, and several of these mosaic floors lying fresh and bright in the sheds which were then built to protect them. You may walk from room to room, through corridors and along colonnades, where now the green grass grows, and across the open courtyards where today there are mown lawns and well-kept bads of flowers; and as you wander about, seeing clearly the general plan of the house, you will surely feel, as I felt, that the owner of this estate, the best part of two thousand years ago, knew and loved the same rural England that the men of Gloucestershire love today.

The mansion faced east, and formed three sides of a square in which a formal garden was laid out; and of these three sides the right or south, which were the kitchens and living rooms, has only partly been recovered, the left and north, which consisted of work rooms and servant`s quarters, still reveals its entire plan, and the middle or west, containing some of the main rooms, is now the best preserved.

In the west section you will first visit the dining room, and you will see how it was heated in cold weather by hot air circulating under the splendid mosaic floors and up the flues let into the walls behind the painted surface. Here the mosaic designs show the four seasons – Spring as a little girl bearing a basket of flowers, Summer in the guise of a cupid holding a bird in his hand, Autumn now destroyed, and Winter in the form of a cloaked and hooded man holding a leafless branch in one hand and a rabbit in the other.

There are two bedrooms next to this, and then come the baths, the threshold-stone leadingto one of these rooms being worn down by the feet of generations of bathers. Here there is a warm room, and a hot room heated all round by means of flues, and now having the hot air passages underneath and the furnace exposed to view. Then there is a room containing a small plunge-bath still intact, with the steps leading down to it, and the plug-hole and lead drain-pipe by which it was emptied still in place.

In the north wing there is the blacksmith`s forge, where the horse of the estate were shod and the necessary ironwork was wrought; next there is the laundry with its vats or cauldrons in which the clothes were washed; and then the bakery, and beyond it the servants` quarters, leading from a terrace which was once a roofed colonnade. The estate was evidently self-supporting, and one has the feeling that it must have been run like clockwork by generations of capable Gloucestershire housewives.

Between the west and the north sides, in a syvan corner in the shade of the trees, stood the nympheum, a temple-like little building where there is an octagonal basin let into the floor, into which the water of a woodland stream still flows down, and originally passed out by pipes for the use of the house.

The objects found in the ruins are now to be seen in a small museum on the spot, and from the coins and other evidence it seems that the house was in constant occupation from a period soon after the conquest right down to the end of the fourth century. There is here a great deal of ironwork – keys, locks, weapons, horsehoes, a pair of clippers, a pair of curling tongs, pocket knives, a pair of handcuffs, and so forth; and there are also three great blocks, or “blooms,” of iron which the smithy had only partially used when the end came. There are the bones from joints of meat, and the shells of oysters, snails, whelks and mussels, the remains of ancient feasts; and there are an oyster-opener, some meat choppers, skewers, a steel-yard, ladles, spoons, knives, sharpening-hones, bronze bowls, fragments of glass vessels, broken pottery, corn grinders, and so on, all telling of good living and good cheer. I am told that snails of the edible variety, which must be the actual descendants of those cultivated by the Romans, are still to be found living amongst the ruins of this villa.

Some of the later owners of the house were evidently Christians, for the Chi-Rho, (this monogram was put on the shields of the Roman soldiers who fought for Constantine when he saw this in the sky, seeing this as a sign for victory in the coming battle, on victory he acknowledged the Christain Faith and the Chi-Rho became a symbol of this), the sacred monogram, is to be seen cut upon a stone; but there are also traces of the pagan gods, and the remains of a temple have been found near the river Coln, not far from the house.

There were other houses in the neighbourhood, and from one at Withington comes the fine mosaics representing a water-god and Orpheus charming the animals, which is now in the British Museum. Only the name of one of the owners of the Chedworth has been preserved – that of a man called Censorinus. The names of all the others are lost forever; yet in these ruins we can picture something of their lives, and they are linked to us by the setting of their ruined homes, here in this sylvan valley which remains today, as it was then, a beautiful corner of the British motherland.

 

WALL, LICHFIELD, AND OTHER SITES IN STAFFORDSHIRE

I remember when I was Inspector-General of Antiquities in Egypt, and was exploring the Arabian Desert and that part of the Nile Valley now called Lower Nubia, I often used to turn to a document known as the Itinerary of Antoninus, a list of Roman “stations” compiled in the Third Century A. D., for the use of officials, military and civil, so that they could see at a glance the names of the cities and fortified halting-places on the great high roads of the Empire, and their distance one from the other; and the fact that I am now using this same itinerary to guide me in my wanderings in Roman Britain brings home very forceably to the mind the vastness of the dominions of Rome.

This ancient list records the stations on the main road throughout our own country; and as in the present chapter I am going to speak of some sites in Staffordshire, I wil follow the Antonine itinerary along the ancient Watling Street, which runs from the English Channel to Wales, and on its way cuts right through this country.

