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Bridging the Gap

1716

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Milton Hall was built in the 1590s to the west of Peterborough and periodic phases of work to the house and surrounding parkland continued until the 1790s. The bridge that straddles the Nene nearby was built in 1716 from Barnack stone and is a Grade II listed structure. It sits on the site of an old ferry crossing point (Gunnerswade Ferry) needed for the Barnack stone when local cathedrals were being built 900 years ago. The more modern bridge we see today, Milton Ferry Bridge, was an important transport link for those travelling onto the Great North Road from the south bank of the river, although there was a toll, with which Daniel Defoe was not pleased: “Near this little village of Castor lives the Lord FitzWilliams. His Lordship has lately built a very fine stone bridge over the River Nyne, near Gunworth, where formerly was the ferry. I was very much applauding this generous action of my lord’s, knowing the inconvenience of the passage there before, especially if the waters of the Nyne were but a little swell’d, and I though it a piece of publick charity; but my applause was much abated, when coming to pass the bridge (being in a coach) we could not be allow’d to go over it, without paying 2s. 6d. of which I shall only say this, That I think ‘tis the only half crown toll that is in Britain, at least that I ever met with.”





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Roman Industrial Surburbs of Normangate Field

70-450AD

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The area to the south of Ailsworth and Castor villages is known as Normangate Field. It was the site of extensive Roman pottery and metal working workshops. The Roman road of Ermine Street runs through the area. It can be seen today as a massive bank of earth concealed underneath several hundred years of repeated road surfacing. The potteries here gave their name to the distinctive Roman pottery known at Castor Ware. Interpretation from 2018 has revealed that the Normangate Fields contained a complex and thriving community. The location of the fields put the pottery and metal workers in an excellent position. They were near the Praetorium, Durobrivae and Rive Nene for water-based transport. Also, not only were they straddling Ermine Street, but King Street too. It is possible that King Street was once much more important than Ermine Street based on the location of the workers.





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The Praetorium at Castor

230AD

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Underneath St Kyneburgha's Church, Castor are the remains of one of the biggest buildings in Roman Britain. Parts of its walls still can be seen in various parts of the village. The site has been explored over several hundred years with early antiquaries confused by what the mosaic floors and several bath houses all meant. We now know that the site was probably part of a vast Imperial Estate from where much of the fenlands was governed. The building appears to have been the administrative centre of this estate and was where a procurator would have held court and possibly lived. The building on the top of the rise, where the church now stands, would have been seen for miles as a symbol of Roman power and authority.





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Death of St Kyneburgha

680AD

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Saint Kyneburgha or Kyneburga was the daughter of Saxon King Penda of Mercia. She converted to Christianity and founded an abbey for both monks and nuns in Castor in the 7th century, becoming the first Abbess. She died 15th September 680 AD and was originally buried in Castor. She was moved to Peterborough Abbey and later still to Thorney Abbey and is remembered on her feast day on 6th March.





A Spy in Our Midst

1982

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Peterborough has hosted several production companies for a variety of film and television productions, two of which were for James Bond films. The first, filmed in 1982, was Octopussy with Roger Moore, where Nene Valley Railway transformed into Karl-Marx-Stadt and formed the backdrop to a thrilling carriage-top fight through the local countryside. The second, in 1995, was Goldeneye with Pierce Brosnan. The film crew utilised the old British Sugar sugar beet factory in Woodston and again the Nene Valley Railway near Castor.





Death of Edmund Artis

1847

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Early Life: Edmund Artis was of humble origins, the son of a carpenter, born in 1789, in the small village of Sweffling in Suffolk. At the age of 16 he moved to London to work with his uncle in the wine trade. He then opened a confectionery shop. His life was changed when one of his confectionery creations, used as the centre-piece at a dinner party, caught the eye of Earl Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam invited Artis to join his staff at Milton Hall near Castor, then in Northamptonshire. Despite having little formal education Artis was a very able and competent man, this was recognised and within three years he became House Steward with the responsibility of running Milton Hall. Interests: Artis was a man of broad interests, among them painting, natural history and geology but he is most remembered as an antiquarian (one who studies the past and artefacts associated with it).  In the 1820s, whilst living at Milton Hall, he conducted many excavations of Roman sites in the surrounding area including the town of Durobrivae and the Praetorium (palace) at Castor. Unusually for the time he not only uncovered sites and objects, but carefully recorded them. The Durobrivae of Antoninus: This book, published in 1828, contains engravings of the careful plans and illustrations Artis made of his findings, including coloured illustrations of the mosaic floors found in local villas. Unfortunately he died before the companion book of text to accompany the illustrations could be written. His scientific approach to finding and recording evidence of the past mean that he is truly one of the fathers of archaeology. Edmund Artis is buried at St Kyneburgha's church, which is built over the site of Castor Praetorium.  





