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Death of Edmund Artis



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.  


Mill Hill Villa



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



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