From the Kentish ports the highway passed through Durovernum (Canterbury) and Durobrivae (Rochester) to Londinum (London) and Verulamium (St. Albans), and thence it went north-westwards through Bannaventa (Daventry) and Trippontium (Rugby) into Staffordshire, in which county there were two stations. The first of these was Pennocrucium, the modern Stretton, the name being preserved in that of the neighbouring village of Penkridge, and in the river Penk, which the road here crosses; but no ruins and only a few stray Roman objects have so far been found here. The second Staffordshire station was Letocetum; but here the itinerary is at fault, for it gives the name as Etocetum, and this fact put the early antiquarians off the scent, with the result that for long the station remained unidentified.

At Wall, a village a mile and a half/2.4km from Lichfield, however, there were some obvious Roman remains which were at just about the place where the station might be expected to be; but it was only when the name was corrected to Letocetum that the identification was firmly established. It is now recognised that this name Letocet(um) is the ancient British Luit-coyt or Luyd-coed, meaning “the Grey Woods,” and that it is still preserved in the name Lich-field, the adjacent cathedral-town.

But though Letocetum, thus, has been found, the site had never been excavated except at one corner; and as we therefore have no idea of its extent or even of its exact position, it has still to be regarded as a lost city. That it was a real city and not a mere “station” seems likely, for the traces that remain are extensive, and such masonry as is visible is very massive.

A coin of the time of Julius Caesar which was found here indicates that the places was already a British town in pre-Roman days; and others of the time of the Emperor Claudius, in whose reign Britain passed into Roman hands, show that it was taken over by the conquerors almost at once, perhaps about 50 A. D. One reason of its importance was that it was a road-junction, Watling Street being here crossed by a highroad called Ryknield Way.

Nothing is known of its history, but for nearly four hundred years it must have seen the coming and going of Roman troops on their way to and from Chester, Wroxeter and Wales.

After the legions left Britain, it seems to have been involved in a war with its western neighbours, for there is a Welsh poem of the Sixth Century which describe how it was sacked by a British General named Moriael, who carried off from it five hundred head of cattle and eighty horses; nor, says the poet, were its Christian priests able to stop the slaughter. After that this whole district passed into Saxon hands, a few years before 600 A. D.; but that the neighbourhood of Letocetum retained its importance as a great centre is shown by the fact that not much over half a century later St. Chad, the younger brother of St. Cedd, of Essex fame, made his headquarters at Lichfield, close to the site of the deserted Roman city. I may point out in passing that the fact of his being able so quickly to convert the Saxons hereabouts to Christianity can only mean, I think, that the faith had never died out amongst the conquered British of Staffordshire. They had kept their religion just as they had maintained their existence; and though the Saxons were now their masters, and though the original city had been deserted and a new one had grown up beside it, the name Letocetum still survived and still survives to this day in its form of Lichfield.

There are records which state that large fragments of the ramparts of the city were in existence at Wall three hundred years ago, but these have now disappeared. A little over a century ago five hundreds yards/457.2m of wooden palisade were discovered, made of tree-trunks driven into the ground close together, but this may have been part of the British defences of pre-Roman days. When the modern church at Wall was being built, the foundations of a Roman temple were found; and a large earthenware statue, apparently of Minerva, which was found in this area, and which was smashed up by its ignorant finder, seems to have been that of the presiding deity.

In a field below the church the ruins of a Roman house were excavated years ago, but they were not of great interest, and were filed in again, being now covered by the grass. Close to this, however, a set of baths was discovered, and these ruins having been left uncovered, may now be visited after payment of a small fee. The field wherein they stand, which lies behind the houses of the village, and slopes down from the church to a little stream, was purchased recently by Miss E. D. Henderson, in order that she might give proper care to these interesting remains, and might keep them open for all to see; and this entrance-fee goes forward their maintenance.

The main entrance to the bath-house appears to have been at the north-east side, the side nearest the church; and here there is some heavy masonry which would suggest that the building had been most imposing. You then pass across the Palaestra, or exercise-ground, now hidden beneath the grass, and so come to a series of a dozen rooms or more, of which the largest, in the south-west corner, was the Calidarium, or hot-room. Both here and in the Tepidarium, or tepid-room. Adjoining it, the little pillars are to be seen which supported the floor, leaving free passage for the hot air from the outside furnace to circulate underneath.

The intense heat of the air is shown by the fact that the tiles, of which these pillars are constructed, are much burnt; and it is not difficult to picture the sweating Roman bathers sitting in this room above, hardly able to bear the heat of the mosaic floor or of the walls, behind the plaster of which the hot air circulated through pottery flues.

I may mention in passing that the man in charge of the furnaces in the last days of Letocetum seems to have scamped his work; for the ashes found when the place was excavated had been merely raked back and had not been properly cleared away, while the flues had been left uncleaned; but he may be pardoned in view of the probability that the enemy was then at the gates.