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Bagley’s Bells of Castor

1700

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Castor Church sits in a commanding position over the Nene Valley. It has a rich history with enviable Roman, Saxon and Norman construction within the building. Evidence of the Roman Praetorium and Saint Kyneburgha's church are easy to identify. What is not as easy to see, but easy to hear, are the church bells. There are eight in total, six of which date from 1700. They were inscribed by the name of the bell founder Henry Bagley who lived in Ecton, Northamptonshire. Two bells declare 'Henry Bagley of Ecton Made Me 1700' and two repeat the statement in Latin. The other two are a mixture of Latin and English, the Tenor bell declaring 'I to the church the living call and to the grave do summon all.' Henry Bagley was a master bell founder and the second Henry Bagley. He also holds the honour of being the tutor of Henry Penn, Peterborough's well-known bell founder. The two newest bells were installed as millennium commemorations. One is inscribed 'Untouched I am a silent thing, but strike me and I sweetly sing.' We can imagine that Henry Bagley would be happy with that sentiment.





Roman Pottery Kilns in Stanground

200

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Local Roman enthusiasts will be familiar with the pottery kilns in Normangate Field near Castor. However, there was also a pottery industry in Stanground too. During the 1960s there were several excavations to explore Roman features under what is now Park Farm. Archaeologists discovered four pottery kilns dating from the early to mid-third century (200-250 AD). There was also a 'pottery dump', several ditches, burials and coins too. 15 coins were found in total, which could all be dated to between 260 AD and 350 AD. This suggests that the site was abandoned by around 365. It also suggests that the site had two different uses over two different time periods. Interestingly, two of the ditches discovered on the site were dated to pre-Roman activity, possibly Iron Age. This extends the use of the site over several centuries. Analysis of the clay on the site identified two distinct types. One clay was finer and would have been used for high-end pottery. The other was used for every-day ware and would have been chosen for more rigorous domestic use. Over 240 kilograms of pottery were identified during excavations, not all had been created at the site though. A mixture of grey ware, colour-coated ware, cream ware and shell-gritted ware were discovered. These were represented as beakers, dishes, flagons, jars and dishes on the whole. Pottery created on the site has been found at other local Roman sites including Orton Hall and Peterborough Cathedral.





Mill Hill Villa

350

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Mill Hill is an area to the south east of Castor, near to the river Nene. It sits within a rich landscape of Roman archaeological remains due to its proximity to Durobrivae. A Roman villa was discovered on Mill Hill which had evidence of a courtyard, mosaic flooring and hypocausts. The villa is high status and shares some similarities with other villas nearby. It appears that high status villas were built close to the river Nene and Durobrivae, but lower status villas were further away from the valley and more rural. Edmund Artis was the local antiquarian who first uncovered the villa. He drew his interpretation of the area, which comprised several buildings with sizeable walls. He made detailed illustrations of the mosaic flooring, which contain a striking checker board pattern. Artis' plans were first published in 1823 after excavation in 1822. Later analysis has revealed the mosaic was created by a guild of local mosaicists who operated in the mid to late fourth century and crafted mosaics in Durobrivae and in what is now Lincolnshire.  





Cunoarus’ Stamped Mortarium

175

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The Roman town of Durobrivae sat on the south bank of the river Nene near Water Newton and Castor. On the northern banks of the river was a densely-packed industrial area which centred on pottery and iron production. The area produced grey wares, colour-coated wares and kitchen wares which included mortaria. The mortaria were much thicker pieces of pottery designed for pounding and grinding. They were used to grind food, but also paints, makeup and other items. Pestles were usually made from wood and therefore do not survive with the mortaria. One piece of Nene Valley mortarium was found with the stamp of its maker on the rim or flange. Stamped mortaria are very common and found in large numbers from locations including St Albans (Verulamium) and Vindolanda. What makes the stamped mortarium from Durobrivae important is that it refers to Durobrivae. The stamp reads 'Cunoarus Vico Duro' in Latin, which translates to 'Conoarus of the vicus of Durobrivae'. A vicus was a name used for a large village or small town in Roman Britain. No date has been given to the mortarium, but the height of the pottery making industry at Durobraivae was in the late 2nd century (175-199AD). A stamped mortarium can often be dated but Cunoarus does not have any other surviving stamped pieces that we know of.