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Roman Occupation on Cathedral Site

1st Century AD

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Archaeological evidence around and underneath the Cathedral indicates that there was once a Roman occupation on this site. A building with a boundary ditch and monumental stonework was discovered. These may indicate a substantial building, possibly a temple or monumental arch. The huge amount of Roman pottery found in an archaeological dig in 2016 would agree with this theory. If this building was a temple, it is interesting to speculate whether it was later rededicated as a church when the Romans became Christians. Durobrivae, the nearest major Roman town, has examples of early Christian conversion. A carving at the site, previously thought to be Saxon, has now been identified as Roman. The carving possibly depicts fates or spirits.





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Roman Fort at Water Newton

60AD

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The Roman fort at Water Newton was part excavated in 2012. It was originally thought to have been built as part of the Roman invasion to house troops conquering Britain. However, the excavation showed that it was constructed 20 years later. It was constructed in the aftermath of the Boudican revolt of AD 60. The fort only lasted for a matter of a few months as the Roman armies re-organised the road system in this part of the east Midlands and built a new stone bridge over the river Nene. Once built this bridge spawned a small, new settlement which developed into the Roman town of Durobrivae. The fort was initially discovered in 1930 and was confirmed in 1938 by the use of aerial photography. It covers an area over 5 acres and sits about 1,000 feet from the river.  





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The Roman Town of Durobrivae

65-450AD

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A bridge was built across the River Nene around AD 65, after which a small settlement grew to the south west of the bridge. This prospered as a market centre for trade along the important Ermine Street, the precursor to the modern A1. The town had walls around it for protection and status, and developed major public buildings where a town council met and organised local government, which had controls over roads, cemeteries, baths, water supply and all aspects of the daily life of the town. Added to the towns market importance was its rich sources of clay and iron which were the key resources of a major pottery and metal working industry. The importance of Durobrivae lies in the fact that although the town walls covered 44 acres, the industrial suburbs extended for another 450 acres making a major settlement in Roman Britain.





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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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Ptolemy’s Geographia

150AD

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Claudius Ptolemy was born in Greece and lived in Alexandria. He was a very talented man and was credited as an astronomer, geographer, mathematician and astrologer. He created several works including a book known as Ptolemy's Geographia, which incorporated knowledge from gazetteers, astronomers and other academics to craft maps and indexes of the known world. The original book was thought to contain maps too, but all of the existing maps are from Medieval Europe. The map of the British Isles is a rather crude interpretation of the area, but it indicates the most important towns in Roman Britain. Roman Leicester (Ratae) and Caistor in Norfolk appear to be on the map and the town between them on the map might just be Durobrivae sitting by the River Nene. As one of the largest towns in Roman Britain, it should be on the map!





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On the Roman Road System

100-200AD

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The Antonine Itinerary was a catalogue of the road network in England and Europe during the second century. It recorded the names of important towns and the distance between them. This would have been useful information to anyone travelling through the country, in particular any military troops. Durobrivae, the Roman town at Water Newton, has its first reference in the Antonine Itinerary. It was part of Route 5, a journey from London to Carlisle. It was recorded as the stop between Cambridge and Ancaster, being 35 miles from Cambridge and 30 miles from Ancaster.





Water Newton Treasure

300-410 AD

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The Water Newton Treasure is a hoard of silver vessels and plaques which forms the earliest group of Christian liturgical silver yet found in the Roman Empire. It was discovered in a recently ploughed field at Water Newton, the site of the Roman town of Durobrivae, in February 1975. The hoard was much damaged by the plough. It consists of nine vessels, a number of silver votive plaques, and a gold disc. Many of the objects in the hoard bear inscriptions of the monogram formed by the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P), the first two letters of Christ's name, a symbol commonly used by early Christians. Two bowls and one plaque have longer inscriptions in Latin. One of these, on a bowl, can be translated as, 'I, Publianus, honour your sacred shrine, trusting in you, 0 Lord.' Other inscriptions give the names of three female dedicators;  Amcilla, Innocentia and Viventia, who must also have belonged to the congregation. Individual pieces in the treasure were probably made at different times and in different places, and it is impossible to establish accurately the date at which they were hidden. The treasure may have been hidden in response to specific persecution of Christians or to more general political instability.





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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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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.  





Ailsworth Roman Villa

200

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Several villas are found very close to Durobrivae including one in Ailsworth. According to Pevsner, Ailsworth Roman Villa is 'S W of the station beside the Nene, c. 1/2 m upstream of the ford.' The station no longer exists, although the train line is still in use as the Nene Valley Railway. Searching south west of the crossing provides the correct location. Pevsner claims that the villa had 'hypocausts, mosaic floor, and further tessellated pavement [and] seems to have been similar to that of the villa at Apethorpe (Northamptonshire). It also sounds remarkably similar to the villa a very short distance away on Mill Hill. It was only partly excavated by Edmund Artis in the Nineteenth Century, so very little is known about the villa. Reference: Pevsner, N., Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, (Yale University Press, 1968) p204