The skeletons of two or more greyhounds were found near the furnace, and it may be that the keeper of the baths had sought refuge here with his dogs in the last catastrophe, just as did one of the inhabitants of Wroxeter, as I have related in another chapter. No coal, by the way, was found in the furnace, as at some other sites; but only a great quantity of charcoal.

The next room was the Frigidarium, where the bathers cooled off, and leading from it was a splash-bath which can still be seen. Finally you come to two large rooms, from which a small plunge-bath leads off, the walls being covered with a pleasantly coloured plaster, which, however, is now falling away, owing to the fact that no money is available for roofing in the ruins.

The establishment seems in the end to have been thoroughly stripped of everything that could be carried away; but there is a piece of lead piping left in one of the drains, and another piece, seven or eight feet/2.1 or 2.4m long, is exhibited in the Lichfield museum. Amongst the small objects found, many of which are to be seen in the little museum at Wall itself, there is a small, flat piece of stone, such as was used in Roman times, as at the present day, in the children`s game of hopscotch; and some marbles have also been discovered. Some sixty coins were found, dating from the early years of the Roman conquest to about 380 A. D., which show that the baths were in use for over three centuries; and the remaining walls and floors show signs of having been reconsctructed more than once.

In connection with these baths I cannot refrain from giving here a quotation from Seneca, the Spanish-Roman philosopher and statesman of the time of Nero, who writes as follows:-

“I live,” he says, “near a bath; sounds are heard on all sides. Just imagine for yourself every conceivable kind of noise that can offend the ear. The men of more sturdy build go through their exercises, and sway their hands heavily weighted with lead; I hear their groans when they strain themeselves; or the whistling of laboured breath when they breath out after having held in.”

“If one is rather lazy and merely has himself rubbed with unguents, I hear the blows of the hands slapping his shoulders, the sound varying as the massagist strikes with flat or hollow palm. If a ball-player begins to play, and to count his throws it`s all up for the time being; or there is one in the bath who loves to hear the sound of his own voice. The hair-plucker from time to time raises his thin shrill voice in order to attract attention, and is only still himself when he is forcing cries of pain from someone else.”

Some of the tweezers for plucking out hairs have been found here in the ruins.

Apart from the baths, nothing is to be seen at Wall, except disjointed fragments of masonry here and there in the village, but in the fields for miles/kms around Roman objects are constantly being turned up by the ploughs, and all indications point to the place having been of great size. Indeed, throughout the whole county of Staffordshire discoveries are often made. At Alton, Ellastone and Talenhill gold coins have been found; and at Rowley Regis over one thousand silver pieces came to light; while at Hints a “pig” of lead was found, having an inscription which dated it to 76 A. D. At over sixty other villages and towns in the county Roman objects have been discovered, yet the bath-house at Wall is the sole relic of that great epoch which now survives as a sire worthy of a visit.

 

WROXETER, IN SHROPSHIRE

In that wide area of gently undulating country through which the river Severn makes its quiet way amidst the rich fields of Shropshire, there rises, a few miles/kms from Shrewsbury, the isolated hill called the Wrekin, which dominates the landscape for leagues around. Here there was one of those lofty British camps of pre-Roman times which crown so many of the hills of Britain; and in the plain short distance from it there stood a town which seems to have been the capital of the tribe of the Cornovii and the site of which is now called Wroxeter.

The Roman armies occupied this place soon after the collapse of the resistance of the great British King Caratacus (Caradoc) about 50 A. D., and henceforth it was known as Uriconium or Viroconium, its ancient British name being discernible if we remove the Latin termination ium, this being the origin of the word Wrekin. The Saxons added, as usual, the word “cester” (or Chester) to the name, thus making Uricon-cester or Virocon-cester (Wrekin-cester) which gradually contracted into Wroc`cester and thence Wroxeter.

Here for a few years the Fourteenth Legion was stationed, but later this force was transferred to Chester, and in 68 A. D., was recalled from Britain, being replaced by the Twentieth Legion, which remained based on Chester throughout the Roman epoch, though detachments from it garrisoned Wroxeter and several other places.

About 80 A. D., the Emperor Domitian carried out extensive building operations in Uriconium, but the greatness of the city dates from 130 A. D., when the Emperor Hadrian laid out a splendid Forum and erected many other buildings which must have made it one of the finest cities in Britain. The Cornovii, the original British inhabitants of they showed their appreciation of Hadrain`s work by setting up a great inscription in his honour wherein they named themselves “the Cornovii” and they referred to Hadrian in terms which showed that they accepted him as their Emperor, thus making clear that point which I have tried to emphasis in these chapters, namely that the British people regarded themselves as loyal Romans.

The city, however, suffered a tragic disaster in 170 A. D., for, while the Twentieth Legion was occupied away from Chester, the tribe of the Ordovices from over the Welsh border revolted and sacked the place. After that its peace was not disturbed until about 300 A. D., when it was again sacked, but later on its prosperity returned and it remained a flourishing Roman-British centre until over a century after the legions had been withdrawn from Britain.

The city covered an area of over 150 acres/60.7ha, and through the middle of it passed the great military highroad later known as Watling Street, which ran from the Kentish coast through Canterbury, Rochester, London, St. Albans, (Verulamium), Dunstable, High Cross near Rugby, and Wall near Lichfield, and so came to Wroxeter, whence one branch of it curved south-westwards into Wales, and another  branch went north to Chester, and thence past Manchester to Hadrian`s Wall and the lowlands of Scotland.

Part of the ruins of Uriconium, that is to say a part on the east side of the Watling Street, were excavated many years ago, for the city was never occupied after the Roman period, and the lower levels of its walls lay close to the surface under open fields, while one face of the Basilica, or town hall, rose gaunt and defiant above the ground, marking the middle of the site. The buildings which were thus disclosed were left exposed, and today, though they are overgrown with grass and flowers, the walls still reveal the general plan; and the visitor, after paying his shilling/5p at the gate of the field in which they stand, may walk from room to room and here and there may tread the very pavements his Roman ancestors trod.

Near the standing wall of the Basiilca were the public baths which may be seen today in a fairly well-preserved state; and just beside them are the lavatories, with a long tank behind them from which the water passed out to flush the drains. Not far away are several square buildings which were probably shops, and beside one of these is a section of paving made of flat bricks laid in herring bone pattern.

Excavations are now proceeding on the west side of the Watling Street, where parts of the great Forum have been uncovered, and a length of the fine colonnade which surrounded it has been found, with the power parts of the pillars all in place. This Forum, as I have said, was laid out in 130 A. D., but beneath it the excavators have found the remains of a circular building which looks like a bath and which was evidently pulled down during Hadrian`s rebuildingof the city.

On the spot there is a little tin museum, and both here and in the museum at Shrewsbury, five miles/8km away, the objects found in these excavations, and those discovered from time to time on the site, are to be seen. Some of the inscriptions are of sufficient interest to be mentioned here. There is the gravestone of a certain Flaminius, a soldier of the Fourteenth Legion, whose family came from Pollentia (Liguria) in Italy, and who died at the age of thirty-five, after twenty–two years of military service, which means that he enrolled as a sort of drummer boy at the age of thirteen. The gravestone of another member of this family, named Caius Mannius Secundus, is also to be seen, he being a soldier of the Twentieth Legion who died at fifty-two, after thirty-one years service.

 

Then there is a memorial to Tiberius Claudius, a horseman of the Sixth Thracian Cohort, from the Black Sea coast, who died aged fifty-six; and there is another to Marcus Petronius of Vicenza in Italy, standard-bearer of the Fourteenth Legion, who died aged thirty-eight after eighteen years` service. Then there`s is a memorial to a lady named Placida, who died at fifty-five years of age, after thirty years of married life, and to Deucus, perhaps her son, who died when he was fifteen. There is also the great inscription to which I have referred above, recording a dedication to Hadrian by the local “community of the Cornovii”: this is the finest Roman inscription in Britain, the lettering being most beautiful carved.

There are numbers of small objects to be seen, and of these perhaps the most striking are a bucket found in a well disused after 130 A. D., and an iron shovel for clearing ashes from a furnace: both these are so modern in shape that one laugh to see them. Another interesting find was a nest of red Samian bowls, that is to say a stack of them piled one inside the other, as though they were the stock of some shopkeeper. Here as in several other Roman sites in Britain, some pieces of coal have been found, which show that it was already used for fuel in thoses days.

The general result of the excavations is to prove that the city was once a place of great magnificence, very massively built, and having wide streets and splendid public buildings. Its final destruction seems to have taken place in 582 A. D., when the Romanised Britons, who had withdrawn, were driven out or massacred by the West Saxons.

A British poet, named Llywarc Hen, who lived at the time of the tragedy, wrote in verses still left to us the death song of Uriconium, which he calls “the White City in the Valley.” He draws a picture of its walls and palaces, where lived Kyndy-lan, the last of its Roman-British rulers, standing desolate and forsaken, “without fire, without light, without song,” its silence broken only by the scream of an eagle “who has drunk the heart`s blood of Kyndylan the Fair.

The modern excavations have provided a gruesome comment on the poet`s tragic lines, for in one of the hypocausts, or underground air passages used for heating the baths, they found the skeleton of an old man hunched in the corner, clasping a hoard of money. He had evidently crawled down here when the wild Saxons broke into the city, and here had died, hugging his bag of 132 coins, while the glory that was Rome went up around him in smoke and flame.